A Republican lawmaker in Iowa wants public universities in the state to take into account the political party affiliations of prospective professors and instructors when hiring, in an attempt to establish a “partisan balance” among higher education faculty members.
The Des Moines Register reports that Senate File 288 was authored by state Sen. Mark Chelgren, a Republican. The legislation was filed on Monday.
“I’m under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity,” Chelgren told the Register. “They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are.”
The bill seeks to “require partisan balance” of the faculty members who work at institutions governed by the Iowa Board of Regents, according to its text. That means the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
Under the bill, a candidate would not be hired as a professor or instructor if their political party affiliation on their hire date would “cause the percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by ten percent the percentage of the faculty belonging to the other political party,” it states.
Each year, the state commissioner of elections would turn over voter registration records to the universities that are governed by the Board of Regents, the bill states.
“The Board of Regents is opposed to the bill,” spokesman Josh Lehman said in an email to The Washington Post. “We expect our universities to hire the most qualified faculty to teach our students, and we believe in diversity of thought.”
A person who does not declare a party affiliation “need not be considered in determining the political party composition of the faculty,” the proposed bill states.
“We have an awful lot of taxpayer dollars that go to support these fine universities,” Chelgren told the Register. Students, he said, “should be able to go to their professors, ask opinions, and they should know publicly whether that professor is a Republican or Democrat or no-party affiliation, and therefore they can expect their answers to be given in as honest a way possible. But they should have the ability to ask questions of professors of different political ideologies.”
Chelgren — who represents the Iowa Senate’s 41st District, in the southeastern part of the state — told the Register that he was worried about “extreme views on either side.”
The second-term senator did not immediately reply to an email or telephone message from The Post.
Rep. Mary Mascher, whose district includes the University of Iowa flagship campus in Iowa City, told the Register that she thought Chelgren’s proposal would discriminate against job candidates.
“We do have a Constitution and it’s there for a reason, and it’s to try to protect equity and to make sure that we don’t judge people on the basis of their race or religion, their creed, their political beliefs,” Mascher, a Democrat, told the newspaper.
In an interview with NBC affiliate WHO, another Democrat, state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, called the bill “one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in 15 years here.”
“To establish quotas by political party association in academic departments would just destroy our public universities,” he told the station.