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Colorado Victory By: Jim Spencer
Denver Post | Thursday, February 26, 2004


The following three stories from the Denver Post present different aspects of an important story: the way a professor's bullying led the lawmakers of Colorado to support the Academic Bill of Rights. -- The Editors.

For a Harvard Ph.D., Tim Gould acted pretty stupid Wednesday afternoon. The Metropolitan State College philosophy professor got nose-to-nose with a conservative undergraduate in front of a legislative committee considering whether Colorado needs to pass a law to protect college students from liberal bias.

As members of the House education committee watched, Gould gave the Republican-dominated General Assembly the ammunition it needs to impose a legislative gag order on teachers at state colleges and universities.

Gould threatened to sue 21-year-old Ian VanBuskirk after VanBuskirk invited the General Assembly to put "a chilling effect" on professors.

VanBuskirk had just told the committee how his professors at the University of Colorado at Boulder discriminated against him because of his politics.

After VanBuskirk left the microphone, Gould angrily confronted the student in the hearing room. Before 100 witnesses who could see, but not hear what was said, Gould told VanBuskirk he would sue if VanBuskirk tried to limit Gould's free speech.

The professor's childish display took up only a few seconds in more than two hours of testimony. But it was the issue that committee member Keith King and bill sponsor Shawn Mitchell seized on as the proposal to protect conservative students from intimidation by liberal teachers moved to the House floor on a 6-5, party-line vote.

Gould's behavior didn't change any votes. Still, he blew it. He gave the right-wingers their liberal bogeyman.

"If he behaves that way in a hearing room," said Mitchell, "imagine how powerful he feels in his classroom."

Here was the prejudice conservatives say permeates the state's institutions of higher learning.

Here was why a law must be passed to protect political and religious conservatives on campus, even though most schools already have policies that forbid such discrimination.

Gould hurt professors all over the state. He apologized to VanBuskirk outside the hearing. Gould told VanBuskirk he was "much more in-your-face" than he should have been. As they agreed to disagree and shook hands, Gould said what he did "was not nice."

Not nice? How about inexcusable?

"Sir, you are the very reason we need this bill," King told Gould.

Lots of folks - present company included - disagree with King's assessment. Gould's stupidity notwithstanding, very little evidence exists that aggrieved conservatives have suffered for expressing their political and religious views. The great majority who complain haven't filed grievances. Conservative legislators care little for this lack of proof.

Still, no one - present company still included - can defend Gould's actions.

He's the teacher, not the student. To command respect and authority, professors must submit to a higher standard of behavior.

Gould not only fell short, he dragged down thousands of professional colleagues.

"It was not appropriate," said Mark Malone, chairman of the faculty council at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Minutes before Gould's outburst, Malone made a compelling argument. He told the committee that the proposed law, which, among other things, bans "controversial matter ... unrelated to the subject," combines with ongoing budget cuts to encourage good professors to leave Colorado and discourage good professors from coming to the state.

The response of some committee members seemed to be good riddance.

"Dozens, if not hundreds of times, a day in classrooms, statements are made which shouldn't be," Rep. Al White said with dramatic flair only slightly less absurd than Gould's.

"If professors are afraid to be called on the carpet," said Rep. Lynn Hefley, if they worry that a ban on controversial speech will "bind them, then maybe they're not the right professors to be at these universities."

Be careful what you ask for.

CU president Betsy Hoffman warned that faculty members consider Mitchell's bill a no-confidence vote.

"No employee wants to feel they're not trusted," Hoffman said.

"Make no mistake," she added, Mitchell's bill will keep Colorado from attracting first-class educators.

Some would argue that hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts to colleges and universities already signal the General Assembly's contempt for higher education. In that case, muzzling professors so they don't hurt students' feelings is really just an insult to a critical injury.

On the other hand, it would've been nice if someone had shoved a sock in Gould's gaping maw on Wednesday.

Education committee member Angie Paccione, a college professor herself, vocally opposed Mitchell's law. She voted against it. But she nailed Gould with the disdain he earned.

"There may be a few bad apples in the professoriate," Paccione told her colleagues. "And we may have seen one today."

 

Heated exchange cited as proof law is needed

By Dave Curtin
Denver Post Higher Education Writer


A nose-to-nose confrontation between a student and a professor during heated testimony in a wild legislative committee hearing Wednesday on the controversial Students Bill of Rights is the very reason a law is needed to protect students from abuse and proselytizing by their professors, Republican lawmakers said.

The bill, by Rep. Shawn Mitchell R-Broomfield, advanced to the full House after a 6-5 party-line vote in the House Education Committee.

The bill is aimed at protecting conservative students at state colleges from what they claim is harassment and discrimination by left-leaning professors.

It also prohibits faculty from persistently introducing controversial topics unrelated to course content and formalizes a grievance procedure for students - a process college administrators say already exists.

The exchange between University of Colorado student Ian VanBuskirk and Metro State philosophy professor Tim Gould came after 3 1/2 hours of testimony.

"The very reason why this bill is necessary is what we just witnessed," said Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs. "A professor intimidated a student for his comments in a forceful, harassing manner -exactly the reason for this bill to move forward."

"I am representing students who are ostracized and ridiculed daily by their liberal professors," VanBuskirk, the last of two dozen people to testify, said.

"I also represent students who have been told, 'This is my classroom. I've got my Ph.D., therefore I decide what views are appropriate. I do not want your right-wing views in my class.' Clearly we have seen that the grievance process does not work. Why not send a chilling effect to these teachers so other students aren't told this?"

As he left the podium, Gould, who had just testified himself, got face-to-face with the student and said, "I got my Ph.D at Harvard. I'll see your (expletive) in court. Then we'll see a chilling effect," according to VanBuskirk. VanBuskirk was immediately called back before the committee to recount the exchange. Gould was not allowed to explain.

Gould later told The Denver Post that, in the heat of the moment, he doesn't know whether he used foul language. "He said he wanted to send a chilling message, and I reacted to that phrase, because that sounds pretty threatening," Gould said. "Could I have handled it better? Yes. But we spoke afterwards and I think I understand his position better and he seems willing to entertain the danger of legislating academic standards. I think we agree on more than we realized."

VanBuskirk agreed that the two had a civil discussion later.

King also pulled Metro State student Danielle Robinson back to the microphone after testimony was officially closed. She said Gould had berated her in the corridor for not knowing that a grievance procedure exists at Metro.

"I wasn't berating her," Gould told The Post. "I was sympathizing with her. The behavior she was subjected to is outrageous. I told her if she was treated badly, she should file a grievance."

Robinson, a former ROTC student wearing her military uniform to class, said she felt uncomfortable in her introductory philosophy class when the teacher called the military "baby killers" and preached that "innocent people should not die." When queried by legislators, she admitted she didn't file a grievance because she wasn't aware there was a procedure.

Robinson's testimony was typical of 10 students who spoke in support the bill - nearly all members of the campus Republican groups. Thirteen spoke against it.

CU president Betsy Hoffman said CU opposes the bill and is concerned the distrustful "tone" of the bill, in combination with pervasive cuts to state higher education funding, will hurt recruitment and retention of top-flight faculty.

She asked lawmakers to let the universities deal with the problem internally through existing grievance procedures rather than attempt to legislate classroom discussion.

"It's becoming increasingly hard not to say to faculty the legislature does not support you and it doesn't support higher education," Hoffman said.

But Rep. Lynn Hefley, R-Colorado Springs, said liberal indoctrination on state campuses is a long-standing problem and schools have done nothing to solve it on their own. She suggested that students don't file complaints using established procedures because they are afraid to, and she balked at the argument that it would hurt faculty recruitment.

"We need to send a message that liberal professors who would come here to indoctrinate students aren't welcome here," Hefley said.

Democrat Angie Paccione of Fort Collins, a Colorado State University faculty member, argued that the bill is reacting to isolated incidents and does more harm than good.

"You may have a few bad apples in the ranks of the professorate. You don't indict all white people for the actions of the KKK," she said.

"A few bad apples is exactly why we pass laws," Mitchell said. "We pass laws on robbery, sexual assault and discrimination because of a few bad apples."

Bill to protect rights of student conservatives moves ahead

By Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press

Colorado lawmakers today endorsed a bill aimed at protecting the rights of conservative students on Colorado campuses, spurred on by a nasty confrontation between a student who backs the plan and a professor who doesn't.

Ian Van Buskirk, a junior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, urged the House Education Committee to pass the measure (House Bill 1315) to discourage professors he says discriminate against students for their political views.

As he walked away from the witness table, Metro State philosophy professor Tim Gould walked up to him and said something as they stood nose-to-nose. Van Buskirk backed away, saying "Do you want to put that into the record?"

Majority Leader Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, saw the exchange and asked both come back to the table. Van Buskirk told committee members that Gould used profanity and threatened to sue him in court. Gould denied swearing.

"I said, 'Send me a chilling message and I'll see you in court'," Gould said.

The committee later sent the bill to the full House for debate on a 6-5 votes, with GOP lawmakers voting yes and all the no votes coming from Democrats.

King said the exchange proves Colorado needs to do something to protect students from professors who inject their views into the classroom. Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, agreed.

"If he behaves that way in a committee room, in front of the media, imagine how comfortable he must feel in his own classroom," he said.

After the exchange, Gould apologized to Van Buskirk in the hallway for his approach and explained it was just "street theater."

University of Colorado President Betsy Hoffman asked lawmakers to scuttle the bill partly because the school already has grievance procedures for students who get bad grades or have been harassed because of their religious or political views.

She also said such a bill, combined with a lack of funding for higher education, would continue to make it harder to attract and keep top professors.

"This bill sends a message to faculty that we don't trust them," she said.

Mitchell, however, said his bill will protect the rights of all students and that it is not connected to the Academic Bill of Rights legislation being pushed by conservative activist David Horowitz.

The bill requires schools to enact a grievance procedure for students subjected to a "hostile environment" toward their religious and political views. It also says students have a right to be free from professors who introduce "controversial matter" unrelated to the subject they are teaching.

The requirements would become part of Colorado's existing students' bill of rights, a law which mostly deals with the type and frequency of classes offered in state colleges and universities. Penalties for violations would be set by universities.


Jim Spencer is a columnist for the Denver Post.


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