College sophomore Charis Bridgman tends to keep quiet in class if she thinks her professor might disagree with her Christian-influenced ideas.
The 19-year-old says schools such as her Otterbein College in suburban Columbus should be a place for open discussion, but she feels some professors make students afraid to speak up.
“They might chastise me, or not even listen to my opinion or give me a chance to explain,” she said.
Professors would have to include diverse opinions in classrooms under legislation being pushed in Ohio and several other states by conservatives who fear too many professors indoctrinate young minds with liberal propaganda. Such measures have had little success getting approval in the other states.
“I see students coming out having gone in without any ideological leanings one way or another, coming out with an indoctrination of a lot of left-wing issues,” said bill sponsor Sen. Larry Mumper, a former high school teacher whose Republican party controls the Legislature.
An academic 'bill of rights'?
The proposal in Ohio to create an academic “bill of rights” would prohibit public and private college professors from presenting opinions as fact or penalizing students for expressing their views. Professors would not be allowed to introduce controversial material unrelated to the course.
Professors dismissed the bill as unnecessary and questioned whether its supporters had ulterior motives, such as wanting more conservative professors.
Similar legislation failed in California and Colorado last year, while the Georgia Senate passed a resolution, which is less binding than a bill, that suggests adoption. The California bill, which would affect only public schools, has been reintroduced and faces opposition from professors and student groups. An Indiana bill is nearly identical to Ohio’s.
The Ohio legislation is based on principles advocated by Students for Academic Freedom, a Washington, D.C.-based student network founded by conservative activist David Horowitz.
“It doesn’t matter a professor’s viewpoint,” Horowitz said in an interview. “They can be a good professor, liberal or conservative, provided they pursue an educational mission and not a political agenda.”
Mumper said he is concerned universities are not teaching the values held by taxpaying parents and students.
He questioned why lawmakers should approve funding for universities with “professors who would send some students out in the world to vote against the very public policy that their parents have elected us for.”
A faculty group or school committee could oversee complaints from students who believe their grades were affected by a professor’s bias, Mumper said.
'Nothing but mischief'
Joe White, a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said students could use perceived discrimination as an excuse to refuse to learn.
“We’re not supposed to teach for their comfort,” he said.
Other opponents, including the American Association of University Professors, say such bills could stifle debate.
“We see nothing but mischief if we invite people from outside of the university to somehow start monitoring what goes on inside the classroom,” said David Patton, an AAUP member and professor emeritus of Ohio State University.
Sen. Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo, agrees: “Can we say 21st century witch hunt and book burning?”