Really Bad Questions

Marketing professor uses Holocaust denial questions to illustrate double negatives.

November 27, 2019
 
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From National Louis U marketing assignment on poorly worded questions

By all accounts, an unnamed professor of marketing at National Louis University failed his or her own assignment on “bad questions” and how to fix them.

The idea was for business communication students to correct poorly written or confusing statements, such as those involving double negatives. But things went sideways when the professor included statements about whether the Holocaust happened or not.

The statements appear to be rooted in historical polling blunders, but the professor lost the audience -- and the point -- nonetheless.

“Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?” read one example. Under the statement are the options “Very possible, possible, impossible,” and “very impossible.”

Next, the professor wrote, “Do you doubt that the Holocaust actually happened or not?”

Holocaust denialism is recognized as anti-Semitism. And at least one student in the class was offended enough by the assignment to complain. The assignment was shared on social media and promptly criticized by those outside the university.

The student who complained did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But National Louis said it had removed the professor as the instructor for the course for the remainder of the term. It's also planning additional sensitivity training for faculty and staff members. The university has reached out to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and the Anti-Defamation League for help to that end.

The university is “taking this incident seriously” and doesn’t tolerate “discrimination in any form,” National Louis said in a statement.

“As an institution of learning, we believe in the importance of not becoming complacent about these issues and that we must remain -- especially now -- vigilant to any form of discrimination,” the university said. “Every day, we strive to create a community where everyone is empowered to live their full authentic selves.”

The marketing professor also emailed an apology to the three students enrolled in the course, according to National Louis, but the university did not share that note.

Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of Denying the Holocaust and Antisemitism: Here and Now, among other books about the Holocaust, said the professor’s first statement appeared to be one infamously included in a 1992 Roper poll for the American Jewish Committee. The poll turned up a surprisingly number of Holocaust deniers because people didn't understand the question. A reworded polling question showed many fewer deniers just two years later -- hence the 22 percent and 9 percent notes next to each question on the assignment.

Nevertheless, Lipstadt said it wasn’t a “wise choice on the professor’s part” to use that example, “especially in today’s atmosphere.” Doing so, she said, suggests that the issue “is open to debate, which it is not.”

Historians of the Holocaust debate many things, Lipstadt said: Whose idea it was, how early did Adolf Hitler have it in mind, would a stronger response earlier on from other nations have given the Nazis pause? But debating whether or not the Holocaust actually happened -- as some still do -- is “ludicrous.”

Lipstadt said the Holocaust is the most extensively documented genocide in the world and that everyone involved, including survivors, bystanders and historians, would have to be in on the hoax.

“The deniers have no evidence, no narrative, no witnesses,” she said.

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