The state’s public colleges and universities would be required to submit reports explaining how they ensure diverse viewpoints are allowed on their campuses, under a bill given initial House approval Wednesday.
The reports would address specific efforts by each school to ensure students and faculty feel comfortable stating their opinions, especially about political and social issues.
The bill suggests that the reports mention 11 points, including the viewpoints of those asked to speak on campus, policies to prevent hecklers from disrupting campus speeches, the reporting of thefts of student newspapers and the elimination of speech codes that violate the Constitution.
The bill defines intellectual diversity as “a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, religious and other perspectives.”
The intellectual diversity reports would be submitted to lawmakers and the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and published on the schools’ Web sites. Universities also would need to tell students where to report violations.
Supporters cited the case of a student at Missouri State University who claimed she was retaliated against when she disagreed with a professor and refused to sign a letter supporting adoption by gay couples.
That student, Emily Brooker, has said faculty members at the Springfield school intensively questioned her about her beliefs about homosexuality. She then sued the school, claiming it violated her constitutional speech rights. The university and Brooker have since settled, which includes payment for attorney fees and clearing her academic record.
A subsequent review of the social work program conducted by the deans of social work schools at the University of Tennessee and Indiana University found a “toxic environment,” bullying by some faculty members and biases against students based on religious beliefs.
Sponsoring Rep. Jane Cunningham said many Missouri college students feel they must agree with their professors or face academic repercussions. She said the change is needed to protect students and save taxpayers from having to pay more legal settlements.
“We do have a problem, but I think it is not just Missouri,” said Cunningham, R-Chesterfield. “Campuses across the country have this problem.”
Rep. Clint Zweifel said Missouri State University clearly has a problem in one of its departments, but questioned whether that extended to all the state’s schools.
“We would be better just letting the process work itself out,” said Zweifel, D-Florissant.