Arizona state Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, is pushing a bill through the state Legislature that would require public school teachers and professors to be “impartial” in the classroom. It would make schools able to punish instructors who distribute biased grades. This idea is far from new. States across the nation, including Minnesota in 2005, have been debating the same issue over the last few years.
Groups such as the American Association of University Professors and the Students for Academic Freedom have pushed colleges to adapt their own “Academic Bill of Rights” to ensure that instructors and students have the right to speak their mind in a classroom setting to facilitate learning and constructive debate.
The idea can be confusing. Simply put, Verschoor is trying to establish a law that would punish instructors who grade unfairly based upon their own agendas.
It is completely inappropriate for a professor to grade a student based on how their individual ideology matches up with their own. However, to a great extent, instructors who address their personal beliefs in a nonthreatening way actually help students define their own beliefs, same or not. Students learn to become open to new ideas and learn to back up their own arguments.
A state law is not the answer here. Professors would likely steer clear of controversial course topics in order to ensure that there are no misunderstandings among their teachings or their students’ perception of their personal beliefs.
While professors shouldn’t be giving low grades to students just because they don’t agree with them, a state law might threaten their ability to facilitate opinionated discussion.
The exchange of opinions is a vital part of any community. Without this debate in the classroom, a university would not be teaching students how to create ideas of their own and how to defend them.