Amidst ongoing controversies on college campuses nationwide, there has been a strong push to protect students’ rights in the classroom. Dubbed the “student bill of rights”, the theory is to implement policies on universities that protect students’ viewpoints in the classroom from overbearing ideological professors (on both the right and the left). Since students are vital to the quest for knowledge in academia, it is imperative that universities protect them as they already do professors. When it was brought to my attention that several states and collegiate student governments were pressing for the adoption of policies that protect such rights, I began researching the issue for possible implementation by Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). As a Student Government Association senator, it is first and foremost my duty to protect the rights of my fellow students. For this reason, I discussed the potential legislation with Tennessee Representative Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), and drew from his version of the bill (HB 432) certain provisions to be adopted by MTSU.
My reason for sponsoring legislation in the student Senate was two-fold. First, I was concerned that students’ academic freedoms were not being adequately protected. Since I want my alma matter to be student-friendly in all regards, I thought legislation that specifically addressed the issue was necessary. Furthermore, I stand with Mr. Horowitz and other advocates of student rights in the procedural matters of the issue. I would much rather see individual universities take on these policy changes than governments. I think that policy corrections on the university-level will be more effective, less ambiguous, and more appropriately enforced. Not to say that state and federal governments should abstain from the matter altogether, it just seems that universities themselves can best resolve this issue.
Once the issue recently came to light in the Tennessee General Assembly, I proposed a similar resolution before the 67th Congress of MTSU’s Student Government Association. Two fellow senators, Lizzie Miller and Tyler Smith, joined me in sponsoring the resolution. The text of the legislation, as well as media coverage thereof, can be found below. On March 3, 2005, the student Senate passed SGA Resolution 27-05-S, otherwise known as the student bill of rights. The vote was nearly unanimous, with only three senators voting nay.
However, writers for MTSU’s campus newspaper, Sidelines, took it upon themselves to harshly criticize the measure. The issue was the headline of the March 14 edition, titled SGA passes student bill of rights. In the opinions section on the same day, the editorial board expressed its overtly biased position (Politically motivated bill does little to help students). What the news coverage does not state are the events that have taken place since. The sponsors of the resolution recently met with MTSU Vice-President of Student Affairs Bob Glenn. The terminology, implementation procedure, and other specifics were discussed at the meeting, and a future meeting was scheduled to discuss the same with a designated task force. While Dr. Glenn has been very cooperative with regards to discussing the legislation, he remains very hesitant and has not expressed that he supports the measure. Time will only tell us whether or not this important piece of legislation will become MTSU policy, but my fellow senators and I are determined not to let it fall by the waste side.
Sidelines had taken similar action in the coverage of the bill that was introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly. It ran a front-page article entitled “Bill raises concern among faculty”, and the editorial board chimed in with “Bill restricts professors, bolsters political division”. To date, no article has been printed that favors the student bill of rights, not even a letter to the editor sent by me to challenge the latter editorial. However, that counter argument can be read below. With its unyielding and openly biased stance on this issue, Sidelines demotes itself to the rank and file of the liberal media.
For those who wish to inquire further on the issue at MTSU, or to be updated as to any progress, feel free to e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial Board: Do your homework before spouting off at the mouth
There has been recent controversy in light of the proposed “Academic Bill of Rights” in the Tennessee General Assembly. Sidelines own editorial board even chimed in on the matter (“Bill restricts professors, bolsters political division”). However, its own argument was significantly flawed. In fact, it was much less of an argument regarding students’ academic freedom than it was an attack against those fascist Republicans running rampant in red states near you.
The proposed bill does not limit intellectual dialogue, nor is it another politically correct scheme to avoid “offending” anyone. It is a measure to ensure that students can themselves feel free to engage in political and other discourse in the classroom without fear of persecution by their instructor. While this is not a widespread phenomenon, it is a matter of concern. Many students remain silent when a professor is unyieldingly critical of certain viewpoints from day one. This, not the proposed bill, is detrimental to free inquiry in university classrooms. The bill itself actually promotes and protects diversity and differences in opinion. The bill is specifically designed to addresses certain ridiculous “hostile” tactics that continue to occur all over the country. For instance, a criminology class at a Colorado university was assigned to write a paper on “Why George Bush is a War Criminal”. When a student wrote the assignment on “Why Saddam Hussein is a War Criminal” instead, that person received a failing grade. The point is not that the student failed to comply with the assignment requirements; it is that the professor had the audacity to exert personal opinion as a matter of fact. What would be the case if an estranged professor of biology who happened to dislike evolution forced students to write, “Why Darwin was a Satanist”. It would be overly inappropriate, and liberals everywhere would be overcome with outrage. While the students should be able to write such papers if they make well-reasoned and articulate arguments, by no means should they be forced to do so. Even more amazing, one professor at Augustana University labeled a student “neo-fascist” in class because he invited a host from the FoxNews Channel to lecture on campus. While I have been referred to with similar terminology more than once by fellow students, fortunately it was not from a professor who I pay to bestow knowledge, not ignorant rhetoric, upon me.
The current guidelines of redress for students do not cover such blatantly biased and disingenuous actions as these. Also, the bill in question protects students from hostility and unfair grading from all sides, not just the liberal Left, as the editorial board conveniently overlooks. Furthermore, the state legislature, under the provisions of the bill, do not “determine what a professor can or cannot say in class.” They simply put in place a grievance procedure for students to who have been unreasonably scorned or forced to regurgitate a professor’s opinion as if it were the almighty truth, and subsequently punished for refusing to do so. The editorial board is correct in its assertion that “the truth is the truth,” but opinion is not truth, nor should it be disguised as such. The free exchange of ideas in academia includes students as well as professors. Currently, most universities (including MTSU) have direct protections of faculty’s academic rights, as they should. Unfortunately, they do not have similar provisions to let students know that their viewpoint not only counts, it actually weighs incredibly heavy in the ongoing quest for knowledge. For sake of academic excellence, it is about time things change, and students should be thankful that someone is finally taking a stand.
Justin Owen is a senior political science major and can be reached at email@example.com He led the campaign to get the Academic Bill of Rights adopted at Tennessee State.
SGA Resolution No. 27-05-S
A resolution to encourage the University to adopt and implement a policy protecting students’ academic freedom.
Whereas: The free and civil exchange of ideas among students and faculty is conducive and essential to the health and mission of the University, and
Whereas: The protection of students’ academic freedom is imperative in this exchange, and
Whereas: No policy has been enacted to protect students’ academic freedom, and
Whereas: The current University policy regarding academic freedom pertains to faculty only, and
Whereas: The 67th Congress of the Student Government Association recognizes students’ rights to academic freedom, as well as the rights to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political or religious beliefs, and
Whereas: The University should also recognize this academic freedom, seek to defend this freedom, and facilitate a grievance procedure to protect students’ rights against violation of this freedom.
THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED BY THE 67TH CONGRESS OF THE STUDENT GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION OF MTSU THAT:
Section 1: The University shall adopt and implement a policy protecting students’ academic freedom.
Section 2: The policy shall ensure that all students enrolled at the University have the right:
(a) To expect that their academic freedom will not be infringed upon by instructors who create a hostile environment toward their political or religious beliefs, or who introduce controversial matter as part of course work that is substantially unrelated to the subject of study;
(b) To expect that they will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study, and that they shall not by discriminated against on the basis of their political or religious beliefs;
(c) To expect that the University shall distribute student activity fee funds on a viewpoint neutral basis and shall maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political or religious differences.
Section 3: The University shall install a formal grievance procedure by which students may seek redress for violation of the rights outlined in Section 2.
Section 4: The University shall publish this policy along with the grievance procedure in the Undergraduate and Graduate Catalogs, the Rights & Responsibilities Handbook, and on the University web site.
Sponsored by: Senator Justin Owen
Senator Lizzie Miller
Senator Tyler Smith