STAUNTON — Valley Republicans are pushing a bill that would make sure conservative views are safe on college campuses.
House Bill 1643 would require public four-year colleges and universities to file reports each year with the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia on measures the schools are taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.
Del. Steve Landes of Weyers Cave, the bill's patron, said he is simply seeking more balance. Sen. Emmett Hanger of Mount Solon will support the measure in the Senate.
"Intellectual diversity would include philosophies and basically making sure both sides of an argument or debate are represented," Landes said by e-mail. "What we are looking for is balance. At this point I don't know how balanced our university and colleges are. This to me would seem to be the best way to find out, and provide information to those who pay the tuition and attend."
The amendment to SCHEV's charter would establish a study to assess the political diversity of each campus and develop hiring, tenure and promotion policies that protect teachers against discrimination based on their political viewpoints. It would also eliminate any codes that prohibit free speech by students and establish policies against heckling or threatening visiting speakers.
Landes' bill is modeled after one proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, non-partisan policy group.
According to the group's Web site, some college students and faculty "report feeling intimidated if they question politically correct ideas."
But Edward Scott, associate professor of philosophy at Mary Baldwin College, said he thinks the bill goes too far and could lead to censorship of certain ideas.
"I just think that the protection of free thought requires that you maintain a policy of 'hands-off,'" Scott said. "The universities need to be set apart from that kind of concern."
Mimi Elrod, associate director of the Office of Special Programs at Washington and Lee University and a board member of the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, said public colleges nationwide have faced criticism from conservatives who feel dominated by a liberal orthodoxy on campus.
"There has been a concern, more on the conservative side, about views being expressed in the classroom," Elrod said.
Hunter Desper, a sophomore at James Madison University and self-described conservative, said he had noticed a liberal slant in some of his classrooms, though he did not feel intimidated by it.
His girlfriend, junior Jessica Baulch, said the JMU campus was already politically open.
"I do see a lot of liberal influence in many of my professors. I also see a lot of conservative ones, too." Baulch said. "It hasn't affected anything I've believed in."
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