The first academic experience an incoming freshman will have at Miami University (Ohio) is through the Summer Reading Program. The significance of this program is described in the university catalogue in these words:
Participation in the Summer Reading Program is your first assignment as a university student. Your willingness to take the assignment seriously and to participate actively in group discussions in August may have important influences on your subsequent achievements as a Miami Student.
As the program has been set up for the past 24 years, only one book is assigned to all incoming freshman. Each student is expected to read the assigned the book which is then discussed in freshman classes. The author of the book is invited to campus to address a freshmen assembly and discuss their book. They are paid as much as $15,000 for the visit.
In 2006, the assigned book was Ahmad’s War, Ahmad’s Peace by Michael Goldfarb. The book is a critical view of the war in Iraq by an author who is a reporter for National Public Radio and has a radio series on “Pax Americana,” which compares America to the Roman Empire and other imperialisms. Part One of the series is called “Imperial Intentions” and its description ends with these words “Why do they hate us? We aren’t an occupying empire, are we?” The series description also concludes that America’s “expansion” is “not accidental.”
On a subject as volatile and disputed as the war in Iraq, not to mention American “imperialism,” how is it academically appropriate for Miami University – as an institution – to assign one left-wing text to impressionable freshmen, and then to invite one left-wing author to campus who is not only critical of the war but regards it as an expression of America’s quest for world domination? How is this compatible with the ideas of disinterested inquiry and intellectual pluralism? Why would an educational institution not assign two texts with differing views on these subjects, unless it was intending to persuade – indoctrinate – students in one sectarian view?
This assignment is not an anomaly in the Miami freshman reading program, but rather the norm. Invariably, when texts on controversial political subjects or controversial cultural issues are assigned only one side – the leftist side – of these controversies is represented by the reading program. Not all the assignments in the program fall into the category of controversial issues. The reading in 2005 was about a woman who died young from a disfiguring cancer. The previous year it was a novel about slavery. But in 2003, the assigned book was Nickled and Dimed, a socialist screed about low wage jobs in America by political activist Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich has no academic credentials to support her radical views on this subject or make them particularly educational for university freshmen. Even so, this could have been an educational experience if a second text representing an opposing point of view was assigned for comparison. No such text was assigned.
In 2002, the assigned text was The Things They Carried, a book about Vietnam by an author described as someone who “went to a war they didn’t believe in.” Again, a controversial issue, but again with only one side represented.
In 2001, the book was Dead Man Walking by anti-capital punishment activist Sister Helen Prejean. Again, a controversial issue but with a text assigned by the university which presented only one side of the controversy.
The one-sided nature of these assignments reflects a troubling institutional attitude. Does the university have so little concern for its own academic freedom principles or the pluralism of ideas that is the bedrock principle of the democracy that supports it?
We recommend that the university administration instruct the summer reading program to assign two or more texts on any issue, political, cultural or otherwise, that can reasonably be regarded as a matter of controversy.
Women’s Studies and the Women’s Center
As at many other schools, the Women’s Studies Department at Miami University is the most prominent and most articulated example of a political program masquerading as an academic field. Its political nature – really its self-conception – is hardly concealed. The Women’s Studies departmental website even features a section called: “Activism.” Because Women’s Studies has 40 affiliated professors in departments ranging from history, to anthropology to sociology, to literature and law, moreover, its political agendas exert a corrupting influence throughout the liberal arts curriculum.
The Activism link on the Women’s Studies departmental website directs students to the Women’s Center and to this explanation: “How does the Women’s Studies Program connect with the Women’s Center? Here at Miami, these two entities are distinct but highly cooperative. While the Women's Studies Program is primarily academic, the Women’s Center is an academic support services program which places women at its center. The Center focuses on support, education, and advocacy.” There is no indication that the Women’s Studies Department is aware that a focus on advocacy might transform the very nature of education. Advocacy groups have a vested interest in not exploring (i.e., having an open mind towards) both sides of controversial issues. Such an attitude would hamper their advocacy mission. Parties organized around advocacy do educate their rank and file members. But this education is more aptly termed indoctrination, training and recruitment, and is incompatible with academic inquiry, that is skeptical, disinterested and scientific.
The Women’s Center explains its attitude towards “Gender Issues” which are central to the Women’s Studies curriculum in these terms:
Gender is a socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. An aspect of all known cultures, gender is continually being reinterpreted and varies greatly from culture to culture. Words that refer to gender include: woman, man, feminine, masculine, transgender and genderqueer. Transgender is an umbrella term referring to behavior and attitudes that challenge conventional gender roles, responsibilities and relationships. The term genderqueer describes people who purposely blur gender lines, challenge gender norms and often adopt androgynous personas.
In other words, at the Women’s Center – and in dozens of courses at Miami University – gender is regarded not as a fact of nature, but as an artificial construct that is either imposed on individuals by society, or which individuals actually choose. Thus, “genderqueers,” according to the Women’s Center, are individuals who choose to be androgynous or homosexual in order to challenge the status quo.
No indication is provided to students visiting this university website that this might be a controversial point of view. Courses in the Women’s Studies Department which adopt this point view – and it is safe to say that this encompasses all courses in the Women’s Studies Department – violate the code of professional ethics established by the American Association of University Professors which says that a faculty responsibility is: “informing students of the generally accepted conclusion on the subject matter of the course when those conclusions differ from the conclusions of the instructor.…”
Those familiar with radical theories of “social construction” will recognize in this paragraph a reflection of an ideology that also regards race and class as concepts imposed by “Society” – that is, by its alleged ruling patriarchies, races and classes – on “oppressed” social subjects. The ideology of the Women’s Studies Department is a sectarian view of women in society and a sectarian approach to the study of women, which violates the academic freedom guidelines of Miami University as stated above. Yet the courses offered by the Women’s Studies Department train students in this ideology exclusively.
Thus the Women’s Studies website explains its academic program: “Women’s Studies raises questions about gender as a social construction, and the ways in which those constructions affect disciplinary knowledge, the experiences of women and men, our social fabric, the arts, creative writing, institutions, intimate relationships, and the workplace. Women's Studies courses are organized around contemporary feminist research and theory.…” (Emphasis added.)
This is the description of an all-inclusive ideological theory, and a program to indoctrinate students in the theory. It is entirely inappropriate for an academic program that purports to instill the values of scientific method and scholarship, which is skeptical, dispassionate, empirical and open to questions about its fundamental assumptions.
The fact that radical theory is the real mission of the department rather an academic study of women in society is made in clear in the description of “Major Requirements” for the completion of a Women’s Studies degree. Among these requirements is the submission of Senior Thesis:
Minimum requirements for the Women's Studies Senior Thesis:
· The thesis must incorporate feminist and/or womanist perspectives and critiques.
A program that makes indoctrination in feminist theory the focus of an entire academic curriculum is no more appropriate than would be a program to make students conservatives, liberals, Marxists, or monarchists. It violates the fundamental academic guidelines of Miami University. It is doubly inappropriate in the publicly supported institution of a democracy dedicated to intellectual pluralism.
The following four courses offered by the Women’s Studies Department can serve as examples of self-defined attempts to indoctrinate students in radical feminist theory:
301 Women and Difference: Intersections of Race, Class, and Sexuality
Investigation of the interdisciplinary theoretical approaches to the interplay of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of social identity in women’s lives; analysis of the ways social difference is defined, used, and experienced. Emphasis on feminist and womanist theories that take into account the interdependence of multiple categories of social difference. (Emphasis added.)
425 Black Feminist Theory
Seminar examines black feminist theory from a variety of perspectives. Course samples a diversity of texts by theorists in the U.S. and African diaspora. Readings include both well known and lesser known thinkers/scholars as well as classic texts and newly published works. Cross-listed with BWS 425.
MPT 368 Feminist Literary Theory and Practice
Introduction to feminist literary theory; deals with how feminism has shaped reading and interpretive practices, and develops some practical strategies for literary study.
MPT 255 Contemporary Feminism
Examination of major writing by contemporary feminist thinkers. Traditional philosophical questions, such as justice, freedom, nature of a person, and relationship of an individual to society, are raised in context relevant to both male and female students.
Black World Studies Department
The cross-listing of Black Feminist Theory in the Women’s Studies Department with BWS 425 signifies that it is also a course in the Black World Studies Department. The Black World Studies Department explains its mission in these terms: “Black World Studies engages students in the discovery of historical and contemporary production of the Black Experience(s); stresses changing constructions of race and its implications regarding global relations of power and inequality;…” In other words the Black World Studies Department shares with the Women’s Studies Department a radical view of race as a “social construction” and even provides students with a course (BWS 329/ATH 325) whose title is “Identity: Race, Class and Gender,” suggesting that this radical triad provides the important if not necessary and sufficient basis for understanding individual and/or group identities. This is a sectarian view of identity, not an academic approach to the question of what does constitute individual or cultural or ethnic identities.
The required introductory course to the Black World Studies curriculum, which presumably introduces students to the field they will be studying is described in these terms:
BWS 151 - Introduction to Black World Studies (4) - Introduces the Afrocentric perspective as it has developed in anthropology, history, political science, geography, sociology, religious studies, mass communication, theater, art, etc. Covers theories, research, mythologies, and practice of African studies. Students develop historical and contemporary understanding of the African Diaspora.
“Afro-centrism” – the perspective adopted by the Black World Studies curriculum as its intellectual framework is a highly controversial and racialist theory of the “black experience,” whose author is Professor Molefi Asante, the head of Temple University’s African American Studies program. Asante was hosted by the Black World Studies Department recently.
Several books have been written about the travesty of Temple’s African American Studies Department and the “scholarship” of Molefi Asante by eminent classical scholars from a wide political spectrum. These books have criticized its scholarship as fraudulent. Its central doctrine of “Afro-centricity,” has been described as a racist idea based on made-up history. The most famous of these authorities, Mary Lefkowitz, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, emeritus, at Wellesley College, was instrumental in bringing women into the leadership of the American Philological Association, the professional association of classical scholars and ancient historians in the United States.
In her book Not Out of Africa, Lefkowitz characterizes “Afro-centricty” as the teaching of “myths disguised as history.” Professor Lefkowitz’s summary of these myths is as follows: “There is little or no historical substance to many of the Afro-centrists’ most striking claims about the ancient world. There is no evidence that Socrates, Hannibal, and Cleopatra had African ancestors. There is no archaeological data to support the notion that Egyptians migrated to Greece during the second millennium B.C. (or before that). There is no reason to think that Greek religious practices originated in Egypt…. Other assertions are not merely unscientific; they are false. Democritus could not have copied his philosophy from books stolen from Egypt by Anaxarchus, because he had died many years before Alexander's invasion [of Egypt]. Aristotle could not have stolen his philosophy from books in the library at Alexandria, because the library was not built until [fifty years] after his death. There never was such a thing as an Egyptian Mystery System (which is a central part of Afro-centrist teaching).”
Equally troubling is the connection of the Black World Studies program to an activist Center paralleling the connection of the Women’s Studies Department to the Women’s Center. In this case, the “Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine” is the activist arm of the academic program. Here is how it is described in an article written by Ashley Thomas for Compass magazine, an annual publication of the College of Arts and Sciences. In writing her article, Thomas interviewed Black World Studies director Rodney Coates:
Aiming for Action
No longer are black world studies primarily concerned with racial justice, but the program has expanded to include social justice issues as well.
“I believe that black world studies is the dialogue not only in racial justice, but in social justice,” [Rodney] Coates said. “Social justice is the next adventure in intellectual and creative endeavors.”
According to Coates, all black world studies courses directly relate to the ideas of social justice.
“Implicitly, this [social justice] is part of all of our courses,” said Coates. “Social justice has its roots in the very essence of human justice movements. It is a theme that is timeless.”
So, while courses on the Miami campus are being offered, the black world studies program hopes to bring social justice into real-life experiences.
Thomas A. Dutton, a Black World Studies affiliate, has already helped by creating the Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine.
Over-the-Rhine is a disadvantaged community in urban Cincinnati that was the scene of race riots and multiple slayings connected to the riots in 2005. Both the riots and their aftermath continue to be the focus of political battles pitting radical leftists against law enforcement officials, city fathers, private sector entrepreneurs and conservatives. “Social Justice” is itself a political concept incorporating anti-free market, redistributionist policies and is the rubric for a leftwing social protest movement advocating greater government control of private enterprise which is presumed to be “unjust.” It is entirely inappropriate for an academic program to have “all” its courses “directly relate to the ideas of social justice,” as Rodney Coates claims is the case with the courses in the Black World Studies program. It is even less appropriate for a public university to set up a Center, financed by Ohio taxpayers, to carry out sectarian political agendas and recruit college students for this purpose.
That the Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine is in practice an extreme political movement rather than an academic project is made clear on its own website. Two menus are featured on the home page of the Center, under the general heading “Engagements -- as in engagements in issues affecting Over-the-Rhine. One menu is called “Discussion Papers” and the other is called “Agit/Prop.” As explained in Wikipedia.com, “Agit-prop is a contraction of agitational propaganda. The term originated in Communist Russia.” Under Agit/Prop, the Miami University Center menu contains games and exercises with names like “Anti-Gentrification” to engage students on one side of the policy disputes affecting Over-the-Rhine. How training students in leftwing propaganda constitutes an academic activity, the site fails to explain.
Under the “Discussion Papers” menu, the very first link is to a paper co-authored by the head of the Center, Thomas Dutton, which is titled “Gentrification – It Ain’t What You Think.” Neither in grammar nor in substance is this article an academic inquiry into the problems of Over-the-Rhine. It is instead an advocacy paper in favor of publicly subsidized housing (“equitable community development”) versus what it terms a “market rate housing based development strategy.” In other words, like the Agitprop exercises, it is advocacy on one side of a key policy controversy affecting Over-the-Rhine. Dutton is listed in the university catalogue as a Professor of Architecture and Interior Design. How this an academic credential for assessing economic development policies is not explained. Dutton has also co-authored an article on the Cincinnati riots in the Nation Magazine with the Reverend Damon Lynch, a leading activist in the controversies over the riots.
The second featured “Discussion Paper” on the Miami Center’s website is titled “Labor Against Empire: At Home and Abroad,” and was written by Robin D.G. Kelley, a well-known Marxist professor and member of the Communist Workers Party.” Kelley is the author of Hammer and Hoe, a history of the Communist Party in Alabama and Yo Mama’s Disfunktional, a collection of his essays. In October 2003 Professor Kelley facilitated a conversation at the Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine on “Hip Hop, Culture, and Urban America.”
A representative sample from Professor Kelley’s “discussion paper” should disabuse anyone of the idea it is an academic inquiry: “Anti-imperialism has been fundamental to black radical politics in the past, and we need to make it central to contemporary labor struggles -- not just black labor. Today we face an American Empire more powerful than ever, and certainly as ruthless as in the days of Haiti’s occupation. Under the Bush administration’s global war, we are witnessing the suppression of self-determination for nations of the Global South and the real possibility of re-colonization; massive poverty and the disappearance of viable welfare states in the face of structural adjustment policies; privatization of the commons, resulting in imperialist control over indigenous resources; unbridled corporate destruction of the environment resulting in global warming, droughts and epidemics; and the suppression of radical movements for social justice and transformation.”
The entire paper is devoted to the alleged depredations of America’s global “empire” which in Professor Kelley’s view relates to the problems of Over-the-Rhine because “a place like Cincinnati represents colonial domination in its raw, naked form. The city entered the world stage in a big way in April of 2001 when police fatally shot Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old African American, in the predominantly black neighborhood of Over-the Rhine. Police pursued Thomas, who was unarmed, because they had a warrant out for his arrest because of unpaid parking tickets. His murder sparked a massive insurrection in Over-the-Rhine and in other parts of Cincinnati that forced the Mayor to impose a state of emergency and compelled the Governor to send in National Guard troops. Thomas’s murder was just the tip of the iceberg. He was the fifteenth black man killed by police since 1995, and the fourth to die since November of 2000.”
Professor Kelley’s view that the Cincinnati police are murderers and that the race riots were a “rebellion” is also the official view of the Center. In another discussion paper co-authored by Center director Thomas A. Dutton, these events are summarized as follows: “April 7, 2001 will be forever etched in the minds of Cincinnati residents: at about 2:20 a.m., Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by police officer Stephen Roach in a dark alley in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Mr. Thomas—a teenager who was unarmed—was the fifteenth person to die at the hands of the police since 1995; all were African American men. Mr. Thomas’ death triggered several days of protest and rebellion that the media continues to reduce to ‘the April riots.’”
In fact, Timothy Thomas, who had not one but 14 outstanding warrants and not only for traffic violations but for resisting arrest led police on a chase through a drug-infested and violent neighborhood. He was reaching for his waistband when he was shot, not “murdered.” Kelley’s suggestion that the fifteen felons killed by police were innocent men killed because they were black is also far from the reality. As Heather MacDonald reported in the City Journal: “In fact, the list of the 15 police victims shows the depraved nature not of Cincinnati’s cops but of its criminals. Harvey Price, who heads the roster, axed his girlfriend’s 15-year-old daughter to death in 1995, then held a SWAT team at bay for four hours with a steak knife, despite being maced and hit with a stun gun. When he lunged at an officer with the knife, the cop shot him. Jermaine Lowe, a parole violator wanted for armed robbery, fled in a stolen car at the sight of a police cruiser, crashed into another car, then unloaded his handgun at the pursuing officers. Alfred Pope robbed, pistol-whipped, and most likely fired at three people in an apartment hallway, just the latest assault by the vicious 23-year-old, who had already racked up 18 felony charges and five convictions. He then aimed his handgun at close range at the pursuing officers, and they shot him dead in return.”
I quote MacDonald’s version at length because the students at the Miami University Center are not presented with this information in their “discussion papers,” but are left to believe that that the fifteen were victims of police racism. Neither MacDonald nor others with divergent views have been invited to present a different side of these volatile questions by the Miami University Center. Instead, students in the Miami program are relentlessly indoctrinated with views similar to Professor Kelley’s. They are taught that felons are “rebels” and that the law enforcement agencies of a vibrant democracy are brutal murderers and oppressors. This is indoctrination, not education.