John Leo

Students themselves now check the political affiliations of professors and complain about indoctrination that passes for teaching. (Check out for detailed student reports of unbelievable professorial drivel.) Members of the Republican Club at Wells College, an all-female institution in upstate New York, reported that 92 percent of their professors in the humanities and social sciences were registered either as Democrats or with splinter parties of the left. (A month later, the women?s application to be recognized as a campus club was rejected.) Last week conservative students at Duke announced that the university?s eight humanities departments contain 142 registered Democrats and only eight registered Republicans. The Duke Conservative Union also charged that a number of humanities departments ?have become increasingly politicized over the past few decades? and that this politicization has had ?a significant impact on the daily workings of faculty members.? Student challenges such as this are beginning to raise temperatures on campus. So are the spread of satirical bake sales opposing affirmative action and resistance to speech codes, speech zones, and the defunding of conservative political and religious groups. Republicans at the University of Colorado-Boulder now have a Web site for reports of bias based on political beliefs. In the current climate, sites like this are likely to spread.

The one worrisome aspect of Horowitz?s bill of rights is that he took it to the Colorado legislature as a bill to be passed. The bill?s version of Horowitz?s text says the academic freedom of students ?will not be infringed by instructors who create a hostile environment? toward their ideas. But ?hostile environment? is a dubious and elastic legal construct. It can easily be stretched into restriction of stray remarks. Will professors run afoul of the state for offhand comments that offend the most sensitive person in class? Probably not, but why put the provision into law? Horowitz is right to say that ?universities should not be indoctrination centers for the political left.? Once the student radicals of the 1960s became professors and took control of hiring committees, dissenters from the rising campus monoculture became rare. Words like ?knowledge? and ?excellence? faded, replaced by ?transformation? and ?social change? (i.e., politicization).

But it?s doubtful that legislation is the way to go. It would be far better for Colorado to pass a ?sense of the legislature? resolution backing the academic bill of rights in principle but making no attempt to legislate reform. Apologists for wayward campuses say these matters are best left to university administrators. Yes, but the administrators are the ones who created the current ideological mess. Pressure must be brought to bear to open up the humanities curriculums from their narrow postmodern and race-and-gender obsessions. But that pressure should come from protests and persuasion, not the involvement of politicians. Student governments at several universities have adopted a  ?Student Bill of Rights? modeled on Horowitz?s. Think of his bill as a model for more protests and a badly needed kick in the shins for university administrators.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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