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NCSU students reject 'Academic Bill of Rights'

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Conservative organizations attempting to crack down on what they say is liberal bias in the nation's universities lost a battle this month in N.C. State University's Student Senate.

Student Senate member Benton Sawrey, an NCSU freshman, proposed a bill supporting an effort to have the so-called Academic Bill of Rights, a key part of the conservative agenda, adopted by the N.C. General Assembly. But after a night of debate in the public affairs committee, the Student Senate effectively killed the bill when students voted to table it indefinitely.

The NCSU Faculty Senate had already come out against the Academic Bill of Rights, with members saying they opposed "administrative or legislative measures that would deprive faculty of the authority necessary to teach, to do research, to publish in a manner that meets scholarly standards, and to advance knowledge in an open and unencumbered fashion inside and outside the classroom."

Both senates' votes were in connection with a bill filed last year by state Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican representing Davie and Rowan counties, to have the General Assembly adopt the Academic Bill of Rights. It didn't pass a vote to come out of committee, which means the bill is not eligible for this year's short session in the General Assembly. But Brock said that having the bill in front of the legislature has been a good way to get attention to the issue on the state's college campuses.

"Grades should not be held against students for having a different view," Brock said in an interview.

The bill in front of the General Assembly is part of a national movement by conservative groups that say right-leaning students are ridiculed and humiliated by leftist professors in the country's colleges and universities. The national push for the Academic Bill of Rights comes from conservative activist David Horowitz and Students for Academic Freedom, a group founded by Horowitz with chapters at schools across the country.

Brock's bill says, in part, "[F]aculty and instructors shall not infringe upon the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose."

East Carolina University's Student Senate passed a bill supporting the Academic Bill of Rights in January.

At the NCSU Student Senate debate on Feb. 8, Brock, Joey Stansbury of the Pope Center for Higher Education, Sawrey and NCSU student DeVan Barbour supported the bill while five faculty members were there to argue against it.

Bob Bruck, a professor in plant pathology at NCSU, said the Academic Bill of Rights is unnecessary and would infringe on faculty. Bruck rejected arguments that liberal professors treat conservative students unfairly. "If I were to humiliate a student in front of a class, I would be hauled down the hall so fast my shoes would catch on fire," Bruck said.

Stansbury told the Technician, NCSU's student paper, "Open inquiry is not encouraged within the classroom."

Bruck, who teaches critical thinking in his ecological science classes, was pleased with the outcome. "It's not that [the students] were conservative or liberal; they asked the right questions. They were not being political, but made logical connections and used their critical thinking skills."

Alex Carter, an NCSU student and chair of the public affairs committee, said he "hoped for a more in-depth discussion" and said the conservative side was underrepresented in the debate. But, he said, he didn't think more conservative representation would have changed the result.

"There didn't seem to be a huge mountain of case evidence of indoctrination," he said. "I have a hard time believing a student can go into a class and come out indoctrinated."

Sawrey said his bill was "not a reaction to any one particular event" but part of a nationwide movement.

Bruck summed up his opposition by saying the Academic Bill of Rights is "not academic, certainly not a bill, and no one gets any rights.

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