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Colorado Moves Closer To Academic Bill of Rights By: Julia C. Martinez
DenverPost.com | Friday, November 14, 2003

State Sen. John Andrews, hoping for more conservative teachings on college campuses, has begun a formal probe into whether Colorado's 29 colleges and universities have policies to protect academic freedom.

In a letter to the presidents of each institution, Andrews asked for responses by Dec. 1 to four questions, including what steps are being taken to promote intellectual diversity in the classroom and in the recruitment of faculty.

Andrews, R-Centennial and president of the state Senate, released the letter to reporters Wednesday.

Andrews said during the summer that he was working on an Academic Bill of Rights that would encourage or require state colleges to hire conservative faculty and invite more guest speakers with conservative views.

He and other Republican leaders, including Gov. Bill Owens, have met with David Horowitz, who leads Students for Academic Freedom, the national group pushing for more conservative viewpoints on college campuses.

Andrews suggested in the letter dated Nov. 4 that the responses from colleges could help him formulate his legislative plans.

"I would like to believe that the necessary protections are in place," Andrews said in the letter. "I must admit, however, that in light of a stream of recent communications I've received from individuals on various campuses across the state, I am not so sure."

Andrews said students and faculty have told him they fear for their grades or their careers "if they don't keep a lid on their patriotism or their faith."

Andrews declined to release names, saying the students and faculty asked to remain confidential.

A spokesman for the University of Colorado at Boulder, the state's largest higher-education institution, said his school's policies have historically protected academic freedom and a diversity of expression.

"At CU, what we're about is intellectual diversity and academic freedom," said CU spokesman Bob Nero. "When we recruit, there's no bias one way or the other. We just want the best faculty member. In fact, we're prohibited legally from asking what a candidate's party politics are."

Nero said CU president Betsy Hoffman was out of town but will meet with Andrews soon to deliver a copy of CU's policies.

Marilyn Liddell, president of Aims Community College in Greeley, said she was not sure what Andrews was getting at in his letter, but she said the school will respond to his questions.

Questions Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, says he wants Colorado's public colleges and universities to answer:

  • What formal policies exist at your institution to guarantee that 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 your institution's process for handling complaints and determining remedies in the event someone experiences a violation of academic freedom?

  • Do faculty evaluation questionnaires provide space for students to report bias?

  • What steps are you taking to promote intellectual diversity in the classroom and in departmental recruiting?

  • "I'm pretty comfortable with what we have in place right now. We follow the philosophical belief of continuous improvement," Liddell said. "We certainly abide by and adhere to academic freedom. I believe our students have the opportunity to hear different viewpoints and the right to be heard."

    Colorado State University provost Peter Nicholls said he thought Andrews' questions are reasonable and said he looked forward to responding.

    "I feel we want to guarantee our students and faculty that they operate in an environment free of undue pressure and harassment, and that is basically the tone of this request," Nicholls said. "We want a free exchange of views. That's what we're about in higher education."

    He said CSU in Fort Collins has policies that protect academic freedom and deal with complaints. Nicholls said he would find it hard to believe that there are students or faculty on the campus who fear for their grades or careers if they express their political or religious beliefs.

    Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, criticized Andrews' letter.

    "One of the things that's working in Colorado is our universities," said Gordon. "We turn out astronauts and Nobel Prize winners, teachers and businesspeople. The last thing we want to do is have the legislature running them. What Colorado's universities need is adequate funding, not politically based inquisitions."

    Andrews asked the colleges what policies exist to "guarantee that no student, faculty or employee is subjected to discrimination, harassment or a hostile academic environment because of their political or religious beliefs."

    He also asked how the institutions handle complaints about academic freedom and what remedies exist to deal with them. And he asked if there is space for students to report bias on faculty evaluation forms.

    "If it develops that Colorado's protection of academic freedom is insufficient in the above areas, we should come together and act," Andrews said.

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