DENVER — The University of Colorado hired a visiting conservative professor this year, but conservatives don't want to stop there.
Republicans on the University of Colorado Board of Regents pushed Tuesday for greater intellectual diversity on campus, starting with the hiring of professors and instructors in the humanities who hold right-of-center views.
James Geddes, the Republican regent leading the charge, said the university could raise its national reputation by taking "an active approach" in diversifying its academic departments.
"If we don't do that, that's a dead department. It's dead," said Mr. Geddes. "Nobody's going to challenge anyone else, nobody's going to debate, because they all think the same."
The hourlong discussion marked something of a milestone in the decades-old national debate over intellectual diversity on campus. While conservatives have long griped about the suppression of right-of-center thought on campuses, major universities have been largely unwilling to wrestle publicly with the issue at the highest levels of leadership.
"To take the discussion that far is something of an anomaly," said William Casement, author of "Making College Right" (National Association of Scholars, 2013). "There are lots of people pushing for this, but to see a serious discussion like this is unusual. It's the recognition of a problem that a lot of people wouldn't recognize or admit to."
Despite its reputation as a bastion of liberalism, the university has proved more open than most other colleges to the concerns of conservatives. In March, the university hired Steven Hayward to serve as its first visiting professor of conservative thought and policy, a position funded with $1 million in private donations.
The university also has moved to play up its world-class academic departments in science and engineering while downplaying its image as a place to find a world-class party. For the second year in a row, officials banned the 4/20 marijuana festival on the Boulder campus, which in the past has drawn thousands.
In 2010, the regents adopted a set of 12 guiding principles, the sixth of which calls on university officials to "[p]romote faculty, student and staff diversity to ensure the rich interchange of ideas in the pursuit of truth and learning, including diversity of political, geographic, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspectives."
For the first time since, chancellors from the University of Colorado's four campuses gave reports Tuesday on their efforts to increase intellectual diversity, which included an option for humanities students to minor in business and the activities of student-run clubs such as Young Americans for Freedom.
Regent Irene Griego, a Democrat, said the universities were doing an impressive job of implementing the guiding principle on diversity.
"It really does show us our campuses are taking this very seriously of looking at what we need to do to enrich our curriculum, what we need to do to develop structures that represent all thinking," she said.
But Republican regent Steve Bosley said the reports were too rosy, conveying the message that "there's no problem, there's nothing to consider." He called for more action at the hiring level, saying he wanted more information from department heads on the status of their departments and their goals.
"The head of a department, program or school knows his or her faculty," said Mr. Bosley. "If the vast majority represent one philosophical perspective, then when you fill a position you have the opportunity and responsibility under guiding principle No. 6 to find someone to add balance."
One unresolved issue is how to determine a professor's political or ideological views, short of pulling public voter-registration records, which Democratic regent Stephen Ludwig called "highly problematic and inappropriate."
"The other challenge is, 'Who is a true conservative?'" Mr. Ludwig said. "I think that argument comes up on a fairly regular basis, about who is conservative and who isn't, and who gets to decide what that is, if that's a basis for hiring."
Student Tyler Quick quipped that he would "challenge the assumption that all Boulder faculty are somehow commies," but Republican regent Sue Sharkey wasn't amused.
"That's a joke? I didn't find the humor," said Ms. Sharkey. "That's an overstatement, and it diminishes the case we're trying to make here."
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