PAUL GIGOT: Here's a concept: if there is any place where freedom of expression should be a given, it's a college campus. But Congress and about a third of the states are considering legislation aimed at protecting students from being punished for their opinions. Correspondent Lisa Rudolph has our briefing.
LISA RUDOLPH: College campuses are supposed to be havens of free thinking. Not so for Marissa Freemanus, a junior at Cal State Long Beach. She says her straight A record came to an end after her conservative views infuriated her English professor.
MARISSA FREIMANIS: I got the lowest grade in the class. He told us that we would be writing an essay on Fahrenheit 9/11. The reason that we write these papers is for him to correct our mechanical and grammatical mistakes that we might make, of which I had none, and the only thing that he wrote on my paper in you know, big red marker was that I missed the point of the film.
LISA RUDOLPH: Now a group called Students for Academic Freedom says if universities won't protect their right to have and express conservative views they'll find lawmakers who will.
MARISSA FREIMANIS: Anytime something gets swung way to far in one direction it's got to come back to the center and be balanced again and if it takes the state to do that then that's what needs to happen.
LISA RUDOLPH: In Georgia recently the state legislature held hearings to investigate clashes between conservative students and their liberal professors.
MARISSA FREIMANIS: In one of my classes, when a student expresses a point of view different from that of the professor's, the response is most often one of dismissal -- telling the students ³you are ignorant or you don't know anything."
DAVID HOROWITZ: It's a huge problem. We've had Republican students, conservative students hauled up in front of the class to explain how anyone could be a Republican. This is grotesque.
LISA RUDOLPH: David Horowitz, the man behind Students for Academic Freedom, a left wing radical at Columbia University in the '50s, now turned conservative activist who says campuses in the McCarthy Era were more intellectually free than they are today.
DAVID HOROWITZ: This is very specifically a question of the academic freedom of students, their right not to be subjected to indoctrination when they've paid for, and their parents have paid for, an education.
LISA RUDOLPH: Horowitz says after college administrators refused to acknowledge problems or make internal policy changes he turned to the government.
DAVID HOROWITZ : Why are we concerned about the ethics of Enron and not concerned about the ethics of Harvard? This is a matter of the integrity of American educational institutions.
LISA RUDOLPH: Congress is considering an academic bill of rights and at least 16 states have introduced bills that would limit what instructors can discuss in class and establish grievance procedures for students. But whether changing the law would protect or destroy first amendment rights is at the center of a sharp national debate.
ROGER BOWEN: Faculty and faculty alone have the right to determine the content of a course, not David Horowitz, not Congress, not the Pennsylvania State Legislature or any other state legislature.
LISA RUDOLPH: Roger Bowen, a political science professor for 25 years, former college president and current head of the American Association of University Professors says the proposed laws would strip professors of their first amendment rights.
ROGER BOWEN: If government is in the classroom some faculty who are not tenured they're going to worry about students badmouthing them, criticizing them, accusing them of being too liberal. It's a question of self-preservation.
LISA RUDOLPH: You're saying that the universities should police themselves, not have laws to do that for them.
ROGER BOWEN: We already have standards, professional standards and I believe the vast majority of faculty adhere to those professional standards. What you're describing, what David Horowitz is trying to do is create a cure, so called, that is much worse than the disease. Horowitz is an enemy of academic freedom.
DAVID HOROWITZ: My critics are the McCarthyites. Of course they're the witch hunters. If the administration and the trustees will not enforce their own academic freedom principles, then the legislatures have a legal obligation to step in and see that the university's policies are respected.
LISA RUDOLPH: But students like Dartmouth sophomore Morgan Cohen say student's rights do not need protecting.
MORGAN COHEN : The moment you legislate academic freedom is the moment that it starts to disappear. The best way to protect academic freedom is to leave it what it is which is free -- free from restrictions. Especially restrictions imposed by state governments.
LISA RUDOLPH: Critics chalk up the controversy to what they call the growing conservative tidal wave sweeping the nation.
Republicans, the conservatives today, they've got the White House, they've got Congress, they've got the courts. I think they're going after the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and I also think they're going after universities because their goal is to mold American public opinion over the long term. So they're looking not just at the immediate, the here and the now, but instead to say how can we guarantee that conservatism will be the reigning ideology of America 20-30 years from now.
LISA RUDOLPH: The federal resolution is expected to be voted on this fall. Lisa Rudolph for THE JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT.
PAUL GIGOT: Dan, Professor Bowen is clearly upset and thinks that there is an attempt here to have a conservative coup take over the classroom. What do you think about his argument?
DAN HENNINGER: Well, what I think is that Professor Bowen and other liberal professors of a certain age are bitter. Back when the great society was building, they were present at the creation. Academics, especially in the social sciences, laid the groundwork, they testified before Congress, they contributed to the process. Now, you know, they've largely become irrelevant. The locus of power has shifted to specialists in think tanks, many of whom are refugees from this situation, or in the media and even radio talk shows. And now, I think like petulant children, they're taking it out on conservative students.
PAUL GIGOT: But is there really a prospect that politicians could somehow regulate classroom speech?
DAN HENNINGER: I would say legally it's a non-starter.
PAUL GIGOT: First Amendment just would rule it out.
DAN HENNINGER: It would rule it out, but if it were litigated I think the effect would take hold.
PAUL GIGOT: Interesting.
STEPHEN MOORE: One piece of good news about universities, I mean it is true that the last two bastions of the left are the media and the academy, but you're starting to see conservative groups start to emerge on college campuses. This has liberals very angry. It's like little seeds of conservatism in this huge island of liberalism. So I do think that you're starting to see conservative students fight back.
PAUL GIGOT: Are you really worried, Rob, that there is this indoctrination effect though from professors to students? I mean you were a conservative when you were on campus, I suspect, and somehow you managed to survive and come out of it. Aren't kids smart enough to understand that their professors are just one point of view and they have access to a whole stream of other point of views now on the internet, in newspapers. How big a problem do you think this is?
ROB POLLOCK: That's right, I survived it. Did I get graded down for unorthodox ideas a few times? Sure I did. But you know, I made it through. I think the solution here is not to have ham-handed legislation, but really to have the trustees of universities become more active. Right now we've got sort of a lot of very lax or non-existent management that sort of lets the faculties go wild. But universities have boards for a reason and they need to step up and themselves police this kind of thing.
PAUL GIGOT: Interesting example of that. T.J. Rogers, who is the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor and a Dartmouth alumnus who is now on the Dartmouth Board of Trustees has taken a very active role pushing free speech on the Dartmouth campus, which, truth in advertising, happens to be my alma mater. He's having a big impact saying, look, you've got to open this up, not to the extent that it dictates to the faculty, but that you have to be open to other points of view. Dan?
DAN HENNINGER: Well, the students of my experience today who are basically apolitical find a lot of this sort of teaching boring as they say and they essentially try to avoid it, which is a bad thing if you're spending $30,000 dollars to send a student to a college.
PAUL GIGOT: That's for sure.
DAN HENNINGER: But they are simply driving students out of their classes.
PAUL GIGOT: And the real loss here is to the universities themselves which used to be a lot more interesting and as Dan had said before much of the idea creation, so many of the really bright minds have moved to the Heritage Foundations, the Brookings, and they are having the big effect on public policy, not the institutions.
STEVE MOORE: The other area where the ideology of the universities can be changed is through donors. Most universities get huge amounts of endowments from their alumni and so on and some of the alumni are starting to say wait, until you change your speech codes and your ways, I'm not going to write those big checks.