Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Intellectual diversity in Missouri

This Inside Higher Ed article describes the Missouri counterpart to the Georgia bill I discussed here.

Although the two measures have significant parallels, there are also differences, above all the reference to "Biblical inerrancy" in the Missouri measure. Connected with that is a provision in the Missouri bill that institutions could

"[d]evelop methods for disseminating best practices to ensure that conflicts between personal beliefs and classroom assignments that may contradict such beliefs can be resolved in a manner that achieves educational objectives without requiring a student to act against his or her conscience....

I have two thoughts about these differences. First, the latter provision is driven by the Emily Brooker case. If you click on the last link, you’ll see how bad things had gotten in the Missouri State University social work program. If you click on the first, you’ll see that the case could be cited as an example of how the current system works, though it did take a lawsuit to provoke the corrective action. The legislation encourages, but doesn’t require, that institutions be proactive.

The Biblical inerrancy provision is more problematical. Here’s how it reads:

2. The coordinating board for higher education shall require each public institution to report annually to the general assembly detailing the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.


(1) The report required in this subsection shall address the specific measures taken by the institution to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom. The report may include steps taken by the institution to:

***


(e) Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution’s guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant....

The report is "required," but it "may include" references to "intellectual diversity concerns in the institution’s guidelines on teaching and program development," which in turn "shall include...protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant." So administrators clearly know what they may or shall do, don’t they? If this bill, passed by the Missouri House, becomes law, civil liberties litigators will be licking their lips. It calls to mind the legislative attempts to include creationism or intelligent design in school curricula, all of which have been struck down by the courts. (I’ve discussed two recent cases here and here.) The bill’s language is complicated, not to say confusing. I don’t know whether it mandates anything, but I do know that it will provide work for the ACLU.

Lastly, you can download a critique of the intellectual diversity legislation here. It’s tendentious in a variety of ways, regularly suggesting, for example, the prospect of the worst sort of interference by outsiders. By itself, of course, the bill’s reporting requirement doesn’t do any of that.

In the end, as I’ve said before, I’d rather there not be any legislation. I’d rather that institutions be scrupulous about policing themselves. But a reporting requirement encourages such self-policing, and subsequent ham-handed legislative interference would, I’m sure, meet with even greater resistance. Still, if I had to choose between the Georgia and Missouri bills, the former strikes me as less problematical.

Discussions - 2 Comments

No, that language just isn't acceptable. Requiring (or even just requiring a report) on how the "inerrancy of the Bible" is being represented is nonsense. Anyone who has read Genesis knows that the Bible contains some inconsistencies. Requiring such would be the same as insisting that the "flat earth theory" be represented in the curriculum. Silly. They should amend it to say something about the "Biblical tradition." I see no reason to incorporate the special pleadings of fundamentalists.

And hey! They've fixed the punctuation...hallelujah! Praise them with great praise!

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