UM System plans Web site to report intellectual diversity complaints

Thursday, October 4, 2007 | 9:35 p.m. CDT; updated 12:12 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — A week after MU faculty approved a statement endorsing intellectual diversity that could appear on classroom syllabuses by winter semester, the UM System Board of Curators received a report on how each campus encourages diversity of thought.

All four campuses have posted information online on “intellectual pluralism” and are creating Web sites that will allow students to electronically submit complaints or concerns about instructors.

The system will be more effective because it is confidential but does not allow complaints to be leveled anonymously, MU Faculty Council Chairman Frank Schmidt said. He compared an anonymous complaint system to Web forums where students can rate their professors.

“I would scream bloody murder if they used that for personnel decisions because it would absolutely be absurd,” Schmidt said.

The statement to appear on classroom syllabuses states that “the University community welcomes intellectual diversity and respects student rights.”

Students can submit concerns to the department or division leader and the Director of the Office of Students Rights and Responsibilities.

Student curator Tony Luetkemeyer said the board materials made it seem as if intellectual diversity would only be promoted at MU’s Summer Welcome, which is a new student orientation.

“I wanted to make sure upperclassmen were not left out of the process,” he said.

Luetkemeyer said he is glad to find out that the statement will be included in syllabuses because it important for students to be able to share their views in the classroom.

“Intellectual diversity is important to a learning environment because it is crucial to see different viewpoints,” he said.

Schmidt said that in light of a state legislative push for intellectual diversity and the curators discussion, the Faculty Council wanted to make students’ options for reporting intellectual diversity problems “perfectly clear.” Schmidt said those channels are already available.

Other steps to improve campus intellectual diversity include designating a student and faulty member to handle and record complaints.

The associate vice provost’s office, who receives the complaints, spends about one-fourth of its time on intellectual diversity, said Deputy Provost Kenneth Dean.

At the meeting, Curator David Wasinger said he is pleased to see the UM System “mind their own store” instead of having the legislature intervene.

Schmidt said many faculty members are worried that intellectual diversity could force professors to self-censor. Social sciences are especially at risk because they deal more with opinion, Schmidt said. Also, there is a concern that non-tenured professors will be more hesitant to discuss controversial topics for fear they will be reported.

“We are in this culture of victimization,” Schmidt said. “You don’t want professors constantly guessing what they might do that would offend someone.”

The curators also discussed:

— An update requested from Curator John Carnahan about endowed chair positions. Of the 258 endowed positions in the UM System, 34 remain unfilled. Steve Graham, UM System senior vice president for academic affairs, said the number of empty positions has decreased since the report after a successful campaign to fill them at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and MU. Graham plans to present more information about endowed positions at the next curator meeting in November.

— A summary of degree programs that have been added or deleted over the past five years for all four UM System campuses.

— An update from the Missouri Council on Higher Education study group about a funding strategy all of Missouri’s public four-year universities would use.

The Board of Curators continue meeting at 9 a.m. Friday in Memorial Union’s Stotler Lounge. In the afternoon, the board will close the meeting to the public.

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