Thursday, March 16, 2006
The Star’s Topeka correspondent
TOPEKA — Some Kansas lawmakers think professors at public universities are indoctrinating students with liberal notions, and they’re pushing a proposal to fight alleged academic bias.
Called the Academic Bill of Rights, the measure would encourage university faculty to teach different viewpoints and to grade based on scholarship, not on the student’s personal views. It also would prohibit faculty from using classes for “political, ideological, religious or antireligious indoctrination.”
Officials with the state Board of Regents and the University of Kansas said the measure was unnecessary and potentially damaging to academic freedom.
The measure was prompted by the furor surrounding University of Kansas Professor Paul Mirecki, who last year fell under scrutiny for e-mails in which he mocked aspects of Christianity.
But the problem is hardly limited to one professor, said writer and commentator David Horowitz, who has led the effort for the bill of rights nationally. Horowitz spoke Wednesday to a House committee considering the measure, saying departments such as women’s studies and social work often serve as recruiting grounds for Marxist and anti-American ideologies.
“Entire departments at Kansas State University and the University of Kansas, for example, are devoted to ideological and political agendas and are in fact advocacy programs designed to indoctrinate,” he said.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said the university has a well-established process to address complaints about faculty. He said the bill of rights is a solution in search of a problem.
“It’s simply not necessary,” he said.
Conservative lawmakers say it is.
“This is something that’s very important for us to look at, and maybe it’s something we’ve let slip,” said Kansas Rep. Mary Pilcher Cook, a Shawnee Republican. “It’s imperative the Legislature give taxpayers what they expect at their universities.”
If the universities won’t adopt the bill of rights, Pilcher Cook said, she would like the Legislature to set up a committee to look into allegations of campus bias.
The bill of rights is part of a national trend prompted by controversies in several states. In Pennsylvania, state lawmakers held hearings to look for evidence of liberal bias among professors. In New York and Colorado, professors have come under fire for criticizing Christianity and blaming the United States for the Sept. 11 attacks. A University of California-Los Angeles alumnus offered to pay students to tape biased statements made by professors in class.
Missouri lawmakers also have taken on public universities. In one case it was because a professor wrote about pedophilia. In another, it was because broadcast journalism instructors told students not to wear flag pins on the air after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In 2003, Kansas lawmakers threatened to slash funding for a human sexuality course they deemed obscene, but they were blocked by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Joan Wallach Scott, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and former head of the American Association of University Professors’ committee on academic freedom, has studied the bill of rights as it moves around the country. She finds it troubling.
“There have always been people who want to police the academy,” she said. “Universities are the place in society where new critical thinking emerges. You’re not supposed to feel comfortable in a university. Your beliefs should be challenged.”
Lawmakers have no plans to vote on the measure right now. That’s good news to those who question the need for the academic bill of rights. One of them, Rep. Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, noted that despite the alleged liberal indoctrination, the state remains heavily Republican.
“If our Kansas universities are really doing that, they’re doing a really poor job,” he said.