JEFFERSON CITY, MO—Last night, the Missouri House Higher Education Committee passed House Bill 213, which seeks to ensure a free exchange of ideas on the state’s public university campuses. The 5-3 vote comes in the wake of a poll—commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni—suggesting massive politicization of Missouri’s public university classrooms.
“I applaud the Committee for seeing the urgent need to take action on intellectual diversity,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal said. “Many in the higher education establishment seem to think that ‘academic freedom’ means freedom from accountability. Fortunately, these legislators understand that that is not how any sort of freedom works.”
If enacted, HB 213 will 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.” Its sponsor is Representative Jane Cunningham, chairman of the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. It goes next to the Rules Committee.
The bill defines intellectual diversity as “the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, religious, and other perspectives, when such perspectives relate to the subject matter being taught or issues being discussed.”
The only requirement in the bill is that the universities file an annual report on the actions they have taken in pursuit of intellectual diversity and post it on their websites. It includes eleven suggested actions universities can take in pursuit of intellectual diversity—none of which are mandatory. The content of the report is entirely up to each institution.
The suggestions are based on those in ACTA’s report Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, which numerous trustees have praised for its sensitivity to academic freedom.
Results from the poll released yesterday included the following:
58.7 percent reported that “some professors use the classroom to present their personal political views”;
56.8 percent reported courses that “have readings which present only one side of a controversial issue”; and
51 percent of the students reported “courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor’s political or social views in order to get a good grade.”
“A few have criticized our poll because on some questions, less than a majority reported problems,” Neal noted. “But that is no comfort. By and large, the numbers should have been zero. Even ten percent is 2,000 students at MU alone.”
Notably, the vast majority of respondents described their political views as moderate, liberal, or radical left (75.7 percent). Of the students polled, 63.2 percent reported that they studied professional or science topics.
“Much evidence suggests that students at Missouri’s public universities are not receiving the education they deserve—and that taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth,” Neal concluded. “I am thankful to see reasonable efforts to bring some sunlight, transparency, and accountability to the situation.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni 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.