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College Educators Should Oppose Wesselhoft Bill

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A bill tied to a right-wing movement attacking college professors has been introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature by state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican from Moore.

Wesselhoft’s House Bill 2600, disingenuously named the Higher Education Sunshine Act, has drawn opposition so far from the Oklahoma Conference of the American Association of University Professors and members of Oklahomans For Excellence in Science Education. Here is where you can find the text of the bill. (Type in “2600” under 2007-2008 House Measures.)

The bill is similar to legislation that has been proposed in other states as part of the Academic Bill of Rights movement championed by archconservative David Horowitz, who published the book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics In America. The bill would require all Oklahoma universities to prepare annual reports showing how they support intellectual diversity on their campuses.

The bill may seem innocuous on the surface, but it is difficult ultimately not to view it as an attack on public higher education in Oklahoma. Wesselhoft, pictured right, a retired Army chaplain and ordained Southern Baptist Minister, has not publicly pointed to any existing problems with diversity issues on Oklahoma colleges as far as I know. Thus, the bill seems to be simply part of a national, discredited cause that has absolutely no relevance in Oklahoma. Wesselhoft's legislative profile also says he is State Coordinator of Oklahoma Abstinence Sex Education for Teens, Oklahoma State Health Department.

Here are three reasons why the bill should be opposed:

(1) It could cost universities staggering amounts of money to prepare the reports each year. This would just add another senseless, bureaucratic mandate that would once again increase college tuition, which has been skyrocketing in Oklahoma in recent years.

(2) The bill has the potential to influence course content. Everyone knows this is a right-wing initiative so some professors, especially those in the sciences and medicine, may well become too intimidated to teach evolution theory or anything related to the scientific method at certain universities. Other professors may well feel too intimidated to express mainstream political positions or teach any political or world historical content that might cast progressive political ideas in a good light. The bill could limit intellectual arguments in classroom discussions. This will trickle down to high school classrooms.

(3) There is simply no point to the bill. Oklahoma universities have a wide cross section of professors with differing political, lifestyle and religious views. Students have appeal rights on each campus if they feel they have been mistreated or graded lowered because of their religious or political views. Students also consistently evaluate instructors. The system is not broken. If anything, universities should find ways to eliminate paperwork, not create more of it.

Everyone in Oklahoma higher education should oppose the bill. You can reach Wesselhoft at paulwesselhoft@okhouse.gov.

Rice Runs Populist Campaign

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U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe may lead his opponent in fundraising for his 2008 reelection campaign, but much of his money has come from political action committees trying to influence his votes.

Meanwhile, his opponent, state Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City), has collected nearly 97 percent of his campaign money from individual donors, according to his campaign’s financial director, Don Eckhoff.

“In this election cycle, Jim Inhofe has accepted big money from big interests,” Eckhoff said in a prepared statement. “In fact, more than 36% of his campaign contributions have come from PACs. Nearly 97% of Sen. Rice's contributions, on the other hand, are from individual donors. … we are grateful to have widespread support and input from real people, not just the moneyed special interests who back our opponent.”

The PAC money tells the real story of this election race. Inhofe is a Republican candidate who will continue to serve the interests of big oil companies and other special interest groups which support the wealthiest people in our country. Rice is a populist, Democratic candidate who will represent the vast majority of regular Oklahomans. He has promised to work for higher wages and better health care.

The stark contrast between the candidates may not seem important to the established, right-wing political punditry in Oklahoma right now, but the 2008 election year theme is “change.” Inhofe, a steadfast supporter of Imperial President George Bush, symbolizes everything that has gone wrong in this country in recent years from the Iraq occupation debacle to stagnant wages to higher energy, health care and college costs. Rice is running on a progressive platform that promises to repair what many voters here and elsewhere see as a broken political system in Washington.

According to a Tulsa World story, Inhofe has $1.8 million in campaign funds. Inhofe raised $474, 878 last quarter with $146,743 coming from political action committees, according to the story.

The World reported Rice has raised over $500,000 in total campaign funds. Last quarter, he raised $226,503, with only $11,000 coming from political action committees, and he has $350,884 cash on hand, according to the newspaper.

“I am encouraged by the growing show of support for our campaign for change, especially from the many Oklahomans who are hungry for a new direction on issues like comprehensive health care access, economic fairness and energy independence,” Rice said in a statement on his campaign Web site.

“I recognize that money is important and we are starting out in second place,” he said. “However, this will be a campaign about ideas and Oklahoma can contribute ideas and hard work to a new era where the President and Congress actually work together to address America’s most critical challenges.”

Rice continues to work on health care issues, tax relief for those people taking care of elderly relatives and environmental issues in the Oklahoma Senate. Inhofe continues his personal and isolated crusade against modern science by trying to stop any federal legislation related to climate change. He also supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recent decision to deny assistance to Oklahomans who suffered property damage during the recent ice storm. He said, “You don’t want to get something you’re not entitled to.” Gov. Brad Henry has appealed the decision.

(To get involved with the Rice campaign, click here.)

Hunger Task Force Recommends Proposals

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Let us hope a recent task force’s recommendations about hunger in Oklahoma do not get lost as the new legislative session begins.

In 2006, Oklahoma led the nation in hungry families, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. The pressing hunger issue in the state prompted two legislators, state Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) and state Rep. Kris Steele (R-Shawnee) to form a task force.

On Wednesday, the task force recommended some proposals to help solve the problem. Those proposals can be found here. Primarily, the task force urges the state to participate in more food programs, both governmental and non-governmental.

The hunger issue in Oklahoma is a serious one, and it takes a heavy toll on individual lives. It also, unfortunately, echoes the state’s Dustbowl history. During the 1930s, there was massive hunger and poverty in the state and many Oklahomans migrated to California and other states. Oklahoma should show the nation it takes the hunger issue seriously in 2008.

Everyone should donate what food and money they can to local food banks to help alleviate the problem. But growing hunger and poverty in this country demands more action by the federal government. We need permanent solutions. Food banks alone are not the answer. People need decent jobs and health care.

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