Lawmakers in Maine are considering a new bill that offers broad protections for professors and students who do not hold to the dominant dogma on their college campuses. Last week, about 40 conservative professors and students testified before the state legislature about the ideological and religious discrimination they have encountered in the University of Maine system.
State Representative Stephen Bowen has introduced a bill that asks universities throughout Maine to establish an “academic bill of rights.” Such a document would, among other things, protect students against faculty or staff who persist in presenting a biased, unbalanced perspective on controversial subject matter day after day or those who penalize students for holding dissenting viewpoints.
Bowen says the measure was prompted by a series of events in the news, including one that took place at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. There, he notes, “the College Republicans organization was referred to in an administrative e-mail that accidentally got exposed to the public as a 'gang of thugs,' and it was clear that the administration held this group in some contempt.”
The Republican state representative says he investigated further and found that, “the more we started asking some of our college students about these kinds of things, the more we learned that this kind of stuff is not uncommon on college campuses.” If nationwide polls are any indication, he points out, U.S. college campuses are becoming less and less diverse ideologically. And according to many conservative students' testimony, liberal bias is rampant.
The “bill of rights” proposed in Bowen's legislation would require universities to establish a grievance procedure to ensure that college officials are responsive to students who feel they have been inequitably treated. “Sometimes these conservative groups have a hard time getting money from the universities to bring speakers to campuses … as compared to some of the other groups,” he explains.
“When those kinds of things take place,” the Maine lawmaker continues, “we want to be sure that the college administration is going to take that seriously and is going to ensure that [the students] are treated fairly. So, that's really what the bill does it really asks the universities to make a clear statement that diversity of ideas is important to them.”
Bowen's proposed “academic bill of rights” would also state that students can expect to have access to a broad range of scholarly opinions; to be graded based solely on “reasoned answers,” without discrimination against their political or religious beliefs; and to have university funding of student government groups money used to pay for guest lecturers distributed “on a viewpoint-neutral basis” so those speakers with differing political and religious perspectives can be heard.