Policymakers | Intellectual Diversity

House backs intellectual diversity measure

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH   |  April 12, 2007 by Matt Franck

All of the state’s public colleges and universities would be required to file annual reports on their efforts to promote intellectual diversity under legislation initially approved Wednesday by the Missouri House.

The bill also lists a dozen suggested ways in which colleges may increase intellectual diversity, defined as “a variety of political, ideological, religious and other perspectives.” Options include altering hiring practices, bringing in a “balanced variety” of campus speakers and tracking grievances against professors.

An amended version of the bill also would allow students to bring any diversity complaints straight to a public university or college’s governing board.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jane Cunningham, is named after Emily Brooker, a former student at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., who said she lacked any recourse when she had a religious disagreement with her professor over an assignment.

Brooker, a conservative Christian who has since graduated from Missouri State, said she refused to sign her name to a letter lobbying state legislators to pass legislation in support of gay foster parents rights.

Brooker sued and last year was awarded an out-of-court settlement. Her academic record was cleared, and her professor was temporarily given nonteaching duties.

“We do have a problem, but I think it’s not just Missouri,” said Cunningham, R-Chesterfield. “I think campuses all over this country have this problem, and it is my prediction that a trend is developing that will quickly gain momentum to rid our college classes of forced ideological conformity.”

Democrats criticized the measure, saying it could trample academic freedom and give legislators and school administrators too much oversight over what can and can’t be taught.

“A prospective faculty member coming on is going to be afraid that they are going to be completely skirted and students are going to go straight to the governing board,” said Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia. “How scary is that? You’re going to instill fear in our professors and in prospective faculty members.”

The bill needs another vote in the House before moving to the Senate.

The intellectual diversity bill is HB213.


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