A national movement that supporters say protects college students from indoctrination by college professors but opponents say stifles debate made its way to Minnesota on Wednesday when two legislators proposed legislation that they call the "Academic Bill of Rights."
Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, and Rep. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, said their bill would require the state's publicly funded colleges and universities to adopt policies that would mandate that professors not use their classrooms to promote their personal political or ideological beliefs. It also says that students would not be punished for disagreeing with their instructors' politics.
While Bachmann, who has announced that she is a candidate for Congress, said the law would apply across the political spectrum, the focus nationally has been complaints from conservative students that left-wing professors have tried to use their classrooms to indoctrinate young minds with liberal propaganda.
At a morning news conference, speakers included students and professors who talked of feeling punished for their conservative views. No speakers complained about conservative instructors.
Lawmakers in 21 other states have introduced similar bills, part of a national movement spearheaded by Students for Academic Freedom, a Washington-based student network founded by conservative activist David Horowitz.
Horowitz spoke at the news conference, saying it was unprofessional for professors to impose their political ideologies on their students.
"You don't go into a doctor's office and expect to get a political lecture or see on his office door cartoons bashing John Kerry or bashing George Bush," he said.
Critics of such measures, including the American Association of University Professors, have said the bills could stifle debate and questioned whether its supporters had ulterior motives, such as wanting more conservative professors.
Michael Livingston, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said he has heard the classroom horror stories anecdotally but believes they are rare occurrences at best.
"I find this very puzzling because it's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist," Livingston said. "The purpose of college professors is to help students think. We help them by presenting divergent perspectives. Sometimes we believe those perspectives, but a lot of times we don't. We just need to present our students with perspectives so they can think them through and understand them."