Academic Bill of Rights/David Horowitz

Donald Trump is right to want to repeal the Johnson Amendment (essay)

Donald Trump is right.

As the author of a book that denounces Donald Trump as a corrupt, sexist, racist, lying, stupid conspiracy nut, it is not easy for me to say that. But sometimes Trump can inadvertently stumble into the right position when he’s busy appeasing a political constituency. And that’s the case with Trump’s approach to political speech by nonprofit groups.

In 1954, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, worried in the era of McCarthyism that nonprofit organizations might be used to attack his re-election campaign, added a legislative amendment strictly banning 501(c)(3) organizations from supporting or opposing political candidates. For many years, conservative Christian activists have called for repealing the Johnson Amendment, and Trump became their crusader, announcing during the 2016 campaign, “I am going to work like hell to get rid of that prohibition and we are going to have the strongest Christian lobby …” On Feb. 2, President Trump participated in the National Prayer Breakfast, where he reiterated his campaign promise: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.”

Trump is no defender of free speech. To the contrary, he is one of the greatest enemies of civil liberties ever elected president in modern times. I devote a chapter in my book to Trump’s support for repression, including his proposed ban on Muslims (now accompanied by “extreme vetting” of political views), his statements advocating for the torture of enemy prisoners and even the murder of their families, and his calls to dramatically loosen libel law in order to attack freedom of the press. Trump wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment for the very same reason that LBJ passed it: to serve his political interests. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

The Johnson Amendment has a severe impact on political speech. Earlier this year, when I was helping to organize one of the Writers Resist events held nationwide the week before Trump’s inauguration, I encountered that kind of fear from the national organizers of the movement: “We urge local organizers and speakers to avoid using the names of politicians or adopting ‘anti-’ language as the focus for their Writers Resist event. It’s important to ensure that nonprofit organizations, which are prohibited from political campaigning, will feel confident participating in and sponsoring these events.” When the Johnson Amendment can scare the politics out of an event that focused on speaking out against Trump’s policies, it shows how powerful this law is -- and how destructive.

That is especially true on college campuses, where administrators are willing to violate the free speech of their students and faculty out of a misunderstanding of the Johnson Amendment. Invoking 501(c)(3)s has become the leading slogan for justifying censorship on campuses, despite numerous IRS and court rulings to the contrary. The Johnson Amendment is perhaps the most common justification for censoring political speech on college campuses.

After some colleges banned Michael Moore and other speakers with political opinions during the 2004 election, the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure in 2005 issued a statement on “Academic Freedom and Outside Speakers” that warned that because of “the danger that a group’s invitation might violate Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, college and university administrators have displayed an increasing tendency to cancel or to withdraw funding for otherwise legitimate invitations to noncampus speakers.”

Yet the repression has continued. In 2008, the University of Illinois told faculty and staff members that they could not wear political buttons on campus or even put a partisan bumper sticker on their car if it was parked in a campus lot. The College of St. Catherine that year disinvited a series of political speakers.

Every election year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education issues a statement explaining to colleges why 501(c)(3) regulations cannot justify censorship, and every election they deal with colleges trying to suppress political speech in the name of appeasing the IRS. In 2016, American University refused official recognition of Students for Rand (but reversed its error), while Georgetown Law prohibited students supporting Bernie Sanders from tabling on the campus.

DePaul University in 2016 warned students that because it is a 501(c)(3) organization, the college must ban all “partisan political fliers, posters, signs or images on the university bulletin board, buildings, electronic message boards, forums or sidewalks.”

Even public universities are affected by the paranoia over political speech, since virtually all public colleges have nonprofit foundations. Recently, a University of South Alabama student was ordered to remove a Trump/Pence sign in his dorm window, which the administration claimed was forbidden due to 501(c)(3) regulations.

In 2017, Stanford University administrators initially banned law professor Michele Landis Dauber from using a photo of Donald Trump on a flier promoting a conference on sexual assault that was held on May 1-2, even after Dauber said she offered to remove Stanford’s name and pay for the fliers herself. An associate dean emailed Dauber, saying, “We have been clear since January that these Access Hollywood images could give the appearance of partisanship, and since the event is [a law school] event, they shouldn’t be used in the marketing of the event. This is per university policy.”

According to FIRE, “One of the most common reasons colleges give for censoring political speech is that their status as a tax-exempt nonprofit requires them to remain politically neutral.” FIRE has noted, “Despite the existing IRS guidance, many colleges and universities take an overly cautious, overly restrictive approach to Section 501(c)(3) compliance, severely limiting or banning student partisan speech on campus or interpreting the use of any university resource by a student or student group as implicating the university in the activity.”

The act of banning a particular political activity, in fact, is far more likely to be a violation of 501(c)(3) regulations, because it involves administrative action to benefit or harm a particular political candidate.

None of the arguments on behalf of the Johnson Amendment are persuasive. LaShawn Y. Warren, vice president of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, has argued in defense of the Johnson Amendment, claiming that its repeal would “have a corrosive effect on the sanctity and purity of faith leaders’ messages.” I have never believed in nor cared about the alleged purity of churches kept “free” from politics. I certainly don’t think that government tax officials should be the ones enforcing “sanctity” on our preachers. Warren also wrote, “The elimination of the Johnson Amendment would create a substantial loophole in campaign finance law that could be exploited by those seeking to influence faith leaders and faith communities.”

The leading bills to repeal the Johnson Amendment are well written and narrowly tailored. HR 781 and S 264, the Free Speech Fairness Act of 2017, would protect all nonprofit groups (religious and otherwise) from punishment for “the content of any statement that: (1) is made in the ordinary course of the organization’s regular and customary activities in carrying out its exempt purpose, and (2) results in the organization incurring not more than de minimis incremental expenses.” This is a wise and essential change to the Johnson Amendment, one that would prevent nonprofit groups from being used as a front for campaign cash while allowing individuals at nonprofits to participate in political dialogue.

There are serious abuses of the nonprofit code for political purposes, when politicians control nonprofit groups and use them purely as tools to advance their political ambitions. Donald Trump used his now-defunct foundation to benefit himself for many years, buying not just paintings of himself but, according to some reports, even apparently paying for his son’s Boy Scout registration out of the foundation’s funds.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump regularly handed out checks from his foundation to charities at his rallies. Trump also gave $150,000 to the American Conservative Union Foundation to help secure prime speaking opportunities at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which aided his presidential ambitions.

But the Johnson Amendment does nothing to stop these illicit abuses, while silencing free speech at institutions with 501(c)(3) status (which now include virtually every public as well as private college in the country).

Will repeal of the Johnson Amendment cause conservative Christian groups to gain more influence over our political system? I don’t know, and I don’t care. If changing the Johnson Amendment can enhance everyone’s freedom to speak out, then it will be a good thing regardless of which ideological position gains the most votes.

However, there are two solid reasons why progressives should embrace changes to the Johnson Amendment. The Trump administration now controls the executive branch, and the potential power to use the IRS against its enemies. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 28 percent of black Protestants heard their clergy speak in favor of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, while only 4 percent of white evangelicals heard their clergy speak in favor of a presidential candidate (split between Clinton and Trump).

The best argument for repealing the Johnson Amendment is Trump himself: because he is a petty, vindictive, unprincipled president, it would surprise no one if Trump ordered the IRS to punish his political enemies by striking out against nonprofit organizations who dared to criticize his actions. Progressives need to join in the repeal of the Johnson Amendment for their own self-protection against the Trump Administration.

In his best-selling book Big Agenda, influential Trump supporter David Horowitz argues that conservatives “must begin every confrontation by punching progressives in the mouth.” Horowitz, who once proposed the Academic Bill of Rights to silence political speech by professors, calls upon Republicans to punch at left-wing nonprofit groups: “Why haven’t Republicans done something about this monstrous advantage provided to the left by the current tax code to shape what government does and does not do?”

Recently, the National Association of Scholars issued a call for censorship of civic engagement programs at colleges, and recommended that citizens “sue their host universities for each and every political act they commit. Lawsuits, and the threat of lawsuits, may actually prod academic administrators to shut down New Civics programs.”

On May 4, Trump signed an executive order declaring, “the secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective …”

This terrible executive order gives religious people special privileges under the law to engage in political expression forbidden to all others with different motives. Granting exemption from the law only for having a “religious perspective” discriminates against anyone with moral or political views that do not stem from a religious ideology.

But Trump’s discriminatory executive order makes it even more important for progressives to embrace a legislative modification of the Johnson Amendment that applies to all nonprofit groups, and helps end the wave of censorship in the name of tax law that pervades college campuses.

When it comes to repealing the Johnson Amendment, Trump and his allies are self-interested, partisan hypocrites, but this should not blind us to that surprising fact: Donald Trump is right.

John K. Wilson is the author of eight books, including President Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire (OR Books).

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Liberal academics should sign up for the Professor Watchlist (essay)

I read with great concern the Nov. 30, 2016, article on the opinion page of The New York Times by George Yancy about his being placed on something called the Professor Watchlist. I rushed to the website for the list, which was created by a group called Turning Point USA for the purpose of identifying college professors who oppose “the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.”

My concern turned to shock as I discovered that only one professor from my large, public, Northeastern research university was on the list. So I immediately filled out the form on the website in order to report that my name should be added to it.

I figured that I should be the one to turn myself in for CRT -- counterreactionary thought. While I’m not sure what I teach can be called “leftist propaganda,” I must certainly be guilty of harboring such ideas, having worked not just in academe but also in government -- and for many of those years overseas.

To help other educators to bring themselves into line with the new political reality that has descended on the land, here are some suggestions:

  • Use all administrative gatherings, such as department meetings and Faculty Senate committees, to publicly confess your own inclinations toward CRT. These occasions can also be used to denounce others whom you suspect have committed CRT.
  • Form a committee to be on the watch for such utterances wherever they may occur.
  • Form another committee to read all emails and monitor all phone calls for CRT.
  • Form a third committee to criticize the failure of the first two committees to find enough names to add to the list.

At the institutional level, your university should rebrand itself as a charter school. Under the new U.S. Department of Re-education, no federal funds will be forthcoming unless you do. You should also eliminate all courses that are not part of the STEM disciplines. The purpose of a higher education is, after all, only to grease the wheels of capitalism. Social sciences, humanities and the arts are therefore unnecessary and can only lead to deviant ideas.

Debates on the campus should be limited to exchanges of phrases from the soon-to-be-issued little orange book that all will be required to carry. It will be full of sage advice and sayings like “no profit too big, no government too small.”

And lastly, go to the Turning Point USA website and turn yourself in. If you are in academe, you are guilty of thought and therefore have committed CRT.

Dennis Jett, a former career diplomat, is a professor of international affairs at a large public research university in the Northeast.

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The 'Post-Partisan' University

Public criticism of higher education continues to gather momentum; the primary issues are cost, quality and political bias. The objective evidence regarding high and rising cost is compelling and the body of evidence suggesting a secular decline in quality is also growing.

The political bias issue is more controversial, although it is nonetheless important. Bias is an existential threat to higher education’s central mission (scholarship and instruction). If society cannot trust the academy to produce nonpartisan scholarship and instruction, why should it support higher education? Financial support is always dependent on the public's perception with respect to our value added. There is no escaping that rude fact. In an era of compromised economic prospects and rising global competition, these are not issues that can be ignored without consequence.

In our contacts with students, we learn to read their responses to questions about performance; you either learn this or you will be manipulated by students. When I ask students about their performance, there are some responses that always make me suspicious; an aggressively defensive or indignant response, for example, suggests the student is in denial or is hiding something. If the student admits deficiencies, recognizes an absence of effort or a problem comprehending, this is a good indicator of sincerity. If the student follows through with remedial action, the results generally improve.

Is the academy’s collective response to questions about cost, quality, and bias constructive? Do we appear willing to objectively consider the issues and to reform where necessary?

Based on our actual record, one could reasonably conclude that the academy is not “cursed with self-awareness.” We are uncomfortable with introspection and actively discourage inconvenient questions. When teaching loads or class sizes are discussed, faculty members studiously avoid the cost question, preferring to focus on how reduced loads and smaller classes will improve quality. No attempt is made to balance the very real higher costs with the intangible improvements in quality. Worse still, we make no effort to study the outcome after teaching loads or class sizes are reduced; did we really improve quality? It is hard to escape the conclusion that we really do not want to know the answer to that question.

There is cause for hope, however; some insiders are asking the right questions. Unfortunately, these brave souls are at risk of being shouted down by those who believe all the issues are either bogus or a political agenda. For example, a prominent University of Virginia social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, is asking very important questions about his discipline. He documents the absence of conservatives in his profession and explores what that absence means for the quality of research and the professions’ credibility with the general public, where conservatives out number liberals two to one. In the end, he calls for a “post-partisan social psychology” and affirmative action for conservatives in social psychology.

By making this stand, Haidt is taking a professional risk for the sake of improving both research and teaching. Since he is a committed liberal and is going outside his own comfort zone to take on this politically incorrect topic, he is to be respected.

According to Haidt, the damage done to the social psychology profession is through the creation of a “tribal moral community” that leads its members to be “blind to any ideas or findings that threaten our sacred values.” He also notes that tribal moral communities create inhospitable environments for those who do not share the tribe’s sacred values. It is worth pausing for a moment to consider how at odds that is with the values expressed by scholars and diversity advocates alike. It also explains why campus diversity programs rarely concern themselves with intellectual diversity; the people who control those programs are committed members of the tribal moral community who believe alternative intellectual perspectives have little diversity value.

In order to illustrate why tribal moral communities obstruct research, Haidt revisits the firing of Larry Summers as Harvard’s president. During an academic conference on the chronic problem of female underrepresentation among math and science faculty at the elite research universities, Larry Summers suggested the disparity might be explained by the greater variance in male IQ scores than in female IQ scores. Summers’ point is that the higher variance means there are more men in the upper tail of the distribution than there are women (it also means there are more men in the lower tail of the distribution). Despite the fact that this hypothesis needs to be tested, the event launched the movement that led to his firing. Haidt says social psychologists should be most “outraged by the outrage” over Summers’ comment and very supportive of testing the hypothesis.

Haidt’s work has significant implications for academic culture and is a defining moment for all of higher education. It comes from a scholar in the right discipline to explore the inherent conflict between tribal moral communities and higher education’s mission: scholarship, and teaching. Tribal moral communities obstruct research and they easily turn education into indoctrination. Furthermore, they explain why higher education stubbornly refuses to reform.

The well-established tribal moral communities on campus create very high costs, both in the literal and figurative sense. We spend insufficient time and effort asking difficult questions about cost, quality and bias. When these questions are raised, some people become very angry and indignant, even enraged that a member of the campus community could suggest there might be a problem. Anger and indignation are aggressive defenses; they suggest the angry person cannot support his or her position with evidence or carefully reasoned argument; it is an unambiguous red flag. Anger, indignation and character attacks are used to enforce adherence to “sacred values” and for that reason they have no place in a community of scholars.

We are very gifted in the art of analyzing the behavior and motivations of other groups and institutions. Furthermore, we are intensely trained in the tools used to conduct complex inquiry; yet, we rarely bring those tools to bear on our own activities. As a consequence, our costs grow out of control, quality declines, and we become progressively more defensive. These are not behavioral modes with survival value in a technocratic society.

An important part of the academy’s “sacred value” set is the conviction that academy members are not subject to the same failings that plague the rest of humanity. It is a belief in “academic exceptionalism,” if you will. Members of the academy who served elsewhere in society, such as the military, government, and/or corporations, know this is simply not true; people are basically the same wherever they serve. The academic exceptionalism assumption leads to insufficient protection against the pursuit of self-interest, which causes the pervasive principal/agent problem.

The principal/agent problem always means that costs are higher than necessary. It also means some people do not carry their share of the load. Ironically, the worst example of economic exploitation in our capitalist economy occurs in higher education (a decidedly non-capitalist institution), where adjunct faculty members are employed at will, carry a disproportionate teaching load, are paid very little, and have few benefits; they are truly the modern “reserve army of the underemployed.” This is why “accountability” is a legitimate public concern.

Someone totally unfamiliar with our academic culture would assume that a “community of scholars” pays close attention to the quality of its intellectual climate. They would be surprised to learn that that subject is taboo. Try raising this issue on your campus. Make a careful intellectual argument for a post-partisan university. Explain how an ideology free zone is most conducive to controlling bias in research and teaching, or how it teaches true critical thinking skills, rather than the sophomoric notion that “critical thinking” means saying harsh things about other people’s character and motivation.

Fearless and totally honest introspection leads to self-improvement and, after all, self-improvement is why we committed ourselves to a lifetime of study. Imagine what kind of working environment you would find in a post-partisan university.

Author/s: 
Robert Martin
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Robert Martin is emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College and author of The College Cost Disease: Higher Cost and Lower Quality (Edward Elgar, Ltd, 2011).

Proving the Critics' Case

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?

Author/s: 
KC Johnson
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KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Teach Only What You Know

About two weeks before the 2004 presidential election, one of the students in a government class that I was teaching raised his hand and demanded to know who I was supporting for president. I paused for a moment, somewhat taken back by the stridency of the student’s request. Noticing my reaction, he offered some background, explaining that he was not the only one in the class who had this question. We had, after all, been talking about the election during nearly every session, and my reticence with regard to what seemed to the students to be a crucial point was a source of confusion.

Despite his protests, I refused to answer, and quickly moved to the topic of the day. Later on, however, I had some time to consider the exchange. And the more that I thought about the student’s question, the more pleased I became. This was, I thought, one of the best evaluations that I had ever received. Here was real evidence that I was doing my job!

Here’s why: My students should not be able to tell, at least from what I say in class, who I prefer to sit in the oval office. For one thing, this would be a form of “bait and switch,” since nothing about the sharing of my political opinions appears in the catalogue that the students presumably consult before paying their money and scheduling my course.

More to the point, however, is that I am not qualified to teach students about who should be elected. In fact, I am no more qualified to tell people who they should vote for than I am to teach a class in quantum mechanics. I have colleagues over in the physics department who are qualified to offer a course in the latter subject; none of us has the same credibility when it comes to the former. Indeed, in an important way, this blanket incompetence is a part of the class lesson -- particularly, though not exclusively, in a class on American government. It is an implicit argument for democracy, or at least democratic equality. It is also, however, an argument about education.

If professors, or anybody else for that matter, actually "knew" who the president should be, then voting, especially by those who did not know, would be unnecessary, and probably counterproductive. This is easy to illustrate by considering the following example: Suppose that I feel ill, and would like to know what I might do to feel better. One approach would be to poll my friends, asking each of them what I should do. But suppose that among my friends was a medical doctor. Would it not make sense to follow her advice, eschewing the opinions of the rest of my friends? Now, what if I were on a deserted island, with no trained medical professionals available? Then, I might as well seek out the advice of friends, summing their opinions. When we are all equally ignorant, we might as well vote.

Most Americans seem to intuitively grasp this notion, and have gradually moved our political system away from any form of “rule by the experts.” The best example of this may be found within the evolution of our electoral system for choosing the president. .If one reads carefully through the Constitution, one finds that the document does not call for the popular election of the president. Instead, state legislatures are charged with appointing presidential electors (the real voters) in any manner which they see fit.

By practice, though not amendment, Americans have reformed this process. Indeed, fairly quickly, legislative appointment was replaced by the popular election of presidential electors. The reason why elections like the one in 2000 -- in which the electoral and popular votes do not reach the same outcome -- are so disturbing is because most Americans think that they do, and should, select the president. No one stands up for an independent board of electors, because scarcely anyone believes that a qualified electoral elite exists. Again, where there are no experts, let’s let everyone have their say. This should serve as a reminder -- particularly to my colleagues in the academy -- about equality. We are all equally entitled to our opinion on electoral matters. That is why we vote.

This understanding has implications for the classroom that extend beyond politics. What we know, we should teach. We ought to keep our opinions to ourselves. This is an important point to keep mind as we read polls, including a recent one by the Zogby organization, that suggest that the public thinks that political bias among academics is a real problem. The public might well have a valid point.

Too much is made of the fact that the views expressed by these academics seem at best out of the mainstream, and at worst dangerously radical. One would, after all, expect those who have dedicated themselves to the careful study of a subject to know more than most about their area of expertise. And those who know should not be bound by -- or be expected to teach about -- the opinions of those who do not know, even if those opinions are held by a majority of people.

This leads to the real objection that ought to be lodged against those who bring their political opinions into the classroom: Do they know what they are talking about? In the classroom, a basic distinction ought to be maintained between knowledge and opinion. To return to my earlier example, I “know” how the mechanics of the electoral system work. I have an opinion about who should be elected using this system. Therefore, I should teach only the former; not because I might offend the delicate political sensibilities of my students, but rather because this distinction between knowledge and opinion is fundamental to any academic endeavor.

Ideally, what scholars seek -- indeed what every educated person hopes to attain, however partially -- is to replace opinion with knowledge. Through both what and how we teach, instructors inspire in their students a sense of both what is known, and how much remains to be discovered. This is what the philosopher Socrates meant when he argued that the first step in the educational process is "to know what we do not know." By becoming aware of how little we know, we are motivated to learn.

The sin committed by any teacher who spouts his or her political views in the classroom is, therefore, not political, but academic. By feigning certainty where there is only opinion, they encourage ignorance in their students. Teachers are free to hold and express (outside of the classroom) any opinions that they wish. What they must not do (in the classroom) is to pretend to know more than they do.

As the writer G. K. Chesterton wisely observed, "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong." This type of bigotry does not serve our students or our democratic system. Avoiding it is not always easy, but it is our job.

Author/s: 
Paul A. Sracic
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Paul A. Sracic is a professor and chair of the political science department at Youngstown State University.

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