Trustees | Intellectual Diversity

Bill targets professors’ intolerance

ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION   |  April 11, 2007 by Kevin Duffy

One Georgia Tech student said she was called an “evil one” by a professor because of her religious and political views.

Another Tech student said a public policy professor flunked her for skipping a class to attend a conservative political action conference.

Orit Sklar, a senior, and Ruth Malhotra, a graduate student, will testify today before the House Higher Education Committee, which is taking up a bill they support.

House Bill 154 seeks to ensure that Georgia’s public universities welcome intellectual diversity. To that end, the proposal would require schools to report annually to the General Assembly on what steps they’re taking to protect “the free exchange of ideas.”

Sklar and Malhotra said the law is needed because some ideas are condemned or censored on Georgia campuses.

“This problem is one that surfaces frequently and a system change is needed,” Malhotra said. “Professors teaching you what to think rather than how to think.”

She and Sklar sued Tech last year in U.S. District Court, challenging the school’s restrictions on speech, its student activity fee policy, and the discussion of religious views in “safe space,” a college program that advocates tolerance of homosexuality.

The students have won on two points, so far. Judge J. Owen Forrester ordered Tech to change its speech regulations and Tech eliminated its free speech zone, allowing non-disruptive protests throughout the campus. The other issues in the suit have yet to be decided.

Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross) is the lead sponsor of the intellectual diversity bill, but he didn’t craft it. The proposal is almost word-for-word a copy of model legislation provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative lawmakers’ group. The council and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni drafted the model law. Other states also are considering it.

Among its points: “Teachers should not take unfair advantage of the immaturity of students by indoctrinating them with their own opinions before the students have had an opportunity to examine other opinions.”

The bill’s prospects are poor this year, but the issue is not likely to go away anytime soon.

That worries some in academia. “What is concerning here is the universities are being made accountable to politicians,” said Susan Mattern-Parkes, chair of the executive committee of the University of Georgia’s University Council, the campus governing board. “People see the Georgia Legislature is trying to control education.”

Tech administrator Anderson Smith said “it’s dangerous to go in this direction.”

“I don’t want to have to go in and monitor what faculty members do in their classes. That’s a violation of basic academic freedom,” he said.


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