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Free-speech compromise reached on Ohio academic freedom

By The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The sponsor of a contentious bill that would have barred college professors from spending too much class time on controversial topics has deferred to the state's higher education system.

The Inter-University Council of Ohio is expected to approve a resolution in October calling on schools to respect the opinions of students and faculty and not judge them on their political beliefs.

Sen. Larry Mumper, a Marion Republican, said he prefers the compromise to the legislation he introduced early this year. His academic "bill of rights" would have barred professors from introducing controversial topics unrelated to course material or presenting opinions as fact.

Sen. Joy Padgett, chairwoman of the Education Committee, worked with university officials to draft the compromise. She said it would ease the burden on the state in enforcing the controversial regulations. It also would be easier for universities to swallow if it came from the council, said Padgett, a Coshocton Republican.

"I thought there was some validity to the issue, but if we pass it as legislation, it would be difficult to control and implement," she said.

If the proposal is adopted, universities will have to create their own means for students and faculty members to file grievances if they feel they have been academically mistreated.

Joseph Alutto, dean of Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, said he saw no problem with the compromise, although he thought the bill would have unnecessarily tied professors' hands.

"We certainly would not support any faculty member who put forward a personal view and then held students accountable for whether or not they accepted that view," Alutto said.

The bill was roundly criticized among academics as an attack on free speech.

Joe White, a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said when the bill was under consideration that students could use perceived discrimination as an excuse to refuse to learn.

"We're not supposed to teach for their comfort," he said.

Legislation similar to Mumper's original bill has popped up in more than a dozen states. California and Colorado tossed similar bills out last year. Florida's take on the measure died in the House earlier this year. Georgia passed a resolution, less binding than a bill, that urges its adoption.

The Ohio legislation was culled from principles advocated by Students for Academic Freedom, a Washington, D.C.-based student network founded by conservative activist David Horowitz.

Horowitz has said that professors attempt to force students to conform to their political beliefs through grading.

"It doesn't matter a professor's viewpoint," Horowitz said in a previous interview. "They can be a good professor, liberal or conservative, provided they pursue an educational mission and not a political agenda."

The Inter-University Council will report to the Senate on its progress in January.

If the compromise resolution is adopted, students will be informed of it through residence-hall meetings, e-mails and Web postings.


Colorado educators worry academic bill of rights hurts free speech

Rules to protect conservative views on state campuses have led to death threats, critics argue; Republicans counter saying classroom conservatives still being harassed. 09.10.04

Academic freedom

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