Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Missouri Residents Be Warned! HB 213 Is Not What It Seems To Be

Below is a copy of the letter I wrote to my state rep. about HB 213. If you want to see a copy of the bill text, go to:

Representative Flook:
I am writing to you today in regard to House Bill # 213, also known as the “Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act”. As I understand it, this piece of legislation was granted first round approval on April 11th of this year, and is waiting on a final vote before it can move on to the Senate.

As an educator and a proponent of true intellectual diversity, I urge you to vote against this piece of legislation. Though it sounds like an affirmation of basic freedom of speech and intellectual tolerance, a close reading of the bill’s text would suggest otherwise. In addition to the basic premise of the bill being flawed, there are two key areas of the bill which are particularly troubling.
First, the whole notion of legislating intellectual diversity is problematic. The bill never provides any rationale for why such legislation might be necessary. As a matter of fact, the inciting incident for the bill seems to have little to do with the topic of the legislation. A Missouri House communication dated April 11th states,

Rep. Cunningham’s legislation comes on the heels of claims from a student
studying social work at Missouri State University that she was threatened
with a lower grade if she did not sign an advocacy letter to the Missouri
legislature in support of gay adoption. The student, Emily Brooker, sued the
university which quickly responded with a settlement.

Clearly, the above situation is an example of a questionable grading policy in a particular classroom, not a system-wide threat to intellectual diversity. In addition, I would like to point out that only one section of the legislation, line 2j, directly deals with such situations. Ironically, the definition of “intellectual diversity” provided in the bill, “…the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, religious, and other perspectives, when such perspectives relate to the subject matter being taught or issues being discussed.” would actually be upheld by the assignment in question, as it clearly exposed Ms. Brooker to a viewpoint different from her own.

Secondly, the bill seems to be an attempt to do exactly what Representative Cunningham states she does not wish to do – “micromanaging” the affairs of colleges and universities. As a matter of fact, at one point, the bill actually suggests the creation of an entire new office—that of Intellectual Diversity Ombudsman—just to deal with all of the paperwork generated by this bill. In an era of dwindling funding for education across the board, the creation of yet another bureaucratic position seems to be a poor use of funds.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, the bill seems poised to do exactly the opposite of promoting intellectual diversity. Line 2e admonishes institutions to take steps like: “Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution's guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant;” At first, it sounds like a positive move for institutions to “include intellectual diversity concerns in guidelines on teaching and program development”. When you look to the end of this statement, and the decision to only specifically name the viewpoint that the “Bible is inerrant” as protected, a different, decidedly less intellectual diversity –friendly agenda clearly emerges. It is telling that this viewpoint, which could actually be argued to be the dominant paradigm in most of Missouri today, was selected for specific protection, as opposed to something that might truly be considered a minority or subversive view, like the inerrancy of the Koran, or the illegitimacy of the Bible, for example.

In short, the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act is a poorly conceived, overly bureaucratic attempt to stifle the very thing it allegedly promotes. This piece of legislation is nothing more than a well-disguised attempt to frighten postsecondary educational institutions away from supporting real minority viewpoints, and force them to accommodate the will of the majority.


neal said...

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