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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Teaching Pluralism Act

Brooker Act re-introduced
By Zak Quiggle, Reporter. Posted February 01, 2008.

A hotly debated bill that promises to promote ideologically diverse campuses across Missouri is making its second round in Jefferson City this year.

The Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act would require universities to promote intellectual pluralism on campus and in classrooms and was named for a Missouri State University graduate who sued the school after claiming she was discriminated against because of her religious and ideological views.

The bill would require public reporting of the steps faculty members take to promote this free exchange of ideas.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, is confident the bill will pass this year.

“We just ran out of time last year,” Cunningham said. “It was on the Senate Calendar, right on the point of becoming a law, one step away from the governor’s desk.”

The Brooker Act has sparked controversy among members of MU’s faculty and students. Some, such as MU Faculty Council Chairman Frank Schmidt, see the bill as attempting to keep the supposedly liberal viewpoints of universities in check.
“It’s hard to judge people’s intent on a matter like this,” Schmidt said. “If we look at the history of these organizations funded by conservative groups like the Bradley Foundation, it’s easy to see why they’re not held in the favor of the academic left. The bill seems like a political ploy.”

Marcus Bowen from the MU College Republicans sees the bill as the state of Missouri fulfilling its own obligations.
“The College Republicans don’t have an official stance on the matter,” Bowen said. “However, the state does have the responsibility to monitor any spending of our tax dollars.”

Rick Puig, president of the Young Democrats of Missouri, sees the bill as creating an unnecessary partisan issue.

“The Brooker bill attempts to legislate an artificial balance of intellectual diversity,” Puig said. “By doing this, they’re creating a partisan issue by attempting to regulate one that doesn’t exist. In the Brooker case, standard, internal channels were pursued to mediate the problem, but now there’s just more bureaucratic red tape in Jefferson City.”

Cunningham scoffs at the idea of the bill as a political power play.
“There’s nothing in this bill about liberal or conservative or Democratic or Republican viewpoints,” Cunningham said. “Anyone who reads it won’t find anything but neutrality. The point is to make sure no student or faculty are discriminated against because of their political persuasion, viewpoint or belief.”
While the act makes its way through the Capitol, the problems it intends to fix aren’t manifesting themselves at MU.

“This bill assumes there are no avenues for students to complain,” Schmidt said. “There has always been a designated individual to listen to complaints, whether they’re based on racial, disability, gender or academic issues. Students can go to the directors of undergraduate and graduate studies, deans and even newspapers like The Maneater. There hasn’t been one formal complaint this year.”

Michael Prewitt, MU Associate Vice Provost, is responsible for handling those complaints. He bolstered Schmidt’s claim that there have been no complaints this year — neither in person nor via the online complaint forms students may fill out.
“Since the formal complaint system was implemented last August, we haven’t had any formal complaints filled out,” Prewitt said. “Typically, I’ll act as an ombudsman, almost like a traffic cop to direct these students to their department chair or director of undergraduate studies so the problem can be resolved at the lower level.”

Cunningham had the opposite viewpoint when regarding complaints.
“Emily Brooker had to sue MSU for her own right to free speech,” Cunningham said. “That was a highly publicized case, for anyone to see. There are other instances. If anyone doesn’t see that, they’ve either got their heads in the sand, or they are disingenuous or misinformed.”
The bill is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday during which it will be presented and debated over.

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