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Special Needs: Conservative may get anti-discrimination protection at Colo. college

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DENVER — College campuses are known for proudly proclaiming their refusal to tolerate discrimination against any minority group, but try telling that to a conservative.

Few would disagree that conservative professors are an endangered species on campus, which is why the University of Colorado Board of Regents is scheduled to consider Thursday a resolution that would prohibit discrimination based on "political affiliation or political philosophy."

Regent James Geddes said the proposed policy change is aimed at bringing more diversity of intellectual thought to the university, which has a reputation as a bastion of liberalism in its faculty and student body.

"It's my view that academic freedom is of paramount importance, and unfortunately in many disciplines at the University of Colorado, they end up with high-quality people who think alike," Mr. Geddes said. "If the other side is not present, then the environment for a rich exchange of ideas is simply not there."

The board also is slated to consider a resolution to conduct a survey on whether its campuses have implemented a previous resolution calling on them to "respect diversity in all of its forms, including diversity of political, geographic, cultural, intellectual, and philosophical perspectives."

The liberal Boulder campus may be the last place anyone would expect to find a conservative revolt in academic thought, but the University of Colorado has drawn national attention for attacking liberal bias since Republicans gained a 5-4 majority on the board in 2011.

In March, the University of Colorado Boulder appointed Steven Hayward as the inaugural visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy in an effort to bring underrepresented ideas to campus.

The drive for more conservative voices on campus is encountering some resistance from faculty members, who say they worry that the effort amounts to intellectual quotas that could hinder the university from attracting top talent.

"The university should be trying to hire the best faculty, and that should be the only criterion," said Oliver McBryan, professor of computer science emeritus at the Boulder campus. "If you start trying to interject other criteria, you're not going to get the best candidates, and you may even drive some of them away."

Mr. McBryan agreed that college professors tend to lean left — "There's definitely a weighting toward liberalism at universities" — but said the reason may be that liberals are better suited for the world of academia, while conservatives are more at home in the field of business.

"Researchers are people whose minds are very open to new ideas, which means they aren't conservative," Mr. McBryan said. "Conservatives are more likely to prefer the status quo. ... Professors are more likely to be liberal-oriented because they search for and are open to new ideas."

Other faculty members are expected to testify Thursday both for and against the resolutions, including University of Colorado School of Law professor Robert Nagel, who has criticized the lopsided liberal majority in the humanities.

The proposed resolution on discrimination would apply to hiring and academic policies, and would include a "mechanism for investigating any complaints of discrimination based upon political affiliation or political philosophy."

Mr. Geddes said he expects a spirited debate. "I've been a regent for 4½ years, and this is the biggest deal since I've been here," he said.

University of Colorado Boulder has had a major ideological fight over a faculty member, but the professor was no conservative. In 2007, ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill was fired on charges of academic dishonesty in the aftermath of years of controversy over an essay on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which he compared the World Trade Center victims to Nazi war criminals — "little Eichmanns."

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