GOP Bill Would Let AZ College Students to Appeal Grades Based on Political Bias

Sen. Anthony Kern wants to give students at Arizona’s public universities a new way to challenge grades given based on political bias.

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A Republican state senator wants to give students at Arizona’s public universities a new way to challenge grades that they believe were handed down due to a professor’s political bias.

Sen. Anthony Kern, of Glendale, who has previously described himself as “not a university guy,” has taken aim this year at the Arizona Board of Regents and the three public universities that they govern for what he says is discrimination against conservative students and speakers.

The Board of Regents governs University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

Kern’s Senate Bill 1477 would create a “grade challenge department” within the Board of Regents at all three universities, which would “hear challenges from public university students regarding grades received in any class or on any assignment if a student alleges a grade was awarded because of political bias.”

The departments would be staffed by volunteers chosen by the Board of Regents.

If a challenge department concluded that political bias influenced a student’s grade, it could require the professor who awarded it to regrade the assignment or reevaluate the student’s grade for the class in alignment with the department’s findings.

If a student believed that the department wrongly dismissed their grade challenge, the student could appeal the decision to ABOR, though the legislation doesn’t require that the regents actually consider any appeals.

“A lot of students that I met with at ASU, they do not feel that they can debate issues according to their politics or according to what they believe, because they’re afraid their grades are going to be lowered, and this is trying to help those,” Kern said before voting in favor of the bill on Feb. 22.

The bill passed through the Senate that day by a vote of 16-12, with only Republicans voting in favor.

Kern acknowledged that ABOR already has its own process for students to challenge their grades, but said he criticized it as inadequate. He added that he doesn’t believe that the Board of Regents is necessary at all.

He said he believes the bill would make students “more comfortable speaking on issues that they should be able to speak on.”

During a House Education Committee meeting on Tuesday, Thomas Adkins, a lobbyist for the Board of Regents, told lawmakers that the board opposed the measure for several reasons.

Echoing Kern, Adkins pointed out that the universities already have a grade appeal and academic grievance processes that allow students to contest their grades. The legislation would circumvent and undermine that process, he said.

Currently, the process starts with an informal conversation between the student and instructor, and can escalate to the dean and progress to a review by an academic committee.

Secondly, the bill would create what Adkins said is an unfunded burden on the regents to create and oversee the new departments at each campus, requiring them to open satellite offices there. He said that ABOR only has 40 employees and that taking on oversight of these departments would put a strain on them.

Last summer, Kern co-chaired a legislative committee to investigate free expression at Arizona’s public universities. The committee was formed shortly after ASU administrator Ann Atkinson claimed that she was fired from the university for bringing controversial far-right speakers to the campus for an event.

The university denied Atkinson’s claims, saying that she was let go because the organization that sponsored her position pulled its funding. In an investigation that was ordered by Arizona lawmakers, ASU determined that claims of censorship of conservative ideas and the chilling of free speech were unfounded.

The event for which Atkinson claimed she was fired wasn’t canceled, and far-right speakers like Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, and Dennis Prager, a conservative radio talk show host and writer, both spoke at the event.

Referencing students who spoke to the committee, Tucson Republican Rep. Rachel Jones told Adkins that conservative students on campus were “feeling silenced.”

“Some of these students are feeling the need to lie about their political beliefs so that they get good grades,” she said.

Adkins said it wasn’t a stretch to say the Board of Regents shares some of her concerns, but that its members believe that disagreements over grades can be resolved by making some changes to the existing processes instead of completely replacing them.

The bill passed out of the House Education Committee by a vote of 4-3, along party lines. Next, it will head to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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