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PSN on February 7, 2008 - 8:44am
Right-wing interests have been mounting a political assault on university professors they do not like, led by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which is promoting so-called "Intellectual Diversity" (ID) Legislation in various states across the country. The concept was pioneered by right-wing activist David Horowitz (see this profile site for more on Horowitz).
"Intellectual Diversity" legislation claims that college professors are overwhelmingly liberal and that states should legislate to force professors to present both left and right wing perspectives in the classroom-- as if scholarship is just a binary choice a la election day. The ID bills create a big brother system requiring higher education institutions to report to state councils evidence that "balanced ideology" is being taught.
Organizations such as Free Exchange on Campus are fighting to ensure that faculty, professional staff, and students are able to exercise independent academic judgment in their teaching and research. In 2008 Intellectual Diversity bills have been introduced in Virginia, Missouri, Georgia, Colorado, Washington, Indiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. While most of the Intellectual Diversity bills do not gain much traction, a few states have been moving the legislation.
- Missouri is the state most likely to pass ID legislation. It has companion "higher education sunshine" acts, HB 1315 sponsored by Representative Jane Cunningham (which has already passed the House), and SB 983 sponsored by Senator Purgason. Both bills require public higher education institutions to annually report on steps taken to ensure intellectual diversity
- In Virginia, HB 118, a very watered down version of the ID bill, was introduced by Delegate Landes. The bill requires higher education institutions to report to the state council on higher education regarding their efforts to promote the free exchange of ideas, and for the council to pass this report on to the state legislature. The bill was passed without dissent in the House.
In the ideal, academic freedom is important because society needs "safe havens," places where students and scholars can challenge the conventional wisdom. Intellectual Diversity legislation is really just a form of McCarthyism to target a few scholars identified by the right-wing -- Horowitz has his own personal list of "50,000 professors [who] identify with the terrorists" that he wants eliminated.
The irony is that these right-wing crusaders for "balance" ignore the real corruption of objectivity on campuses, namely the financial corruption by outside business funding, where "radical" social sciences and humanities are horrendously underfunded compared to lavishly financed business schools and science departments that end up following a business agenda. If universities were really under the thrall of left-wing forces, you would not have, for example, a handful of underfunded labor studies programs around the country, chronically threatened with funding cutoffs, facing off against a phalanx of gleaming business schools.
"Intellectual Diversity" legislation is really less about "balance" on campuses, than about stamping out the few remaining areas of independent debate on campuses where corporately-funded agendas have not undermined traditional academic freedom of thought.