The House of Representatives is now
considering legislation that would establish an advisory board to
study and regulate what is taught at American universities. This
intrusion into higher education is not only unjust; it is
antithetical to all values attributed to honest debate and
intellectual freedom.

Janna Hutz

House Resolution 3077, titled the International Studies in
Education Act, is sponsored by Representative Peter Hoekstra
(R-Holland), and up for a vote later this month. Should the
legislation pass, an advisory board will help monitor whether or
not there is bias in teaching certain methods. The sponsors and
supporters claim to support academic freedom, arguing that this
advisory board will help ensure all sides are heard in the
classroom and that bias will be eliminated.

While bias in the classroom can be detrimental to education, an
advisory board may lead to more problems than it solves. Prof. Mark
Tessler, who teaches several political science courses at the
University, makes a valid point when he worries that the
bill’s provisions will be exploited by “people with
political agendas.” This fear is well justified, as the board
will be appointed by political figures: members of Congress, the
secretary of education and national security officials.

Furthermore, while eliminating professor-induced bias, the bill
might codify governmental bias. Because the board will have the
power to defund international studies programs, teachers and
faculty will be pressured into teaching the government-approved
lessons.

Most troubling, however, is the potential regulation of academia
in the name of “national security.” A vague term which
is wide open to abuse, “national security” has already
been used to dramatically expand government powers. Classes that
deal with sensitive issues — terrorism, nuclear
proliferation, etc. — could be quashed without explanation,
under the blanket guise of “national security.”

At its fundamental core, this bill destroys the concept of
academic freedom and intellectual debate. It allows government
monitors, theoretically charged with the noble goal of preventing
academic bias, to inject the political agenda of the current
government into academia. Already, the University has been the
target of political games. In response to a controversial course
— English 317: “How to Be Gay,” state legislators
attempted to defund portions of the University. The motivations
were purely political: Conservatives were opposed to the title and
premise of a class centered on gay, male literature. With a federal
bill, ideological censorship could unjustly restrict intellectual
debate and exploration.

If we truly believe that our universities are bastions of free
thought and intellectual debate, it would be a mistake to think
that the advisory board that is suggested in this bill would
contribute to that. Professor bias is a problem best dealt with at
the local level; universities should retain the right to police
themselves. Academic freedom cannot be enforced by a law that,
paradoxically, can limit what is permissible at institutes of
higher learning. This bill, which goes against the tenets of
intellectual liberalism, deserves to fail.

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