Thursday, September 9, 2004

DENVER — Four Colorado university presidents testified yesterday that their institutions are making progress in protecting students from academic bias, but several students said otherwise.

In a hearing before the General Assembly’s Joint Education Committee, students testified or submitted statements about recent incidents in which professors vilified Republicans, called conservative students “Nazis” and other names, and even implied that students’ grades would be affected by their political views.

Their testimony came as presidents at the four main state universities told the committee they were working to comply with the March “memorandum of understanding” in which they pledged to protect students from academic discrimination.

State Senate Majority Leader John Andrews said he was pleased by their progress, but emphasized that recent events show conservative students are still subject to academic bias.

“I’ve had three unsolicited complaints in the last 30 days,” said Mr. Andrews. “They’re indicative of a climate and culture where a lot of faculty feel free to demean personally and intellectually bully conservative and Republican students in a way they would never do to students in protected classes.”

Republican legislators took up the issue of academic bias last year in response to complaints from students and conservative activist David Horowitz’s campaign to eliminate what he describes as discrimination against conservative viewpoints in higher education.

Republican state Rep. Shawn Mitchell responded with anti-bias legislation, but agreed to drop the bill last year after university officials said they would sign the memorandum and confront the issue on their own. The memorandum requires the universities to support the concept of academic freedom, review their student grievance procedures, publicize students’ academic-freedom rights, and encourage campus speakers with a wide range of views.

Presidents at the four universities — the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, Metro State University of Denver, and the University of Northern Colorado — reported progress on all fronts. The University of Northern Colorado won praise for including “political affiliation” and “military service” in its anti-discrimination policy.

At the same time, some officials said they worried about the possibility of a negative impact on faculty. At Metro State, for example, professor Oneida Meranto received an official reprimand and warning in August after she disclosed information about a conservative student’s classroom performance to the press.

The incident “sent a real chill through the classrooms,” said Metro State interim President Raymond Kieft. “Faculty are a lot more cautious about what they say, the topics they handle, because they’re not sure what’s acceptable and not acceptable.”

He acknowledged that the school is conducting a second investigation into Ms. Meranto’s conduct after William Pierce, a Metro student, said that she told students Aug. 23 that only liberals would be able to succeed in her course.

“She said that only those of us on the left were capable of thinking critically. If you do not believe you can think critically, you will not be successful in this class,” said Mr. Pierce, who dropped the class because he “did not feel … that I could be graded fairly in her class.”

Mario Nicolais, a University of Colorado law school student, said professor David Hill told his class three weeks ago that “the R in Republican stands for racist,” called Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas an “Uncle Tom,” and when confronted about such remarks, said “there are plenty of other Nazis like you out there.”

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