House Republicans Fight for Academic Bill of Rights

You read it here first: House Education & the Workforce Chairman Buck McKeon (R.-Calif.) and House Republican Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.) are making a concerted effort to win their Republican colleagues’ support for the Academic Bill of Rights, stressing academic freedom and intellectual plurality.

The Academic Bill of Rights is included in the College Access & Opportunity Act, which the House could debate as early as next week. Liberals — be it college professors, teachers’ unions or lawmakers — are fighting the inclusion of the Academic Bill of Rights in the bill.

McKeon and Kingston are sending the following letter to all House Republicans today.

March 23, 2006

The Academic Bill of Rights: Protecting Student Speech and Association Support Freedom of Speech; Support the College Access & Opportunity Act (H.R. 609)

Dear Republican Colleague:

Last year, House Republicans, members of the higher education community, and defenders of student freedom of speech struck an accord to strengthen protections for student speech and association rights under the federal Higher Education Act.  The stronger protections — incorporated in an Academic Bill of Rights — strike a balance between ensuring students are not discriminated against because of their political or ideological perspectives, while also protecting the fundamental rights of institutions to maintain their unique character and identity.  The agreement also ensures the federal government will not influence the curriculum being taught in colleges.

The College Access & Opportunity Act (H.R. 609), which the House is poised to consider next week, incorporates an Academic Bill of Rights to clarify and expand the protection of student speech and association rights.  This language is a Sense of Congress that encourages colleges and universities to tell students what rights they can expect on that particular campus.  Congress will not be regulating the content of instruction and discussion in classrooms.  However, it will put Congress clearly on the record with regard to on-campus freedom of speech — regardless of politics.

Specifically, the Academic Bill of Rights makes clear that colleges and universities should be a place for the free exchange of ideas, and students should not face discrimination based on their ideology or political perspective.  The language also clarifies — but does not require — that an institution of higher education should ensure that students are:

  • Graded solely on their answers and knowledge of the subjects without regard to their political, ideological, or religious beliefs;
  • Assured that the selection of speakers and allocation of funds for campus activities will include diverse viewpoints;
  • Presented diverse approaches and dissenting viewpoints within the instructional setting;
  • Not excluded from participating in or denied the benefits of educational programs, activities, or opportunities based on their political or ideological beliefs;
  • Free to express their opinions and views freely in their classes and class projects without fear of reprisal;
  • Able to expect that campus events will present diverse viewpoints; and
  • Given the opportunity to learn and analyze differing and dissenting viewpoints in their instruction. 

The College Access & Opportunity Act is a reflection of academic freedom and intellectual plurality — values many in the higher education community claim to support.  We urge you to support H.R. 609 and the important Academic Bill of Rights language it includes.  A comprehensive summary of the bill is available here.  For more information, please contact the Education & the Workforce Committee majority staff at x5-4527.


Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA)
Education & the Workforce Committee

Jack Kingston (R-GA)
Member of Congress