When one political philosophy commands the allegiance of the large majority of college professors, expressing a contrary view can be difficult, if not academically perilous. As Campus Report noted in May, the professoriat has become so ideologically lopsided that when Republicans constitute a quarter of a college’s political science department, as they do at Duke University, the school stands out as a beacon of faculty diversity.
To address this problem, Walter Jones, a U.S. congressman from Duke’s state of North Carolina, is cosponsoring a resolution designed to even out the imbalance between liberal and conservative influences in higher education.
Introduced by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the resolution features an Academic Bill of Rights, which Rep. Jones discussed in a speech given at Accuracy in Academia’s annual Conservative University on July 16. This Bill of Rights, Jones explained, would urge universities to allow both students and professors to express their views in an open and welcoming environment.
“You should have the opportunity to express yourselves,” Jones said, regardless of political philosophy.
Jones provided plenty of examples of why students need an Academic Bill of Rights. In one instance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a group of conservative students wanted a professor from UNC-Wilmington to come speak, Jones reported, but the university refused to pay the travel expenses, deeming the speaker too controversial. Meanwhile, the university gave a “porno queen” thousands of dollars to speak to students about “safe sodomy.”
In another example, Jones said, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill accused a student of “hate speech” when he dared to air his views on homosexual behavior in class. The English teacher was leading a class discussion on why heterosexual men feel intimidated by homosexuals, Jones explained. The student, Tim, spoke up and said he did not feel intimidated but his religion did lead him to view homosexual practices as sinful.
The professor, Jones said, felt so threatened by this comment that she wrote an e-mail to all her students after class saying that she would “not tolerate any racist, sexist, and/or heterosexist comments” in her class.
“What we heard Thursday at the end of class constitutes ‘hate speech’ and is completely unacceptable,” she wrote. “It has created a hostile environment. I am deeply sorry and apologize to those of us who are now feeling that the classroom we share is an unsafe environment, for those of us who feel vulnerable or threatened. I will do my best to counter those feelings and protect that space from further violence.”
Jones said he could not understand how Tim’s comments constituted “hate speech,” and further explained that the unfair treatment of the student’s remarks challenged his civil and first amendment rights. Therefore, rather than sit back and let this happen, Jones said he called the federal Department of Education to launch an investigation. The DOE spent more than two weeks at UNC-Chapel Hill meeting with professors, Tim, and other students. Their findings have not yet been released, but Jones said he has been told the findings are “of interest and some concern.”
When the very professors and administrators who demand their own academic freedom find their refusal to acknowledge the same right of others questioned, they are rather dumbfounded. Thus the arrival of federales from one of their favorite government agencies must have left them stunned.
Although UNC-Chapel Hill, like most universities, lusts after federal funding, the school is perplexed that respect for basic constitutional rights is a quid pro quo the government seeks when it confers this largesse.
It is events such as these that make an Academic Bill of Rights necessary at colleges and universities across the country, Jones said. It will take some effort to move forward the resolution encouraging institutions of higher education to take action, but it can be done if students and faculty around the country generate enough energy and interest.
“America’s freedom as a nation depends on freedom in our colleges and universities,” he said.
A student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Christina Haines is an intern at Accuracy in Media.