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Making Headway on Campus By: Lansing State Journal
Lansing State Journal | Monday, August 23, 2004

From Michigan State University to the Georgia Institute of Technology, a growing number of conservative college students complain that professors are pushing liberal views in the classroom.

"Some professors push a strong liberal bias even when it doesn't fit into the course," said Tom Gunnells, a 21-year-old MSU senior and secretary of the local College Republicans.

The trend has spawned a group called Students for Academic Freedom, which claims 135 chapters in colleges and universities and hosts a Web site that collects liberal-bias complaints from conservative students across the country.

Those complaints have struck a sympathetic chord with some conservative lawmakers in Congress.

Legislators have proposed a measure that would encourage colleges to present "dissenting sources and viewpoints" in the classroom and to "promote intellectual pluralism" in selecting outside speakers and financing student activities.

The measure is part of reauthorizing legislation to provide billions in college grant and loan money for the next six years.

Republican Rep. Howard McKeon of California, chairman of the House subcommittee in charge of the reauthorization bill, said the proposals are designed to send a message to liberal academic officials: "You're using the school in many cases to brainwash and not to educate."

College administrators counter that the legislation marks an unprecedented and unjustified attempt by Congress to control college curricula.

"We cannot have officials in Washington, D.C., regulating the content of our classrooms," Rebecca Wasserman, president of the United States Student Association, told House lawmakers earlier this year.

Vinayak Prasad, external vice president of academic assembly for the Associated Students of MSU, the school's student government, called the proposal "a dangerous first step."

"Universities should have some sense of autonomy," Prasad said. "One of the things we want to have is academic freedom."

But some students complain that professors create a hostile atmosphere for those who favor a more conservative perspective.

At Georgia Tech in Atlanta, student Ruth Malhotra filed a grievance with the school, saying a professor used her public policy class to push her outspokenly liberal viewpoints on students.

"We're there to learn the foundations of policy, not the professors' personal platforms," said Malhotra, 20.

Georgia Tech spokesman Bob Harty said school policy barred him from disclosing how Malhotra's grievance was decided, but he said many of the facts in the case are open to interpretation.

The congressional language is based on an Academic Bill of Rights promoted by activist David Horowitz, a driving force behind the campus conservative movement.

Horowitz has traveled the country for the past year asking Congress and state legislators to adopt his eight provisions, which he says are aimed at protecting political and intellectual diversity on campuses.

Debra Nails, a philosophy professor at MSU, said the legislation "is not written by people who know what our job is."

"Anytime something from outside the university, whether it is big business or government or the church, starts to set the academic agenda, students are in trouble and the free society is jeopardized," she said.

The measure could threaten educators' First Amendment rights, added MSU political science professor David Rohde.

"It's very likely it would be declared unconstitutional," Rohde said.

But Gunnells supports the proposal, saying it would not take away any academic freedom, but expand viewpoints for all students.

"No one is going to mandate what professors teach because they need leeway," he said. "But a university like MSU where they stress diversity so much, I think political diversity needs to be looked at."

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