BOULDER, Colo. – The University of Colorado Boulder has been described by one of its leaders as having “a large reputation for being a liberal campus made up essentially of liberal professors.”
The state university, which has three other campuses besides Boulder throughout the state, is making an effort to change that perception by offering protection for faculty and students of all intellectual and political points of view.
In other words, the change would make it possible for university conservatives to come out of the shadows and join the general discussion without being abused.
Earlier this month, the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents took the ground-breaking step of adding political affiliation and political philosophy to its anti-discrimination policy. The unanimous board decision also added gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected personal attributes.
The effort was spearheaded by CU Regents Sue Sharkey and James Geddes. Both are Republicans, but Sharkey tells EAGnews the need to prevent political harassment is much more than a partisan issue.
“This is not about Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals. And it’s not affirmative action for conservatives,” Sharkey says.
Instead, the goal is to ensure that no student, professor, or staff member gets discriminated against because of their political philosophy and affiliation, whatever it happens to be.
CU’s campus chancellors say there haven’t been any official complaints from students of political discrimination in recent memory.
CU Boulder College Republicans Secretary Will O’Bryan agrees it’s not been a big problem on campus, but supports the board’s decision as a good preventative measure.
“Professors may make casually negative comments about the conservative worldview, but I don’t know of anyone who’s been affected by discrimination,” O’Bryan tells EAGnews.
Sharkey is skeptical of claims the problem doesn’t exist, partly because of the political harassment and intimidation her oldest son experienced from a professor at another Colorado public university. She says her son felt “powerless” to stop the mistreatment.
“This issue has stuck in my craw for 18 years now,” Sharkey says. “I still can’t believe that professor could get away with something like that.”
Under the university’s new rules, any CU student, staff or faculty member who has a similar experience of political discrimination can now go to the university’s anti-discrimination office, file a complaint, and expect a proper investigation will be made.
“It carries the same weight as any other formal complaint,” Sharkey says.
‘Conservative scholars are just not welcome’
One group that has been acutely aware of political discrimination is CU’s conservative faculty members.
During the debate leading up to the board’s recent vote, Geddes – the other regent responsible for promoting this effort – flatly asserted that “conservative scholars are just not welcome at the University of Colorado Boulder.”
At a June meeting, Geddes presented written comments from an anonymous CU-Boulder faculty member who claims conservative professors “often are in hiding because their views are made fun of by their peers and called stupid and ill-informed,” reports CU Connections, the university’s news site.
Partly in response to those concerns, the regent board unanimously agreed in June to authorize a campus climate survey that will measure how welcoming and tolerant the university is, in terms of political philosophy and affiliation, race, gender and sexual identity, among other things.
Geddes believes political diversity is needed on campus to avoid academic atrophy in the classroom. Without diversity of thought, “nobody’s going to challenge anyone else, nobody’s going to debate, because they all think the same” he told The Washington Times earlier this year.
A diverse faculty will help the university go from being a “very good” school “to being bar-none the best in the world,” he predicts.
While details of the climate survey are still being organized, the new anti-discrimination policies are already in place. A recent Denver Post editorial praised the university’s decision, but suggests it won’t “have much effect … on the political makeup of the faculty.”
“We’re simply suggesting that the factors producing a heavily left-of-center professoriate are complex and on most occasions cannot be reduced to overt, conscious discrimination against scholars who don’t share the dominant view,” the Post opines.
The paper cites an in-depth study that found “liberals self-select into academic careers,” thus limiting the diversity of candidates in “the hiring pool.”
Regardless, conservative scholar and activist David Horowitz is pleased with the university’s decision, calling it an important step in restoring academic freedom “to our beleaguered university system.”
“I look forward to other universities adopting this needed reform in the coming months and years,” Horowitz says.
The policy is so new that Sharkey hasn’t been approached by other advice-seeking university leaders, though she’s been told to expect some calls about the trailblazing policy.
“I hope other universities across the country do this,” she says. “It’s needed.”