The “Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act,” HB 213, is scheduled for a vote this week by the full Missouri House. The Act claims it is necessary in order to defend academic freedom and “viewpoint diversity” in public institutions of higher education in the state.
Emily Brooker was a student at Missouri State University in Springfield who sued the institution. She claimed to have been victimized by the faculty’s alleged political bias against her (she opposed gay adoption based on her religious beliefs). The university settled within a week, disciplined the instructor, investigated the Social Work Program, and awarded the plaintiff a handsome sum.
All higher education institutions in Missouri have policies and procedures that deal effectively with alleged faculty misconduct. Although Emily Brooker evidently did not avail herself of MSU procedures, the university nevertheless acted rapidly in her favor.
In reality, there is no problem which needs to be “solved” by government regulation of higher education. In Missouri and throughout the United States, proven cases of faculty political misconduct are rare or non-existent. HB 213 is redundant and superfluous.
But HB 213 is not a local response to a local problem. The Act is closely modelled on legislation written by the ultra-conservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). Almost identical bills have been introduced in Virginia, Georgia, Montana and South Dakota.
Five years ago ACTA called for a boycott of over 100 faculty nationwide for criticizing federal policies. Academic freedom, of course, was developed to protect faculty speech, and its scope includes matters of public concern. ACTA’s boycott, along with its continuing ideologically motivated activities, exposes its hypocrisy as a “protector” of academic freedom
The Emily Brooker case is merely a pretext to promote ultra-conservative legislation that undermines the foundations of higher education.
In the United States higher education rests on professionalism (academic standards) and institutional autonomy. Genuine academic freedom derives from the faculty’s professional training, qualifications, and judgment. Because United States higher education institutions are professionally based, they are delegated the responsibility to govern themselves and make their own policies.
HB 213 would replace professional standards with ideological criteria, since it defines “intellectual diversity” in terms of “political, ideological, religious, and other perspectives.” The bill would impose these extraneous criteria on all aspects of higher education, such as (quotes are from the bill’s text) “teaching and program development,” “hiring, tenure, and promotion policies,” “institution [e.g. mission] statements,” “grievance procedures,” campus speakers, the “distribution of student fee funds,” and “student course evaluations.” Conflicts between “classroom assignments” (pedagogical standards) and a student’s “personal beliefs” would always be resolved in favor of the student.
Predictably, it would chill the free exchange of ideas on campus and eliminate academic standards in higher education.
The authors of HB 213 have claimed zero costs to implement the law. In fact, its moral and fiscal costs would be very high. It could fatally damage the reputation of Missouri institutions of higher education. Among likely consequences would be: 1) the best faculty and students abandoning Missouri for less repressive places; 2) potential faculty hires and students deciding to go elsewhere; 3) the loss of tuition revenue and large grants in the sciences; 4) higher institutional costs to investigate and discipline alleged violations; 5) lawsuits by those who were ideologically disciplined. Money diverted to “intellectual diversity” would shortchange areas of real need.
The Act insults the intelligence, integrity and reputation of all Missouri faculty, students, alumni, staff and administrators. The Springfield News-Leader on March 1 termed HB 213 a “witch hunt” and hoped that it would “die a quick death on the House floor.” The Missouri Legislature should defeat this bad legislation.
Patricia P. Brodsky, is president of the UMKC chapter of the American Association of University Professors.