JEFFERSON CITY, MO—A bill has been introduced in Missouri to ensure the free exchange of ideas on the state’s public university campuses. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Virginia.
House Bill 213, introduced by Representative Jane Cunningham, would require Missouri’s public institutions of higher education to report annually on specific steps taken to “to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom.” It suggests a variety of measures institutions can report, but leaves the contents of the report—which will be made public—entirely up to each institution.
Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, hailed the introduction of the bill. “This bill is common sense,” she said. “It is obvious that universities should encourage a mix of ideas on campus. All this bill asks is that they explain to the public how they are doing that.”
“I am delighted by the introduction of HB 213,” declared Crosby Kemper III, chief executive of the Kansas City Public Library. “I want to make certain my grandchildren will receive the education they deserve, and Missouri taxpayers have a right to know what the public colleges they fund are doing.”
Provisions of the bill are similar to recommendations adopted by a bipartisan committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives late last year, following testimony by ACTA. That committee recommended that the state’s public campuses take a number of steps similar to those in ACTA’s 2005 report Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action. The institutions are required to report to the legislature on actions taken to encourage a mix of ideas on campus by November 1, 2008.
Faculty members and civil libertarians supported the action in Pennsylvania. Penn State professor Michael Berube, author of What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, told the media, “I have no quarrel with the committee’s recommendations.” And “Free Exchange on Campus”—a consortium of the American Association of University Professors, the ACLU, the American Federation of Teachers, and others—greeted the report with the comment, “Well done to all.”
Like Pennsylvania, South Dakota has already taken action on intellectual diversity. After an intellectual diversity bill based on ACTA principles was introduced last year, the South Dakota Board of Regents required all public university professors to include an “Academic Freedom Statement” on their course syllabi. It reminds students that their “academic performance may be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.”
“I hope Missouri will be the next state to ensure public university students receive the quality education they deserve,” Neal concluded. “Representative Cunningham deserves much credit for trying to ensure accountability in higher education—while fully protecting academic freedom and institutional autonomy.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni—dubbed “a force to be reckoned with” by The Chronicle of Higher Education—is a bipartisan, national nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability in higher education. ACTA has a network of trustees and alumni around the country and has issued numerous reports including Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.