Political discord divides faculty

February 11, 2005

Dissension between conservatives and liberals continues to rage on US campuses. Each side claims the other is preventing it from expressing its views.

A conservative legislator in the Midwestern state of Ohio has called for an "academic bill of rights", an Orwellian term that describes a measure meant to limit what faculty members - whom he calls widely "left-leaning" - can say about politics in lectures and classes. A lawmaker in neighbouring Indiana has introduced a similar proposal.

In New York, conservatives have taken legal action to be granted the same allocation of cash from student-activity fees as is received by a group they say is liberal. And three students at the University of North Carolina have sued over an assignment they said offended their Christian beliefs.

In Colorado, where a bill like those in Indiana and Ohio was proposed and failed last year, a state legislator now wants to pass a law protecting all forms of political speech at public universities.

The push for "academic bills of rights" is largely driven by a group called Students for Academic Freedom and led by David Horowitz, a conservative commentator and author who accuses US universities of blocking intellectual diversity and preventing conservatives getting a foothold.

Mr Horowitz criticised "courses of indoctrination masquerading as education". His group now claims chapters on 135 campuses.

In a survey of students by another conservative organisation, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 49 per cent said their professors often commented on politics in class, whether or not it had anything to do with the subject matter. Nearly a third said they believed they needed to agree with a faculty member's political opinions to get a good grade.

The nation's largest faculty union, the American Association of University Professors, has warned against the proposed bills. It said: "The danger of such guidelines is that they invite diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession."

Other critics point out that the rise in the number of conservative students on US campuses in itself defeats Mr Horowitz's argument. They said it disproved claims that liberal faculty were indoctrinating young people.

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