Ohio is the latest state to encounter proposed legislation to adopt an "academic bill of rights" for colleges and universities. Contrary to what the name suggests, the proposal would restrict, not enhance, academic freedom and intellectual activity.
The chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Larry Mumper, was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch saying that "80 percent of them (professors) are Democrats, liberals or socialists or card-carrying Communists" who influence "young minds that haven't had a chance to form their own opinions." Other proponents of the academic bill of rights claim that colleges and universities discriminate against "conservative" views and those who hold them. Thus, the ABoR is presented as a way to promote "balance" in the teaching of controversial issues and counter any discrimination on the basis of viewpoint.
This may sound like a good idea, but a close examination of what lies behind the rhetoric of "balance" reveals not only a proposal that cannot work in practice, but also represents unwarranted government interference with academic freedom.
How exactly would "balance" work in the classroom? Should the foreign policy perspectives of George Kennan and Henry Kissinger have been tempered in their classes, because of their conservative bent or controversial views? What about William Buckley: should he be required to "balance" any course he teaches by engaging in a continuous debate with Ira Glasser? Must Abigail Thernstrom present evidence in favor of affirmative action in every class on the subject, even if she thinks it flawed? Must Milton Friedman treat capitalism and Marxism equally?
No single course can present all points of view. Without the freedom to present strongly held views, even if those views are contested or controversial, education will be reduced to a robotic narrative consisting of "on the one hand" versus "on the other."
The proposal acquires more sinister overtones when seen in full context. The author and proponents of the ABoR base their argument on the claim that (over) Democrats outnumber Republicans on some college faculties. Under the guise of achieving balance, Sen. Mumper and others apparently seek to replace Democrats, liberals, and all those "card-carrying Communists" with Republicans.