Kelley | 31 Mar 04:59 2005

sue the profs!

This is wacky. You know how easy it is for a student to feel she's been 
disrespected, simply because you teach about something that doesn't reflect 
her common sense understanding of the way the world works? worse, in my 
experience, many students get angry when they learn of a view that 
challenges their common sense. they think their grades reflect the 
teacher's bias, rather than a students' refusal to do what you're supposed 
to do while obtaining a liberal arts education -- learn about perspectives 
other than common sense!

Capitol bill aims to control 'leftist' profs

Alligator Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE — Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee 
voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out 
"leftist totalitarianism" by "dictator professors" in the classrooms of 
Florida's universities.

The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, 
R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two 
Democrats on the committee.

The bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the 
full House.

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should 
be more than "one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls 
the classroom," as part of "a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the 
next generation with their own views."

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for 
professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would 
also be advised to teach alternative "serious academic theories" that may 
disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give 
students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to 
sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for "public 
ridicule" – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force 
students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right 
to sue.

"Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about 
Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't like it, 
there's the door,'" Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a 
student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled 
in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened.

Similar suits could be filed by students who don't believe astronauts 
landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by 
Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and 
believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added.

"This is a horrible step," he said. "Universities will have to hire lawyers 
so our curricula can be decided by judges in courtrooms. Professors might 
have to pay court costs — even if they win — from their own pockets. This 
is not an innocent piece of legislation."

The staff analysis also warned the bill may shift responsibility for 
determining whether a student's freedom has been infringed from the faculty 
to the courts.

But Baxley brushed off Gelber's concerns. "Freedom is a dangerous thing, 
and you might be exposed to things you don't want to hear," he said. "Being 
a businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything. Besides, if 
students are being persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they 
should be given standing to sue."

During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as 
"leftists" struggling against "mainstream society."

"The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty," 
he said, adding that he was called a McCarthyist.

Baxley later said he had a list of students who were discriminated against 
by professors, but refused to reveal names because he felt they would be 

Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, argued universities and the state Board of 
Governors already have policies in place to protect academic freedom. 
Moreover, a state law outlining how professors are supposed to teach would 
encroach on the board's authority to manage state schools.

"The big hand of state government is going into the universities telling 
them how to teach," she said. "This bill is the antithesis of academic 

But Baxley compared the state's universities to children, saying the 
legislature should not give them money without providing "guidance" to 
their behavior.

"Professors are accountable for what they say or do," he said. "They're 
accountable to the rest of us in society … All of a sudden the faculty 
think they can do what they want and shut us out. Why is it so unheard of 
to say the professor shouldn't be a dictator and control that room as their 
totalitarian niche?"

In an interview before the meeting, Baxley said "arrogant, elitist 
academics are swarming" to oppose the bill, and media reports 
misrepresented his intentions.

"I expect to be out there on my own pretty far," he said. "I don't expect 
to be part of a team."

House Bill H-837 can be viewed online at