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A Victory for Campus Freedom By: Eric Ferreri
The Herald-Sun | Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A North Carolina congressman has backed a move to adopt a bill of rights for colleges and universities.   

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican who represents a large chunk of the eastern part of the state, hopes the Academic Bill of Rights will "return impartiality to our campuses." He joined U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, in announcing a bill that urged institutions to be politically neutral.   

Speaking in Washington, D.C., last week, Jones took a few shots at what he felt was liberal bias at public university campuses. His concerns echoed those that emerged earlier this summer from some conservative students on the UNC Chapel Hill campus during discussions of the institution's controversial summer reading program.   

"There is no place for partisan politics in higher education, especially when it influences the mind-set of students," Jones said. "Students go to college to learn and make independent, educated decisions."   

The proposed legislation, which strives to protect the "intellectual independence of professors, researchers and students," has been attacked on some campuses as conservative propaganda.   

But Jones says the legislation is necessary.   

"I have heard from my constituents in eastern North Carolina who are tired of the liberal bias on the University of North Carolina campuses," he said. "How can we expect our state's universities to rise to the highest echelon of education if they refuse to offer unbiased instruction?"   

In his statements, Jones didn't give any specific examples of liberal bias in classrooms on university campuses. But some conservative students on the flagship campus say such biases are evident within the context of classroom discussions.   

"A lot of the messages you get in the classroom are fairly unbalanced," said Michael McKnight, a UNC senior whose conservative student group, Committee for a Better Carolina, was a vocal opponent of the UNC summer reading program's selection this summer. "I guess that's because most of the professors are liberal, and you argue your side better than you argue the other side of the argument."   

McKnight's student group took issue earlier this year with the selection of social activist Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America." In the book, Ehrenreich wrote about several experiences she had working in low-paid, service-industry jobs. In doing so, she took several shots at corporate America and Wal-Mart in particular.   

University officials have defended their choice of book, saying that, by inspiring heated discourse, the book had the desired effect. The book drew both praise and criticism from students, politicians and the public at large, and was widely locally and throughout the state.   

McKnight's group believed choosing the Ehrenreich book was an example of UNC's desire to indoctrinate students in a liberal point of view -- an effort that, he believes, also takes place in the classroom.   

Judith Wegner, for one, isn't so sure. A law professor and chairwoman of UNC Chapel Hill's faculty, Wegner doesn't believe there is any sort of widespread bias in classrooms on the Chapel Hill campus. Generally, a faculty member should push students to move beyond a single belief or way of thinking, and see the bigger picture, Wegner said.   

"It's awfully hard to generalize about what the overall tenor is in a classroom," she said. "I don't think there's much of the 'I don't like your paper because you're Republican' or 'I don't like your paper because you're Democratic.' Honestly, I don't think there's rampant unfairness in evaluation around here."   

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