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SUNY Eyes Free Speech on Campus By: Michael Gormley
Newsday.com | Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ALBANY, N.Y. -- In the 1960s, students and professors often described as radicals were assailed for advocating greater civil rights, peace over war, and women's rights.

Today, conservatives say free speech on campus is facing just as strenuous opposition for moral stances and support of the Iraq war. They say it led to the anti-American extremism voiced recently by a professor who equated victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to Nazi minions.

The national Academic Bill of Rights movement seeks to address that. And now it may be headed to the State University of New York.

"Intellectual diversity (must) be respected on SUNY campuses, thus setting an example for other higher education institutions in New York state and boards throughout the country," said SUNY Trustee Candace de Russy. "Unfettered intellectual exchange lies at the heart of both academic freedom and a liberal arts education."

She has proposed to the board adoption of the Academic Bill of Rights gaining some support nationwide. She said the bill would prevent discrimination against faculty and students based on their political, social or religious views.

The national Students for Academic Freedom group advocating the bill puts its simply: You can't learn if you only hear half the story.

De Russy's proposal is expected to be discussed by the SUNY Board of Trustees in the coming weeks, but quickly gained some interest from board Chairman Thomas Egan.

"I am fully supportive of assuring that all the campuses of the State University sustain a robust climate of academic freedom and intellectual diversity," Egan said. "Proposals that may help to further these objectives, such as the Academic Bill of Rights adopted by a number of colleges and universities in the United States, deserve serious consideration."

A recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group that has argued there is too little intellectual diversity on campuses, found that nearly half of students said at least some professors frequently commented on politics in class even if it was outside the subject matter.

"In my years of involvement in higher education I have encountered many students and faculty members who attested to the often painful consequences of ideological discrimination on campuses," said de Russy, who has taught in college and has written and lectured nationally on higher education issues and on conservative perspectives.

New York became a focal point of the issue this year when University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill was invited to speak at Hamilton College in Oneida County. He had written a 2001 essay suggesting some World Trade Center victims were toiling at away American capitalism - the target of terrorism - like efficient Nazi bureaucrats. Churchill could be fired pending an investigation at his university.

"I am against firing him on First Amendment grounds, but also because to do so will cover up the real problem," de Russy said, calling his statements "vile and academically impoverished." She said the greater problem is the hiring and promotion at universities that could accept someone of those extremist views.

"The public understands that an education requires exposing and introducing students to a diversity of views," de Russy said. "The problem at (the University of Colorado) and SUNY is that there is little or no intellectual diversity; the left side of the spectrum overwhelmingly dominates."

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