Intellectual diversity bill fuels debate

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:34 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Opponents and proponents of proposed legislation on intellectual diversity crowded into a meeting room at the Capitol on Tuesday night and engaged in a heated debate on the bill.

The House Higher Education Committee conducted the hearing on House Bill 213, also known as the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act. The bill would require universities in Missouri to annually report the steps they are taking to promote academic freedom and free exchange of ideas in the classroom without religious or political bias.

Anne Neil, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said a lack of intellectual diversity is a national problem in college and university classrooms.

“There are students who want to go to college to be challenged and stimulated but instead find an atmosphere closer to an indoctrination camp than an institution of higher learning,” Neil said.

Research commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and conducted by Pulsar Consulting found bias in the classroom.

“Fifty-eight point seven percent of students reported that professors use the classroom to present their personal political views,” Neil said to the committee. Students from MU and Missouri State University were polled for the survey.

Frank Schmidt, an MU biologist and a member of the Intercampus Faculty Council, testified against the bill, suggesting that the various data provided to argue the bill failed to represent the situation adequately and were statistically unsound.

“Only eight of 16 opinions were in accord with the survey,” Schmidt told the committee. “I know what would happen if I had to submit a paper where the experiment only worked half of the time, and it wouldn’t be pretty.”

Students from various Missouri public higher education institutions were in attendance to testify in opposition to the bill.

“This bill is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist,” MU student Rick Puig told the committee.

James Rigdon, a graduate student at MSU, asked, “Does the term intellectual diversity intend to imply that we should hire people of varying intelligences?”

Rep. Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, criticized the testimonies of the opposition for being too subjective and inconclusive.

“If what you’re saying is that the university is already implementing these policies, what’s wrong with this bill?” Bearden asked Schmidt.

The committee also heard the personal testimony of Emily Brooker, a graduate of MSU, whose case inspired the bill. With the help of the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that specializes in defending intellectual diversity cases, Brooker reached an out-of-court settlement with MSU last November after suing the school for alleged violations of her First Amendment rights. Brooker said she was subject to a grievance hearing from MSU because she refused to sign a letter to the Missouri General Assembly in support of gay adoption as part of a social work class project.

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