Open Season on the FacultyBreaking News
tags: higher education, academic freedom, colleges and universities
Proposed legislation in Iowa would require the state’s Board of Regents to survey all employees of the three universities it oversees as to their political party affiliations, disaggregating the data by job classification but not by individual. The regents would deliver the information to state lawmakers by the end of the calendar year.
The bill doesn’t provide an explanation, and Jim Carlin, the Republican state senator who introduced it, didn’t respond to a request for comment. But the meaning is clear: by disaggregating employee groups, Iowa’s General Assembly could measure the political beliefs of the faculty.
In Iowa and elsewhere in recent years, Republican state lawmakers have lamented what they describe as academe’s lack of intellectual or ideological diversity.
In 2017, for instance, another Iowa Republican state legislator proposed an ultimately unsuccessful bill that would have prevented regents institutions from hiring professors who caused the “percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by 10 percent” the share of the faculty belonging to the other dominant party. Under that bill, Iowa’s commissioner of elections was to provide voter registration data to colleges and universities once a year. Carlin’s new bill represents a new way of getting at that party affiliation data.
A proposal similar to Carlin’s stoked faculty ire before it failed in Florida in 2019. The language of that Florida bill was more direct than the Iowa version: it would have required the Board of Governors for Florida’s state university system to measure the “extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the university community feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” Students were subject to the assessment as well.
At the time, faculty members across Florida wondered what would happen if they refused to answer questions about their political beliefs. Would they be punished, for instance? Democratic lawmakers objected to the bill on the grounds that it seemed to be targeting one set of political beliefs, as it is well documented that professors are overwhelmingly liberal. Research also suggests that professors don't indoctrinate their students like many politicians say they do.
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