JEFFERSON CITY, MO—The Missouri House of Representatives today passed House Bill 213, as amended, which seeks to ensure a free exchange of ideas on the state’s public university campuses. Provisions in the original legislation were drawn from Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, a report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
“For years, the academic establishment has refused to take action to protect the free exchange of ideas,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “It is no wonder that now, confronted with real problems, Missouri legislators have asked for a measure of accountability.”
The vote was 97 to 50 on the third reading. The bill earned preliminary approval on a voice vote yesterday, following various amendments from the floor. It goes next to the Senate.
House Bill 213, as amended, will require Missouri’s public universities to report annually on specific steps taken to “to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom.” Institutions must post the report on their website and ensure that students are notified of the measures taken as well as how to report alleged violations of policy. The bill’s sponsor is Representative Jane Cunningham.
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.”
It includes suggested actions universities can take, including several added by amendments on the floor—none of which are mandatory. The content of the report is entirely up to each institution.
The vote comes in the wake of a poll—commissioned by ACTA—of undergraduates at Missouri’s two largest public campuses. Results were presented in ACTA’s testimony earlier this year on the bill before the House Higher Education Committee. They included:
58.7 percent of the students 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.”
The vote also follows the release last week of a report offering a scathing indictment of classroom practices in the social work program at Missouri State University. HB 213 is named for Emily Brooker, a student who was singled out for punishment by school officials at the MSU program after she refused to sign a letter to the state legislature advocating a public policy her professor agreed with—but she did not.
In response to her case, the university had an independent study done by outside experts. The external reviewers noted “an atmosphere where [policies are] used in order to coerce students into certain belief systems” and “to bully and browbeat students.” The report found that: “Faculty appear wedded to old history and grudges. Some faculty and students do not feel safe. This toxic environment permeates every aspect of the School.”
Since last year, legislation similar to HB 213 has been introduced in six states. The Missouri measure has also been endorsed by the chief executive of the Kansas City Public Library, a curator of the University of Missouri, and a former president of the University of Missouri Alumni Association.
A reporting requirement similar to that of HB 213 is already in place in Pennsylvania, approved last year by a special bipartisan committee following testimony by ACTA. The South Dakota Board of Regents also took action last year, requiring all public university professors to notify students on syllabi that their “academic performance may be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.”
“ACTA has said for years that the public wants action—not words—given the sorry state of the marketplace of ideas on our campuses,” Neal concluded. “Today’s news from Missouri is more evidence of that. Rather than waiting for legislatures to demand accountability, I hope more colleges and universities will take action themselves in the future.”
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 How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.