Debates on intellectual diversity, academic freedom, and support for pluralism routinely convulse college and university campuses like periodic tremors along a geologic fault line. This is a normal and healthy trait of higher education.
But of late, the needle on the academic seismograph has been trembling more than usual from charges, many well founded, that over the past decade the ideological balance on campus has tipped too far leftward. Openly conservative students feel their grades are compromised by overly liberal professors - so much so that many state legislatures and the US Congress indicate they may take up the matter with legislation on an academic bill of rights.
This would be disastrous. US higher education is the envy of the world and is fully capable of reforming itself. The open discussion of faculty bias already under way is sowing the seeds for its solution.
A recent statement issued by a consortium of 27 higher-ed groups, entitled Academic Rights and Responsibilities, makes clear the reforms needed: No student or faculty member should be put at a disadvantage because of his or her political views; grading and degree granting should be based solely on matters academically relevant to the subject matter of a given course; those who feel they have been unfairly treated should have access to a grievance process.
The modern university is grounded on the ideas that there is no human truth that cannot be challenged and no point of view that has a monopoly on wisdom. At a time when debate in Congress routinely reaches impasse, when media treat the term civility like a quaint Victorian sentiment, college students have a right to learn in a climate that fosters respect for all points of view.