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Duke's Dizzy Dean By: Steve Miller
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 09, 2003


Although I should have known better, I hoped in vain that my college was the rare exception to the rule: the one university where leftism did not interfere with a balanced education. Having fought bias at Santa Monica High School for the last two years, I harbored hopes that somehow Duke University would be different. However, I discovered the cold, harsh reality of "higher learning" in America today before freshmen orientation was complete.

The unsettling environment at Duke is perhaps best summarized by an encounter I had with the Dean of Students, Robert Thompson.

Dean Thompson visited the commons rooms of all of the freshmen dorms and gave a pep rally-style speech to each dorm's residents, extolling the wonders of Duke University. Chief among these, he cited multiculturalism (of course not patriotism or Americanism; Duke is much too prestigious for that) and the diversity of Duke's racial, economic and geographic composition. Conspicuously absent was any mention of intellectual diversity or diversity of political ideas among the campus faculty.  He explained how Duke tried hard to get many different races on campus, and indeed, as college guides hint at and college counselors will tell you, putting down a minority race on your application is a big plus when applying to Duke (unless you're Jewish or Asian). 

When the time came for questions I started off with some generic inquiries, but then I began to quietly, politely, question some of the troubling things I had observed during our orientation.  For instance, during our schedule on one day our lunch was from 12-2. The itinerary read as follows:

"Noon-2pm: Lunch-grab lunch at the Marketplace or any one of the campus eateries.

"Noon-2pm: Students of Color Luncheon."

One lunch for whites.  One for students of color.  How wonderfully progressive.

In response to my question the dean remarked in the past Duke had been segregated and the faculty was (rightly) ashamed of this.  He explained that Duke had an obligation to create as inclusive an environment as possible.  He did not explain how we are to compensate for past segregation with more segregation; maybe that's one of the things I am supposed to learn at Duke.

The Dean praised the separate activities for black students, arguing that simply having a racially diverse environment was not enough, because we kids would not automatically accept each other. Instead, we had to be taught to be more inclusive. I find it more difficult to be inclusive when students of color are being whisked away to separate activities rather than being included in activities where we are supposed to meet one another.  Again, perhaps Duke can educate me on the error of my ways.

In all, the university sponsors four official activities specifically for black or other minority students, including the African American Mentoring Program. This program seeks to "assist first year students in easing their transition to a predominately white campus [and] to enhance the experience of African American students." They also planned a cultural extravaganza for orientation.  There is also a Center for Black culture, which seeks to increase the self-esteem of black students. Amid this pantheon of diversity, though, Duke has erected nothing to celebrate the one culture we all hold in common: the American culture.

The implication of Duke's emphasis on preparing black students to live in the presence of white students is that the white students are intrinsically racist, cruel, and prone to damage the self-esteem of their black peers.  I see no evidence of any such problem, and indeed, I have seen much evidence to demonstrate the exact opposite.  Indeed, I have perceived a discernable and sincere desire among white students to get to know the other members of the freshmen class, irrespective of ethnicity.

Unfortunately, the school's neo-segregationist efforts hamper the natural inclination of many students to disregard race and congregate freely.  Indeed, after the segregated events, blacks and whites could be seen hanging out separately, following the direction the school had set-this could further be seen at the student activities fair with the plethora of campus-sponsored, race-based minority student organizations.

While I believe the differences between the races is only skin deep, the administrators of Duke University buy the Confederate myth that the races are fundamentally different and one's "culture" is inexorably tied to you skin color. (Tell that to all the white kids blaring hip-hop music out of their dorm rooms.)  The intense focus on race, racial identity, racial differences, and even racial separation, I have found embedded at Duke moves us further from a color-blind society.

At this point, I unloaded the questions that had been building in my mind. I asked the Dean why Maya Angelou had been invited to speak every year for orientation to educate the incoming class about multiculturalism when there were so many other possible speakers and topics to choose from.  I asked why last year the school had invited, with school funds, Laura Whitehorn to address students -- advertising her as a political prisoner -- even though she had been convicted and sent to prison for trying to blow-up the US Capitol building.  I asked why our sole summer reading book, Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol, attacked conservatives while making the case for increased public funds for failing schools.  I asked why I had already personally encountered and heard from many other students about occasions of left-wing bias in the classroom.  I explained how one upperclassman even dropped a Public Policy major for fears of being penalized for the conservative viewpoints in her work, while another student dropped a course after the professor demonstrated an open lack of tolerance for Republicans.  When the student wrote the professor with his concerns he was told that the class (designated as a History course) was not a "facts course."  In an even more brazen act, the professor even suggested that Republicans just drop out of his class.  Astonishingly, this professor has also been an undergraduate advisor to pre-law students for 25 years.  Finally, noticeably concerned by all I had seen and heard, I asked Dean Thompson, "how can all of this be if Duke is the phenomenal institution we were told it was?"

Predictably, my questions were completely ignored.

Demonstrating his bias before everyone, He refused to call upon me, even though my hand was the only one raised -- and despite the fact that in our exchange I had been polite and respectful.  This was a vivid demonstration of the very concerns I was trying to bring to light: the Dean did not want to hear the other side or to have his views challenged. Yet, we had been told that such exploration is what Duke -- indeed, all of higher education -- is all about.  Thus, in order to achieve some clarification, I spoke to the Dean privately after his lecture concluded.

He admitted that he had heard many accounts of left-wing bias, but that he had also heard accounts of pro-Israeli and pro-Christian bias. (No examples materialized.)   Dean Thompson elaborated that some bias was completely acceptable.  He believed it was fine, for example, to have a course on Marxism in which the teacher tried his best to persuade the class to adopt the Marxist philosophy.  I think there is a word that describes what the Dean is describing: indoctrination.

Some people, including conservatives, remark that since universities are private institutions, they have the right to conduct themselves however they please.  First of all, many universities, including Duke, receive public funds. But more importantly, having a legal right does not constitute having a moral right.  I believe the political bias contaminating Duke and countless other universities constitutes a moral outrage, one that exerts a real and devastating impact on our nation.

As citizens we have the right and even the obligation to confront and to combat the indoctrination of our youth.  Since left-wing universities like Duke take on the monumental responsibility of educating the future voters and leaders of our country, we do not have to sit idly by while these elitist educators violate students' academic freedom and shirk their responsibility to academic freedom.

To that end, David Horowitz has founded a new national organization, called Students for Academic Freedom, which seeks to restore intellectual integrity and balance to the American university.  There are now almost 60 chapters on college campuses, including one I have started at Duke. I would ask you to help our efforts succeed by writing to the Dean of Students and sharing your concerns.  He can be contacted at bobt@asdean.duke.edu or at (919) 684-3465. And if you have experienced this bias or have a relative who has been subjected to leftist propaganda during the course of his "education," contact SAF to learn how you can make the university a bastion of true academic freedom once more.

And finally, my thanks to the readers of FrontPage Magazine. The supporters of this site played a major role in changing Santa Monica High School.  And so while I no longer have hopes that Duke is free of ideological bias, I do have hopes that new life can be given to the words "higher learning," and that Duke and colleges across the nation can rise above the pettiness and hazards of political bias and begin to unlock the riches of academic and political diversity on campus.



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