Members of a free speech advocacy group visited MU Thursday to discuss an initiative that they say would hamper the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints on Missouri campuses.
Members from the Center for Campus Free Speech were discussing the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act, which was approved Feb. 27 in a hearing held by the House Higher Education Committee to determine whether the entire House would vote on the measure.
Votes were split along party lines, with the committee’s five Republicans voting for the bill and three Democrats voting against it.
The bill was inspired by a lawsuit filed last year by Brooker, a Missouri State University graduate, against the school. Brooker claimed a professor had graded her poorly when she refused to sign a letter to Missouri legislators in support of same-sex adoption. MSU settled the suit.
If the initiative is passed, MU and all other public higher education institutions in Missouri would be required to generate annual reports about intellectual diversity on campus for submission to the state government.
“I think it would savor balance and sensibility over truth,” CCFS Field Organizer Kendra Wobbema said. “It’s a bad thing for the educational process.”
Wobbema said the objective of her visit was to inform MU students about similar intellectual diversity initiatives facing colleges in other states and to vocalize the opposition to the legislation.
Wobbema met with student leaders in the Missouri Students Association, College Democrats, Triangle Coalition and the Progressive Action Network. She provided the student leaders with information about how to get in touch with student organizations on other campuses that are being affected by intellectual diversity initiatives.
In Missouri, Wobbema has also met with student leaders at UM-St. Louis, UM-Kansas City and Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
Intellectual diversity initiatives similar to the Missouri bill have been rejected by state legislatures in Montana, South Dakota and Virginia.
Wobbema said though it might be too early to determine if the bill will pass in Missouri, the efforts of her organization have helped students in other states to join together and stand against intellectual diversity legislation.
“We really just want to help mobilize people,” she said. “I think it is making a difference.”
According to a report released this year by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni of students polled at MU and MSU, 58.7 percent said some professors use the classroom to present their personal political views and 51 percent reported that they have courses where they feel their grade hinges on agreeing with the professor’s viewpoints.
ACTA program director Charles Mitchell, who testified at the House hearing, said intellectual diversity is an issue that needs to be addressed on America’s college campuses.
“We support taking action on intellectual diversity in a responsible way,” he said.
According to the ACTA Web site, the non-profit Washington, D.C., based organization seeks to restore intellectual diversity on America’s college campuses and defend students and professors that feel their academic freedom is under attack by other faculty or school administration.
Mitchell said higher education, in accordance with its guidelines regarding intellectual diversity, has not appropriately addressed the issue.
“The education establishment has not taken action on the issue,” Mitchell said. “Words are not enough.”
Mitchell referred to the Brooker case as an example what he said was academia’s inaction in defending intellectual diversity.
“That’s not what it should take to be treated fairly in the classroom,” Mitchell said.