Bill to address political, religious discrimination

Rep. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, introduced a bill to the legislature Feb. 7 to address intellectual and religious discrimination of college and university professors.

House Bill 2770 would ensure faculty members cannot be discriminated against by their employers based on religious or political views.

Forese said he decided to write the bill after being approached several times by faculty members of colleges and community colleges.

“Instructors would have a religious or political point of view that was drastically different from that of their colleagues,” he said. “They kept their opinions to themselves for fear of not getting a promotion or not getting tenure.”

Forese said HB 2770 is intended to ensure both liberal and conservative opinions are protected.

“We should foster discussion and we should foster difference of opinion in higher institutions of learning,” he said. “I think it's more important to appreciate the best in everyone rather than pinning someone in a corner.”

John Curtis, the director of the department of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors, said the bill was an unnecessary solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that there is any actual discrimination occurring,” he said.

Curtis said there have been several forms of HB 2770 circulating around the nation, but Arizona's introduced bill is a much milder form.

“The idea is that there's too much liberal bias,” Curtis said. “Because there's this alleged liberal bias legislation is introduced to compel colleges and universities to have some kind of a balance of the political perspectives.”

The bill has been proposed in other areas of the nation and none of the attempts have been successful, he said.

“This type of bill has been introduced in probably two dozen states around the country over the last five or six years,” Curtis said. “It’s never passed anywhere.”

The closest the bill has ever come to passing was a case in Pennsylvania in which a special committee commissioned hearings over a year about academic freedom throughout the state, he said.

“The conclusion of that whole set of hearings was that there was no problem and there was absolutely no need for any kind of legislative remedy,” Curtis said.

He said more extreme versions of this bill would require institutions to have some means of measuring political and religious diversity among faculty members.

“In a way this is an attempt to co-opt the idea of affirmative action and portray conservatives as being victims of some kind of political viewpoint discrimination,” Curtis said.

Candidate for the 9th Congressional District and graduate student Kyrsten Sinema said she also believed the bill is unnecessary legislation.

“University policies already require that there not be discrimination based on a person's personal beliefs,” Sinema said. “So I consider this a solution without a problem.”

According to the Arizona Board of Regents nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy, discrimination is prohibited “based on a protected classification, including race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The ASU policy coincides directly with that of ABOR and defines unlawful discrimination as “failing to treat people equally based, at least in part, on status that is protected under applicable law or policy.”

Sinema said she felt the introduced bill was repetitive in light of University and ABOR policies.

“What I don't understand is why the state would create more legislation when the policy's already in play,” she said. “I don't know what the purpose is, it makes no sense.”

 

Reach the reporter at dgrobmei@asu.edu

 

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