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Academic Freedom Fight Heats Up By: Dave Curtin
Denver Post | Friday, January 02, 2004


A battle between Metropolitan State College faculty and a student claiming political bias in the classroom has inspired U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and conservative California activist David Horowitz to enter the fray. They say the incident is a perfect example of why the controversial "Academic Bill of Rights" is needed in Colorado.

The document written by Horowitz is intended to protect students from political bias on campuses.

The proposal gained sudden new life Tuesday when the recently formed Metro State Faculty Federation issued a fiery statement defending embattled political science professor Oneida Meranto.

Student George Culpepper aired charges of political bias on Meranto's part at a Dec. 18 legislative hearing hosted by state Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, who is considering sponsoring some form of the Academic Bill of Rights in Colorado.

In the sharply-worded letter to the school's president Tuesday, the faculty group takes to task Andrews, the hearing exploring political bias in college classrooms and especially Culpepper.

"This incident demonstrates the absolute need for protection for students in Colorado," Horowitz said Tuesday. "Now you have the faculty union piling on the student and demanding an apology from him because his professor slandered him. The student has no right under this university system. You couldn't have a better demonstration of why students need to be defended from out-of-control faculty."

Tancredo said he would like the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the incident.

"It's apparent the faculty don't have enough to do," Tancredo said. "I'm sending a letter of inquiry to the Department of Education. I want them to aggressively pursue this and make sure the student's rights haven't been violated."

The firestorm began earlier this month when Culpepper, president of the Auraria Campus Republicans, testified at the Andrews hearing that he dropped Meranto's Latin American Politics class this fall because of what he perceived as harassment for his political views and because he didn't think he could get a fair grade.

Meranto responded - at the request of The Denver Post - that Culpepper dropped the class because he hadn't done enough of the work and knew he wouldn't pass.

Five days later, Culpepper threatened to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education if the school didn't fire Meranto, a tenured professor. Culpepper claimed she violated his privacy rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Repeated violations can affect a school's federal funding.

"(Culpepper's) posturing is clearly being used to shore up hearings whose procedures were one-sided and specious, and whose actual findings were minimal," says the union letter addressed to Metro's interim president, Ray Kieft.

"The recent hearings, for all their drive to legislate many points of view into our classrooms, actually uphold one and only one point of view: that which the sponsors of the hearings already know, without argument or evidence, to be the right one," the letter says.

"It now appears that their real goal had little to do with the freedom of students to learn from exposure to many points of view. It has everything to do with the license of some students to disrupt and even destroy institutions of higher learning whose values and principles they do not respect or share."

The faculty group said it expects a written apology from Culpepper for "reckless charges" and a letter of support from the Metro State administration.

The letter is signed by members of a steering committee for the faculty federation, which identifies itself as an affiliate of the Colorado Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

"This faculty should take a look at their professional responsibilities which do not include getting involved in these spats," Tancredo said. "It shows how difficult it is for people who don't hold the faculty's point of view politically to express themselves. And it's not unique to Metro State. Instead of celebrating the fact you have a few students who are willing to express themselves - even though it goes against the political culture of the institution - they (faculty) are trying to stifle it."

Meranto said she is being used for political means.

"I don't know what Tancredo and Horowitz have to do with this," she said Tuesday. "I have not been charged with ideological repression. This is about my freedom of speech. They are really stretching it. It's very clear this is being orchestrated."

Philosophy professor Tim Gould, the primary writer of the faculty letter, said Tancredo and Horowitz are ignoring the fact Culpepper has not used normal college procedures to air his complaints.

"These professors are standing behind a professor who clearly violated the (privacy) law and that's completely inexcusable," Culpepper said. "They are the reason the Academic Bill of Rights needs to be addressed."




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