Originally published in the Albany Student Press, 11/07/05

What exactly is your political bent?

I promise, I am not fishing for a fight here. Everyone is entitled to their political beliefs, just as they are their religious beliefs, without worry about discrimination, especially on a state university campus.

Or, are they?

I read all about the Academic Bill of Rights that the SUNY Board of Trustees is looking to pass in The Legislative Gazette earlier this week. I find the term “Bill of Rights” to be a bit of a joke, as it really is more of the antithesis.

For those of you who know nothing about it, the so-called “Bill of Rights” states that campuses must give equal time to all political bents. For example, if Molly Ivins were to come speak at UAlbany, you would have to invite Bill O’Reilly along as well.

On the surface, this sounds like a fair proposal. If you think about it for more than five seconds, though, it is clearly flawed. Those of you who work on planning boards know how hard it is to coordinate funding for one major speaker like that. If you have to have a “rebuttal” speaker for every one you schedule, that will drain on funds. That’s assuming you can find a suitable “rebuttal” speaker.

I’m sorry, Ms. Ivins, but you cannot come speak at Albany, because Mr. O’Reilly says he can’t make it this semester. Rules, you know.

It’s a little ridiculous.

Beyond that, what about professors? Do half the professors have to be registered Republican and half Democrat? Do we need a smattering of Communist professors as well as Right-to-Life? Is there even a litmus test search committees can perform legally to find this so-called “balance?”

This Bill of Rights violates the REAL Bill of Rights all over the place. And something tells me the latter is going to hold more water.

Of course, by the time it reaches the courts, most of you will have graduated. In the meantime, in an effort to find left, right and moderate professors, and a “balance” among them, the search committees will not be focusing instead on who is actually best for the job. Do I care how my professor voted in the last election? No. I care about what his experience is, how he interacts with his students and where his academic interests lie. Political views barely blip on my radar.

I’ve had professors whose political bents were more than clear. One professor from my undergrad days stands out. It was sophomore year, and the class was Presidential Scandals. Gore had just lost to Bush. So, when my friend wore a “Sore-Loserman” t-shirt designed to mirror the “Gore-Lieberman” logo, we got a 20 minute diatribe about how Bush “stole” the election. When anyone tried to ask him why we were not examining President Kennedy, he got a lecture about how Kennedy was the greatest American president.

He was overboard. Anyone with a conservative bent would feel uncomfortable at best in this class.

I have a professor now, at UAlbany, whose political bent is more than clear to all of her students, though not because of her manner in the classroom. On the contrary, despite what we know to be her political bent, she encourages discussion from all sides of the political spectrum.

I understand that the Bill of Rights is being pushed to give the conservative students a voice. However, I would like to think that they can speak for themselves, just as easily as the liberal students do. Professors are supposed to be teaching us how to think, not what to think, and regardless of my own political views, I resent when professors try to push their views on me, and those professors get scathing evaluations from me.

Do not take my word for it; read up on this Bill of Rights yourself. And, if you feel as I do (or, for that matter, if you do not), write a letter. Make a phone call. Tell the people in charge what you think. The policies they enact affect all of you the most. Show them that you demand a say.

Otherwise, they are going to think they can continue to chip away at the REAL Bill of Rights, and they will get away with it.