I remember when I was in high school, a land of relatively uniform thoughts, somewhat barren of intellectual development, and how I looked forward to college; the land of open thought where I would have professors that would encourage the development of my own opinions and morals.
Was anyone else let down the first time they had a professor perched on a soapbox ranting about something that had absolutely no pertinence to the subject they were supposed to be learning in the class? It sure was disheartening for me!
Ohio State Senator Larry Mumper wants to help, in the form of Senate Bill 24, which would have many meanings and many implications for several different groups on a typical college campus in Ohio, should it pass. Part of Senator Mumper's inspiration was an Ohio student who was discriminated against for supporting President Bush, and the language is based on David Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights."
The goal of Senate Bill 24 is to provide an educational environment where students feel comfortable expressing their opinions free from the worry of discrimination based on political beliefs, among other things.
The idea of indoctrination in the professor-student relationships of American universities is not new. As a student in the early 1970s, my dad sat through a college literature class during which the professor spoke of Ezra Pound, a great Nazi sympathizer.
Pound had been imprisoned by the American military for charges of treason after making fanatical addresses to troops in the late 1930s, which apparently accelerated his insanity. My dad's literature professor, who should be retrospectively lauded for both refraining from bringing his political agenda into the classroom and staying on the topic of literature, said to the class in regards to the military imprisonment of Ezra Pound, "Let's not talk about the tactics of the American military, or we'll all vomit."
There's some fine literature for you; criticizing the American military for its handling of its treatment of a Nazi sympathizer!
It is likely that the majority of professors will oppose Senate Bill 24, maybe even the ones that choose not to use their classroom as a bully pulpit. Unfortunately, those professors have been harmed by their colleagues who have abused the privilege of being in control of a roomful of minds.
So why would a professor be against Senate Bill 24? To a professor, this bill sounds as if it would place uncomfortable restrictions on what can and cannot be discussed in the classroom -- effectively, it would make a professor feel as though controversial ideas are off-limits, and only subjects without the possibility of opinion could be discussed.
In reality, the bill says nothing of the sort, and merely encourages the balancing of opinions. Perhaps the most important and specific section of this bill says:
Faculty and instructors shall be free to pursue and discuss their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, but they shall make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own through classroom discussion or dissemination of written materials, and they shall encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate and the critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
Senate Bill 24 brings other issues to the table: Is it really too much to ask that only matters pertinent to a class be discussed in the class? That a professor teaching a subject that is not at all political not go out of his or her way to talk about subjects that are of political nature or controversy?
I realize that to ask this of educators for the sake of the betterment of my peers' and my own education would introduce state control of educational speech, which might be a move in the wrong direction, despite its possible positive outcomes. My own trepidation lies in any trepidation my professors may have to communicate controversially -- at that point, would all intriguing conversation cease?
The most blatant biases in education present themselves when a professor makes a student feel as though his or her views are unwelcome because of political or other such differences. It wouldn't even be a problem if a professor gave only his or her own opinion, as long as students felt as though their opinion, even if it was a dissenting opinion, could be safely communicated without penalty. It is not even necessary to speak in order to have a biased classroom; a class that presents readings or information on only one side of an issue is equally as biased as the classroom that is run by a professor that communicates via one-sided political rants. This prevents students from communicating their true feelings and ideas in a class, which defeats the purpose of the college classroom.
While professors may feel as though this bill could limit academic freedom or their ability to run their classrooms in a free and unrestricted manner, don't we, the students, deserve an unbiased education?
Danielle Winters is a student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.