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A Bill for Academic Freedom By: Cheryl Wetzstein
Washington Times | Thursday, October 23, 2003


A group of House Republicans is calling on national colleges and universities to adopt an "academic bill of rights" to ensure "intellectual independence."

Students have a right to "get an education rather than an indoctrination," said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, who introduced the bill this week with more than a dozen Republican co-sponsors.

Too many teachers are using classrooms "as their own personal soapboxes," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill.

The measure urges colleges to seek intellectual diversity in their faculty, curricula, reading lists and campus speakers. Teachers should provide students with "dissenting sources and viewpoints" and refrain from using their courses "for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or antireligious indoctrination," says the bill, which draws heavily on a proposal written by radical turned conservative activist David Horowitz.

The House bill says it is not intended to apply to private religious colleges, but asks them to "be as explicit as is possible" about the scope and nature of their academic restrictions.

Clara M. Lovett, president of the American Association for Higher Education, said yesterday the House bill sounds "totally absurd."

"The strength of American higher education has always been that it has a great variety of institutions and programs. Most students can choose not only the programs and the institutions they attend, but usually they have choices in professors and courses," she said. "So to say that we need a bill of rights to prevent certain kinds of faculty from indoctrinating students is just ridiculous."

"This is just political gamesmanship," a late-season bill designed to appeal to the Republican base, said Andrew Rotherham, director of education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank.

More professors may be Democratic than Republican, he said, "but it's hard to take a look around at U.S. higher education in total and conclude that ideological indoctrination is a serious problem."

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plans to review "intellectual diversity" in higher education at an Oct. 29 hearing, an aide said yesterday.

Meanwhile, this week, the Independent Women's Forum released a study saying most of the best liberal-arts colleges have abandoned classical freshman courses for others that are "trendy" or "denigrate the achievements of Western civilization."

Bowdoin College, Swarthmore, Wellesley College, Williams College, Amherst College and Carleton College all fail in their history offerings and are likely to "waste the students' time with fashionable examinations of pet social and environmental issues," said Melana Zyla Vickers, author of the IWF report. It reviewed the 10 top liberal-arts colleges as ranked by U.S. News & World Report's college guide.

Students at the other top schools — Davidson College, Haverford College, Middlebury College and Pomona College — are still likely to receive a "relatively strong" classical liberal-arts education, she wrote.




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