Student Senator proposes addition to students' rights policy

For students who feel ostracized in the classroom for their personal beliefs, a proposed University policy may assure them that their grades won't be affected.

At last week's Senate meeting, Long Pham, chair of the Academic Affairs committee of Student Senate, presented a new amendment he wants added to University Policy on student rights: "The third right of students is to be evaluated on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their personal beliefs."

According to Pham, a senior in business and history, the objective of the new text is to promote academic freedom.

"Many people feel the university is an academic environment in which academic freedom should be promoted. Unfortunately, faculty members are human beings — they have biases — and some people feel that interferes with their grades," Pham said.

Pham cites that this movement to promote academic freedom is a prevailing trend among many universities.

This recent surge of academic freedom bills follows conservative activist David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights proposal, which he has promoted to several state legislatures. In its August 29 issue, The Tartan reported that Pennsylvania had approved a committee to investigate the need for such a bill. Pham acknowledges that his own proposal draws its language from a portion of Horowitz's bill.

"Let's face it," Pham said. "Ninety percent of faculty members in institutions of higher learning are reported to be liberal, and they run into conflict with students who like to advocate more conservative views."

Pham asserts that there are no political motivations in his endeavor. "We're trying to divorce it from outside interests. We're making this purely a Carnegie Mellon issue — purely an effort to promote ... free thought and scholarly thinking."

Regarding the process that creating such a policy would take, Provost Mark Kamlet said, "If one wanted to create an official University policy ... it has to go through a fairly long process in terms of the number of groups who have to approve it along the way. Those groups would include the faculty senate, the President's Council [deans and senior administrators] ... and it would have to be approved all the way up the chain."

In August, both Provost Kamlet and University President Cohon told The Tartan they were not in support of Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights' being passed on the Pennsylvania state level. However, there is no current indication that Pham's proposals for CMU will mirror the one being lobbied for in state legislature.

Pham also plans to move to "bigger and better things," if his initial proposal is passed, including instituting a "holistic and complete learning experience."

"Baby steps," he said at last Thursday's Student Senate meeting. "Baby steps."

"We're thinking about, to be honest, taking a look at the professional conduct of professors," Pham continued in an interview. "Our goal is not to tell professors how to behave, but rather to give them ideas in how to better enhance and promote their own goals for the classroom."

After having met with Pham to discuss his plan, Vice Provost for Education Indira Nair said she agrees with his ideas.

"The proposed additions to the Students' Bill of Rights is a good one. Long and his Committee have sought to make them clear and add one clause that is a good one — to judge students on their work and demonstration of mastery of content rather than on personal opinions."

Nair also thinks the proposal will take a while before it can be passed.

Current University policy includes language to preserve academic freedom: "[Mutual trust and respect] require freedom of expression without fear of retribution, institutional or otherwise, and value the diversity of persons, ideas and choices differing from one?s own."

University policy also includes a procedure through which a student may appeal a grade that he or she feels is unreasonable.