That Ward Churchill has become synonymous with the cause of academic freedom is a mixed blessing for non-tenured college instructors. Churchill, an ethnic studies professor from the University of Colorado at Boulder, famously characterized some of those who died on September 11 as “little Eichmanns,” arguing that militarism abroad and fixation with capitalism at home had implicated many Americans in the attacks.
Even though many disagree with him politically, academics across the political spectrum overwhelmingly agree that Churchill should not be punished or fired for having made controversial statements. After several attempts, the Colorado Board of Regents determined that it could take no action against Churchill for his comments because he is tenured. It is little noted, however, that Churchill won a victory for the institution of tenure, but not academic freedom.
According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), about 44.5% of teachers in American higher education are "contingent" -- non-tenure-track professors and adjuncts. Adjuncts, in particular (I am one), are classified as "part-time," but often teach an equivalent of full-time course loads, currently teaching about 20 percent of courses nationally. They usually work without benefits, such as health insurance, and often outside the bounds of contracts. More often than not, they are excluded from campus decision-making bodies and faculty meetings.
In public universities, which are particularly and woefully under funded, adjuncts may constitute more than 50 percent of the faculty. At the City University of New York’s community colleges, for example, over 60 percent of classes are taught by adjuncts. As is often noted, this trend is on a sharp incline, as retiring professors are increasingly replaced by adjuncts. At CUNY, depending on how many courses adjuncts teach, as many as five or six adjuncts can be hired for the same price as one permanent faculty member.
Despite these trends, defenders of the academy seldom note that adjuncts are almost completely unprotected from charges associated with the content of their lectures. Since, as in Churchill’s case, academic freedom was defended by asserting contractual protections afforded by tenure, and not professional norms, those without the legal coverage that tenure provides are vulnerable. As a further result, the question of academic freedom has not been brought into discussions about the general labor practices of academe. With fewer professors being hired to tenure-track positions, the safeguards of academic freedom apply to an increasingly small percentage of faculty members.
Churchill’s case makes these vulnerabilities clear. Though the protections afforded by tenure have been affirmed in his defense, the University of Colorado board is now investigating whether or not Churchill was rightly awarded tenure in the first place, looking into allegations of plagiarism and the possibility that he misidentified himself as a Native American in order to benefit from affirmative action. The board recognizes that only by peeling away Churchill’s tenure can it remove him.
One can imagine how universities would likely respond to public charges against adjuncts to whom they have virtually no legal responsibility. Because of the power of alumni donations, not to mention state legislatures, it is more expedient for colleges to dismiss adjuncts and other contingent faculty than to fight and garner negative publicity. Technically, public colleges do have a legal obligation to protect the freedom of speech of their employees, but charges against professors can produce a more insidious effect: adjuncts, who are appointed on a semester-by-semester basis, are simply not invited back.
This is no mere conspiracy - such cases have occurred across the United States for reasons ranging from political affiliations to religious expression. In April, for example, as Inside Higher Ed reported, Indiana Institute of Technology forced Mark Tschaepe to apologize after two students complained that he had assigned a philosophy essay on pornography to his class. Tschaepe was not reassigned to teach the following semester. Similarly, John Jay College of CUNY decided not to reappoint Susan Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground convicted of weapons possession, and pardoned by President Clinton, to its adjunct faculty after she had taught for four semesters. According to the AAUP, the decision was made without "specific academic grounds for rejecting the wish of her faculty colleagues to reappoint her" and was a response to “pressure groups that seek to dictate personnel and curricular decision.”
Many adjuncts fear that students may record lectures or take notes to trigger actions like these, and the results of laboring under these conditions are palpable. In the wake of charges of anti-Semitism at Columbia University, for example, attorney and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, told the conservative Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting that “There are some dangers, of course, in having all classes recorded, but I think on balance, the benefits outweigh the dangers.”
Such activities are not only encouraged, but are in some cases funded. David Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture, with dozens of local campus chapters called Students for Academic Freedom, have set out to document, publicize and pursue the purported indiscretions of instructors. Horowitz’s organization’s goals include fighting “the leftist, anti-American, elitist culture [and exposing] the idiocies and the viciousness of the radical leftism in universities, the media, mainstream churches, and everywhere else this modern plague is found.” This March, a Florida House committee voted 8-2 in favor of an “Academic Freedom Bill of Rights” in part based on the Horowitz model (though the bill later died in the Senate). Part of the goal of those who voted for it is to weed out “leftist totalitarianism” propagated by “dictator professors.” In addition, Web sites such as ratemyprofessor.com and campuswatch.org are rife with allegations of bias, many of which are unchecked, undocumented and posted anonymously.
These efforts turn the classroom into a potential site of surveillance, and not open engagement and discussion. Even the possibility of students reporting on their instructors changes the way adjuncts teach. It is tempting, for example, to soften the content of lectures to avoid potential accusations of bias, losing the sharpness of thought that universities pride themselves on. Paradoxically, this tension is most intense at exactly those moments when interpretive courage is most pedagogically (not to mention intellectual) valuable. This is particularly true, as I have witnessed this year, when teaching sensitive texts as the Bible or Koran as political works. While lecturing about Moses’ leadership style, for example, and considering the purely political and Machiavellian tactics of his actions in leading the Jews to the Promised Land, I found myself thinking: should I help them draw the conclusions that the text seems to suggest, or should I be more careful, and prevaricate? I opted for the former, but not without concern.
Worse still, this fear increases the division between students and teachers, and strains the trust that is essential for both teaching and learning. Many students sense intellectual dishonesty and hesitation immediately. But as most adjuncts are working toward full-time positions themselves -- reaching for the job stability and benefits that they lack -- there is a particular fear that charges against them could damage their professional reputations and chances for real employment. The institutional forces to which contingent faculty are subjected, in short, encourages trading analytic rigor for long-term career interests -- an intellectual Faustian bargain of the worst sort.
While the protection of tenure is a crucial component of the long term interests of all educators, almost 50 percent of American university instructors are vulnerable to immediate attack. This point has been lost in the wake of the Churchill affair, just as groups seeking to attack freedom of speech in the academy regard Churchill’s triumph as a glaring validation of the seriousness of their cause. These groups were steeled by Churchill’s victory, and are mobilizing with renewed energy and purpose. This reason alone should make colleges think seriously about how they will protect all of their faculty members.
Dan Skinner is an adjunct instructor of political theory at Hunter College, City University of New York, and a Ph.D. student in political science at the CUNY Graduate Center. He also has a blog, Parsing the Political.
In the past year or so, the latest in the perennial waves of attacks by conservatives against liberal bias in college faculties has included several research reports like one by National Association of Scholars allies Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte, "Politics and Professional Development Among College Faculty,” decrying a preponderance of Democrats in academe. These reports have worked in tandem with the crusade led by David Horowitz for an "Academic Bill of Rights," versions of which were introduced into several state legislatures.
Aside from the disputable accuracy of conservatives’ charges, it’s time to call attention to their frequent origin in organizations funded by Republican-aligned foundations.
Conservatives claim that "their" foundations and think tanks simply serve to counterbalance more highly funded liberal foundations, professional organizations like the American Association of University Professors and the Modern Language Association, and the totality of university scholarship. These are false comparisons:
1. The conservative foundations and think tanks established in the past 30 years were designed to be, in effect, public relations agencies or lobbies for the Republican Party and the political and economic interests of their corporate sponsors, many of whose executives have also been visibly partisan, influential figures in that party, such as Richard Mellon Scaife (Scaife Foundations), the Coors family (Heritage Foundation), William Simon (Olin Foundation), and William Baroody (American Enterprise Institute). The same cannot be said for more liberally inclined foundations like Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and MacArthur, in relation either to corporate sponsors or the Democratic Party. The very fact that these foundations fund projects that are often antithetical to their corporate patrons' class interests is evidence that their motives are philanthropic, not propagandistic; they fund precisely the kind of projects least likely to attract corporate sponsorship. This can also be said about George Soros’ politically oriented projects; Soros, perhaps more than any other liberal sponsor, does have Democratic Party ties comparable to those of Scaife and other Republicans -- he supports MoveOn.org, the Center for American Progress, Emily’s List, Americans Coming Together and several labor unions -- but it would be hard to make a case that his philanthropy advances his corporate interests. Much of his and his grantees’ writings warn against capitalists like him gaining too much wealth and power. In contrast, the outcome of the ostensibly objective research conducted by conservative corporate-funded scholars is virtually predetermined to support its sponsors’ financial and ideological interests.
2. Academic professional associations democratically represent their membership, and are primarily funded by dues. Their officials are not appointed by, and are not accountable to, any higher power or special interest other than the majority rule of their members. Thus, whatever political biases they may have are those of their own constituencies, not of patrons or party organizations.
3. Likewise, the terms of faculty hiring and salary are normally determined by peers, not patrons or parties. The political views of faculty members in the humanities and social sciences are, in general, the consequence of their years of independent study, not influenced by outside sponsorship or affiliation with party apparatuses. That is, they may vote Democratic, but, with rare exceptions -- Robert Reich comes to mind -- faculty liberals, and especially radicals, in recent decades have not had the kind of insider roles in the Democratic Party or presidential administrations that Republicans with academic backgrounds like William J. Bennett, Lynne Cheney, Irving and William Kristol, and Chester Finn, all also beneficiaries of the conservative foundations, have had in that party. It is a breathtaking bit of sleight-of-hand that so many conservatives’ high-minded protests against the politicizing of higher education have come from individuals and foundations that are up to their neck in Republican politics and that have the power to incite government action against their academic opponents.
I do not doubt that many scholars who accept money from the conservative foundations maintain intellectual independence and integrity, and are motivated by their own beliefs. It is disingenuous of them, however, to claim they are not compromised by their sponsors’ motives of recruiting the best minds money can buy. These scholars claim that the sponsors do not dictate a line to them, which may be strictly true, but there have been cases of withdrawal of support to grantees who depart too far from the sponsors’ line. Ample evidence of sponsors’ direct control of studies by conservative think tanks and foundations has been provided by apostates from them like Michael Lind and David Brock.
Lind, in Up From Conservatism, writes: “The network orchestrated by the foundations resembled an old-fashioned political patronage machine, or perhaps one of the party writers' or scholars' guilds in communist countries. The purpose of intellectuals was to write essays and op-eds attacking liberals and supporting official Republican party positions.” Brock, in Blinded By the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, describes the executives heading the conservative “counter-intelligentsia” as “Leninists of the right,” who exercise control over their subordinates that is “far more rigidly doctrinaire than the PC crowd that had so offended me [as an undergraduate] in Berkeley.”
Brock exposes the pseudo-scholarly trappings of conservative think tanks, mocking his own former title of “John M. Olin Fellow in Congressional Studies” at Heritage. He also recounts how Scaife, the biggest financier of right-wing attacks on Bill Clinton before and throughout his presidency, withdrew funding from Brock (who at that time was the highest paid political journalist in America) and later from The American Spectator when he found their writings about both Bill and Hillary Clinton insufficiently damning.
Conservatives insist that their studies should be judged solely on their intrinsic validity, and they dismiss any suggestion that their sponsored scholarship or journalism is tainted as a fallacy of guilt by association, poisoning the well, or argument ad hominem (perhaps ad lucrem would be the more appropriate term). But a rhetorician’s motives, associations, and past credibility are sometimes relevant considerations. Are we not justified in being more skeptical about the motives and merits of arguments presented by hired lobbyists (say, for the tobacco industry), party propagandists and spin doctors, advertising or public relations agents, than we are about those presented by independent scholars and journalists? So shouldn’t those who accept funding from the Republican-aligned foundations also be willing to accept the burden of proof on their independence?
Conservatives may not like the politics of us tenured radicals, but it would be hard for them to claim that many of us are in it for the money. For example, the Radical Caucus in MLA, to which I belong, for the past 30 years has been publishing the journal Radical Teacher. Its editors from the beginning have included such leftist notables as Richard Ohmann, Louis Kampf, Paul Lauter, and Lennard Davis, who are portrayed by conservatives as immensely powerful figures. (Lynne Cheney’s 1995 book Telling the Truth singled out Radical Teacher as a key organ of the leftist menace.) When academic leftists were starting out in the sixties, we were as marginalized as conservatives now claim to be. Many of us didn’t get jobs or were fired after gaining them, because of our politics. (This still sometimes happens, contrary to conservatives’ lurid accounts of leftist academic hegemony; some editors or contributors at Radical Teacher are afraid to list it on their vitas.)
To be sure, several radicals by now have indeed become tenured, respected, and in some cases -- through the cultural contradictions of capitalism -- have acquired endowed chairs, incomes in the (low) six figures, administrative positions, foundation grants, and other perks. (My own salary, more typically, peaked at around $65,000 after 35 years of teaching.) Their success, however, is mainly attributable to the quality of their ideas and scholarship developed over four decades, not to patronage. (Are there zealots, cronies, and incompetents on the academic left? For sure, though not demonstrably more than among those of any other ideological or theoretical bent, including conservatives, and they are disowned by more responsible colleagues.) No one has received a penny in payment for the countless hours they have put into the Radical Caucus or Radical Teacher, whose current financial balance amounts to $15,000, and which subsists solely on subscriptions and limited newsstand sales, with virtually no advertising and only small contributions by individuals.
Compare that record with the millions and millions spent by conservative foundations in the past three decades funding the National Association of Scholars (which in 2003 received $250,000 from the Scaife Foundations alone, according to the Scaife Web site), the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Campus Watch, Horowitz’s enterprises, conservative student organizations, and research like Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte’s. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Horowitz has been making upwards of $500,000 a year in personal income from Scaife, Bradley, Olin, and other foundation grants and college lectures, at $5,000 each, also subsidized by the same foundations through funding of conservative campus organizations.
One can understand that as conservatives see it, they are outnumbered, outspent, and discriminated against in the humanities and social sciences, and so they have turned to conservative foundations as their only recourse. Nothing should prevent them from doing this, but neither would anything prevent these acolytes of free-market competition and overcoming adversity through individual spunk from independently gaining a foothold in academia and expanding it purely through the value of their ideas and scholarship, as leftists have done over four decades. Again granting the integrity of many cultural conservatives, isn’t it coy of them to get indignant over any suggestion that multi-million-dollar patronage by special interests gives their beneficiaries an unfair advantage and is likely to attract opportunists?
It is also legitimate to ask how similar the kind of research on which conservatives’ cultural offensives are based is to the pseudo-scientific variety produced by corporate special interests through the usual foundations and think tanks (and all too often through ostensibly independent university scholarship) -- research that purports to refute all evidence of corporate damage to the environment, health, and safety. The greatest danger of the machine that has been set up by Republican fronts, in science as well as in the humanities and social sciences, is that it has developed the capacity to take any finding produced through independent research or analysis, no matter how valid, and fabricate counter-research to discredit it, thus jamming the airwaves of public discourse to the point where ascertaining the truth is virtually impossible.
Conservatives have sanctimoniously denounced poststructuralist theories denying any objective truth and have accused leftists of being Orwellian twisters of the truth, but many of their own forces -- political, journalistic, and academic -- have cynically pursued the 1984-ish policies that truth is determined by whoever has the power to dominate public perceptions of it and that the righteousness of their ends justifies dishonest means such as distorting and ridiculing their opponents’ positions without substantive refutations (as my arguments here will predictably be distorted and ridiculed).
Thus, I do not think it is unfair to ask conservative scholars and journalists of integrity to demonstrate it by honestly addressing the ethical problems posed by Republican-aligned foundation sponsorship, by dissociating themselves from the more extreme positions of the Republican Party and its corporate, religious, and journalistic allies (e.g., Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter), and by presenting a body of evidence proving that they apply the same critical standards and zeal to the forces of the right that they do to the left, along with similar evidence that their sponsors are willing to subsidize such criticism.
One such model of integrity is Nathan Glazer, the prodigious Harvard sociologist who throughout his long career has shown scrupulous independence, extending to his role as co-editor with Irving Kristol of The Public Interest, subsidized by the Olin, Bradley, and Smith-Richardson foundations. Although he identifies himself as a neoconservative, Glazer has written in defense of affirmative action and multiculturalism, and, as he noted in the final issue of The Public Interest this spring, “in defense of the more developed welfare states of Europe, which to my mind have created a better society than we have in the United States.” If such refreshing heresies against Republican orthodoxies were the rule rather than the exception in conservative intellectual circles, I would cease and desist from further criticism.
Here is a proposal that might forestall the further descent of polemics on these issues to the level of, “Yeah, and you’re one too!” Horowitz’s blog Discoverthenetwork.org comprehensively surveys the forces of what he defines as the American left in politics, the media, foundations, and academia, along with their sources and amounts of funding. Suppose that he, or like-minded conservatives, were to collaborate with leftists on assembling a comparable survey of the American right (including, say, major corporations and the military, along with university faculties in service to them, and the forces of the religious right), so that something like an objective comparison of relative power could be attained. Who will volunteer for such a project -- and what foundations will fund it?
Donald Lazere is professor emeritus of English at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. His textbook Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy: The Critical Citizen's Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric was published this year by Paradigm Publishers.
The higher education community believes it scored a great victory on June 23 when a coalition of twenty-something organizations, including the American Association of University Professors, issued a statement supporting academic freedom. Many of their critics have fallen for it and a number of Congressmen have even declared victory. Any praise for the statement, however, must be tempered by an understanding that the people who brought us Ward Churchill won’t offer much more than lip service -- unless we keep our powder dry.
The statement was promulgated by the American Council on Education and reiterates the importance of the free exchange of ideas, grading free of political bias, grievance procedures for students and faculty who are treated unfairly, and intellectual standards. The declaration acknowledges that “intellectual pluralism” and “academic freedom” are principles widely shared within the academic community. Yet there is nary a nod to the hundreds of widely-publicized cases of political pressure in the classroom that prompted the controversy in the first place.
For years, the higher education establishment has denied that there is a problem and engaged in a series of unpersuasive rationalizations to avoid facing the obvious facts. Roger Bowen of the American Association of University Professors has called studies about faculty political imbalance "wrongheaded" and claimed political affiliations of professors are of little consequence in the classroom. John Millsaps at the University of Georgia agreed: "we have no evidence to suggest that students are being intimidated by professors as regards students’ freedom to express their opinions and beliefs." And Lionel Lewis in a recent issue of Academe went so far as to argue that political one-sidedness doesn’t matter because college has no impact anyway. Nowhere did they argue that students will get a better education if they are exposed to a variety of viewpoints and learn to think for themselves.
Numerous surveys, reports, and case studies documenting the politically monolithic character of the faculty have mounted. A recent student survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni shows that many students believe they will be penalized if they have a point of view that differs from their professors.
Faced with this mounting evidence – and a growing number of state legislators who have begun holding hearings and passing resolutions -- the higher education establishment figured it would be best to have a quick conversion, endorse intellectual “pluralism,” and then go back to business as usual. The strategy is obvious: give lip service, get it out of the papers, do nothing.
Those claiming victory are right in that the first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem. However, the ACE statement does not admit that there is anything more than a PR problem: “these issues have become public controversies.” It does not address whether there is a lack of intellectual diversity or whether there are any victims of political intolerance at all.
Second, it does not define intellectual pluralism and makes the shocking suggestion that First Amendment freedoms mean different things to different people. These are “complex topics with multiple dimensions,” it says, and it is “impossible to create a single definition or set of standards” and, well, it is simply too much for the unwashed public. Definitions will have to be left to individual campuses, where, presumably, people are smarter.
Third, it does not address any of the specific issues raised by critics: what about unbalanced panel discussions on campus, the hundreds of speech codes prevalent across the country, student newspaper theft, speakers being disinvited or shouted down, the uncivil and intolerant behavior of administrators on campus after campus aimed specifically at students with political views who differ? Not a word on any of these topics.
Fourth, the only section calling for action is very cleverly written. It says, first, that "[n]either students nor faculty should be disadvantaged or evaluated on the basis of their political opinions." The next sentence calls for "clear" grievance procedures. And action? Not quite. Every college already has clear grievance procedures for students and faculty members. But didn't the statement say that these should be revised to include protections against political bias? If they had wanted to, they surely could have. No, they stated a general principle, but did not call for revising any grievance procedures. An action that is no action.
Fifth, if you read the fine print, the statement did not even endorse its own principles, claiming only that they "deserve to be stated affirmatively as a basis for discussion … on campuses and elsewhere." No action here either.
If they did not admit a problem, and did not define the goal of intellectual pluralism, and did not propose or even hint at specific ways to achieve intellectual pluralism, and really only proposed some discussion topics, what did they say? Leave the problem to us -- "the community of scholars.” Isn't the rhetoric great? The only clear intent of the statement is to tell the public to leave the problem to the institutions. Yes, the people who brought you Ward Churchill, who in fact include Ward Churchill, will solve the problem.
The responsibility for correcting the current situation should, indeed, fall first and foremost to colleges and universities themselves. However, it is the universities that have created the problem, have perpetuated it, continue to minimize it, and have failed to take concrete steps to solve. Indeed, the only apparent response by the higher ed community to the statement has been protests by the AFT, NEA, and various members of the AAUP.
This statement – so far – is just lip service to intellectual diversity. The reality remains that faculties are politically imbalanced, many course readings and campus speaking events are one-sided, and there is a basic hostility to ideas outside of campus orthodoxies.
It’s time for the institutions to take concrete steps to live up to their words.
Anne D. Neal
Anne D. Neal is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a national nonprofit group of alumni and trustees.
When the American Association for Higher Education shut down this spring, many of its files went to Clara M. Lovett, its last president. She recently found a speech given in 1948 at the annual meeting of the higher education division of the National Education Association, which helped create the AAHE. Lovett thought the speech -- about challenges facing higher education as the U.S. confronted the Cold War -- had relevance today. With thanks to Lovett for the find and to the NEA for permission to reprint the text, we offer the following thoughts from an earlier generation.
Universities are among our oldest social institutions. Speaking generally they have characteristically been indifferent to their social responsibilities. They have often looked down their noses at modern problems and modern cultural development. They have been slow to change and slow to assume new social or educational responsibilities. Not infrequently have they viewed questions of social policy as practical matters which lie outside of the rightful concern of the university. The events of the last three decades have, however, shaken the complacency of many university faculty members and plunged a few of our leaders into a study of the ways and means whereby the university can make its appropriate contribution to the building of a decent and peaceful world.
There are several major developments which have been responsible for the change in the typical attitude of the university. Experience in Germany and other totalitarian countries proves conclusively that no true university is possible in a police state. This being so, every university has a stake in the preservation of freedom. Even though a university looks upon itself as an ivory tower, its staff members know that no ivory tower is even a remote possibility in anything but a free society. In the realm of the sciences, many leaders have looked in on the processes of nature in the area of atomic fission. What they have seen has so frightened them that they have become our most articulate and effective protagonists for the types of social change designed to insure a peaceful world. Thinking university people know that broad forms of adult education are the only means whereby social change can be sufficiently accelerated to head off worldwide catastrophe in the form of atomic war. Thus for the first time in academic history it now seems feasible to interest the academic world in the problems of world peace and the problems of social reconstruction upon which any enduring peace must be built.
In universities our characteristic response to a new responsibility is the addition of a new course, a new curriculum, or at leaset some proposal for the acquisition of new knowledge on the part of our students. We have every reason to doubt the wisdom of our past responses in such situations. It is going to take something more than knowledge of new facts to brings about a peaceful world. New courses can teach new facts, but they do not necessarily give our students and graduates the will to build a peaceful world or the social effectiveness for bringing such a world into being.
The plain fact is, we do not as a people understand the problem of world peace. We do not have a sufficient determination to build a peaceful world. We do not sense our own individual and collective responsibilities in relation to world peace. As a people we lack the consecration to human values and the devotion to human brotherhood that must of necessity be a foundation for a peaceful world. Perhaps most important of all we fail to realize that it is the success of free institutions inside our own country and other countries that is the primary requisite for the success of any international organization any effort at the maintenance of an enduring peace. If we are interested in examining the role of the university in building world peace, we should examine the course which has been followed by our own country in both the international and domestic scene since V-J Day. Through such an examination we can discover our major errors and identify the elements of unsoundness in our domestic and world leadership. From a study of these errors we can, I believe, map a sound emphasis for the university as it seeks to make a contribution to enduring world peace.
We have seen our country disappoint liberty-loving peoples the world over. Our international role has been characterized by confusion, uncertainty, vacillation, and, on occasion, downright dishonesty. While we have faltered in the international scene, we have stumbled about ineffectively at home. As of the present moment there is more fear in the heart of the average American than there has been at any time in the history of our country. This fear is not easily explained. It is an oversimplification to say that we are afraid of Russia. Our fears cannot be connected primarily with the rise of communism; nor is our state of mind due entirely to the development of the atomic bomb. While we may not be able to explain our fears, their results in our national and international behavior are plain to be observed. We carry on or propose witch hunts after communists. We send billions of dollars abroad in an effort to stop communism, and we order a draft of our young men on the chance that we may have to fight our ideological enemies....
We have, it seems to me, made four major errors in charting the domestic and international course of our country and the entire democratic world. If the university is to play its proper role in the building of world peace, it must give its students a type of experience and equipment which will help us as a nation and as a world to correct these errors and chart a sound course in the direction of world peace.
In the first place, we in the Western world in general and in America in particular have failed to realize that human freedom is our most priceless asset. In one way or another we have been willing to compromise this freedom, sometimes in search of economic security, at other times in what we think is a battle to preserve this freedom. In this discussion I am taking the position that of all of the components of our culture and our heritage, our freedom is our greatest trust and our greatest hope for the future. With every passing year I am less willing to surrender any part of that freedom, regardless of the pretext upon which I am asked to make the surrender. I am thus wary of loss of individual freedom through over-centralization of government, through dictatorial organizations of labor and industry, through over-concentration of wealth and economic power, or through excessive controls of local affairs on the part of state and federal government.
Similarly, I am not only fearful of losing our freedom through a war, through a fascist or communist coup, but I am equally fearful of losing it through the adoption on our part of the police-state methods of the totalitarian world. I am accordingly extremely skeptical that the present much talked-of efforts to ferret out the Communists can actually be carried through without the loss of freedom for us all. And if through panic and fear of communism we lose our freedom, we have lost it just as truly as if it had been taken away from us by a foreign power.
Tragic as it may be, even our university graduates do not understand the meaning of our freedoms; nor do they realize the ways and means whereby these freedoms can be preserved. Therefore, teaching the meaning of human freedom is the first responsibility of the university in building world peace. We should, however, hasten to add that no perfunctory subject matter approach to the problem of freedom will be effective. For years our college students have studied our history. They have read our Constitution. They have read the Declaration of Independence and other documents, but these and other materials have become stereotypes. They have been viewed in terms of political freedom alone. No organized and concerted attempt has been made to develop democratic principles in the area of economics, or of human relations, or in the field of the fine arts. As a result, a large proportion of our college graduates see no conflict between our great historic documents of freedom and segregation of whites and Negroes, poor housing, periodic unemployment, and lack of educational opportunities. Had our colleges and universities properly taught the meaning of human freedom, we would have had federal aid to education decades ago in this country. Had all the educational institutions in our nation really believed in our freedoms and taught them effectively, our country would today be vastly more democratic than it is.
But as a nation we have made a second tragic error since V-J Day. Somehow we have assumed that the problem of world peace can be solved through a world organization such as the United Nations, regardless of the success of our free institutions at home.... Our failure to see the relationship between the problems of our domestic society and the difficulties of our world leadership grows out of our tendency to compartmentalize world problems, to blame our difficulties on other countries and on the weaknesses of governmental machinery and other forms of democratic implementation. We blame the machinery and we blame other countries when it is our own lack of moral conviction and sense of duty and responsibility that is to blame.
Clearly in this area the university has a large responsibility. It is not, however, enough for colleges and universities to convince the students of the inter-relatedness of our national and international problems. Something far deeper and more vital is demanded. The plain fact is, the whole Western democratic world has suffered a moral relapse in recent decades. The church has lost its hold on millions of our people. No substitute moral influence has come into our life. Opportunism, gross selfishness, and unbridled greed have had their unexampled innings. Irresponsible self-seeking has not only invaded business and labor but has made deep inroads into the profession of education itself. If freedom is to be saved and if world peace is to be achieved, the university must meet its responsibility in the realm of ethical and moral education.
In state-supported institutions, we cannot use the fact of legal restrictions on religious education as an alibi for failing to teach ethical and moral standards to our young people. Our own heritage of democracy is rich in ethical and moral content. Our literature presents enormous opportunities that can be exploited in many directions. The fine arts have a great potential contribution, and -- most important of all -- human relationships of the college and university campus can make an outstanding contribution if only we appreciate their importance and plan their programs and activities intelligently.
The third misconception which has undermined many of our domestic and international post-war policies has been the assumption that good can be accomplished through the doing of evil. We seem to think freedom can be saved for ourselves through a sacrifice of freedom for minorities and small nations and that we can further freedom for our own country by playing fast and loose with the welfare of small and less powerful countries and groups. Looking back over the period since V-J Day it seems almost impossible to understand how we can as a nation have been led into so many embarrassing and ambiguous positions. The most charitable way we can account for our blunders is to assume that we simply did not understand the processes whereby human freedom can be saved. There is in this connection a very simple principle. Freedom will not live unless it works. If it does not work, no amount of defense of freedom through persecution of its opponents, through spending money for relief, through propaganda, or through military efforts will avail....
If our universities are to play their appropriate role in the building of world peace, they must be the instrumentalities for making human freedom a working reality. As long as there are despotic, dictatorial police-state governments in the world there will be threats to peace. As long as there are social injustice, lack of educational opportunity, racial subordination, and discrimination, there will be threats to world peace. The problem of world peace has a unity and integrity which we in the academic world have failed to sense. We cannot preserve freedom for ourselves without doing all we can at all times to extend freedom to others. We cannot achieve prosperity for ourselves unless we do all we can to contribute to the prosperity of others. We cannot hope to enjoy uninterrupted liberty at home without honestly seeking liberty for the human spirit in all parts of the world, and we shall never sense this inter-relatedness until we come to understand the true foundation of our free institutions.
Freedom is not a mere accidental human aspiration. It is not only a philosophical conception; it is not only a theory or a hypothesis. On the contrary, free institutions are deeply rooted in the findings of those sciences which throw light on the nature of the human organism and on human behavior. Biology teaches us that all human individuals are different. Each person is unique, and it is out of this uniqueness that all creative power comes. We need a free society, therefore, in an effort to release the greatest creative powers of all individuals and through this release to enhance the achievements of society as a whole. We learn that personal and emotional security is essential to the greatest personal and intellectual growth. Thus respect for personality and for the worth and dignity of the individual has a sound foundation in the findings of science. It is essential that a university education should establish this scientific foundation for human freedom in the mind and heart of the student. With such understandings our citizens will be less vulnerable to propaganda, more effective in the defense of their heritage, and more zealous in the efforts to preserve it.
Our fourth serious error grows out of our tendency to feel that we have achieved the fruits of freedom merely through talking about it. Fourth of July speeches, political convention oratory, and speeches of educational philosophers are examples. We have in fact become so skillful in mouthing the beautiful phrases of our democratic heritage that the mere sound of the words themselves seems somehow to have brought a democratic society into being. In our saner moments we know that nothing is further from the truth, and here we, in the university, must hang our heads in shame. With all our talk about teaching the principles of human freedom and democracy we must openly confess that our universities are not democratic in organization, in administration, or in the conduct of their educational activities or campus affairs.
My own experience in university life is now of sufficient length and in a sufficient number of different institutions that I feel I have some experiential basis for the observations I am about to make. It is my honest conviction that the universities of this country will not become major factors in teaching human freedom and democratic ideals until they begin seriously to practice these ideals in their own organization and administration. Let us, however, be more specific in treating this issue. I refer to such specific and mundane things as the determination of faculty salaries. It is my observation that no single item of expenditure in a university is as difficult to increase as the salary of a professor. One can get money for new buildings, for new equipment, for research, for public relations, yes, for almost anything you can think of before one can get money for improved salaries. I have never read any religious or ethical document which held that increasing a professor's salary is a sin, but when I observe the attitude of university administrators toward salary increases I am almost led to the conclusion that they must view such increases as a dreadful sin. If we really believed in educational democracy, we would see to it that every possible dollar is spent on good faculty salaries in order to bring the finest teaching talent to our students and put our staff members in position to render the very finest and most creative service. My experience is that we operate on almost the direct opposite of this policy.
But it is not only in matters of salary that we are undemocratic. I have now seen successive generations of young men enter academic life with great enthusiasms, high hopes for the future, and commendable consecration to the welfare of their students. I have observed them five or ten years later only to see that they have become cynical, discouraged, embittered, and resigned to the doing of a routine job, the drawing of meager salaries, and the achievement of a tenuous security. It is the most distressing and painful observation of my entire academic experience. Primarily, it grows out of the way in which a university organization functions to restrict the individual in the exercise and development of his creative talent. Here it is not only the presidents and deans who are in error. Department chairmen, full professors, and perhaps even an occasional instructor are at fault.
Excessive regimentation on the part of administrators, on the part of faculty committees, and through faculty regulations plays its part. Here we are, of course, primarily concerned with the impact of the university on the problem of saving our freedom, preserving our democratic heritage, and building a peaceful world. Certainly we shall not achieve these far-flung and difficult objectives through a program of mealy-mouthed utterances concerning the glories of freedom. If we are really serious about teaching these human values, we must see to it that the institutions in which we teach are themselves fine examples of the democratic principles and concepts of freedom we are seeking to teach. As things are, much of what goes on in a university does not teach the student the meaning and glory of freedom, but gives him a cynical notion that freedom is something you talk about but probably never will enjoy.
Clearly we shall not give our college students the understandings of the problems of world peace through a few specialized courses in the social sciences, or through occasional lectures, or through any single pedagogical or curricular device. The meaning of human freedom, the devotion to human values, the understanding of human brotherhood, and the required social effectiveness for the practice of all of these are all too involved, too subtle, too difficult to come by, for any such lick-and-promise treatment. If universities are to be successful in their efforts to preserve human freedom, they must themselves believe in our free institutions. They cannot teach without a great faith.
It is the building of this great faith that is the major task of higher education. The progress made in human freedom to date has been made by those leaders who possess a great faith in the common man and in the processes of a free society. But the problem of building a great faith is not essentially or primarily a verbal undertaking. As human beings we believe in those principles and institutions which, over a period of time, serve mankind by bringing widespread human well-being. If we want our people to believe in democracy, we must make it a working democracy which delivers well-being to the masses of our people.
We tend also to maintain our faith in those principles and processes to which we can ourselves make a contribution. It is hard for an individual to continue to believe in a process that is for him remote, external, and detached. The individual citizen will keep his faith in those processes in which he can participate and to which he can contribute. We must find more ways whereby the average citizen can participate in the affairs of the community. In our universities we must discover more ways in which students can share in the improvement of university life. We must give our students an opportunity to experience the benefits of democracy in the source of their college education.
If freedom is to live, the world needs an honest and forthright America, an America that practices her freedoms at home and defends them abroad. Such an America must have citizens that have deep faith in freedom and a new consecration to human service -- citizens who courageously practice the ethical and moral principles of democracy. Universities will play their proper role in building world peace when they give us a citizenry with these qualities.
Ernest O. Melby
The late Ernest O. Melby was dean of the School of Education at New York University when he gave this talk.
Inside Higher Ed recently reported on four University of Pittsburgh professors critiquing the latest survey suggesting ideological one-sidedness in the academy. According to the Pitt quartet, self-selection accounts for findings that the faculty of elite disproportionately tilts to the Left. "Many conservatives," the Pitt professors mused, "may deliberately choose not to seek employment at top-tier research universities because they object, on philosophical grounds, to one of the fundamental tenets undergirding such institutions: the scientific method."
Imagine the appropriate outrage that would have occurred had the above critique referred to feminists, minorities, or Socialists. Yet the Pitt quartet's line of reasoning -- that faculty ideological imbalance reflects the academy functioning as it should -- has appeared with regularity, and has been, unintentionally, most revealing. Indeed, the very defense offered by the academic Establishment, rather than the statistical surveys themselves, has gone a long way toward proving the case of critics who say that the academy lacks sufficient intellectual diversity.
In theory, ideology should have no bearing on how a professor teaches, say, physics. Even so, should responsible administrators worry that the overwhelming partisan disparity is worthy of further inquiry? And, in theory, parents who make their money in traditionally conservative professions such as investment banking or corporate law probably do not encourage their children to enter academe. Yet, as money-making fields have always been attractive to conservatives, why has the proportion of self-professed liberals or Leftists in the academy nearly doubled in the last generation?
Had members of the academic Establishment confined themselves to such arguments (or had they ignored the partisan-breakdown studies altogether), the intellectual diversity issue would have received little attention. Instead, the last two years have seen proud, often inflammatory, defenses of the professoriate's ideological imbalance. These arguments, which have fallen into three categories, raise grave concerns about the academy's overall direction.
1. The cultural left is, simply, more intelligent than anyone else. As SUNY-Albany's Ron McClamrock reasoned, "Lefties are overrepresented in academia because on average, we're just f-ing smarter." The first recent survey came in early 2004, when the Duke Conservative Union disclosed that Duke's humanities departments contained 142 registered Democrats and 8 registered Republicans. Philosophy Department chairman Robert Brandon considered the results unsurprising: "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire."
In a slightly different vein, UCLA professor John McCumber informed The New York Times that "a successful career in academia, after all, requires willingness to be critical of yourself and to learn from experience," qualities "antithetical to Republicanism as it has recently come to be." In another Times article, Berkeley professor George Lakoff asserted that Leftists predominate in the academy because, "unlike conservatives, they believe in working for the public good and social justice, as well as knowledge and art for their own sake." Again, imagine the appropriate outcry if prominent academics employed such sweeping generalizations to dismiss statistical disparities suggesting underrepresentation of women, gays, or minorities.
These arguments become even more disturbing given the remarkably broad definition of "conservative" employed in many academic quarters. Take the case of Yeshiva University's Ellen Schrecker, recently elected to a term on the AAUP's general council. This past spring, Schrecker denounced Columbia students who wanted to broaden instruction about the Middle East for "trying to impose orthodoxy at this university." The issue, she lamented, amounted to "right wing propaganda."
The leaders of the Columbia student group, who ranged from registered Republicans to backers of Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential bid, were united only in their belief that matters relating to Israel should be treated objectively in the classroom. Probably 98 percent of the U.S. Congress and all of the nation's governors would fit under such a definition of "right wing."
Indeed, it seems as if the academic Establishment considers anyone who does not accept the primacy of a race/class/gender interpretation to be "conservative." To most outside of the academy, such a definition would suggest that professors are using stereotypes to abuse the inherently subjective nature of the hiring process.
2. A left-leaning tilt in the faculty is a pedagogical necessity, because professors must expose gender, racial, and class bias while promoting peace, "diversity" and "cultural competence." According to Montclair State's Grover Furr, "colleges and universities do not need a single additional 'conservative' .... What they do need, and would much benefit from, is more Marxists, radicals, leftists -- all terms conventionally applied to those who fight against exploitation, racism, sexism, and capitalism. We can never have too many of these, just as we can never have too few 'conservatives.'"
Furr's remarks echoed those of Connecticut College's Rhonda Garelick, who decried student "disgruntlement" when she used her French class to discuss her opposition to the war in Iraq and teach "'wakeful' political literacy." Rashid Khalidi, meanwhile, rationalized anti-Israel instruction as necessary to undo the false impressions held by all incoming Columbia students except for "Arab-Americans, who know that the ideas spouted by the major newspapers, television stations, and politicians are completely at odds with everything they know to be true."
To John Burness, Duke’s senior vice president for public affairs, such statements reflect a proper professorial role. The "creativity" in humanities and social science disciplines, he noted, addresses issues of race, class, and gender, leading to a "perfectly logical criticism of the current society" in the classroom.
At some universities, this mindset has even shaped curricular or personnel policies. Though its release generated widespread criticism and hints from administrators that it would not be adopted, a proposal to make "cultural competence" a key factor in all personnel decisions remains the working draft of the University of Oregon's new diversity plan. Columbia recently set aside $15 million for hiring women and minorities -- and white males who would "in some way promote the diversity goals of the university ." And the University of Arizona's hiring blueprint includes requiring new faculty in some disciplines to "conduct research and contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the importance of valuing diversity."
On the curricular front, my own institution's provost, Roberta Matthews (who has written that "teaching is a political act") intends for the college's new general education curriculum to produce "global citizens" -- who, she commented, are those "sensitized to issues of race, class, and gender."
Given such initiatives, it is worth remembering the traditional ideal of a university education: for faculty committed to free intellectual exchange in pursuit of the truth to expose undergraduates to the disciplines of the liberal arts canon, in the expectation that college graduates will possess the wide range of knowledge and skills necessary to function as democratic citizens.
3. A left-leaning professoriate is a structural necessity, because the liberal arts faculty must balance business school faculty and/or the general conservative political culture. University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, denouncing the "ridiculous and pernicious line" that major universities need greater intellectual diversity, complained about insufficient attention to the ideological breakdown of "Business Schools, Medical Schools, [and] Engineering schools." UCLA's Russell Jacoby wondered why " conservatives seem unconcerned about the political orientation of the business professors." Duke Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky more ambitiously claimed that "it's hard to see this as a time of liberal dominance" given conservative control of the three branches of government.
Professional schools reflect the mindset of their professions: Socialists are about as common on business school faculty as are home-schooling advocates among education school professors. But, unlike business schools, liberal arts colleges and universities do not exist to train students for a single profession. Nor are they supposed to balance the existing political culture. If the Democrats reclaim the presidency and Congress in the 2008 elections, should the academy suddenly adopt an anti-liberal posture?
The intellectual diversity issue shows no signs of fading away. Ideological one-sidedness among the professoriate seems to be, if anything, expanding. And so, no doubt, will we see additional surveys suggesting a heavy ideological imbalance among the nation's faculty -- followed by new inflammatory statements from the academic Establishment that only reinforce the critics' claims about bias in the personnel process.
In an ideal world, campus administrators would have rectified this problem long ago. A few have made small steps. Brown University's president, Ruth Simmons, for instance, has expressed concern that the "chilling effect caused by the dominance of certain voices on the spectrum of moral and political thought" might negatively affect a quality education; her university's Political Theory Project represents a model that other institutions could follow.
To my knowledge, however, no academic administration has made the creation of an intellectually and pedagogically diverse faculty its primary goal. This statement, it should be noted, applies equally as well to institutions frequently praised by conservatives, such as Hillsdale College. Such an initiative, of course, would encounter ferocious faculty resistance. But it would also, just as surely, excite parents, donors, and trustees. If successful, an institution that made intellectual diversity its hallmark would encourage imitation -- if only because other colleges would face the free-market pressures of losing talented students and faculty. So, the question becomes, do we have an administration anywhere in the country willing to take up the cause?
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
When people think about a "threat," they tend to imagine a variety of dark scenarios -- from the mugger in the alley who says, “Your money or your life,” to the chilling answering machine message where a faceless person says, "I will kill you.” Threats like those have never been considered "free speech." In fact, true threats are a crime. In general, for a comment to qualify as a true threat, it must cause reasonable people to believe that they are going to be physically harmed.
Unfortunately, many colleges -- eager to ban speech that administrators or students do not like -- have latched onto the "threat” exception of the First Amendment to justify banning speech that is not actually threatening (as the term has been defined by the law) but instead is merely offensive to the listener. Redefining a “threat” as anything that offends is a dangerous game that discredits accusers, underestimates students' ability to cope with ideas they dislike, and trivializes the seriousness of actual threats of violence.
The latest example of this disturbing trend comes from William Paterson University, a public university in New Jersey. Jihad Daniel, a master’s student and university employee, privately responded to a mass e-mail message sent by a professor, Arlene Holpp Scala, announcing a campus showing of Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, a film Scala described as a “lesbian relationship story.” The e-mail provided a link so that recipients could contact Scala. In his response, Daniel, a devout Muslim, wrote, "Do not send me any mail about ‘Connie and Sally’ and ‘Adam and Steve.’ These are perversions. The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned." That is the entirety of his response. All too predictably on the contemporary campus, Scala brought charges against Daniel for making her "feel threatened at [her] place of work." Showing complete disregard of the right to dissent protected under the First Amendment, the university found Daniel guilty of "discrimination" and "harassment."
Scala’s reliance on the claim that she felt “threatened” is especially disturbing. Did she really fear that this 63-year-old man would harm her, just because they disagree about homosexuality? Yes, many people might find Daniels’ opinion offensive, but the expression of a religious opinion is hardly a threat.
Sadly, Daniel’s case is just one example of how threat allegations are abused on campus. For example, Ursula Monaco, a part-time student at Suffolk County Community College, on Long Island, was punished in 2003 for an e-mail message she accidentally sent to her professor in which she referred to the professor as a "cunt." Even though that the e-mail was clearly addressed to someone else and that the First Amendment has no exception for even the c-word, Monaco was found guilty of both “harassment” and “intimidation.”
To clarify, “intimidation” in the legal sense is essentially the same thing as a threat and doesn’t occur any time a person feels intimidated; such a vague and broad standard would devour free speech. According to the Supreme Court, intimidation is “a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.” Did the Suffolk County professor really believe she was in physical danger because of a single profanity uttered by a 55-year-old grandmother? Unlikely. Yet the administration deemed her guilty of "threatening, intimidating," and "harassing" the professor. Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education came to Monaco’s defense. After eight months of corresponding with the college, the administration eventually decided to “suspend” the punishments.
It was clear from the start that Suffolk County’s administration had used the e-mail as a pretext for severely punishing Monaco, who was a student journalist and a persistent critic of the administration. Tellingly, her punishment included being banned from having “any contact with the student newspaper,” and stipulated that she “may not contact the office” of any school paper by “any means, including mail, telephone or e-mail,” that she “may not submit articles” to any college paper, or “propose or suggest an article to anyone associated with a campus newspaper.” She was even banned from “approach[ing] any member of the campus community for the purpose of collecting information with which to write a news article.”
For those familiar with history, there is nothing surprising about people in positions of power using perceived exceptions to free speech to silence vocal critics. In fact, the very predictability that cases like Monaco’s will arise is why we must be careful not to allow legitimate exceptions to free speech, like threats, to grow into amorphous, easily abused concepts.
Students are not the only ones harmed by college administrators’ expansive use of the concept of threats. At the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, a professor, Sandra Bond, was punished by the administration for posting two signs on her office in 2003. One said, "The End is Near," while the other was a K-Mart advertisement for guns and ammunition. The first sign referred to her contract being almost finished and her leaving the university, while she posted the latter because she found K-Mart’s slogan "The Stuff of Life" ironic in an ad for firearms. Bond, who was in her mid-40s -- and who walked with a cane due to multiple sclerosis -- had apparently scared the criminal justice department so badly that she was found guilty of threatening and intimidating the department, and placed on “administrative leave…effective immediately.” They even forbade her from entering her office building without official permission.
Do cases like those at William Patterson, Suffolk and Alaska arise from a pervasive misunderstanding of what "threats" actually mean? The recent case at Washington State University might suggest a more cynical answer. A student, Chris Lee, wrote and produced an intentionally provocative comedy/musical mocking The Passion of the Christ. In the spirit of South Park, the play went out if its way to mock everything from race, to religion, to sexual orientation, to stereotypes themselves. To make sure people knew what they were getting into, the play was widely publicized as being potentially "offensive or inflammatory to all audiences," and identification was checked at the door to prevent those 17 or under from entering.
At the April 21, 2005, performance of the play, approximately 40 student protestors attended. The protestors stopped the play several times with shouts and threats. Unlike those in the cases above, these threats were crystal clear. According to Lee, and a tape of the performance, these threats included, “I kill you,” “You better watch out,” “Get off of there or I’ll mop your fucking head,” “We will get you outside,” and, “We will kill you.” Washington State's security refused Lee’s request to remove the protestors and even told Lee to change the lyrics to one of his songs “to avoid a possible riot or physical harm.” As FIRE wrote at the time, “Washington State security’s obligation was to protect the performance -- not to enforce the will of a mob that it claimed teetered on the brink of violence.”
Surely, Washington State would not tolerate actual unlawful intimidation of a student production. After all, the university had already produced The Vagina Monologues, as well as Tales of the Lost Formicans, which included a depiction of a character masturbating onto an American flag. Certainly, Washington State administrators understood that they must not empower mobs to silence any performances that might offend their sensibilities? Well, they may have understood that, but in this case, they didn’t care. Not only did the president of the university defend the mob’s actions as a “responsible” exercise of their free speech and refuse to reprimand the campus police, but it turns out Washington State actually purchased the tickets for the protestors in the first place!
So in one case a 63-year-old student, and in two others two middle aged women (the taller of the two is 5’4”), are portrayed as placing other adults in mortal terror, while a mob of 40 angry students disrupting a play and shouting death threats is called a “responsible” exercise of free speech!? These kinds of distortions and double standards are all too common on the contemporary campus. The danger posed by the above cases, however, are especially grave. Washington State's reliance on violent mobs to silence social satire is especially chilling and reminiscent of dark chapters in our history. While in cases like Washington State or Suffolk, the administrators seem to fail to understand that by relying on such a loose definition of “threats” they may undermine how seriously the public takes real claims in the future. It may be time for a refresher course in The Boy Who Cried Wolf 101.
Greg Lukianoff and Azhar Majeed
Greg Lukianoff is director of legal and public advocacy of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Azhar Majeed is a second year student at University of Michigan Law School and a summer legal intern for FIRE.
When I heard that advocates of “Intelligent Design” were urging schools to "teach the controversy" between their view and Darwinian evolution, I was dismayed.
About 20 years ago, I coined the phrase “teach the controversy” when I argued that schools and colleges should respond to the then-emerging culture wars over education by bringing their disputes into academic courses themselves. Instead of assuming that we have to resolve debates over, say, whether Huckleberry Finn is a racist text or a stirring critique of racism, teachers should present students with the conflicting arguments and use the debate itself to arouse their interest in the life of the mind. I elaborated the argument in numerous essays and in a 1992 book, Beyond the Culture Wars, which is subtitled, How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education.
So I felt as if my pocket had been picked when the Intelligent Design crowd appropriated my slogan, and even moreso when President Bush endorsed its proposal, saying that "both sides ought to be properly taught" so "people can understand what the debate is about." As a secular left-liberal, I felt that my ideas were being hijacked by the Christian Right as a thinly-veiled pretext for imposing their religious dogma on the schools.
And yet, setting intellectual property questions aside, the more I ponder the matter and read the commentators on both sides, the more I tend to think that a case can be made for teaching the controversy between ID and Darwin.
Not that the sides in this debate are equal, as Bush’s comment suggests. If we judge the issues strictly on their scientific merits, the Intelligent Designers don’t seem to have much of a case. In a lengthy and detailed article in The New Republic (August 22 & 29), the evolutionary scientist Jerry Coyne persuasively shows that the supposed "flaws" in the theory of natural selection that IDers claim to point out simply don’t exist. H. Allen Orr had made a similarly persuasive refutation of ID in The New Yorker (May 30), and these arguments have been further reinforced in articles by Daniel C. Dennett in The New York Times (August 28) and by Coyne again and Richard Dawkins in The Guardian (September 1).
Taken together, these writers make an overwhelming case that Darwinian evolution, if not a total certainty, is as certain as any scientific hypothesis can be. As Coyne puts it, "it makes as little sense to doubt the factuality of evolution as to doubt the factuality of gravity." From a strictly scientific standpoint, there seems to be no real "controversy" here that's worth teaching, just a bogus one that the IDers have fabricated to paper over the absence of evidence in their critique of evolutionary science.
And this would indeed be the end of the story if the truth or validity of an idea were the sole thing to consider in deciding whether it is worth presenting to students. But when we measure the pedagogical merits of an idea, its usefulness in clarifying an issue or provoking students -- and teachers -- to think can be as important as its truth or validity. In some cases even false or dubious notions can have heuristic value.
This point has been grasped by several commentators unconnected with the Christian Right who defend the teaching of the controversy. In a column of June 2000, before ID had become prominent in the news, Richard Rothstein, then The New York Times education columnist, proposed that students be exposed to the debate between creationism and evolution. And in a piece on the controversy earlier this year in Slate, Christopher Hitchens, asks, “Why not make schoolchildren study the history of the argument? It would show them how to weigh and balance evidence, and it would remind them of the scarcely believable idiocy of the ancestors of 'intelligent design.'"
Hitchens’ argument has been challenged by the editors of The New Republic, who caustically retort that getting kids to weigh and balance evidence is not exactly “what Bush -- or IDers -- want at all.” What they want "instead is to teach ID as a substantive scientific argument. If anything, what Bush is calling for is anti-historical, the exact opposite of what Hitchens praises." This is true, but so what? Hitchens doesn’t claim that his argument is one the IDers themselves would make, but only that students would learn something important about how to think from the kind of debate the IDers propose.
Secular liberals will object that Hitchens is overly confident that the good guys would win if the debate were aired in schools. In his scenario, the students would see the "idiocy" of ID’s ancestors and also presumably of its current advocates. What secular liberals fear, however, is that in many classrooms the scientific truth would be overwhelmed by dogma and prejudice.
Behind such fear -- and behind the liberal secularist objections to teaching the debate -- one senses the shellshock and impotence of the Blue-state Left in the wake of the 2004 election, and the worry that the Left will only lose again if it allows itself to be suckered into debating "values" with the religious Right on its own terms. This worry is deepened by the feeling that American public debate is not a level playing field, but an arena in which conservative money and Fox News control the agenda.
Though I share these fears, there seems to me a certain failure of nerve here on the part of the Left. After all, if evolution and intelligent design were debated in academic courses, the religious Right would have the same risk of losing as the liberal secularists -- maybe greater risk, if Hitchens is correct. In any case, it’s not clear that one wins a battle of beliefs by hunkering down, circling the wagons, and refusing to engage the other side. And if the Right has more money and media clout with which to shape such a debate, that may be all the more reason to enter the debate: if you don’t have money and media clout, arguments are your best bet.
Seen this way, the anti-evolution assaults of the Intelligent Designers and the creationist Right could be viewed less as a threat than an opportunity. This moral is suggested by a recent news story in The New York Times that reports that museum staffs that are being challenged by religious patrons to explain why they should believe in evolution “are brushing up on their Darwin and thinking on their feet” (September 20, 2005). One museum has developed training sessions for staff members “on ways to deal with visitors who reject settled precepts of science on religious grounds.”
What is most interesting in the article, and most germane to the recent debate, is the suggestion, reflected in quoted statements by museum people, that though this religious rejection of science may be misguided, it needs to be listened to and answered rather than ignored or dismissed, and that being forced to defend evolution can actually be a good thing. The implication is that it’s not unreasonable for patrons to press museum people to explain the grounds on which evolutionary science is more credible than ID or creationism. As one director of a paleontological research institution puts it, "Just telling" such patrons "they are wrong is not going to be effective." As another museum staffer advises docents, "it's your job not to slam the door in the face of a believer," and another says, "your job is ... to explain your point of view, but respect theirs."
Arguably, this is precisely the job of teachers as well, though admittedly museums serve different functions than educational institutions. If the goal of education is to get students to think, then just telling students their doubts about Darwin are wrong is not going to be effective. And teachers being forced to engage their religious critics and explain why they believe in evolution might be a healthy thing for those teachers just as it seems to be for museum workers. In fact, I would like to ask Coyne, Dennett, Orr, and others who have written so cogently in defense of evolution if they don’t feel just a tiny bit grateful to the IDers for pushing them to think harder about -- and explain to a wider audience -- how they know what they know about evolution.
Scientists like Coyne and Dawkins concede that debate should indeed be central to science instruction, but they hold that such debate should be between accredited hypotheses within science, not between scientists and creationist poseurs. That's hard to dispute, but, like Rothstein and Hitchens, I can at least imagine a classroom debate between creationism and evolution that might be just the thing to wake up the many students who now snooze through science courses. Such students might come away from such a debate with a sharper understanding of the grounds on which established science rests, something that even science majors and advanced graduate students now don’t often get from conventional science instruction.
How might such a debate be taught? Ideally in a way that would not become fixated on the clash of faith and science, which might quickly produce an unedifying stalemate, but would open out into broader matters such as the history of conflicts between science and religion and the question of how we determine when something qualifies as "science." At the broadest level, the discussion could address whether the ID-evolution debate is a smoke screen for the larger political and cultural conflict between Red and Blue states. Representing such a many-sided debate would demand the collaboration of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, a collaboration that could make a now disconnected curriculum more coherent. Such a collaboration would also answer the scientists’ objection that there just isn’t time to debate these issues, given everything else they have to cover. Then, too, explaining how we know what we know against skeptical questioning is not an add-on, but an intrinsic part of teaching any subject.
In any case, science instructors may soon have no choice but to address the controversy posed by ID and creationism. If many American students now bring faith-based skepticism about evolution with them into classrooms, as it seems they do, then there’s a sense in which the controversy has already penetrated the classroom, just as it has penetrated museums, whether ID or creationism is formally represented in the syllabus or not. Schools and colleges may not be teaching the controversy between faith and science, but it’s there in the classroom anyway insofar as it’s on some students’ minds. Teachers can act as if their students’ doubts about evolution don’t exist, but pretending that your students share your beliefs when you know they don’t is a notorious prescription for bad teaching.
Gerald Graff is a professor of English and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (W. W. Norton, 1992) and Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2003).
If intelligent design gets taught in the college classroom, here are some other propositions we can look forward to:
Was Shakespeare the author of all those plays? Competing theories suggest that the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, or even Queen Elizabeth herself penned those immortal lines. You be the judge. Henceforth, the prefaces to all those editions by “William Shakespeare” should be rewritten to give equal time to the alternate-authorship idea.
Does oxygen actually support that flickering candle flame, or is an invisible, weightless substance called phlogiston at work? First suggested by J. J. Becher near the end of the 17th century, the existence of phlogiston was eventually pooh-poohed by supporters of the oxygen hypothesis, but, as they say in the legal profession, the jury’s still out on this one.
Drop a candy bar on the sidewalk, and come back to find ants swarming all over it. Or put a piece of rotten meat in a cup and later find maggots in it, having come out of nowhere! This is called spontaneous generation. Biologists eventually decided that airborne spores, like little men from parachutes, wafted onto the food and set up shop there, but does that make any sense to you?
In the morning, the sun rises over the tree line, and by noon it’s directly overhead. At night, as the popular song has it, “I hate to see that evening sun go down.” Then why do so many people think that the earth moves instead of the sun? Could this be a grand conspiracy coincident with the rise of that Italian renegade Galileo, four centuries ago? Go out and look at the sunset! As they say, seeing is believing.
Proper grammar, the correct way of speaking, the expository essay model -- how rigid and prescriptive! There are as many ways to talk as there are people on this good, green earth, and language is a living organism. Or like jazz, an endless symphony of improvisation. No speech is wrong, just different, and anyone who says otherwise is just showing an ugly bias that supports white hegemony.
“History is bunk,” declared the famous industrialist and great American Henry Ford. All those names and dates -- why learn any of that when not even the so-called experts can agree on exactly what happened? Besides, most of those historical figures are dead by now, so what’s the point? From now on, all history departments must issue disclaimers, and anything presented as a narrative will be taught in the creative writing program.
Speaking of which, creative writing itself has long been controlled by a bunch of poets and fiction writers who determine who wins what in the world of letters. But who really knows whether the latest Nobel Prize winner is any better than, say, that last Tom Clancy novel you read. It all boils down to a matter of taste, doesn’t it?
Or what about that "Shakespeare"? Was he/she/it really any better than the Farrelly brothers? Let’s all take a vote on this, okay?
David Galef is a professor of English and administrator of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His latest book is the short story collection Laugh Track (2002).
When ideas are merely bad, it is often best to ignore them. But when bad ideas are also dangerous and based on fallacious assumptions, and when they set up convenient straw men rather than dealing with the real problems, it is better to speak up against them. You appear to be deeply concerned about the type of education that hard-working college students receive, and you claim to be concerned about the "debasement" of higher education. In this we are in complete agreement.
With tuitions increasing at alarming rates; with federal research funding for higher education leveling off and in serious danger of decreasing due to a ballooning federal deficit; and with the value of humanistic inquiry and critical analysis needed as much now as at any other moment in history, we all ought to be actively fighting the debasement of education in the United States.
But the solution you offer is not centrally concerned with such trifling matters. Your solution is to pay students to tape or transcribe their professors’ lectures and provide you with other documentation of ideological “intrusions” into the classroom in order to help you gather momentum in the political sphere to impose restrictions on academic speech. There are several fundamental errors in your logic, and I would like to take this opportunity to address only the most egregious ones.
You claim to be most interested in providing students with a proper educational experience untainted by professors’ ideological intrusions, but in order to achieve this, you then ask the students to impose on their own educational experience by taking the time and energy to provide you with detailed information that you hope to use as evidence in support of your arguments about, as you say, “ideological issue[s] that have nothing to do with the class subject matter.” Can you explain how a student taking notes on other students’ reactions to statements made by their instructor, or taking particular care to transcribe an instructor’s “non-pertinent ideological comments” is not being diverted from the true matter of the class?
If your real concern is with burning away anything from the course that could be considered extraneous to the subject matter, one has to wonder why you think that paying students to perform tasks aside from their own reading, attendance, writing, studying, and participation would not also be a diversion from the true purpose of their class time. Because, as you argue, your “standards” for accepting evidence of radical proselytization are so exacting, “[t]he fees paid to students are truly nominal compensation for the extra work we demand.” This is particularly confusing. Is it the case that you are not interested solely in providing students with detailed information about which petitions a given professor signed, but with using these overworked and underpaid students as cheap labor for your own ideological ends?
Many students struggle daily to pay their way through college. In addition to the unpaid labor of their work as students, many of them work in demanding, low-paying jobs that are often insufficient to cover their expenses, even though many of them sacrifice precious study time, a social life, and even their own physical and mental health in order to attend college. I made similar sacrifices as a student, scrambling to keep up with my studies while also being concerned with how I was going to afford groceries each week. Your plan to dangle money in front of impoverished students is akin to the credit card companies that provide free pizza or T-shirts to those same students for filling out an application. In both cases, the parties that will benefit most from such transactions are not the students themselves, but those who have exploited their poverty for their own ends. Your offer reeks of opportunism. At the same time, you offer a crass material incentive for students to perform activities that they may not have had any interest in performing had they not been promised cash for their efforts. This approach sends a message to students that the relationship they ought to cultivate between themselves and their instructors is one based on surveillance, distrust, and economic gain rather than one based on dialogue and debate.
I will not deny that the power structure of the classroom can favor the instructor. The instructor is the person primarily responsible for the content and direction of the course as well as the grading of student work. The instructor is in many ways the person most likely to be heard in the classroom. But you imply a significant lack of agency on the part of students, when in fact they have at their disposal a myriad of resources. If they have legitimate problems with elements of the course that might be construed as “ideological,” as you are fond of saying, they can file complaints to course directors, deans, and chairs; write critical course evaluations (whether official college forms or the various online forums); offer helpful warnings to friends and neighbors; provide challenges and criticism in the classroom itself; and on and on.
Would I be wrong to assume that you or other acquaintances of yours have been subjected to what you characterize as ideological proselytizing in the classroom? If so, how do you explain the fact that you managed to emerge from the class without succumbing to the professor’s political propaganda? You should consider the possibility that you just might have a mind of your own, and that the same could hold true for other students. Of course, if this is true, then students are not the helpless victims you make them out to be in your many anecdotes, but in fact already possess sufficiency agency and power to deal with problems in the classroom. But admitting this would compel you to recognize yet another significant hole in your arguments and prevent you from using a convenient fiction about student/instructor relations to advance your own ideological goals.
Or perhaps you do recognize that students are not mere empty vessels, and that the real complaint is not with the particular political views you document in such lavish detail, but is simply a practical one: class time is limited and there is much to learn about the French Revolution or Baroque architecture, so kindly spare us your personal opinions of U.S. foreign policy. But this isn’t quite your complaint either, because it is not really the simple fact of “talking about” the war in Iraq or “any other ideological issue” that you believe has no bearing on the legitimate subject matter of a course that so concerns you. Rather, it is only criticism of President Bush’s policies or the war in Iraq (to name but two of your examples) that compels you to castigate professors for their views. In the elaborate profiles you have produced, I find no stinging indictments of professors who dared to say something laudatory about those same subjects when they should have been lecturing on anthropology, law, or Germanic languages.
Since you say your concern is with the deviation from the “true subject matter,” perhaps we can expect similar efforts on your part to expose such dangerous expressions once you have finished scouring the Internet for names of people who signed petitions that you, coincidentally, would never sign. As your project gathers steam, I look forward to reading the accounts of professors who interrupted their lectures on Stoic philosophy or South American history (or perhaps more likely their lectures on business strategy or advanced economics) to interject their criticisms of Michael Moore’s voiceover techniques or Noam Chomsky’s obsessive interest in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It will be useful to know which professors have a penchant for praising the incisive commentary of Bill O’Reilly or the profound wisdom of U.S. reliance on extraordinary rendition and the torture of prisoners. Better yet, in order to relieve our hapless students of distractions and restore higher education to its vaunted purpose of delivering content, we also ought to expose those instructors who cannot help but burden their students with endless anecdotes about their family dogs. Surely there are cat-loving or pet-hating students in the audience who must be rescued from such blatant pro-canine ideological claptrap.
In addition to the dissemination and memorization of names, dates, and key ideas, the true subject matter of the college classroom includes the cultivation of an environment of open discussion, critical analysis, and intellectual inquiry that lends higher humanistic education its particular value. You seem to recognize this when, in one of your articles, you fault certain instructors for intellectual partisanship. Your main complaint here, however, is that such an approach does not give equal time to competing viewpoints. So is it the intrusion of anything you consider extraneous that is the real problem, or the fact that there isn’t enough space devoted to the other sides of an issue?
Here is where the disingenuous nature of your rhetoric manifests itself most clearly, for your real complaint is neither of these. If you were in fact concerned with eliminating extraneous ideological viewpoints from the classroom, how could you also want more space devoted to competing views on those same subjects? This would mean these competing views would also be a distraction from the “true” subject matter, or it would mean that the original views expressed by the professor do in fact connect to the matter at hand. As it turns out, your general complaint is not that these ideological views cut into class time or that they are not situated alongside contrary perspectives, but that the particular views being expressed are radically different from those you or your supporters endorse. By virtue of that fact alone, such ideological intrusions are worthy of opprobrium.
I cannot remember the last time I proselytized (according to your definition) in class, if I ever did; nor have I found it necessary to offer a disquisition on any of the particular subjects you consider off-limits or ideologically suspect, but this has nothing to do with the fact that I think your entire approach is wrong. In fact, all of what I have said thus far is really only a relatively minor criticism of your ideas, the faulty assumptions behind them, and the dangers inherent in your approach to solving this perceived problem. In the end, the greatest weakness in your investigative project is that your own ideological investment in curtailing academic freedom to express views you disagree with has blinded you to a whole set of profound crises that are in fact debasing higher education and shortchanging generations of hard-working students.
While you target professors whose political views conflict with your own and attempt to paint a shocking portrait of the corrupt ideologies that are eating away at the very foundations of higher learning, you ignore the legitimate problems most students face and instead direct your energies toward the worst sort of partisan whining and straw-man argumentation. If you were genuinely interested in preventing students from receiving a “debased education,” you might want to devote some of your estimable energies to dealing with the following crises in education: the increasing burden of debt being carried by students; the skyrocketing costs of attending college (from tuition increases to the lack of affordable housing); restrictive immigration policies that prevent many excellent international students from attending American universities; the corporate takeover of the university; and so much more. In order for me to continue to talk about these issues, however, I may find it necessary to mention something other than Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, or the assorted subjects you are willing to grant me license to discuss. If I do, perhaps I can monitor myself, and provide you with all the materials you need to add another profile to your archive. For the sake of convenience, please make the check out to “Cash.”
Brian Thill is completing his Ph.D. in English at the University of California at Irvine.
The cure for bad information is better information.
There’s a lot of unhappiness among college faculty members about RateMyProfessors.com, a Web site containing student ratings of professors. Many college students use it to help pick their classes. Unfortunately, the site’s evaluations are usually drawn from a small and biased sample of students. But since students usually don’t have access to higher-quality data, the students are rational to use RateMyProfessors.com. Colleges, however, should eliminate students’ reliance on RateMyProfessors.com by publishing college-administered student evaluations.
Bad information flourishes when good information is suppressed. RateMyProfessors.com allows students to label a professor as “hot,” gives prominence to how easy a professor is and allows students to publish obnoxious and irrelevant comments about their teachers. When colleges withhold their own internally administered student evaluations from students, they have the effect of colleges' boosting the importance of RateMyProfessors.com.
That’s not to say that student evaluations of professors are perfect; far from it. Students sometimes punish professors for being tough graders, for assigning relatively large amounts of work or even for wearing unfashionable clothes. So it’s not illogical for some colleges to prefer that students not see evaluations of professors. RateMyProfessors.com, however, has eliminated this option.
Most colleges already administer high-quality student evaluations of professors and they should release these data so students could make more intelligent class choices.
Not publishing college-administered evaluations might be unfair to many professors. For example, a student wishing to damage her untenured professor’s career might do more harm through posting a negative review on RateMyProfessors.com than by giving her professor bad marks on the official college-administered student evaluations. RateMyProfessors.com has only a few evaluations for many professors. On this Web site, therefore, one student can have a huge impact on a professor’s averages.
True, colleges will almost certainly ignore RateMyProfessors.com when making promotion decisions, . But many college promotion committees do take into account how many students a professor attracts to his classes. So a disgruntled student who uses RateMyProfessors.com to reduce a professor’s enrollments might end up playing an oversized role in his teacher’s promotion prospects.
Some adjunct professors would benefit from the publication of high quality student evaluations. If college search committees could easily obtain the student evaluations of adjuncts working in their city, they would be more likely to recruit those with stellar marks. In a well functioning market, teaching-star adjuncts would make more than average quality full professors. But markets only pay for quality if that quality is observable by many potential employers.
Publishing high-quality student evaluations might improve college teaching. Professors care greatly about their reputations. Just imagine how much less time most tenured professors would spend on research if all academic articles had to be published anonymously. Tenured professors usually have little financial incentive to satisfy their customers. Perhaps if colleges published high-quality student evaluations, professors would put more effort into obtaining good teaching reputations.
The current generation of college students consults customer reviews before buying books, seeing movies or downloading music. We should expect and perhaps even encourage them to also use customer reviews when picking classes. And students care so much about obtaining reviews of their potential professors that they are willing to turn to an obviously flawed rating service. Colleges should therefore allow students to see the official evaluations that the students fill out and ultimately pay for.
James D. Miller
James D. Miller is an associate professor of economics at Smith College.