State Senate Bill 24, which is becoming known as the “Academic Bill of Rights,” is currently assigned to a committee to determine if the bill is worthy of a vote. This committee should find the bill lacking and offensive to the freedom of speech.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Larry A. Mumper from the 26th district, seeks to prevent discrimination within the classroom, but many are concerned that the bill’s language is vague enough to handcuff professors from teaching.
It is section C of the bill that is most alarming. It states:
“Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or course work that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.”
The question is how do we define what is or is not controversial, what does or does not relate to course work and what is a legitimate pedagogical purpose?
The first problem of defining the word “controversial” exists for multiple reasons. “Controversy” implies a norm and, if this bill were to pass, subsequent court cases would have to define what that norm is. Beyond that, college is a place for cultivating one’s mind. We, in a democracy, cultivate our minds to better enable us to make decisions, particularly tough decisions, which would easily be classified as “controversial.” Thus, college is the training ground for democracy.
The second problem is one created by the universities. Kent State and a majority of other colleges and universities use Liberal Education Requirements to broaden students’ education. Such course work intends to ensure that all students have at least a little training in every area. Furthermore, academia values interdisciplinary education as a means of showing the interconnectedness of academics. Therefore, it is quite reasonable, with these values in place, to say that evolution is just as legit in a journalism course as it is in a biology course. Somewhere, in the interweaving of discourses, exists common ground for journalists and biologists to discuss evolution. Who, especially the state, is to say that conversation shouldn’t be had?
The final problem is defining “legitimate pedagogical purpose.” As displayed by the above example, certain topics might just be “legitimate” in any classroom. However, even if there exists a topic that would not cross over to another field of study, the state has no precedence for making such judgments. If, for instance, an English department wanted to spend the majority of its financial and faculty resources on understanding the role of fruit in literature, they are free to do so. What will regulate them from taking on such an absurd task is the accountability imposed by other institutions through academic competition and economic losses. Students would leave this hypothetical university for another university that might dedicate itself to a more useful study of literature. In all this, the state need not impose its bureaucratic force upon the university.
The purpose of academics is too important to a democratic society to allow the passage of vague bills such as Bill 24.
The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.