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America's Campuses Need the Academic Bill of Rights By: Rep. Joseph Pitts
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 21, 2003

Our children go to college to explore different sides of issues. They go to learn how to distinguish the truth among varying points of view. They go to learn how to think. And to become experts in their field of study.

As a result, colleges and universities play an important role in our culture. They educate our youth, train future leaders, drive research, advance scientific and medical knowledge, generate technological innovation, and shape the attitudes that define our culture 

One of the most important debates happening in these institutions is whether they are diverse enough. As a result of this debate, many colleges have made significant strides in attracting diverse faculty in terms of race and gender. But most schools that have achieved a diverse faculty in terms or race or gender, have failed to do so in terms of intellectual points of view. 


According to a recent study of 150 academic departments at thirty-two prestigious American colleges across the country done by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, “overall ratio of Democrats to Republicans we were able to identify at the 32 schools was more than 10 to 1.” Party affiliation does not necessarily mean that a person holds a certain point-of-view. There is plenty of intra-party disagreements. And this fact does not, in itself, prove that our colleges are out to indoctrinate students with liberal ideology as some suggest. 


But it raises serious questions about the education students receive at universities around the country. For one, it suggests that thousands of students go through an entire undergraduate experience and only get half the story from their professors. As factories of new ideas and future leaders, this fact can only hurt the educational opportunities offered to American college students.


This is important for several reasons. 


First, a professor’s point of view affects how he or she teaches class. When all professors are singing from the same intellectual song sheet, students are not forced to adapt to varying points of view and different ideas. Once students leave school they will be challenged to reconcile their ideas, their personality, and their training with co-workers and neighbors who do not agree with them. Because they have are not offered this experience in college, they are not adequately prepared for this challenge.


Second, it robs students of mentors. Most recent high school graduates who enter college are in the beginning stages of forming their opinions about the world. While relationships between students and professors who disagree are valuable and necessary, students at this vulnerable place in life naturally gravitate towards professors who believe things that resonate with them, and they should have more opportunities to do so.


This reason more than any other transcends race and gender. It touches on how students relate with professors. Without these mentors, many students may choose to abandon their quest for truth or, worse, simply accede to their professors’ point-of-view. In either case, our universities are producing graduates who might have the technical knowledge in their major but are limited in their ability to think for themselves.


Third, when the faculty has members who disagree with each other, that encourages debate over ideas throughout the entire campus. This makes for a dynamic learning environment and encourages students to ask tough questions and dig for answers. Without it, the intellectual atmosphere can become stale.


Some of our universities are the best in the world. I have no reservations in saying that. But in order to maintain that distinction, I believe it is time for colleges and universities to take action to promote intellectual diversity on their campuses.


For that reason, I have thrown my support behind a bill that encourages every American university to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights.


The Academic Bill of Rights recognizes that political partisanship is detrimental to the students’ academic experience. It promotes intellectual diversity and an environment that is hospitable to all points of view. It would call for an end to unequal funding of student organizations that host guest speakers. 


But the bill does not place quotas based on party affiliation or ideology and does not dictate any academic curriculum. It simply asks university administrators to promote diversity in ideas in addition to race and gender.


I think this is an idea that universities can benefit from greatly. It will attract more diverse faculty and give students a much better experience.

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, R-PA, represents Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional district.

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