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Ideas waging war in classroom, legislature

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Aug. 18 freshman edition. It is being reprinted for students who did not move in early.

Liberal and conservative thoughts have waged battle on college campuses since the birth of higher learning institutions. Ohio campuses are no exception.

Ohio Senate Bill 24, or the “Academic Bill of Rights,” illustrated how deeply the rift between the political left and the right had plunged. Namely into the middle of the classroom.

The bill, introduced in January 2005, prohibits professors from “persistently introducing controversial matter … that has no relation to their subject of study.”

Student activities, like choosing and funding speakers, “shall observe the principles of academic freedom,” it said.

Although it seems to have died a slow death in committee, the bill caused a significant stir on campus for fears of restricting speech.

The bill’s supporters, such as Students for Academic Freedom, accuse universities of not being properly divided on political lines.

SAF is an organization created by well-known conservative David Horowitz in response to this disproportion. It has chapters in over 150 colleges, including BGSU.

The SAF Web site features studies suggesting that journalism and law professors are distributed at 7 Democrats to 1 Republican; in political science it is estimated as 8 to 1.

Some legislators have begun to ask how the alleged disparity affects students who rely on these professors for the knowledge they need.

“These are young minds that haven’t had a chance to form their own opinions,” said State Senator Larry Mumper, one of Bill 24’s sponsors, in a January story for The Columbus Dispatch.

“Our colleges and universities are still filled with some of the ’60s and ’70s profs that were the anti-American group. They’ve gotten control of how to give people tenure and so the colleges continue to move in this direction.”

The bill’s supporters say students receive a “one-sided” education when their professors fall mostly to the political left. Bill 24 attempts to legislate a protection against those biases.

But some professors argue their professional guidelines and ethics, as well as University policy, already prevent them from using their position in the classroom as a political soapbox.

“Most universities have pretty clear procedures already set in place,” said Mark Simon, chair of BGSU’s political science department, “you have to have your teaching material approved beforehand and justify its educational worth in the classroom.”

Those procedures include a chain of command in the administration to which a student can voice complaints.

“If a student has a problem with a professor, they can either go to the professor with their problem, or to the [department] chair. They may also go to the dean if they feel their needs are not being met,” Simon said.

The University provost also recently introduced an eight-member Committee on Academic Freedom in response to Bill 24.

With hopes to ensure the efficiency and enforcement of student rights and academic freedom on both sides of the classroom.

Simon believes the establishment of similar committees in state universities caused the death of Bill 24.

“Universities [are] letting it be known to their students and to the community that there are procedures in place that keep this kind of behavior in check,” Simon said.

Responding to the Bill 24’s potential to turn these procedures into state legislation, Simon said: “When the government offers to step in and to this for us, you have non-experts determining curriculum,” says Simon.

Simon also stressed, especially to anyone in their first year, that what the professor says is not always what he or she means.

He said that this style is often very intimidating for students fresh out of high school who are used to taking the teacher’s word as the final say.

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