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Defending Academic Freedom Online By: Joel Lanceta
Chicago Maroon | Monday, February 02, 2004


College Republicans at the University of Colorado at Boulder found themselves at the center of an ideological and political debate when they launched a website earlier this month to collect complaints about liberal faculty discriminating against conservative students. The website attempts to scrutinize collegiate education by asking whether a liberal bias exists at Colorado and college campuses nationwide.

Brad Jones, a 20-year old senior and chairman of the College Republicans who launched the website, said his group wanted to collect individual stories and examples from conservative students as evidence of liberal bias. The findings will be presented to the University of Colorado administration, and eventually to the regents in Boulder and the Colorado state legislature.

Jones said that since the website was launched on January 21, the College Republicans have been getting one to two stories per day.

“For years, we’ve heard College Republicans’ complaints about professors who use their classrooms inappropriately as a soapbox,” Jones said. “Since this is becoming a focus issue for the state of Colorado, with regents and lawmakers looking to improve our situation on campus, we need to generate concrete, detailed examples of bias.”

The UC-Boulder College Republicans are loosely affiliated with Students for Academic

Freedom, a foundation in Washington, D.C., led by California conservative David Horowitz. Horowitz, who spoke at Boulder last year, supported the Colorado effort to protect students from harassment because of their political beliefs.

“This is a Colorado issue now, with unique facets to it, and we must work through them as students locally” Jones said. “[But] we anticipate the site to generate a heightened level of debate over this issue. Certainly, due to the recent press locally, nationally, and even internationally, there are a lot of eyes on us.  We have been in conversations with other College Republicans chapters around the state about sharing the technology behind the site, and we are more than willing to do so.”

The website bears similarities to CampusWatch.Org, an online monitor of Middle Eastern studies nationwide that encouraged students to write about professors who allegedly hold bias against Western countries.

CampusWatch gained controversy last year for accusing several University professors of holding anti-Semitic and anti-American views, including Rashid Khalidi, the former University professor in Near Eastern Language and Civilization who transferred to Columbia University last year.

The U of C charter of the College Republicans has taken notice of the situation at UC-Boulder and vocally shared its approval. Marya Spont, a second-year in the College and the secretary of the U of C College Republicans, believes her fellow members at Colorado are justified and believes they have a valid claim.

“I’ve heard countless stories of people who were strongly advised to hold back all conservative-leaning comments in interviews, whether for admissions or for academic University employment—these stories come from friends, faculty, and news articles,” Spont said. “It often seems that an anti-conservative Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy has developed in academia, that rightist viewpoints are not only not welcome, but essentially just not allowed.”

Grace Lin, a third-year in the College and president of the College Republicans, said the U of C College Republicans have no intention of installing a similar website. However, she agrees that Chicago is not immune to political bias.

“We have had extensive discussions at our meetings in regards to political bias on campus,” Lin said. “Whether it was in regards to the Margaret Cho event, the administration granting permits to an anti war in Iraq protester, or professors canceling classes to protest the war in Iraq. Political bias is something conservatives deal with every day.”

Lin said the College Republicans have tried to rectify the perceived political bias by writing news articles and letters to the administration, holding debates, and inviting conservative speakers to the campus.

“Often, conservative thought is not well received in the classroom,” Lin said. “It has often made conservatives uncomfortable about speaking their opinions because of the scrutiny it often receives.”

Lewis Fortner, the associate dean of students in the College, was more cautious about the implications of the website. He hopes that the stories gathered by the UC-Boulder College Republican website would not become a blacklist of liberal professors but instead encourage debate among the different segments of political thought.

“Yes, bias exists in university teaching,” Fortner said. “It would be more accurate to say that a wide range of biases exist and are constantly in evidence.  Attempts to correct this situation and protect the nation’s youth would be laughable were they not so corrosive to academic freedom and the proper functioning of a university.”

Some students think that the College Republicans are merely exercising their civil liberties. Feliks Waclaw Pleszczynski, a first-year in the College, agrees that right-wing thinkers are entitled to the same freedoms of expression as liberals are.

“Of course [the University of Colorado College Republicans] are justified; they’re only acting out their freedoms of speech and freedom of assembly on the internet,” Pleszczynski said. “They had no outlet, the professors, the administrators weren’t doing anything so they had to take matters into their own hands.”

“Professors should only be afraid of the website if they try to suppress students,” Pleszczynski added.

Conservative lawmakers have also rallied toward the cause of the UC-Boulder College Republicans. Colorado Republican State Senate President John Andrews called for all state universities to present their anti-discrimination policies last November. Republican lawmakers also issued a resolution last week calling for the defense of student’s First Amendment rights, including expression based on viewpoints.

A bill introduced in the Colorado legislature on January 28 is designed to protect the civil rights of students in higher education by demanding political and religious neutrality in classrooms.




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