An Academic Bill of Rights -- calling on universities to ensure students hear dissenting viewpoints from their professors and that students and professors are not discriminated against for their point of view -- is making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Bill of Rights was adopted in June by the House Committee on Education and Workforce, which tacked the measure to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act.
The bill's sponsor, David Horowitz, executive director of Students for Academic Freedom and a prominent self-proclaimed "hot-button conservative" commentator, said the aim of his bill is to get universities to take action on their own to make their classrooms more professional.
"The legislation is just a way of getting universities to do the right thing," Horowitz said. "If the University of Virginia lives up to its own precepts, there will be no legislation, but if the Virginia legislature starts talking about the importance of talking about behaving professionally in the classroom, it is going to be a lot harder for them to get the funding they need."
The measure is a resolution and calls for no specific punitive action for non-compliance. It calls on schools to adhere to eight principles, including not hiring or firing faculty or grading students differently for their point of view, incorporating balanced reading lists and lectures as well as exposing students to different scholarly viewpoints.
Still, some reject the approach as heavy-handed and say they think it is unnecessary, particularly at the University.
"Here on this campus, I don't think we have a problem of muzzling points of view or a monotony of points of view," Politics Prof. William Quandt said.
According to Quandt, in 10 years he has only seen one instance at the University in which a professor discriminated against students for their point of view.
In that case, Quandt said, the undergraduate advisor allowed students to petition for a grade change, and a committee was convened to review exams and papers and re-grade them.
In some sensitive subject areas, like studies of the Middle East, the focus on objectivity is particularly intense.
"Most Middle East studies organizations are all hostile to, for example, the current Bush administration policy and the war on terror," Campus Watch Director Alex Joffee said.
Campus Watch is a national group that aims to monitor professors who teach Middle Eastern studies for bias.
"They are all fairly negative regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict generally and ascribe most of the problem to the Israeli side in various forms," Joffee said.
Sometimes this intense scrutiny on balance can result in misunderstandings.
Quandt is listed "Discover the Networks," a Web site maintained by Horowitz. The site characterizes Quandt as both "anti-Israel" and of making "false assertions" about Palestine. The site, which includes numerous prominent scholars on the left, also includes profiles of infamous figures such as Osama bin Laden.
"I don't like his Web site obviously," Quandt said. "I think it is disgraceful to put people in the categories they associate me with. As a professor in the classroom, I make sure that I present more then my own personal point of view, and I try to bring other points of view -- and I do realize this is a controversial topic. I want to make sure that I am not loading the deck."
After reviewing Quandt's profile, Horowitz acknowledged problems and said he would take action to remove or amend it.
"This is an inadequate profile," Horowitz said. "Right now it's just an assertion that Quandt has these views. I'd like to see examples of his views. When they give me that I'll make a judgment as to whether they qualify as anti-Israel rather than just critical of Israel."
Yet Horowitz said sometimes his stance gets misconstrued. When he was a student at Columbia University, Horowitz was a known Marxist communist and said professors respected his opinion.
"My professors treated me well -- they didn't say, 'Horowitz you are a Communist,' the things Republicans are subjected to today," Horowitz said. "I wasn't abused, and I'm grateful for this."
Quandt said he does not see a problem.
"He's riding hobby horse, I just don't think it's a problem," Quandt said.
Horowitz said he has been approached by Virginia legislators and may urge the introduction of the legislation in the Commonwealth.
"I can't predict how the Campus Bill of Rights will impact a particular environment," Joffee said. "I think that raising the issue is very useful and salutary, and raising the issue will open up some necessary amount of debate regarding the lack of pluralism within the universities."