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The War On College Conservatives By: Katherine Hutt Scott
Indianapolis Star | Monday, August 16, 2004

When Ruth Malhotra told her college professor she planned to miss a class to attend a conservative political conference, the professor wasn't happy.

You're just going to fail my class," she said the instructor told her.

Malhotra, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, ultimately filed a grievance with the school, saying the 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, Atlanta.

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.

Malhotra is one of a growing number of conservative college students who are complaining that liberal professors promote their viewpoints in the classroom, creating a hostile atmosphere for students who favor a more right-wing perspective.

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

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

They 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.

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., 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.

Debra Nails, a philosophy professor at Michigan State University, 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 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.

Horowitz said professors who use their position to promote liberal causes are shirking their duty to students.

"You have a responsibility to teach them and not to indoctrinate them," he said.

The language under consideration in Congress faces an uncertain future, but Horowitz's campaign is resonating among state legislators.

Language modeled on his proposals passed the Georgia Senate earlier this year and has been introduced in California, Washington and Missouri. A state representative in Colorado withdrew similar legislation in March after the state's public colleges agreed to take steps to protect political diversity on their campuses.

A representative of the American Council on Education acknowledged that liberal bias among faculty members is a real issue at many colleges, but he said those schools should address the problem "in a manner that is appropriate to each school."

"Legislation is hardly an appropriate mechanism for trying to redress this purported imbalance," said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the group, which represents about half the nation's colleges and universities.

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