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.