The law purports to apply to all colleges and universities in the state, not just public institutions. Of course, there are all sorts of issues one can raise with respect to this proposal. What, for example, would be the enforcement mechanism? None is mentioned in the legislation. I assume that if the bill were passed, a student who felt that his or her rights were violated could file suit seeking some sort of relief. If the legislation passed, and I were teaching in Ohio, I’d probably look into purchasing professional liability insurance, because I’m not sure I’d want to rely solely on my institution to defend me from the potentially frivolous lawsuits such a measure might inspire.
But there’s another issue I find even more troubling, one that trenches on the freedom of an institution to define its own educational mission. Here’s what the proposal says:
Faculty and instructors shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.
This sounds great until you think that, for example, promoting a religious point of view might well be integral to a college’s mission. The proposal seems to demand that every institution adhere essentially to a single standard--the liberal marketplace of ideas. What becomes of what some have called "institutional academic freedom," the freedom of an institution to define and pursue a distinctive mission?
And then there’s this:
University administrators, student government organizations, and institutional policies, rules, or procedures shall not infringe the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience of students and student organizations.
Again, this sounds great, until you think about "institutional academic freedom." A religious institution could not maintain a religious atmosphere on campus, for that would violate the freedoms of students and student organizations to speak and express themselves in heterodox ways. A religious school would have to permit--and, indeed, as another provision makes clear, fund out of student activities fees--an "atheist club."
Stated simply, in the name of promoting intellectual diversity (a most laudable national goal, not to mention a most laudable goal for Ohio and for many colleges and universities, one that I support wholeheartedly when it is consonant with the mission of the institution), the proposal seeks to impose a sort of institutional uniformity. In this respect, it departs from the model proffered by David Horowitz’s
Students for Academic Freedom, which contains this proviso:
These principles fully apply only to public universities and to private universities that present themselves as bound by the canons of academic freedom. Private institutions choosing to restrict academic freedom on the basis of creed have an obligation to be as explicit as is possible about the scope and nature of these restrictions.
I remember a debate when I was in grad school between
Walter Berns and someone from the port side of our department. At issue was the extent to which the university should be conceived as a servant of the society and subjected to democratic control. Mr. Berns’s (I can’t help it; he’s still "Mr. Berns" to me) response: "Do you really want the rug merchants to control the university?" Well, in Ohio, the rug merchants are banging on the campus gates. Why? Because all sorts of folks have been pursuing committed ideological agendas in their classrooms. Not everyone. Probably not even a majority. But there are enough people out there who enjoy inflicting their views on captive audiences. And they haven’t seriously considered the consequence of their actions, which is to provoke a political response to what they themselves understand to be a political act. And when the response comes, especially in this ham-handed form, we all lose. As someone said recently, the chickens are coming home to roost.
For another take on this issue, from a different point of view (I’m all about diversity), go here.
Update: It occurs to me that in the early 90s at least two of the regional accrediting associations--the Western States Association of Colleges and Schools and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, if memory serves--sought to impose a "one size fits all" vision of diversity in higher education on schools seeking reaccreditation. Among the targets were Thomas Aquinas College and St. Johns College Annapolis, whose "Great Books" curricula were insufficiently diverse, and Westminster Theological Seminary, whose Board of Trustees was insufficiently diverse. Defenders of genuine institutional diversity across the spectrum of American higher education successfully resisted this push (so much so that I was on the Middle States reaccrediting team for St. Johns). While accrediting agencies can threaten the future of colleges and universities in ways that the Ohio proposal (at least immediately) cannot, the two are similar in their indifference to genuine institutional diversity of mission.
None of this means that we should countenance faculty who indoctrinate and/or intimidate while hiding behind the barrier of academic freedom, nor that we shouldnt do what we can to promote intellectual diversity on campuses that are ostensibly and officially devoted to it. But this legal sledgehammer is not terribly helpful to those of us in the trenches.