The University prides itself on its a
reputation as a diverse educational institution. As an institute of
higher learning, it needs the ability to determine the classes it
offers to students, but colleges across Michigan may soon lose this
right. State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo) introduced a
resolution in the state Legislature last week to take oversight for
class offerings out of the hands of educators and put it in the
hands of politicians with the ability to control how money at
universities would be spent. Because it would amend the state
constitution, the proposal must win approval of two-thirds of the
Legislature and a majority of state voters. The proposal would also
relate funding at universities to the number of in-state students
at a school, which would hurt the University and benefit the
state’s smaller colleges. This resolution, an assault on the
University for not sharing Hoogendyk’s narrow set of values,
should be defeated to ensure that universities are not punished for
cherishing the free exchange of ideas.

Mira Levitan

At the heart of this culture clash is maintaining academic
freedom at the state’s public universities. Educators, not
politicians, should make the decisions regarding what classes are
offered. Universities, fearful of losing funding from the
Legislature, could stop offering courses that explore controversial
topics — topics that usually get the gears in students’
heads moving if Hoogendyk is successful.

The University offered the course that sparked Hoogendyk’s
proposal. “English 317: How to be Gay” studies gay
culture. According to the instructor of the course, Prof. David
Halperin, it examines subjects such as gay interest in movies and
musicals; it does not attempt to convert straight students into
what some feel is the strange and mysterious, sinful world of
homosexuality. Without the ability to offer courses outside what
Hoogendyk considers the mainstream, universities would not be able
to push their students to think critically about relevant issues in
modern society.

The free exchange of ideas is a cornerstone of American liberty.
To put control of course content in the hands of politicians would
undermine the liberties Americans now take for granted but were
once controversial themselves.

When voting on the proposed amendment, legislators should take
into consideration the foolish provision that would ignore
out-of-state students when allotting funding to universities on a
per-pupil basis and realize that this amendment merely is a poorly
veiled attempt to take a damaging swipe at the University for not
being stuck in the past.

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