Feb 022006
Authors: James Baetke

CSU graduate Robert Lee remembers a time in class when an Eastern European politics professor barged in "huffing and puffing" about the 2002 reelection of Gov. Bill Owens.

"She kept saying, 'Governor Owens is going to ruin Colorado.' She just despised Governor Owens," Lee said.

Today, Lee is working on a political campaign in Nevada and still remembers being offended in classes on several occasions when CSU professors revealed their own political beliefs, sometimes out of the context of class – to the point of advocating on certain issues.

"The thing to remember is that generally any professor that engages in (bias) does not understand the extent of what they are doing," he said.

Lee's experiences are not isolated situations.

Organizers with the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) say professors are using their classrooms as political soapboxes across the country.

Sara Dogan, spokeswoman for SAF, spoke to the Collegian from Washington D.C.: "Abuses of academic freedom are very prevalent in the United States."

One of the goals of SAF is to help introduce legislation in states by mirroring some of the same principles in their Academic Bill of Rights, which tells faculty professors they "shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose."

SAF is also trying to press professors not to grade a student based on party affiliation.

In 2003, SAF launched a campaign for academic freedom in Colorado, catching the eye of lawmakers who proposed a bill to protect student's freedoms in the classroom. Debates and hearings continued until February 2004, but the bill was eventually withdrawn.

"The Colorado bill actually passed that state's House Education Committee and was well on its way to becoming law when the sponsor of that bill, Rep. Shawn Mitchell, agreed to withdraw it in exchange for the commitment of Colorado's university leaders to sign a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to institute the key principles of the Academic Bill of Rights in their respective educational institutions," Dogan said.

CSU President Larry Penley was one of those signers.

The CSU student handbook specifically outlines a student's right in the classroom and also has a sectioned titled "Freedom of Expression and Inquiry."

Alec Jeffries, director of legislative affairs for the Associated Students of CSU, said CSU's student government keeps a watchful eye on professor misconduct but does not consider it a problem.

"I think the university hires good professors in the first place," Jeffries said.

Jeffries said he cannot support or not support an Academic Bill of Rights similar to the one lobbied by SAF, and insists making a law telling what professors can and cannot say in the classroom is too tough.

He said: "The last thing we want to do is tie the arms of a professor by saying a professor can only teach certain things."

James Baetke can be reached at regional@collegian.com

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