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Colorado Academic Showdown By: Frontpagemag.com
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 06, 2004


Last June, David Horowitz visited Colorado and suggested to lawmakers that an Academic Bill of Rights was needed to protect students from faculty abuses. In the months that followed, Students for Academic Freedom Clubs were formed across the state and began gathering evidence of these abuses.

Colorado Senate President John Andrews then sent a letter to every college president in the state asking them to provide statements describing their protections for students and detailing any problems on their campuses.

At the same time, he convened an ad hoc legislative committee to hear from students and faculty members about whether academic freedom is adequately being protected on state-supported colleges and universities. The hearings were held on December 18.

Despite the fact that the hearings took place when most universities were in the midst of final exams, more than 30 students showed up to testify. Congregating on the third floor committee room in the Colorado State Capitol, they were joined by media representatives, college administrators, legislators, and members of the public at large.

Frontpagemag.com has obtained transcripts of this two-and-a-half-hour hearing. They reveal an environment of bias and hostility towards conservative viewpoints on Colorado campuses. We see many examples: a professor insisting that student Republicans withdraw from the Political Science Association; a professor teaching one-sided history class in which students were told that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were "martyrs" and that Stalin was a victim of U.S. persecution; a student skipping classes out of fear of the professor's tactic of ridiculing and humiliating conservative students in front of the class, and so on.

Readers can decide for themselves whether an Academic Bill of Rights is in order for Colorado schools. - Editors

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COLORADO GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Ad Hoc Legislative Committee on Academic Freedom

Thursday, December 18, 2003 – 10:00 a.m. to 12:35 p.m.

Senate President John Andrews, Committee Chair

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Thank you all very much for coming, I’m John Andrews. I’m the President of the Colorado Senate, and I represent the City of Centennial and Arapahoe County in the Senate.  A provision in the rules of the General Assembly allows for informal or ad hoc committees of legislators from one or both houses to convene when the legislature itself is not in session for the purpose of hearing testimony or discussing issues of concern in an informal way that contributes to our base of knowledge and awareness of those issues that should help us prepare for the formal legislative activity which in the this case begins a little less than three weeks from now, Wednesday the 7th of January. 

The purpose of our meeting this morning is to consider the protection of academic freedom in state-supported colleges and universities here in Colorado.  A goal that no one would disagree on, but the implementation of that goal can be controversial, and the missing ingredient in much of the debate over the past several months seems, to some of us, to have been actual, verified experiences of students or faculty members at our fine colleges and universities across the state about whether there are adequate protections for academic freedom. 

I did some fact-finding with our university presidents, and I have been very pleased with their cooperation where I’ve heard from all of the institutions in their responses to four questions, and the material sent me, in some cases including photocopied pages from handbooks or policy statements were so voluminous it’s about a three-inch stack of materials and it was not practical to distribute them at this meeting.  They are certainly a public record, and in some cases the university or college presidents have taken the initiative to make them available to the press and other interested people. 

I do have this morning a copy of a very succinct and complete reply that I’ve received from CU President Elizabeth Hoffman, and since it is representative of all the other replies, and since CU is our flagship university I offer it to you today as a proxy for the other couple of dozen institutions that replied in a similar vein.  And there are still a few copies of that available on the table up here to your left from the audience for anyone who would like to take one and if we run out we’ll obtain more. 

I had asked the four questions of university and college presidents: Number 1, what formal policies exist at your institution to guarantee no student, faculty member, or employee is subjected to discrimination, harassment, or a hostile academic environment on account of his or her political or religious beliefs—what is the policy?  Number 2, what is your institution’s process for handling complaints and determining remedies in the event someone experiences a violation of academic freedom.  What’s the recourse if the policy doesn’t seem to be operating in someone’s benefit in a particular instance?  Third, do faculty evaluation questionnaires provide space for students to report bias?  And fourth, what steps is your institution taking to promote intellectual diversity in the classroom and in departmental recruiting?

I found President Hoffman’s response on behalf of the University of Colorado system encouraging, and really exemplary in the declarations that it makes about protection of academic freedom.  It cites from the American Association of University Professor’s policy statement going back a hundred years that controversy is at the heart of free academic inquiry, and from the Laws of the Regents of the University of Colorado, and we are honored to have one of those elected Regents with us this morning, Dr. Peter Steinhauer, it cites the definition of academic freedom as a faculty member’s freedom to inquire, discover, publish, and teach truth as he or she sees it.  And it adds that students likewise must have freedom of study and discussion.  And comments that the fullest exposure to conflicting opinions is the best insurance against error, and charges all members of the academic community with the responsibility to protect the university as a forum for the free expression of ideas.  And, finally, the last excerpt I draw to your attention is it cautions faculty members that they have freedom in the classroom in discussing the subject of that class, but they should be careful not to introduce into teaching controversial matter that has no relation to the subject.  As I say, it’s exemplary.  I don’t see how it could be improved upon, and as a legislator one of my rules of thumb is when in doubt, don’t legislate, and decentralize these matters to the maximum that you can. 

The question before us this morning is, is the policy working?  The policy is certainly there, not just at the University of Colorado but at all of our institutions.  But then is the policy working?  And that’s why we have invited a number of individuals to make presentations this morning, and we will, as I say, take time for others who have come today without having been scheduled as presenters, if we have time we will hear from you.  If we don’t have time, I’ll just emphasize that when and if there is legislation proposed on this matter, that hearings on that legislation will be without time limit and without any of the panel arrangement that we have today and where all from the public who wish to speak on the bill, if there is a bill, will certainly have that opportunity. 

Let me ask members of the committee to introduce themselves, and then we will proceed to hear from our presenters—Senator Gordon?

SENATOR KEN GORDON: Thank you President Andrews.  I’m covering I guess for Terry Phillips, who couldn’t make it, and I wasn’t aware of this meeting until I got here just now, I mean today.  And I see that there are, looks like, about sixteen people already signed up, and I was wondering how one went about, or how it got arranged that these are the people that were going to testify? 

SENATOR ANDREWS:  At my initiative, and having convened and being the chair of the committee, I cast out a net asking for individuals who had concerns to express, and some larger number than this were identified, and then I first asked and then it narrowed down to these individuals, and even in the last few minutes we have had some say they’ve decided that they would rather not speak this morning, and that opened up time for others who hadn’t been invited to speak.  But by the nature of the ad hoc hearing process, which we have used a couple of times already this fall, we found that it focuses the inquiry if we can go out and find people that we know to have pertinent—relevant material to present, and invite them to come to present, but not to the exclusion of others.  Yes?

SENATOR GORDON:  I mean it just it seems as if you asked—if you put out a net asking for people that have concerns, and were going to criticize the universities based on those concerns, I’m just wondering if the universities had a chance to bring people in to present the other side, and I guess we’ll see as it goes along.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Would you start there, Representative Welker, and we’ll make sure that everyone knows who each member is?

REP. JIM WELKER:  Sure.  My name is Jim Welker, House District 51, Larimer County.

SENATOR KEN GORDON:  I am Senator Ken Gordon from Denver.

REP. ANGIE PACCIONE:  Representative Angie Paccione from Fort Collins and a member of the CSU Faculty.

REP. SHAWN MITCHELL:  I am Representative Shawn Mitchell from Broomfield.

SENATOR KEN ARNOLD:  Senator Ken Arnold, chair of the Education Committee in the Senate and I also represent District 23, which is Westminster, Broomfield, and half of Weld County.

REP. BOB MCCLUSKEY:  I am Representative Bob McCluskey, House District 52, which is Fort Collins. 

SENATOR BOB HAGEDORN:  Senator Bob Hagedorn, North and Central Aurora and also MA Adjunct faculty, member of Metro State College, teaching primarily public administration now. 

REP. ALICE MADDEN:  I am Representative Alice Madden, I represent District 10 which is part of Boulder County.  Mr. President, there is a comment I would like to make before we get started.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Yes?

REP. MADDEN:  When I was invited to this, I guess, about a week ago, I raised my concerns to President Andrews via email, and asked him not to be offended, and we joked about that.  It will be hard to offend him about this; but I wanted to be honest about the apprehension I had about his approach to this issue and I think it is important that I share these concerns because I think there is kind of a questionable premise upon which this whole thing started and by mimicking the structure of a legislative committee, I think that we are doing the public a disservice and we are doing the people picked to participate here today a disservice. 

Because when we have an ad hoc committee or an interim committee, we usually start off with some sort of neutral presentation of facts or legislative council.  We don’t have that today.  I would love to have seen the responses to President Andrews’ requests to the universities but I was unavailable today, although I do have a copy of CU’s and I am going to try to look at it while we address it here today.  But I think, more importantly, committees hear from a wide variety of people, we get individuals, with you can imagine, every differing type of view there is on a particular subject and I think that that is extremely important and not that the stories that we are going to hear today are not important, they are, but it is really impossible for us to make an informed decision on any matter unless there is a fair and balanced approach, so that we can hear all sides.  I think that no one wants to make a decision when they are working in a vacuum. 

It would have been interesting to hear from an accused professor.  It would have been interesting to hear it from a political student who is perhaps sitting in a classroom, and could say “yes, this professor did seem to be picking on this student”, or no, this student really seems to like the sound of his/her own voice and we all wanted him to be quiet, or perhaps this professor has a personality of Judge Judy and attacks everybody.  I mean, there are lots of different things we could have heard, but we aren’t going to hear that today, and I think that, unfortunately is a little bit by design.  This is a multifaceted issue and again, I think it’s a disservice to those of you who want to tell your story and those of us who want to hear the whole story.  And I would also have to admit I was little somewhat skeptical because I know this started with David Horowitz’ proposition that there are too many liberals in academia.  I have read and listened to Mr. Horowitz’ personal opinions on this.  I think in Colorado’s case, he was off the mark.  I also, of course, did not want to mention the other parts of the study that he relied on that talked about Economics Departments being very conservative or Business Departments being very conservative, because that would have skewed the position.  I was so struck by the quote in the paper that Colorado, he said “And, at the CU Law school there’s only one Republican professor.” That was his big example of how tables can turn in Colorado.  Well if he had done even a modicum of research, he would have learned that that is, by far, not true.  The head of Bush’s campaign is Professor Rob Dieter, who is his law… law.. excuse me…

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Representative Madden, Mr. Horowitz is not on the agenda today and if you talk about premises, it is a mistake in premise to assume that many of us who are concerned about adequate protection of academic freedom in Colorado, are in some way simply parroting Mr. Horowtiz’ concerns, that’s just not the case.  I think you are taking us off on a tangent where we do not need to go.  You are certainly welcome to have stated your concerns, I think you have done that and I don’t want to cut you off, but I would like to, if we can, began the presentation.

REP. MADDEN:  I have one last point.  Since this is the voice of minority, I appreciate your indulgence for one last point.  This is about the Academic Bill of Rights I thought, and he was the author, so that is why I brought him up, and that example struck me as being so wrong, that I wanted to mention it to the public, and I am happy that the very publicly, conservative professors at the Law School picked anyone who is interested.  My last point, I hope does not appear cynical, because I am actually quite sincere.  In our elected positions, we hear about injustice and oppression quite a bit.  We hear from the unemployed, the uninsured, people trying to get their children healthcare and good education.  Personally, I would love to have the power to form a committee on these important issues, but I don’t. 

Serving in the minority, I have had my microphone turned off when my opinion did not agree with the majorities.  I wish someone would have thrown me a committee; it would have been great.  So, I wanted to congratulate you for getting in front of us today, there are cameras here.  That does not happen everyday.  You are getting the attention of the legislature, while a lot of other people do not and I wish we could do that, because there are more important issues out there that we do not get to address in this manner.  This is a pretty amazing showing.  I am looking forward to hearing your stories.  I do want to congratulate you.  You were obviously heard and people reacted.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  There will be no displays from the audience please.

SEN. KEN ARNOLD:  Thank you Mr. President, I would like to take difference in a little bit with Representative Madden in saying that the disservice is done to those that will talk and those who now have a chance to talk.  The disservice would be if we did not allow you talk.  We welcome you here this morning and we really appreciate the fact that we do have those that are willing to come up and voice their opinions.

REPRESENTATIVE MITCHELL:  Mr. President with deference to my esteemed colleague from Boulder, I did not know whether if I would respond or not, but one simple point compels and that is if anyone is suggesting that problem of academic bias in a university somehow commands more attention from the legislature than the problems of how to build a strong economy, of affordable food, and the daily quality of life.  That suggestion is so absurd, and deserves no response.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Let me also just reassure you, Representative Madden.  It would be very inappropriate for accusations against individuals to be thrown around in here without an opportunity for that individual to respond.  There is no need to jump to the conclusion about someone being accused, as you spoke of accused professors.  I am going to ask the individuals presenting their concerns that we deal in personalities at a minimum and it would be inappropriate…  We are in a bit of a dilemma here, because if someone is not named, there would be the legitimate question, give me details, how can you prove this, it could be vague.  If someone is named, then there is the right of that individual to respond, that in turn, I think offends our sense of fairness.  So I am going to have to ask the presenters to leave names out of this, to the extent that you can and the gavel is here in order that the chairman can keep this on track and be as constructive as we possibly can.

With that, the first panel that we will hear from consists of George Culpepper, Brian Glotzbach, and Anne Clodfelter, all of them are students at Metro State University and Kelly Weist, an adjunct professor at Metro State.  Any of you that have written material to submit to the committee supplementing the remarks allowed in your time, you certainly may do that and you may continue to submit such material to help us fill out the record after today if you need to. 

In order to manage the time, I am going to try keep each of you to about three minutes in your opening statements, as to place an opportunity for us to have questions from the committee, and then we will move to the next panel, and of course, legislators are always free to be recognized by the chairman and ask a question and make a comment at any point in someone’s presentation.  There is no need to wait until the presentations are over.  Do you want to begin, Mr. Culpepper?

GEORGE CULPEPPER:  Yes, thank you Mr. President.  I just want to say on behalf of Nick Bahl, he apologized that he could not be here.  He started his internship today with the Independence Institute and so he wants to extend his apologies to this committee.  Thank you Mr. President, senators and representatives to allow me this opportunity to speak.  In today’s column in the Daily Post, there are three professors who stated that we agreed that students should not be used as political pawns, rather they should be encouraged to develop their own identities.  We indulge the general consensus that higher education should not be an enterprise in indoctrination.  Professors have the responsibility to teach the subjects that they are experienced in and to educate the students who want to learn, I am the chairman of the Auraria College Republicans representing the students of the Community College of Denver, University of Colorado at Denver and Metro State College of Denver.  We got brought into this spiel so to speak about a couple of months ago. 

It was an adviser to the Political Science Association, accused the Auraria College Republicans of working with the Independence Institute at Metro State, this is not true.  I can assure you that the Auraria College Republicans have had no contact with the Independence Institute until now and we will continue to work with Independence Institute on this very issue.  This professor accused the College Republicans of coercing, like I say, with Independence Institute and she explicitly said in the Political Science Association meeting—it’s a student-lead organization that I quote, “Republicans needs to withdraw from the Political Science Association.”  This is very disturbing because the Political Science Association is a non-partisan student-lead organization.  She is only the adviser of the students participating in all political affiliations including Republicans. 

You know, as the chairman of the Auraria College of Republicans, I have responsibility and obligation to the 60 members of the College Republicans and therefore, I have sent, which I have with me the transcripts on that meeting to Senator Andrews to Governor Owens because they are the leaders of the Republican Party.  The College of Republicans is a branch of the Republican National Committee.  Therefore, we felt an obligation as the chairman that they be informed of what transpired at this meeting.  This is disturbing to me because this adviser was also my professor in a class that I had and I felt very disturbed by this, I went to the chair and I asked to be removed from the class.  And after several weeks of continuous meetings with the Dean’s office I finally got that wish.  Because when I went back to the class I felt intimidated, disturbed and bothered by the accusations and feel free to pick up last weekend’s Rock Insider’s Edition, you can read about that professor and what transpired in her class, in an editorial that myself and the vice-chairman wrote. 

Had the ACRs had not been a visible organization on campus, we feel that this issue would have been swept under the rug and that the administration probably would just not have took her on it, but because I sent it to the Senate President, because I send it to the Governor, the administration now has to respond to the President of the Senate and to the Governor on what they want to do about the claims that was sent to the President of Metro State College.  The Auraria Republicans stands committed to addressing violation of academic freedom and we will continue to work earnestly with all parties involved and we thanked the president and members of this committee for being here and hearing these statements.

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Thank you, Mr. Culpepper.  I think to be accurate; the Metro State administration is not obliged to respond to me or in any legislative manner because we are made aware of that controversy.  I think all of that has been achieved here is the visibility of the matter has been increased in the public eye.  Let me just ask you briefly to explain what you mean that you were intimidated by this interaction with the individual, who is both the adviser and the teacher of yours.  You served in the Marines, how can somebody intimidate you?

GEORGE CULPEPPER:  Well, you know, because as a professor, you know, she has an obligation to teach the subjects and by her, which I have a copy with me, by her account, addressing a concern on another subject matter to me on an academic e-mail that I sent her and by the same email her response to me by calling me unfair and unethical, that to me as the professor who has control of my grades, I am very disturbed by that.  You know I…

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Thank you that is the clarification I am looking for.  Brian Glotzbach, do you want to go next?

BRIAN GLOTZBACH:  Yes sir.  I appreciate everyone for giving us the opportunity to speak here today.  I am just going to go ahead and read a statement that I had written up and then we can just go from there.  In my opinion, an institution of higher education is supposed to be a place where a student can gain a broader understanding and knowledge of a wide array of subject matters and viewpoints.  With this commission, any institute of higher learning. When certain viewpoints are derogated or not presented at all, this makes the college admission impossible.  A college should be free of ideological intolerance and persecution.  Debate should be encouraged and all points of view should be included in this debate.  As a Metropolitan State College of Denver student, I feel that this is not happening in higher education.  I feel that the political left is over-represented on our college campuses and that the right or conservative viewpoint is ignored, rejected or condemned more often than not.  While I myself am not having any instances of this in my current Metro State, I have witnessed it first-hand at the University of Colorado at Boulder and also at Saddleback Junior College in California.  Our access is not just a problem in Colorado, but also across the nation.

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  I have a bag of questions, not on my preview, but what have you witnessed at Boulder?

BRIAN GLOTZBACH:  I have a political science, actually a political geography class, and in my opinion it was centered pretty much to the left.  The required readings, I felt were, you know, of the left and not representative of a broader viewpoint, yet goes to challenging both sides of the debate.

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Did you get a mark on your course that you felt was fair?

BRIAN GLOTZBACH:  You know, I have been under attack regarding my statement, but it could have been and it could not have been.  I am not privy to what the judgment of the professor was, I could get a B in the class.  I felt I did A work, our exams are strictly essay questions that were subjectively graded.  There was no right or wrong answer, so depending on someone’s interpretation it could have been graded differently, in my opinion.

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Did you wish to tell the committee something else?

BRIAN GLOTZBACH:  Well, I just want to go. You know, as for my time at Metro State and I have gotten it in the CU Boulder.  I have not had any type of this stuff going in the classroom. However, I do still see the proof.  I work in the campus bookstore and I have seen all the books that are required readings for the classes.  I have observed that there is a distinct lack of material from any author that could be considered a conservative.  Liberals on the other hand, are a little luckier.  Michael Moore’s books are required for history classes.  Howard Zinn is a constant requirement.  Noam Chomsky has been a required reading.  My question is why is Sean Hannity never required reading.  How come Bill O’Reilley’s books are not there?  How come different points of view are not presented to our young men and women?  Why do we need to limit opposing viewpoints and thus limit the quality of education that these students receive, and that the taxpayers of this state subsidize?  Basically, what I would like to see is that we have all sides of the debate open and that no one is under represented on campus when it comes to this debate.  And I feel that right now, the conservative point of view is definitely lacking on our campuses. 

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Thank you. Anne Clodfelter.

ANNE CLODFELTER:  I would like to thank the committee and the president and the senators’ representatives for listening to my statement.  I’d just like to read something I wrote up.  I am a sophomore from Metro State College and I am currently pursuing a history major.  I am working towards a career as a historian, researcher, or even a college professor and I am concerned about the level of liberal bias towards lawmakers and presidents in history that I see in my school. Those professors are excellent teachers and it is a pleasure to be taught by them.  However, some professors see the classroom as an instrument with which to liberally indoctrinate the students.  The professor has, in my American History, in the fall semester of 2003, was a very qualified teacher.

At that time, there was no room in her class for conservative points of view.  Every day, she used the classroom as a sounding board and she insulted the president whose policies are those of Republican lawmakers.  One day she got up in front of the class and told us that the president could not be an historian and be a Republican.  This hurt me very much because I am a conservative and I want to be a historian.  Another time, she got up in front of the class and said that President Bush started the Iraqi war because he got a hard-on.  I thought this was a very inappropriate way to be talking about the president.  Instead of spending on history, my professor spends a significant amount of time lecturing on current programs of the Republicans and the president.  When my peers or I tried arguing and tried to question or argue against her ideas, she ridiculed them, leaving the person feeling humiliated in front of the class.  One of my more outspoken conservative peers began skipping classes because as she told the teacher, she was afraid to come to class.

The teacher refused to acknowledge the student’s fears.  The political talk is one thing, I would not have to deal with her after the class is over, but I had a hard time dealing with political bias towards history.  The books she chose for the class called President Reagan’s philosophy on the use of tax cuts to boost the economy, quote, “a naïve plan.”  When tax cuts worked to boost the economy, the book stated it was, quote, “Good luck.”  The book and the teacher portrayed the Rosenberg’s as martyrs, and Stalin and his successors in the Soviet Union as persecuted by the United States.  This bias towards history affected me as a history major because I want to leave college with an understanding of the conservative viewpoints of history as well as the liberal ones.  I want to get the whole picture. 

I am deeply discouraged about the idea of becoming a college professor because of what I see on campus.  The severe lack of conservative faculty at my college and the way the conservative faculty is treated have led me to believe that I will have a hard time finding a position if I do decide to become a college professor.  I have given serious thought about teaching at the collegiate level, but currently I do not see this as a realistic possibility until hiring and firing practices is free from discrimination.  The majority of professors on campus are good teachers, they leave their biases out of the classroom.  College professors like the one I had this Fall need to be made accountable for their statements and how it affects their students.  Professors are already made accountable for how they treat minority students in their classrooms.  I do not think that the way they treat students with different political affiliations should be any different.

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Of course you recognize that a history text or any book of history that takes a dissembling view about the history of the Cold War or the effect of Reagan’s economic policies has just as much right in the curriculum as any other book.  You recognize that, don’t you ma’am?

ANNE CLODFELTER:  Yes.

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  You mentioned hiring and firing practices needing to be free of discrimination in order for a student like yourself to want to pursue a career in teaching in higher education.  Do you have any firsthand instances or specifics that would make you believe there is such discrimination, because the written policy summary submitted to me by all the presidents emphasize that there is not supposed to be any such discrimination on the basis of one’s political or religious beliefs in being hired, fired or promoted in the faculty?  Do you have anything to the contrary that would be specific?

ANNE CLODFELTER:  How I see they have treated, the way they treated this professor and also how I have seen that there are not a lot of conservative faculty and I’m just thinking that just as many conservative faculty would want to be teachers as liberal faculty, and I just think that, I mean, some people think that most liberals would want to be teachers, but I still think that there should be more conservative faculty, but…

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Thank you.

ANNE CLODFELTER:  It just seems like it...

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Yes, Representative Paccione.

REPRESENTATIVE PACCIONE:  Thank you, Mr. President.  I’m just curious to know how you know the number of conservative faculty in the university?

SENATOR JOHN ANDREWS:  Anne?

ANNE CLODFELTER:  All the teachers I’ve had so far seem to have a very liberal point of view.  I even had a teacher that has come up to me and had a conservative point of view.  They all seem to have, they made quotes about the president, quotes about politics, just on the side, usually on the side, with the students just offhand remarks that pretty much dictates that they are liberal faculty and so far I haven’t had a teacher that hadn’t done that and now it just gives me pretty much a perspective that none of them are conservative.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Let me just point out one other thing I heard you say.  You had mentioned having to sit in a classroom and listen to insults against the President and members of Congress and State Legislatures and I can’t speak for Congress and the president, but we as state legislators are fairly well insult-proof here, so not a concern.

(Laughter)

KELLY WIEST:  Good morning, members of the committee.  My name is Kelly Wiest.  I am an adjunct instructor in the political science department at Metro State, along with the Honorable Senator Bob Hagedorn.  I am, of course, only speaking for myself today.  I am not for the political science department or Metro State. I am a conservative and I have worked in politics for about 10 years now.  I find myself in an interesting position to assess this current debate regarding intellectual diversity on campus.  I am finding that there are many students at our colleges, especially at my college, who are made to feel isolated and intimidated regarding their political opinions, and this is negatively affecting our educational experience. 

Students who study political science at a major or minor level should expect to be challenged on a regular basis not only in an educational way, but in a political way as well.  Politics is about human opinion, how we choose to govern ourselves, the underlying philosophies of that government, the actual way that our government works, and especially how all these things change all the time are the basis for the study of politics.  Encountering a narrow range of answers to these questions does the political science student a grave disservice. However, for the non-political science major, it is beyond defense.

Students in a political science course, whether they are political science majors or math majors, must expect their instructors to have some opinion in politics, from the basic questions of what is the purpose of government to the specific issues of the day, such as is gay marriage constitutional?  But they must also expect that they will be given the tools with which to assess such questions from both or all sides to formulate their own opinions and to persuasively present these opinions in a larger political forum.  This is simply good teaching.  Should students in other types of courses like nursing, child development, or math expect daily exhortations of political opinion from instructors?  Is that good teaching? 

What the students are telling you here today is evidence of a lack of commitment to good teaching on the part of some faculty and administration of Colorado colleges.  Each student here today stands in the place where other students too fearful to come before you to tell you their stories.  None of us is here to give you the smoking gun or any egregious act, which proves that government intervention is necessary.  Instead, it is the accretion of these stories, which should need your attention.  So much discrimination is hidden by the assertion of seemingly benign intentions. We blame the victims for being too sensitive. We accuse them of attempting to stifle other people’s speech, for their assertion that their own speech is being chilled. We think of excuses as to why it isn’t possible to find any instructors of different viewpoints, or certainly any that would meet our supposedly viewpoint-neutral criteria.

But all of this is a smokescreen. Students, the consumers in this equation, are telling you that they are not getting value for the dollar. If senior citizens were here testifying, telling you that a senior program was not serving their needs, in fact was discriminating against certain of them, wouldn’t you want to help them?  I know you would and I know you have. Conservative students often begin to wonder if they are as stupid and evil as their counterparts and instructors assert, since there is no one who thinks the way they do on campus. They often feel isolated and if they are not political people, if they are studying some nonpolitical subject, they have no confidence in asserting their political viewpoints.  Students are often too intimidated by the very power relationship between the instructor and student to even consider that their opinions might have equal weight. 

When they encounter an instructor who happens to be around with their political viewpoint, they are stunned and amazed.  They feel validated.  As a conservative instructor who teaches a general studies course, Introduction to American Government, I get this firsthand from many students. Those of us responsible for creating this learning environment including the legislature which funds the state colleges must ask ourselves if we are willing to listen to these students today and make a commitment to good teaching in our colleges.  This doesn’t mean mandating quotas of conservatives, or liberals, or of any persons holding a particular viewpoint on campus. It means a commitment to hiring instructors who are good teachers, who encourage their students to take the tools offered to formulate their own way of thinking and address all of the issues of the day, regardless of the instructor’s political viewpoint.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  I am just going to pause you there and say that that sounds like a challenge for governing boards and administrations and deans and selection committees more than something that would have a handle on it than we could address legislatively.  Am I hearing you right?

KELLY WIEST:  I think we need to very carefully consider that, but one of the things I think you should be hearing from students today is that they are not receiving an adequate response from those particular boards.  Now why that is, is so far is not discussed and perhaps those who would like to register opinions on that particular issue.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Representative McClusky.

REP. MCCLUSKY:  Yes, Kelly I appreciate your being here today.  Since you are in the academic teaching end, what is the process of Metro State?  I guess we’ve heard some discussions that people have concerns, you would be familiar with the process in place now at Metro State for students to go to someone or a committee or a dean or whatever.  What is in place now and with the concerns we hear, are people doing that?

KELLY WIEST:  From my understanding the process involves filing a grievance against a particular professor and that has a particular process that goes through the department chair to the administration, and Senator Hagedorn might know a little bit more that I do, since he’s been there a little longer.  I have to say not having had one of those filed against me, I am not particularly familiar with the process, but they do have a process in place.  Now, some of the students that you see here today have tried to follow that process and probably they do not feel that they are getting the relief that they wish through that process, and perhaps they might be able to address that in a better way.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Senator Hagedorn.

SENATOR HAGEDORN:  Thank you Mr. Chairman.  Kelly, you mentioned at the onset of your presentation that college students should expect to be challenged and I think that is one of the biggest challenges facing us as faculty members as well and I have been teaching at Metro for 18 years now, and……. I am not aware of any complaints having been filed against me by any of my students, knock on wood….  What I see that is the challenge is how do you get students to articulate their opinions.  How do you get them to sort through all these information that hopefully we’re feeding them to be able to develop their own ideas and thoughts about a topic or a subject. 

Now, I know that some faculty members, and I don’t practice this, but there are faculty that will be very confrontational with the student and the intent is… and they’ll also throw out another tactic is to say something very controversial and to see how the students react to it.  Now there is degrees of how faculty members do that, but there is definitely something that could be considered a prejudicial approach by, you know, throwing out the kind of person, I’ve done it myself.  I have said something in class that would be considered very controversial that I didn’t believe at all, and then in most cases, I have my students sitting there doing nothing.  Then I’ve had to prod them and I said, “Do I take it that all of you believe this?” and then finally they open up and said we have this discussion with all different viewpoints.  What do you see is, how do you address this challenge of challenging college students.  Ms. Wiest?

KELLY WIEST:  It certainly is a challenge, and it’s a challenge when you’re teaching political science majors.  It is an extreme challenge when you’re teaching general studies courses wherein the vast majority of students in that course are not political science majors.  They are studying something else, they could care less about this course.  They are just required to take it.  So, I too have found myself doing that kind of thing, not being extremely confrontational and I don’t know if any of my students are here today, perhaps they can disagree with me on that.  One of the ways that I go about it, having been to law school is usually a bit of a Socratic method, and really pushing the student to say look here is the, whether the case is if I teach the Dred Scott case from the Civil War which has the extremely egregious opinion that Negroes in what they state about Americans as we see them today could never be citizens of the United States.  I highly agree with this decision in many, many levels, and one that when you start pushing them like what we talk about and then once I start from that notion about that particular thing you channel them more with questions and to thinking about the power relationship area and what government should do, and the Supreme Court should be able to do that.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Excuse me, I’m trying to keep it on point here. If any of the students who spoke previously were misunderstanding at objectionable protocol, opinion in classs as where it was really just an attempt to provoke discussion, I didn’t hear that from any of the three of them, it sounded as though they felt that the precept stated saying in the CU handout that introducing controversial material unrelated to classrooms subject was unethical and was being violated, not simply to provoke.  Let me also ask if any of the students can speak to Ms. Wiest’s observation that the grievance process at Metropolitan State does not work as well as it should.  Have you had an experience with that?  Any of you? 

GEORGE CULPEPPER:  Yes, sir.  Thank you.  I can say that, you know, as a student I had to file a grievance with the college based on the professor’s….

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Controversy over the Republican cause.

GEORGE CULPEPPER:  Yes!  Well, just me being a Republican student and by her addressing me in an email, on a education e-mail. I had filed that, and mine got packaged my grievance that compiled together with other students who had the same type of grievance, but I can assure you, Mr. President, that had I not been the chairman of the Auraria Republicans, that I feel that the whole thing would just have been swept beneath the rug.  You know, because they want to keep it, you know, at the lower echelon.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Is the process still working?  Has it resolved yet.

GEORGE CULPEPPER:  I believe it is still ongoing.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  You’re really not yet in a position to say that it hasn’t worked for you.

GEORGE CULPEPPER:  That’s correct.

SENATOR ANDREWS: Ms. Weist, please continue.

KELLY WIEST:  I just have a couple of things I have to follow up with for Senator Hagedorn, one of the things I think students can definitely take a particular idea from what the professor is doing in the class is if you make one controversial statement that pushes a student toward knowledge, that’s one thing.  If every statement that is made on a particular side, whatever side that is, I think by week 13 or 14 of the course, the student is starting to feel uncomfortable if they are on the other side of that and I think that’s what some of them may be saying today.  To finish with Representative McCluskey’s question, what are the other ways students can register a problem with professors is through a faculty evaluation process.  At a point during every course at Metro State, we have evaluations passed out to the students and they can fill out their opinions regarding that professor.  They are fairly narrow forms.  There are only a few questions.  You fill in a little circle that may or may not best say how you feel…

SENATOR ANDREWS:  Some of the institutions told me they have an open-ended comment?

KELLY WIEST:  We do not at Metro.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  You do not. But you do not and everything of yours is yes or no.

KELLY WIEST:  Exactly.  And I think all of us there, it is a scale given and compiled in a mathematical formula I think most of the faculty at Metro State, and I think most of the students would prefer that there were an opportunity to express more of an opinion on that form.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  And one of my goals in surveying the institutions has been to see if we could tease out some best practices where one institution could learn from something that is working effectively at another institution and that involves obviously no formal legislative action at all.  To keep this moving along Ms. Wiest, I gather from Ms. Clodfelter that you’ve had personal experience as a faculty member that you wanted to bring forward, or not?

KELLY WIEST:  Well, since this is not a committee in investigating what’s wrong with Kelly Weist, I don’t know that it is particularly relevant, but it perhaps it is evidence of something regarding the environment on campus; there was a flyer passed out which was something, somewhat hostile to myself, which I took as hostile to me and as far as I could guess.  As far as I may regarding the Political Science Department in my mailboxes, but I had no idea who wrote it, who passed it out, what exact problem they have with me.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  As an employee at Metro State, are you okay?  Are things being treated in a fair manner as far as your concerned?

KELLY WIEST:  I would say yes.  There are tensions, as you would always get when you get people of different viewpoints together in one particular hallway and, you know, especially last spring semester we had, I have to say that I think the Departmental Chair has been fair with me and I have only been there two semesters so we’ll have to see.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  We are organized by trying to group voices from one institution on one panel to try to get a better insight into what’s happening at that specific campus, and several other students who were not among the invited presenters have been identified to me, and if we could take just one of them that might have a contrasting from what has been, or already given, there is Joe Taggert, Lindsey Kraut and Eric Weason.  Would one of you would like a few moments to address the committee?

SENATOR ARNOLD:  Mr. President, I would like to ask a question, a couple of them.

SENATOR ANDREWS:  I first will take Senator Arnolds.

SENATOR ARNOLD:  Kelly, before you leave the table.  The surveys that are thrown out at the end of the class, what is that, what happens to them?  Do they do anything?  Have you seen any effect from them or any response from them?

KELLY WIEST:  I have seen my particular evaluations and students are able to access previous professors’ evaluations online their own through our website service.  My understanding is that they are utilized in personnel decisions.

To continue reading the transcript of the hearing, CLICK HERE




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