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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Bill seeks to defend political beliefs

In order to protect conservative professors, one Arizona lawmaker has proposed a bill that would make it illegal for universities to discriminate on the basis of political belief.

The proposed legislation, House Bill 2770, says faculty members should be hired, fired, promoted or tenured because of their competence and expertise, not because of where they stand politically. Rep. Tom Forese, a Republican from District 21 and the chairman of the committee on higher education, innovation and reform, said he proposed the bill to protect professors who told him they felt marginalized.

“When an instructor had conflicting views with his or her peers, they felt the need to keep those views a secret in order to obtain tenure or promotion,” he said, adding that many of the professors who voiced this concern were politically conservative. “I don’t know that I really have the answer to exactly how it plays out (implementing the bill), but my hope is that we’re fostering a better environment where people can share their ideas and not be persecuted for them.”

If passed, the bill would add political belief to the long list of protected categories in the UA’s nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy, according to Mary Beth Tucker, director of the Office of Institutional Equity, which investigates allegations of discrimination. The policy already prohibits discrimination based upon any “protected classification,” including religion, sex, race, ethnicity and many others.

“Because there is no current law covering political beliefs as a protected category, it is not a covered basis under the university’s current nondiscrimination policy,” Tucker said in an emailed response. “Having said that, I have not seen political beliefs cited as a reason for UA employment decisions — good or bad.”

If professors feel marginalized in the employment process, they can bring their complaints to the Office of Institutional Integrity or the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which protects the UA’s academic freedom policy. At its core, academic freedom promotes “open inquiry and expression by faculty and students,” the policy says.

“We have one of the most powerful statements of academic freedom in the country,” said Roy Spece, a professor in the James E. Rogers College of Law. “But you have to have some courage and fortitude to uphold academic freedom and stand up for your beliefs.”

Discrimination can take place at any university, Spece said, and it may take place at the UA as well. But the UA has internal mechanisms for handling discrimination, and if professors feel sidelined because of their politics, they need to come forward rather than report discrimination to state legislators, he said.

“I think it (the bill) would be another black mark on our state,” Spece said. “These professors won’t have any greater reason to stop being cowards just because this law is passed.”

Kevin R. Kemper, an assistant professor and the diversity initiative coordinator in the School of Journalism, also pointed out that the UA has ways for faculty to address discrimination.

“I think maybe the question then is do those ways work, does that process work?” he asked.

Kemper, a member of the Libertarian party, is a tenure track professor. While he said he doesn’t feel his job is jeopardized because of his conservative views, he could understand why conservative professors might want to be protected.

“I don’t feel like I’m pressured because of what I believe, but I do think what I believe puts me in a position where I have to work extra hard to justify my ideas,” he said.

The bill, however, has the potential to create more problems than it would solve, Kemper added.

“It just could create a mess where all a professor who doesn’t get tenure has to do is say, ‘Oh, well it’s because of my political beliefs,’” he said. “Part of maturing as an academic is you learn to stand on what you believe. That’s part of maturing as an individual.”

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