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02-17-05 Ohio bill tries for first academic bill of rights

By Timothy Cox

  A group of Republican state Senators has introduced a bill in the Statehouse aimed at striking a political and ideological balance on college campuses across the state.

  Senate Bill 24, known informally as the academic bill of rights, was introduced by Sen. Larry Mumper, R-Marion. Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, is one of four co-sponsors of the proposed legislation.
  Democrats and college professors already have reacted angrily to the bill, which gained some national exposure when it was mentioned in recent days on conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity's show. The proposal appears to be the first of its kind in the nation and comes on the heels of several prominent cases of controversial talk at American universities.
  Supporters of the bill say it prevents political, religious or ideological indoctrination or discrimination of students by professors. Opponents say the bill would stymie free speech and the free exchange of ideas in an educational environment.
  Specifically, the bill would require all methodologies and perspectives to have a "significant institutional purpose" and shall "respect all human knowledge."  Furthermore, the bill says "students shall be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge" and says students cannot be "discriminated against based on political, ideological or religious beliefs."
  Professors would be barred from "persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or course work that has no relation to their subject of study."
Funding for student activities also would have to be distributed fairly with a neutral position toward any speakers or programs student groups want to host.
The bill also would set up a grievance procedure to assist students in enforcing the regulations.
Jordan told The Daily Standard the proposed law is needed to bring some political balance to college campuses. Nine out of 10 humanities and social sciences professors describe themselves as Democrats or liberals, he said.
  "There's all kinds of surveys that show the vast majority of colleges have a left-wing bias," Jordan said. "There is no question that that exists. We hope this bill can strike some balance."
  In a Jan. 27 Columbus Dispatch article, Mumper dismissed college professors as "80 percent or so of them are Democrats, liberals, socialists or card-carrying Communists."
  Students should be able to pursue their education without worry their religious or political beliefs might hold them back or that they must conform to the beliefs of their instructors, Jordan said.
  Jordan cited an example of unfairness due to political bias at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. University funding was used to bring in controversial filmmaker Michael Moore. But when an opposing student group wanted to bring in conservative pundit Ann Coulter, there was no support.
  "Parents pay a boatload of money to send their kids to school," said Jordan. "It should be fair for everybody."
  Anita Curry-Jackson, dean of Wright State University-Lake Campus, said she believes much of the bill's content duplicates existing policies on free speech and discrimination.
  "We want to make sure we provide opportunities for academic freedom, but to me, this does not really contribute to the kind of educational, learning environment we want to have," Curry-Jackson said.
  Paulette Olson, an economics professor at Wright State's main campus in Dayton, recently told the Dayton Daily News that "the bill threatens the fundamental principles of intellectual freedom by putting restrictions on teaching and academic inquiry."
  Jordan said a number of college professors have e-mailed his office in protest of the bill.
  The Ohio Democratic Party also is opposed to the idea.
  "Who is to decide what constitutes controversial matter? Sen. Mumper himself? The Ohio Senate? How will they monitor what Ohio's thousands of professors say on a day-to-day basis?" a statement on the Ohio Democratic Party's Web site says.
  Although Republicans control both houses of state government, Jordan admitted the bill faces a long, tough fight. No committee hearings are scheduled on the bill and there is no companion legislation in the House.
  "The bill might not ever pass, but I think it's a victory that we're talking about this," Jordan said. "We win if we can just spend some time debating this."


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