Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Three Republican senators Wednesday joined a growing contingent of lawmakers who are concerned that America's college campuses lack the intellectual diversity necessary to provide students with a balanced education.
It's the second time in a week that members of Congress have confronted the issue. In both cases, conservatives have complained that liberals dominate college campuses, shutting out other viewpoints while also abandoning traditional areas of study.
Last week, more than a dozen House members introduced the "Academic Bill of Rights." The non-binding resolution includes recommendations encouraging diversity in hiring, curricula and reading lists. The resolution also condemns attempts by faculty members to indoctrinate students with political, ideological or religious views.
At Wednesday's hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the three Republicans in attendance made clear they have no intention of dictating to college professors how to teach their classes.
But they also warned that changes are needed. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. education secretary, said he was worried that most colleges shun conservative viewpoints.
"We've created in our country these wonderful colleges and universities with enormous freedom, yet on those campuses, too often all the discussion and thought goes one way," Alexander said. "You're not honored and celebrated for having a different point of view."
Alexander acknowledged, however, that conservative students, not liberals, benefit most because their views are constantly challenged.
The hearing on intellectual diversity is the first that Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) plans to hold as part of a broader examination of academia. He said the committee would also explore the content of textbooks related to American history and review the political influence of accreditation agencies.
Those testifying at Wednesday's hearing included a mix of people from inside and outside the academic world. They discussed topics ranging from political correctness and speech codes to the theft of college newspapers and censorship. The committee also heard about students who have faced reprisals for expressing unpopular views.
Three of the four witnesses testifying were self-proclaimed liberals, but they said their political persuasion didn't matter.
University of Virginia student Anthony Dick formed the Individual Rights Coalition with a diverse group of students who feared university policies threatened free speech and the traditional liberal arts education.
"Although all of us [in the coalition] have a different vision of how society should be, none of us is willing to sacrifice the liberal arts environment to achieve our political goals," Dick said.
He added: "If liberal arts education is to be preserved, freedom of speech and freedom of thought must be firmly secured. Students and faculty must feel confident in their ability to enjoy the full protection of their free speech rights, and the administration must also refrain from instituting mandatory training that seeks to direct or control student thought."
Gregg said he was concerned about so-called sensitivity and diversity training classes that were popping up on college campuses. He also said traditional courses like history and literature were being replaced by new and trendy subjects inspired by professors' political agendas.
"Simply put, this lack of intellectual diversity in higher education shortchanges students by depriving them of the exposure to a robust debate of the issues of the day," Gregg said.
Gregg and Alexander said they had no problem with liberal views dominating college campuses, but they expected administrators and professors to at least respect the opinions of others.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he would like to further explore the issue of accreditation and whether the agencies responsible for certifying colleges carried any political influence. In the meantime, however, he blamed academia for a "moral and political" failure to lead effectively.
"There is a tremendous gap, a gulf between faculty on most of our college campuses and the mainstream American values," Sessions said.
Wednesday's hearing prompted the release of a survey conducted by Smith College professor Stanley Rothman, who directs the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change. The study of 1,520 faculty members from 140 universities found that 72 percent describe their ideology as "left," while 15 percent describe their ideology as "right."
Brooklyn College history professor Robert David Johnson said he holds liberal views, yet that didn't stop some faculty members from opposing his tenure because he spoke in favor of bringing more intellectual diversity to the City University of New York campus.
"Taxpayers shouldn't be paying to have students receive one-sided political viewpoints," Johnson said.
The committee also heard testimony from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Both organizations advocate free speech on college campuses and have worked to improve intellectual diversity for students.
See Related Story:
Congressman Strives for Intellectual Diversity on College Campuses (Oct. 24, 2003)
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