Concerned that Ohio college students' young minds are being indoctrinated by left-leaning college faculty, four Republican state senators have introduced an "academic bill of rights for higher education" that would limit what professors could say in their classrooms. It also would give students and faculty a formal grievance procedure if they feel they've been discriminated against.
"I think it's accepted knowledge that most of the faculty at our universities, particularly in the humanities and the social sciences, has a left-wing bias," said state Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana. "Eight or nine out of 10 are Democrats or of the left-leaning persuasion."
State Sen. Gary Cates, R-West Chester, said Ohio's college students "are being intimidated with political correctness and are being indoctrinated with a liberal point of view."
The president of Wright State University's faculty union called the proposal "ridiculous" and predicted it would not gain enough support to become law.
The bill "threatens the fundamental principles of intellectual freedom by putting restrictions on teaching and academic inquiry," said Paulette Olson, WSU professor of economics and president of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors. "It is based on the weak premise that faculty members are out there indoctrinating their students with left-wing ideology."
The bill — spearheaded by state Sen. Larry Mumper, R-Marion, and co-sponsored by Jordan, Cates and State Sen. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon — would require every state-supported college and university in Ohio to:
• Prohibit faculty members and instructors from "persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or course work that has no relation to their subject of study" and that serves no educational purpose related to the academic subject;
• Hire, fire and promote faculty based on their "competence and appropriate knowledge in their field of expertise" rather than on their "political, ideological or religious beliefs;" and
•Adopt a grievance procedure by which students or faculty could "seek redress" if they feel they've been discriminated against based on their beliefs and to disclose the grievance procedure in course catalogs, student handbooks and Web sites.
A national move toward academic bills of rights for higher education has been organized by David Horowitz, who helped to form a national organization called Students for Academic Freedom. Mumper said he talked with Horowitz before proposing the legislation and wrote the language of his bill from similar proposals in Colorado and Georgia. He said he hopes the bill will spark discussion, and he said he would "massage" his proposal based on colleges' reaction to it.
"I'm willing to work with them," Mumper said.
Cates said he has heard of conservative students at Miami University in Oxford and at Miami's Middletown branch being harassed because of their beliefs.
Sinclair Community College President Steven Lee Johnson is skeptical that a state academic bill of rights is needed.
"The proportion of faculty squandering their gift of tenure and academic freedom on ideological demagoguery is so small that it is on the very bottom of the list of real problems that we have within our colleges and across our society," Johnson said.
The Sinclair president said the legislation "could very easily be used as a weapon against good and skillful professors."
But Jordan said he was reflecting the frustration many of his constituents feel when they send their children to college. Ohio parents are fed up with paying high state taxes and high tuition, "and then finding out their kids are being taught things that do not reflect their family values," Jordan said.
Wright State Provost David Hopkins said the U.S. system of higher education is the envy of the world precisely because of the academic freedom and intellectual diversity that are already protected by state and federal laws and by university policies.
"If there are violations of professional standards, we have the mechanisms in place to deal with that," Hopkins said.