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The Student Body Strikes Back By: Garrett Young
Daily Pennsylvanian | Friday, September 26, 2003

Students across the nation are rising up against what they view as strong political biases on college campuses.

Headed by conservative author and speaker David Horowitz, a national organization of clubs known as Students for Academic Freedom has formed chapters on 86 college campuses since the program's inception in May.

Though no such club currently exists at Penn, students are in the process of submitting paperwork to the Student Activities Council to establish one. According to the group's founders, the idea has generated significant interest.

"It's [going to be] a non-partisan organization," said College sophomore Julie Blinbaum, one of the movement's coordinators. "We want to promote intellectual diversity on campus and ultimately, we want the University to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights."

The Academic Bill of Rights is also a Horowitz creation. This document, which has created an uproar across much of academia, attempts to define an education as an entity completely removed from the political sphere.

"Basically what it says is that in human affairs, no truth is fixed," Horowitz said. "This is true in science, too. Nothing is sacred and unchallengeable."

Through the implementation of these clubs across the country, Horowitz hopes to create a "squeaky wheel" that forces colleges and universities to think about making their hiring and tenure-granting practices more politically balanced.

This idea "is basic to a liberal education and a liberal university in a classic sense of the word," Horowitz said. "In order to have a research institution, [the universities] have to respect the fact that there are diverse viewpoints."

"It's to the point where conservative students are intimidated into not speaking in a class," said College sophomore Eric Rechtschaffen, another one of the movement's coordinators. "Frankly I've been here for almost two years, and I've yet to have a conservative professor."

The Academic Bill of Rights requires that faculty be hired, fired and granted tenure based purely on their academic abilities, not political affiliation. It also holds that students may not be punished for holding viewpoints against those of their professors.

"I think it's unconscionable for professors not to teach all their students," Horowitz said. "The University is not a political party, and professors are not hired just to teach people who agree with them."

"We're trying to make sure that a greater diversity of ideas are accepted in colleges and universities," Students for Academic Freedom National Campus Director Sara Russo said.

Though the proposal to begin a group on campus has only been around since classes began this fall, the leaders have already generated a list of over 20 students interested in participating.

The group is reaching out to "anybody who feels that they've sat through a class where they couldn't express their beliefs because they thought their professor would punish them," Blinbaum said. "We want professors to introduce a conservative argument as well as the liberal side."

Several students, however, said that they don't feel that political bias is an issue on campus. Many added, though, that they would possibly be interested in joining a club that eliminates political bias and promotes a diversity of ideas on campus.

College freshman Valerie Chin is among those who do not feel the campus is particularly politically biased, but noted, "I have met a lot of Republicans."

Likewise, Engineering senior Jonathan Leung said he does not feel that there is any sort of political bias on campus, but rather a bias toward certain religions.

"Given the high Jewish population of the campus," he said, "I'd assume there would be a bias of some sort of pro-Jewish, pro-Jewish affairs."

University Provost Robert Barchi and other officials could not be reached for comment yesterday on Penn's position on the Academic Bill of Rights. 

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