Ohio Republicans Seek 'Academic Bill of Rights'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The Ohio Senate is considering a bill intended to encourage different viewpoints at state-funded colleges and universities.

Conservative supporters call it the "Academic Bill of Rights," but critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, call it an "academic bill of restrictions."

The bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Larry Mumper (R-Marion) was quoted as saying the bill would "open up debate" by curbing a perceived left-leaning political bias at the state's colleges and universities.

The bill directs public colleges and universities in Ohio to "adopt a policy recognizing that students, faculty, and instructors of the institution have the following rights."

Those rights include:

-- "a learning environment in which the students have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study." That includes "dissenting sources and viewpoints."

-- grading based on students' "reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge" of the subjects they study. The bill says students will not be discriminated against because of political, ideological, or religious beliefs. And it says faculty "shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination."

-- freedom from the persistent introduction of "controversial matter" into the coursework that has no bearing on the subject at hand.

-- freedom of speech, assembly, and expression, when it comes to student organizations.

-- distribution of student fees "on a viewpoint neutral basis."

The bill also says faculty members "shall be hired, fired, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in their field of expertise and shall not be hired, fired, promoted, granted tenure, or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs."

(The latter provision might protect people such as the leftist Colorado professor, who is now fighting for his state-funded job amid a furor over his description of some 9/11 victims as "little Eichmanns.")

Ohio Senate Bill 24 is said to be modeled after the "academic bill of rights" proposed by conservative activist David Horowitz.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says the bill would "censor" Ohio colleges and universities because it could be used to "curtail academic freedom and to encourage thought policing in our institutes of higher education."

The ACLU-Ohio says the bill would discourage faculty from teaching anything controversial and require them to offer alternative views, even if those views don't have merit.

"Senate Bill 24 would shift the responsibility for course content and student evaluation from highly trained faculty to the state government or the courts," ACLU-Ohio says.

The group is mobilizing opposition to the bill.

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