Legislature kills gag bill

PHOENIX - University and student representatives welcomed the defeat of a bill that would have prohibited professors and teachers from voicing their opinions in class, but the sponsor said it might be back next year.

Senate Bill 1542 passed the Senate Government Committee in mid-February but never made it out of the Rules Committee. The measure was a strike-everything amendment, introduced after the similar Senate Bill 1612 failed to pass the Education Committee a day earlier.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, would have punished instructors in K-12 schools, universities and colleges for voicing their opinions related to politics, legal actions, culture and society.

""We made sure that the senator and other parties understand that students were concerned about their education and that the measures outlined in the bill aren't necessary and actually would be detrimental.""
- Serena Unrein,
associate executive director, Arizona
Students' Association

In addition, the measure would have established penalties of up to $500 for violators and suspension or termination of the instructor's position.

Arizona Students' Association representatives worked with Verschoor and other legislators to make sure they understood the implications of the bill, said Serena Unrein, the association's associate executive director.

""We made sure that the senator and other parties understand that students were concerned about their education and that the measures outlined in the bill aren't necessary and actually would be detrimental,"" she said.

ASA chairman Devin Mauney told legislators about one of his classes on Social Security policy at Arizona State University this semester. It is taught by Edward C. Prescott, a professor who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2004.

Because Prescott teaches students about his own research, Mauney said it would be impossible for him to be objective to the extent the bill would require.

""Many of the students in this course are involved in public policy, and if they're not able to get the benefit of this significant education, our state will be worse off and our nation will be worse off,"" Mauney said.

Greg Fahey, UA associate vice president for government relations, said the discussions with Verschoor yielded positive results, and the senator was willing to listen to the universities' concerns.

""He hasn't tried to push anything that was fundamentally difficult for us,"" Fahey said.

But Verschoor said he still has concerns about teachers or professors who influence students in class with their opinions on certain issues.

This is why he might bring back the bill next session in a form that universities can accept, he said. But he said he doesn't know exactly what changes he could make.

""My main focus is that students feel that they have the right to a quality education, and they shouldn't feel they are going to be retaliated against because they disagree with a position a professor or a teacher has taken,"" he said. ""What we should be doing is teaching students not what to think but how to think, and to have the freedom to express their opinions as they wish.""

At the Feb. 15 hearing of the bill, several senators voiced concern about the broadness of the bill and said it could interfere with character education and legislators' adjunct positions.

Sen. Charlene Pesquiera, D-Oro Valley, said: ""I see this as very hindering the classroom process as far as individuals expanding on debate and discussion.""

Similar legislation passed in Pennsylvania and has been considered in several other states.


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