The Missouri House on Wednesday gave initial passage to Rep. Jane Cunningham's, R-St. Louis County, bill that would establish the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act. The bill, House Bill 213, would require universities to annually report the ways in which they are promoting academic freedom and free exchange of ideas with bias toward religion or political affiliation.
Cunningham's bill includes a list of ways to encourage intellectual diversity, and also makes it easier for students to file a grievance when they think a professor is in violation of the policy. It also specifically protects students against racial, gender, political and religious discrimination, and, in an amendment added to the bill Wednesday, would allow students to use the Bible as a historic text.
The voice vote on Wednesday was close, with opponents arguing that some students do not know the difference between being exposed to a new idea and being discriminated against because of their ideas.
"I don't think you've established that there's a real problem, but only taken a few high-profile examples," Rep. Clint Zweifel, D-St. Louis County, said to Cunningham. "It may give help to some folks, but problems to others, and that is now allowing for a free debate without being judged."
Cunningham said she thinks her bill opens debate because a student might be afraid to disagree with their professors.
"Students, if anything, have very strong opinions," Zweifel said. "Maybe not very thought-out opinions, but strong."
Cunningham, however, said that 51 percent of students say they cannot get a good grade without agreeing with their professor's view points.
"It's a hostile, a toxic environment. People are being bullied," she said. Cunningham later referred to an external report of the Missouri State University School of Social Work, which blasts the school for making their students afraid to voice their opinions.
Rep. Timothy Flook, R-Liberty, said being a conservative student in a majority liberal law school was difficult.
"I felt like my education lacked a good dialog," he said. "You know you get a heightened level of scrutiny if you wrote a paper challenging a professor's opinion."
However, Zweifel said he was thoroughly exposed to different view points in college, though Cunningham said just because some people had a good experience in college doesn't mean everyone does.
The bill must now go through a final passage in the House and be passed in the Senate before it goes to the governor and can become law.