Pelley’s Perspective

The saying “the customer is always right” may apply to Crap-Marts and Burger Kings, but imagine if the idiom applied to institutions of higher education as well. Many activists around the country are pushing for legislation that would do just that, by codifying boundaries for civil and free discussion on college campuses.

Last week, Minnesota lawmakers considered writing such boundaries into state law, essentially limiting what public university faculty and staff can, and cannot, say, according to an article in the March 14 edition of Time Magazine. The state now is the sixth in two months considering such a restraint of free speech in higher education, the others being Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

As is the case with the other five states, Minnesota’s law is a direct reflection of conservative activist and author Dave Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights,” a proposal that has seen intense criticism by the American Association of University Professors.

The purpose of the document, as stated by Horowitz himself in a December 2003 article for the conservative Front Page Magazine, is meant to “rescue students from political bias.” He, as well as the legislators proposing First Amendment limitations for professors, argues tax payers’ dollars are used to fund public universities, and the institution’s employees, therefore, must reflect the will of the populace.

The sponsor of Ohio’s bill, Larry Mumper, said he believes freedom is exactly what such bills will safeguard, because only one side of the story is being taught at current universities. In his proposal, Mumper said without such rules against classroom bias written into law, “Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be tenured professors somewhere.”

This argument not only is flawed, it is also a scary prediction of what state university systems would become under the rule of such a nut-job as Horowitz. I, for one, am offended these legislators have so little faith in our generation they see it as necessary to censor what we learn because, apparently, we aren’t intelligent enough to make up our own minds.

Thank you, Horowitz, for reducing us to such intellectual invalids that we would believe anything anyone would tell us. Only one question, what will protect us from you?

If that isn’t scary enough, the Wisconsin Assembly may see similar legislation in its near future, following a bill passed by the body asking UW-Whitewater to cancel the appearance of Ward Churchill, a controversial University of Colorado professor who made ridiculous and off-color (yet constitutionally protected) comments regarding the attacks of Sept. 11.

In the Time article, Assemblyman Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said he is considering introducing similar Horowitz-inspired legislation to control what is taught in the UW System.

“(Legislators) deal with the tax dollars that are put into the UW System,” he said. “We have a responsibility to see that they are used appropriately.”

What purpose would an institute of higher learning serve without the ability to share and discuss opinions openly? Of course, it’s easy to see most professors are allied to one political party by simply looking at the bumper stickers in “GF” parking spaces; however, Republicans exist on campus.

Horowitz cites the ratio of 10-to-1, liberal to conservative professors on average in the United States. But, if students were so easily persuaded by professors, wouldn’t all students at UW-Eau Claire essentially have the same viewpoint as the College Democrats?

Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights argues that conservative students are treated unfairly on college campuses around the country. However, we are still learning from professors who are experts in their respective fields.

Regardless of the political partisanship implied by Horowitz and those proposing legislation, the larger problem is public universities allowing taxpayers to decide what is being taught. While we, as Wisconsin and Minnesota students, should be incredibly grateful to our state taxpayers for footing over half our tuition bills, that does not give Madison the right to decide what should be taught.

To give such lawmakers the ability to regulate what can be said by faculty at UW System schools under the guise of taxpayers’ interests would accomplish nothing short of intellectual corrosion.

Pelleymounter is a senior print journalism and political science major and editorial editor of The Spectator. Pelley’s Perspective is a weekly column that appears every Thursday.