CU Regent James E. Geddes remarks as prepared for Western Conservative Summit

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CU Regent James E. Geddes remarks as prepared for Western Conservative Summit

University of Colorado Regent James E. Geddes appeared on a Western Conservative Summit panel on Saturday, titled, “Self-Government or Serfdom? Education in Crisis.” Below are his remarks, as prepared:

Since becoming a Regent of the University of Colorado in 2008, I have focused on several important issues facing our fine university:

1) Financing and budgeting for this three billion dollar/year organization

2) Returning Colorado Buffalo Football and Basketball to a national prominence.

3) Spotlighting and addressing our deficiencies of Intellectual, philosophical, and political diversity involving our faculty.

Although many of us may prefer to talk college football and basketball, for good reason, I know this group is more interested in the last topic – Intellectual Diversity.

Two of my fellow regents, in particular, have partnered with me in our effort to address this critical issue: Tom Lucero, who recruited me to run for regent 6 years ago, and Sue Sharkey, who has taken the baton from Tom, and become our roaring engine propelling this effort.

Let me now briefly outline our progress – which has, honestly, been painfully slow due to a number of obstacles.
About a year after my election, Tom and I were successful in proposing a Guiding Principle of the Regents of the University of Colorado as follows:

[The University of Colorado] “will promote faculty, student, and staff diversity to ensure the rich interchange of ideas in the pursuit of truth and learning, including diversity of political, geographic, cultural, intellectual, and philosophical perspectives.”

I can assure you that as we are an elected bipartisan Board of Regents, this was no mean accomplishment. Unfortunately, over the next several years, we were unable to perceive any meaningful change at our Flagship campus – C.U. Boulder.

There is no question in my mind our faculty within the humanities, social sciences, law school, and a number of other disciplines, have become quite homogenous — almost to the point of “groupthink” — in their “liberal” or ”progressive” political and philosophical stance. Somehow, I doubt I need to back-up this contention in front of this audience, as we all understand this is a significant problem afflicting many, if not most all, of our major universities across the country. But if anyone doubts this, we have the documentation of surveys of students at universities around the country that show how pervasive this one-sided approach has been.

My concern, which I know you share, is that “groupthink” is about as far away from the pursuit of truth as you can get and, absent a genuine intellectual diversity of our faculty, our students are robbed of the rich, delicious soup — the stimulating educational environment typified by enthusiastic debate, query, and the scrutiny of thought and proposed truths that characterizes a faculty committed to being responsible explicators of the major political and philosophical differences across our society.

Frustrated by no discernible progress, other than the revival of a stalled “visiting chair in conservative thought and policy”, this Spring, we asked our Chancellors to report on any progress in meeting the intellectual diversity guiding principle. We were told that “all is well” – “not to worry” – “progress is being made and the quality of education remains superb.”

My response was that it is clear to me that “conservatives are just not welcome on the Boulder campus” As you might imagine, this sentiment was not well received and was challenged. Therefore, about 5 weeks ago at our public meeting in Boulder, Regent Sharkey and I proposed two resolutions:

The first was to elevate discrimination against individuals due to their political or philosophical views and expressions to the same level of concern and potential disciplinary action as we consider discrimination against individuals for their religious preference, their race, or their gender identity. This resolution was supported unanimously, but was referred to the Laws and Policies committee to undergo further refinement, and gather shared governance input. We anticipate its return to the Board of Regents as a whole this fall for a likely unanimous adoption.

The second resolution was to obtain a “Campus Climate” survey of the university performed by an independent and unbiased outside entity, in order to assess our degree of intellectual diversity, and to determine whether discrimination is occurring against members of our university community for their political or philosophical stance, or their religion, race, or gender identity. This resolution passed unanimously, and will be expeditiously implemented. We hope to know its results by our January, 2014 Winter retreat.

During the several hours of discussion and testimony that resulted from the introduction of these resolutions, Professor Mark Bauerlein, a well known senior professor of English literature at Emory University – and also highly respected as an articulate conservative – related his recent one year experience as a visiting Professor teaching an honors course within the Boulder English Department. Despite being recruited by our administration and faculty to bring a fresh perspective to the Boulder campus, he was entirely ostracized, and shunned by our English Dept. Faculty.

Our own constitutional law Professor, Robert Nagel, also testified. He is in his 38th year of service to our university’s Law School – again — a highly respected conservative. He clearly, and effectively articulated his observations, documenting a “leftist” homogeneity of our Law School faculty, and a number of other departments within the humanities, and social sciences.

Our current Boulder campus President of the Faculty Senate, Professor Paul Chinowsky, denied that any discriminatory behavior against conservatives, or those of a particular religious belief had ever occurred in his 13 years at the university. He appeared to believe that faculty members, regardless of their own political or philosophical beliefs , are able to adequately provide a balanced, rounded education to their pupils, and, therefore, no benefit results from including professors who favor political or philosophical views different from the faculty as a whole.

Hence, we felt compelled as a Board to proceed with an objective, non-partisan evaluation, performed by a an external entity which will generate data which should provide us some clarity of these issues, and establish a benchmark for future evaluations of our progress toward a true intellectually diverse university and faculty.

Subsequently, the American Association of University Professors, through the Chair of its Committee A, Professor Henry Reichman has registered objection to our Board actions, including our plans to obtain the survey. You may read his comments published in “Inside Higher Education” during the first week of July. Among other concerns, he claimed that our campus survey was merely an ideology survey, and may lead to a “political litmus test” in our hiring or in our assessment of our faculty.

My response is that nothing of the sort is intended or allowed by our current laws of Regents .Our survey process as it stands today should give all of us good information about diversity and discriminatory behaviors, if any, on our campuses. If our survey points to a significant imbalance of the faculty, then it is hoped and expected that we all will join together to determine appropriate changes which will improve our educational environment.

My counter concern to Professor Reichman is that the AAUP appears to be quite eager to uphold the fine principle of Academic Freedom as it benefits and enhances the careers and even agendas of its member professors. Obvious consequences are the current strong formal tenure system and the “hands off” mandates to university administrations and governing bodies regarding any manipulations or coercions of faculty curriculum decisions or faculty hiring choices. However, the AAUP and major university faculties, in general, have been loath to take responsibility for the protection of the integrity of our most cherished principle of Academic Freedom.

It is amazing to me how far AAUP has fallen from the high principles of academic freedom it once had. Here is a little history: in 1915, some of America’s best scholars and teachers formed the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). These professors had no tolerance for narrow-mindedness in any form. Here are their august words in that regard: “An inviolable refuge from such tyranny should be found in the university. It should be an experiment station, where new ideas may germinate and where their fruit —-” These professors particularly condemned any attempt to deprive students of a fair range of ideas — as they termed it, “…indoctrinating [the student] with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question.” As recently as 1987, AAUP added, “Professors make every reasonable effort to foster honest academic conduct and to ensure that their evaluations of students reflect each student’s true merit. …They avoid any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of students. …They protect their academic freedom.” Adding to what AAUP committed itself to, another academic organization, the American Association of Colleges and Universities proclaimed in 2006, “In any education of quality, students encounter an abundance of intellectual diversity—new knowledge, different perspectives, competing ideas, and alternative claims of truth.”

Throughout the free world we expect Academic Freedom protections and privileges will apply to all participants within higher education, including those academics who do not share or espouse the political and philosophical views that are common or “correct” per the faculty as a whole. Unfortunately, faculty hiring (and even firing) practices have resulted in quite homogenous faculties within the humanities, social sciences and law schools whereby professors who are proponents of reasonable differing and competing ideas, opinions, and philosophies are simply not welcome, and not present. How very strange that it now falls on a few Regents, here at CU, to remind academic faculty and administrators of what their own professional organizations have stood for!



How much better would our teaching environment become if our faculties included a number of professors who can ably and fairly expound and explain differing views?

Imagine the resultant rich educational milieu of enthusiastic debate, challenge of ideas and dogma, and even the responsible intellectual restraint that would typify such a diverse faculty.

Our students would be the primary benefactors – who, after all, are the ones we should truly serve.

AAUP’s failure to promote intellectual diversity among our faculties is one of the reasons our Board of Regents needs to execute its duty to ensure “an education of quality, full of intellectual diversity.”

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