Fairness at CSU

 Uncategorized
Feb 112004
 
Authors: Bill Chaloupka Chair, Professor of Political Science

Following months of headlines about the “Academic Bill of

Rights” proposed by California activist David Horowitz, a CSU

student group has formed and related proposals are under

consideration at the legislature.

Let’s be clear: students have the right to organize and

legislators have the right to introduce legislation. But there are

plenty of organizations and lots of bills that lack merit. I firmly

believe that the vast majority of CSU faculty would join me in

suggesting that the complaints behind the group and these bills

are, at the very least, inappropriate and unnecessary.

Many of us teach potentially controversial topics. This includes

the social science and humanities courses that are Horowitz’s

primary concern, but it also includes courses in many other

departments all across the campus. We teach these topics because

they matter. And we try our best to teach them right. Any college

student who expects never to have his or her views challenged is

genuinely expecting too little from the college experience. But, as

Colorado Commission of Higher Education director Tim Foster

recently said on campus, students should not feel harassed and

should know the avenues for appeal when they do have concerns.

Press reports from a recent legislative hearing made it clear

that even prominent Colorado legislators who have studied this

issue agree that Colorado universities have adequate policies in

place to deal with potential abuses. CSU students should be aware

that this campus has several policies in place to deal with abuses

and appeals. The Academic Faculty and Administrative Professional

Manual, section I.7.1, outlines the process for appealing grades

(it’s easily available from the Provost or Faculty Council Web

sites). Other regulations, also easily available on the web, cover

a wide variety of potential abuses and harassment.

So, do these policies work? I am certain that the chairs in the

College of Liberal Arts, as well as chairs in other colleges, take

these policies seriously. It’s an important part of our job to

address complaints. We know the procedures and will share them with

anyone who asks. Any student who has a complaint should talk to

their teacher. If that’s unsatisfactory or inappropriate, they

should talk to the chair of the department. The chair’s boss is the

dean of the college. We know that students are aware of this avenue

of complaint because, as chairs, we hear complaints regularly.

All that said, I sincerely doubt that CSU has a problem that

requires additional legislation or any other form of organized

concern. Several of the stories floated by activists on this issue

have proven much less credible than they might seem; some of the

most widely discussed cases never resulted in an appeal or any

other contact with any administrator on campus. CCHE’s Foster

pointedly did not endorse current legislative proposals and even

advocates seem to be backing away from their odd proposal that

universities should discriminate on the basis of party registration

when hiring faculty (a proposal that yielded stern disapproval from

the American Association of University Professors, available at

www.aaup.org).

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with criticizing university

practices; I’ve done more than a little of that myself, over a long

career as a student and a professor. But the timing of this

initiative still bothers me. At a time when higher education is in

deep trouble in Colorado, due to what many members of the CSU

community regard as terrible flaws in the state’s funding

structure, this issue is a distraction, plain and simple. Ask

yourself whether ideological professors are a bigger risk than a

cut, in one year, of over a quarter of the state general fund

support for higher education.

In the end, it seems to me that this issue demeans the students

it pretends to defend. In my experience, it is flatly impossible to

“indoctrinate” students. Our students are too bright to succumb to

that and too independent to stand for it. This whole issue is a

sideshow, a distraction from the really crucial task of dealing

with very real problems. And, just as I think our students know bad

teaching when they see it, I’m sure they know what to do with this

noisy and misguided attempt to distract them from CSU’s more

important concerns.

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