Bill would restrict academic freedoms

Rachel Abbey

A bill currently in the Ohio Senate could affect university classrooms statewide if passed by creating an academic bill of rights for higher education.

A copy of the bill, introduced in January, gave a list of possible rights the bill would ensure for students and faculty of a university. Most of these are related to the respect of academic freedom and student opinion.

However, the unclear language of the bill may actually be interpreted to restrict freedom at universities, said E. Thomas Dowd, Faculty Senate chairman and psychology professor.

For example, part C of the bill would restrict “controversial matter” not related to the course in the classroom. However, Dowd said, the bill does not state what actually constitutes controversial matter or who would decide what makes subject matter controversial. An example could be the subject of evolution, he said, an issue controversial to some but still important to course work.

“Universities should be able to regulate this themselves,” Dowd said.

Considering the university already has a policy to handle these types of issues, Dowd said, the bill would be redundant. The university’s current policy, the Faculty Code of Professional Ethics, has been effective since 1981.

Dowd pointed out cases where the Senate bill and the university policy give similar guidelines: Part B of the bill states students should not be discriminated against based on their “political, ideological, or religious beliefs.”

The university’s current policy also addresses this issue, stating,

“Faculty members should deal with students justly and impartially, regardless of their physical, mental, emotional, political, economic, social, racial or religious characteristics or participation in extracurricular activities.”

With provisions such as that, Dowd said, he does not see the need for statewide legislation. There has not previously been a statewide policy regarding these issues, he said.

The Faculty Senate unanimously voted for a resolution to oppose the bill at its last meeting Feb. 14. No member spoke in favor of the bill, Dowd said.

Contact academics reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].