Jeff Emanuel

There have been recent moves to involve the State in issues of academia, but they have largely taken place in the courts. The threat of a lawsuit was the impetus in overcoming the University of Georgia’s aforementioned opposition to the registration of a Christian fraternity; likewise, two students at Georgia Tech scored a dubious success last year when the suit they filed against their Institute resulted in the scrapping of campus speech codes – a victory, due the imbalance in plaintiff expectation and reality, which was as ironic as it was dubious, as their success directly resulted in the abuse the plaintiffs received during their legal crusade being made wholly and permanently permissible.

Now, in Georgia, the legislative branch appears poised to get in on the act, as well. The sponsors of controversial House Bill (HB) 154 (or the “Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education Act”), is currently working its way through the state’s General Assembly, ostensibly hope to help shield students from unwelcome political indoctrination in the classroom, to help remove the yoke of political correctness from inter-student discourse and expression, and to help prevent teachers from being denied tenure (or worse, fired) because of their political leanings – in other words, they hope to help break the liberal grip on academia.

On the surface, these seem like admirable enough goals. What measures, though, would actually be put into place should HB 154 pass – and would the passage of this legislation serve as an end in itself, or would it only encourage government to further legislate the thoughts and actions of those on this nation’s college campuses? For, regardless of whether or not this bill would actually provide a temporary respite for conservatives students and faculty who have long had to struggle to get by in an environment which is predisposed toward modern liberalism, there is the worrisome prospect that HB 154 is simply the first step in a process to legislate the actions and, more importantly, the thoughts of those who inhabit America’s “marketplaces of ideas.”

In all fairness, the Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education Act does not regulate either thought or action on the part of students or faculty in Georgia’s colleges. What it does do is two things. First, it proposes a definition of the term “intellectual diversity” (the “foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, and other perspectives”), and suggests ways of demonstrating a commitment to that diversity. These suggestions range from “conducting a study to assess the current state of intellectual diversity on…campus,” to “including intellectual diversity issues in student course evaluations,” to “creating an institutional ombudsman on intellectual diversity.” The bill contains twelve such suggestions in all. Second, HB 154 directs the state’s Board of Regents to “require each institution under its control to report annually to the [Georgia] General Assembly, detailing the steps that the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.”

This is the only legal directive in this bill – the requirement for annual submission of a report to the state legislature on the steps being taken to ensure intellectual diversity on campus and in the classroom. However, it is not this bill, per se, that should worry conservatives – it is the potential for further legislation, which could result in further legal regulation of ideology and expression.

Speech codes, political correctness, glorification of superficial racial diversity, and uneven enforcement of regulations have all contributed to the destruction of the image (as utopian as it may have been) of the American university as a place where young people can be exposed to truly diverse ideas and viewpoints. However, within the attempt to correct this situation through legislation lies the potential for the scales not only to be balanced, but to be tipped in the opposite direction – or in any direction future lawmakers (and judges) may decide. The legislation of thought, whether it be the regulation of speech or the enforcement of the availability of diverse of viewpoints, leads down the same slippery slope, regardless of intent – and, for the rational conservative, the final destination is not a desirable one, regardless of the “greater good” which may have been served in getting there.


Jeff Emanuel

Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran, is a Leadership fellow with the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia, where he also studies Classics. In addition, he is a contributing editor for conservative web log RedState.com, and is a columnist for the Athens, GA Banner-Herald newspaper.

Be the first to read Jeff Emanuel's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.