The Right Coast

March 23, 2005
The Student Bill of Rights
By Gail Heriot

I was up at the Cal State-San Marcos campus this afternoon and listened to a well-attended debate on Senate Bill 5, affectionately and officially known as the "Student Bill of Rights." Among the debaters was State Senator Bill Morrow, who is sponsoring the bill.

I have very mixed feelings at this point. I tend to be uncomfortable when I hear about legislatures toying with the idea of exerting greater control over what happens in the classroom, even when it is done with a light hand as it is in Senate Bill 5. On the other hand, the number of faculty members who feel free to harangue their students on political issues (frequently in classes that have nothing to do with politics) is troubling, as is the breathtaking lack of ideological balance on many campuses. These problems are unlikely to disappear without prodding of some sort. The question is whether this (or something like it) is the right kind of prodding, and I guess I'll have to think about that.

I thought Morrow comported himself well (as did all the debaters on both sides of the issue). I was particularly impressed by his willingness to modify the bill in response to reasonable concerns (he specifically stated that he planned some modification of the declarations in Section 1 (a)(1)(D)). I've re-produced below the operative part of the bill. It's modeled after a proposal by Students for Academic Freedom, one of David Horowitz's organizations. If anyone wants to voice his or her opionion, send me an e-mail and I will send it on to Morrow.

By the way, for the benefit of those of you who are unfamiliar with California politics, I suspect there is little danger that this bill will pass any time soon. The state legislature is not just heavily Democratic; as a result of California's most recent re-districting scheme, political moderates in either party are rare birds, so cross-over votes from Democrats are unlikely. But things may change, and similar bills are being considered in other states, where they may have a better chance.


SECTION 1. Section 66015.8 is added to the Education Code , to
read: 66015.8. (a) (1) The Legislature makes the following
declarations and findings with respect to public institutions of higher

(A) The Legislature declares that the central purposes of the university
are the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions, the teaching and general development of students to help them become creative individuals and productive citizens of a pluralistic democracy, and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large.

(B) The Legislature further declares that free inquiry and free speech
within the academic community are indispensable to the achievement of these goals, the freedoms to teach and to learn depend upon the creation of appropriate conditions and opportunities on the campus as a whole as well as in the classrooms and lecture halls, and these purposes reflect the values of pluralism, diversity, opportunity, critical intelligence, openness, and fairness that are the cornerstones of American society.

(C) The Legislature finds that academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech, and that academic freedom protects the intellectual independence of professors, researchers, and students in the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of ideas from interference by legislators or authorities within theinstitution itself.

(D) The Legislature further declares that intellectual independence means the protection of students from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political, religious, or ideological nature. To achieve the intellectual independence of students, teachers should not take unfair advantage of a student's immaturity by indoctrinating him or her with the teacher's own opinions before a student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before a student has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his or her own, and students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.

(b) To secure the intellectual independence of students, and to protect the principles of intellectual diversity, the Regents of the University of California are requested to, and the Trustees of the California State University and the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges are hereby directed to, develop guidelines and implement the following principles of the Student Bill of Rights:

(1) Students shall be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

(2) Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences shall respect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas, and provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.

(3) Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.

(4) The selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers' programs, and other student activities shall observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

(5) An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, the destruction of campus literature, or any other effort to obstruct this exchange shall not be tolerated.