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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    An academic bill that bites

    A state legislature, in an effort to curtail “”liberal bias”” in the classroom, considers a bill that undermines academic diversity and freedom – in the name of defending academic diversity and freedom.

    Sound familiar? It should.

    During the last legislative session, the Arizona state Legislature deliberated on a bill that would allow students to refuse assignments they find sexually explicit. The bill failed in the state Senate by a 17-12 vote.

    But the action compelled the Arizona Board of Regents to pass a resolution that requires advance notice to students of a course’s content.

    It’s called a syllabus.

    Now it may happen again. Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, has declared that he will introduce a bill during this legislative session modeled on the Academic Bill of Rights – a set of ostensibly harmless principles to protect academic freedom in the classroom drafted by David Horowitz, a conservative pundit and activist.

    The document seems benign enough: No faculty will be hired, fired or tenured based upon political or religious beliefs. Exposing students to a spectrum of scholarly viewpoints is the responsibility of professors. The selection of public speakers should promote the principle of intellectual pluralism. So on and so forth.

    What makes bill of rights circumspect is its reaffirmation of what is already considered normal. Why would we need a document like this in the first place? Why does the government need to legislate what is already taken for granted?

    You could ask Sen. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix. “”University professors lean liberal and not conservative,”” she said. “”They contribute to society accepting immoral behavior.”” What’s more, universities do not provide appropriate examples of “”what a good, normal family life is.””

    And I suppose that means we should all be taking more family sciences classes – as long as they teach Gray’s perspective on “”normal family life,”” of course.

    It seems then that the bill of rights is a veiled attempt to entrench conservative viewpoints in the lecture hall. Allegations of thought police aside, that’s not entirely bad. Students should receive multiple viewpoints when analyzing an issue.

    But the Academic Bill of Rights is also a way for students to avoid those viewpoints that insult their “”refined”” sensibilities. Hence, the biology professor must worry that only teaching evolution will lead to an administrative reprimand, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that evolution is the correct theory. Hence, the climatology professor must fret that providing conclusive evidence of global warming will upset the student who chooses not to see it.

    Hence, the economics professor must be concerned that describing the efficiencies of the market will offend the overt neo-Marxist.

    The entire proposal adds a third actor to the academic relations between student and professor: the government. If a student is unhappy with a course’s content, he or she can go crying to the state Legislature. It all adds up to the defense of institutionalized ignorance: I don’t like it, therefore I don’t have to learn it.

    Of course, the bill of rights reeks of governmental paternalism, a trend that is increasingly (and regrettably) prevalent amongst the Republican ranks as social conservatives wield more influence. You can almost hear Barry Goldwater writhing in his grave.

    But what is most appalling is the retreat by the bill of rights’ supporters from robust intellectualism. The best way to formulate strong, sound opinions is to defend them logically in the mode of debate. To do so, students need to question and be questioned by their peers and professors. Surrounding oneself with people of like mind is an invitation to flaccid mental incapacity.

    But it appears that the Academic Bill of Rights’ supporters don’t want to question their viewpoints, develop defenses for them or convince others of their merits. Horowitz argues that the bill of rights is a way to prevent indoctrination in the classroom. But it’s not indoctrination if you know how to respond. It’s not indoctrination if you know how to think.

    Bertrand Russell once said, “”The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”” The supporters of the Academic Bill of Rights aim to defend the world of “”fools and fanatics,”” while a university’s mission is to mold “”wiser”” minds.

    Hopefully, the Arizona state Legislature is composed of the latter.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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