"Sunlight," Justice Brandeis observed, "is the best disinfectant." Currently a Senate panel is conducting hearings over the lack of intellectual diversity tolerated by American universities. Despite the problem, which finds the reflexively socialist stances of the modern academy in stark relief against the more diverse hues of modern American society, a panelist before the committee said that the problem wasn't to be solved with legislation. Speaking before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Anne D. Neal, president of the American Councils of Trustees and Alumni, a group that was smeared as neo-McCarthyists for citing their sources in their "Defending Civilization" report on academic anti-Americanism, said the solution rested with trustees and alumni.
Let's add students and parents to that list as well, and let's see one place where they're doing what they can to shine sunlight on the problem. It's a web site entitled NoIndoctrination.org, and as the site will tell you, it "is an organization of parents who are disturbed that sociopolitical agendas have been allowed to permeate college courses and orientation programs," in the words of president and founder Luann Wright.
Wright explains that the site came about because some (not most) professors would "use their courses as stages for social or political propaganda … with impunity" and because "conventional means [of] communicating with administrators, regents, trustees, alumni, and legislators" brought no end to the problem of "[i]deological fiefdoms." Wright explains that NoIndoctrination.org doesn't target "[t]he study of controversial topics and unpopular ideas," but rather "'thought reform' and mandated 'group think.'"
The site advocates academic freedom -- which, as it makes quite clear by citing the American Association of University Professors' statements defining academic freedom, is a right of not just professor, but their students as well. Students also have the right to engage in a free and open search for truth, the site maintains, and therefore it offers students who are prevented in their search a chance to publicize the problem.
Like the ACTA report, NoIndoctrination.org names names, so naturally it has come under the same change-the-subject-please equations to McCarthy that the report received. But the M card, no matter how withering it may be within the classroom, has not deterred nor is it likely to deter the site. Wright signaled as much in her response to two articles that spoke unfavorably of NoIndoctrination.org that appeared in the May-June 2003 issue of the AAUP's bimonthly magazine, Academe (this was the issue with McCarthy on the cover).
The letter is notable for its author having to tell the AAUP -- long proud of producing definitive explanations of academic freedom that included recognizing "the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject" as well as the right of students not to "be forced by the authority inherent in the instructional role to make particular personal choices as to political action or their own part in society" -- that NoIndoctrination.org is obviously "dedicated to promoting, rather than impeding, open inquiry in academia."
Certainly there are concerns that the web site could be abused by merely vindictive students. Wright addressed them also, noting that it's not simple political bias that they publicize, but "cases where sociopolitical biases are so blatant and oppressive that reasonable alternative views are silenced or ignored — often with hostility or contempt." Furthermore, she explained, "Postings are checked carefully, and those merely reporting ideological objections are rejected. To date, 70 percent of the submitted postings have been rejected."
Nevertheless, even the sunlight brought about by NoIndoctrination.org could use enhancement. That is the role for others in society to play.
For example, in the John Locke Foundation's monthly newspaper, Carolina Journal, I write about issues concerning higher education in North Carolina. One of the features I write is entitled "Course of the Month," which is a sort of Golden Fleece award to highlight, as I wrote in the introductory segment in May 1997, courses with "overt political content, rabid infatuation with pop culture or sexuality, and abject silliness."
Recently, NoIndoctrination.org posted a course from a university in North Carolina. The course is an introductory sociology course offered at Elon College. A quick read of the student's account (the student's name, for obvious reasons, does not appear -- but NoIndoctrination.org does allow for rebuttals from the professors whose courses are discussed) was enough to persuade me that the problems the student encountered needed more publicity. So it became the "Course of the Month" for October 2003.
The particular section of SOC 111 discussed on NoIndoctrination.org is the “Honors” section taught by Professor Angela Lewellyn Jones. The student reporting on the class said Jones was intolerant of dissent within the class from her strident feminism. Jones “declared her status as a feminist numerous times in class,” spoke of “her disdain for male success,” and stated that prohibiting abortion is a sexist act since it takes away a woman’s right to correct a ‘mistake’ and forces the female to be confined to the shackles of motherhood.”
The course reading material was as unbalanced as the lectures. It included “readings on Marx and communism,” and “all reading held pro-feminism, anti-government, pro-choice diatribes,” the student wrote. “Not a single reading was balanced by a different perspective.”
One of the texts the student mentioned was Michael Schwalbe's The Sociologically Examined Life, which the student described as "the infamous abortion and affirmative actions text." Ironically (or perhaps not), there is another entry in NoIndoctrination.org about Schwalbe's class at North Carolina State University, where a student says he "is so angry at the social structure and so angry at rich white America that his teaching suffers."
In her lectures, the student wrote, she never mentioned “non-feminists” except to “dehumanize” them or call them “Philistines.” She would curtail class discussion “contrary to her own views,” and if students pressed forward regardless, “she would snap at them in very unprofessional manner.”
Students who voiced opinions contrary to Jones’s were “ridiculed for their opinions and later ignored or silenced.” In one incident, the student wrote, “a friend of mine dropped the course around midterm because of Jones’s unfair treatment of him. When someone in the class asked about him a few weeks later, Dr. Jones told the class that he just wasn’t smart enough to handle the demands of the course.”
According to the student, dissent in Jones’s class was met by more than ridicule:
Any student who voiced contrary opinion was not only subjected to having everything they said in class dissected under a microscope and negated, but having their grade lowered significantly. On numerous occasions, dissident students would meet outside of class and discuss how their grades drastically changed on assignments the week after expressing opinions. Since the grading in the class was all subjective (no objective tests), such grade drops alarmed these “Honors” students whose status in the honors program depended on success in the class. As a result numerous students quelled their opinions for grades sake, including myself.
In short, “what I learned in the class,” the student wrote, “was that men are all oppressors, African-Americans cannot stand on their own feet and need government handouts to survive, and such problems were not meant to be discussed by different parties because dissenters aren’t thinking in a ‘sociologically mindful’ manner and are ill-informed.”
What I learned from NoIndoctrination.org is that more sunlight is needed. From trustees, alumni, students, parents, and anyone else who cares about education and academic freedom, for professors and students. Because in her letter to Academe, Wright also wrote that "Many faculty tell us they are embarrassed and disturbed by the professorial conduct described on our Web site. Some corroborate the abuses, yet they cannot speak out. They, like our posters, are muzzled by fear."
Fear should never be the hallmark of an American institution, especially higher education. Throw open the windows; let in the light.
* ACTA smeared as neo-McCarthyists: http://www.townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/printts20011212.shtml
* Academe letters:
* Student's account of the Elon course:
* Student's account of Schwalbe course:
Jon Sanders (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a policy analyst for the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in North Carolina.