Feb 012004
 
Authors: Colleen Buhrer

Think about your favorite professor. Do you know the political

ideology of that teacher? Did you discuss controversial topics or

anything in that your teacher expressed an opinion?

Now imagine all of your schooling without any of that. Imagine a

class without discussion, a class in which you are not allowed to

discuss any issue that sounds controversial. This is what school

would be like if the Academic Bill of Rights being proposed in the

Colorado legislature passes.

This probably sounds like a good thing for some, but for myself

and others it is scary. I can think of a million things I never

would have learned had there been no discussion in my

classrooms.

The bill, introduced Wednesday, addresses professor and

university neutrality on political and religious issues. According

to the Denver Post, “the proposed academic bill of rights is aimed

at protecting conservative students who say they are targets of

harassment and discrimination by left-leaning faculty because of

their political beliefs.”

A draft of the bill essentially says that students academic

freedom will be infringed on by professors if they introduce

controversial matter into the classroom that is substantially

unrelated to the subject of study. How can you have a political

science or an ethics class without controversial subjects? And so

the argument might go, that the matter may be related to the

subject of study. But what is “substantially” related and who

decides that?

If a political science class wanted to discuss stem-cell

research, arguably a controversial matter, could it be argued that

this violates some students’ rights because the topic is not a

matter of political science, but of technology?

I agree with Sergio Gonzales, one of three student body leaders

at the University of Colorado-Denver, when he told the Denver Post,

“Having the legislature say that controversial material not covered

in the course syllabus should not be introduced is extremely

dangerous. Higher education is meant to expand people’s minds and

challenge their ways of thinking.”

To understand what is going on in the world, some classes simply

require discussion about controversial topics. If an event such as

Sept. 11, 2001, was to happen again and this bill was to pass, no

discussion would be able to occur in class. When the presidential

election happens in November no class will be able to even talk

about the election, for fear that the professor might accidentally

interject their opinion and thus lose their job.

There is also the argument this bill is needed to preserve the

right to free speech of students. What then will protect the right

of free speech of professors? Professors are American citizens just

as much as students are, and it should be a two-way road.

Professors should not be able to impose their views on students or

grade them differently because of what they think, but professors

have just as much right as anybody else to say what they think.

A professor’s ideology shouldn’t play into what goes on in a

classroom. If a teacher is grading students differently because of

their political ideology then there is a problem and it should be

addressed. But the students taking the issue to the dean of the

college should address it on a case-by-case basis.

And how is it going to be determined if a teacher is not

treating different opinions fairly? Is it always going to be a

student’s opinion versus a professor’s opinion? This opens the door

to people taking advantage of the system. If a student gets a grade

in a class that they deserved but did not like, they might go to

whoever makes the decision, say they are Republican and that they

feel they have been discriminated against. Thus a teacher will get

in trouble for something they didn’t do, but because a student

didn’t work as hard as they should have.

If a professor is simply expressing a view to promote discussion

in a class then there is no problem. Providing the professor isn’t

spending organic chemistry talking about why Howard Dean let go his

campaign manager. In that case, the discussion is out of place and

the teacher should know that. But to tell all professors that they

cannot express a view or have a discussion about a controversial

subject hurts everybody’s education.

This bill is also a step toward eliminating teachers right to

privacy. When hiring a teacher they going to be asked their

political ideology and that will then be necessary as part of the

hiring decision. Good teachers will be scared away for fear that

what they think politically will count for more than what they know

and what they can teach.

Before a decision is made, everyone needs to step back and look

at all the consequences this bill may have. Legislators need to

look at all sides of the issue and make sure they are considering

possible outcomes and what this could mean to the quality of

education for students in Colorado in the future.

Colleen is the managing editor for The Collegian. She will

graduate this May with degrees in political science and

journalism.

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