March 6, 2006

The pederast's academic bill of rights

Arizona SB 1331 has generated quite a bit of discussion in the state and elsewhere for its proposed mandate of alternative readings and coursework in case a student objects to curriculum on grounds of belief. It passed the state senate's higher-ed committee 5-2 on February 15 and is currently on today's agenda in the senate's rules committee. The motivation apparently came from one student upset with the assignment of the book The Ice Storm, which includes wife-swapping. Never mind that the novel points out the destructiveness of such behavior, but those who want to censor Lolita probably never get the point of its end, either. So here's the bill text:

Each university under the jurisdiction of the Arizona board of regents and each community college under the jurisdiction of a community college district shall adopt procedures by which students who object to any course, coursework, learning material or activity on the basis that it is personally offensive shall be provided without financial or academic penalty an alternative course, alternative coursework, alternative learning materials or alternative activity. Objection to a course, coursework, learning material or activity on the basis that it is personally offensive includes objections that the course, coursework, learning material or activity conflicts with the student's beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion.

Let's think about the consequences of this. I'm sure that the bill's sponsors assumed it was crafted for conservatives squeamish about various topics, or maybe wanting to pass a biology course without having to learn about evolution. But let's see what other students it might empower...

  • Pederasts could insist on social-work classes that encourage predatory sex (because existing courses violate the students' beliefs or practices).
  • Tarot-card enthusiasts could insist on psychology classes that endorse occult theories of personality and fate.
  • New-age believers could insist on physics classes that acknowledge the power of pyramids.
  • Budding terrorists could insist on ethics classes that talk about the glory of suicide bombing.

Apart from the reductio ad absurdum argument here, this legislation is just awful. I can't imagine Governor Napolitano signing such a bill into law, so the parlor question today is whether Arizona legislators recognize the problem and extricate themselves from national ridicule. Since its passage in one committee, objections have been raised by a community college board, faculty, and letters to the editor, as well as several columnists.

Update (later on the 6th): The bill status page for the Arizona legislature indicates that the rules committee judged the bill "proper for consideration" and it's now on tomorrow's caucus calendar. I don't know the terms of art for the state legislature and hope this means it's just been cleared to be looked at and can still be killed quickly. Anyone know for certain?

(Welcome, everyone who's arrived here from Inside Higher Ed's link. After finishing this post, browse the site.)

3/08 note: Catching Flies was on this before I was.

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Posted in Academic freedom on March 6, 2006 10:16 AM |