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True or False: This is Academic Bias By: Christopher Speck
PoliticallyRight.com | Thursday, May 15, 2003


In one of the more hilarious moments in the novel, Hard Times, Charles Dickens introduces a schoolteacher named McChoakumchild. The chapter is called “Murdering the Innocents,” and the scene consists of a roomful of frightened schoolchildren and three forbidding teachers who are like cannons “loaded to the muzzle with facts,” ready to blow them into the minds of the students in one discharge. The teachers never realize, however, that their all-important facts only add up to half-truths. And, of course, any dissent on the part of the students is stifled in short order.

The times may not be this hard at UNC-Chapel Hill, but in visiting lecturer Alison Greene’s Anthropology 10 class this semester, students received a not-so-subtle reminder that it pays to see facts the way that the teacher sees them.

“On the very first day of class she told us that she was against the war in Iraq and that she intended to make this a topic of discussion,” says sophomore Natalie Russell.

Students soon began to realize, however, that as the United States was gearing up for war, Iraq would become the topic of discussion. In fact, according to several students, it was not uncommon for Greene to spend almost entire class periods talking about Iraq.

“It was mentioned in seventy-five percent of her lectures at least,” says Russell. “In some lectures she would spend a half an hour talking about Iraq’s weapons program.”

“If she didn’t talk about the war in Iraq in every class, she did it at least once a week,” says one student. “She tried to broaden it. We tried to talk about other stuff, like globalization and native tribes in Africa . . . but it always seemed to gravitate back to Iraq.”

“I talked to her at one point about the way she was teaching,” the student continues. “I told her that I would like to see her teach both sides of the argument, and she told me that she felt she only had enough time to present one side. She said that students can always turn on CNN to get a more pro-American view.”

According to several students, Greene, who did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article, expressed her opinion on the Iraq War in various ways. She would lecture on it directly, or make off-hand comments if her lectures did not deal specifically with Iraq. She showed the class anti-war websites such as www.iraqbodycount.com. She read to the class an email from an acquaintance of hers who is also a “retired military weapons, munitions, and training expert.” The expert claims that only nuclear weapons can be considered weapons of mass destruction. She also played the class a 1994 video called Greetings From Iraq, directed by Signe Taylor, which highlights the plight of Iraqis devastated by the embargo after the Gulf War.

“I remember one time when she was discussing the [iraqbodycount.com] website and one guy raised his hand and asked where the site was for the civilian casualties that had been used by Saddam as human shields,” one student says, “and she basically dismissed it and didn’t pay attention to him. It was like she heard him say it but she didn’t really want to answer his question.”

These days, such an anti-conservative agenda is not beyond the pale in the social sciences. What is beyond the pale, however, is requiring students to parrot anti-conservative opinions on tests, and this is exactly what Greene did. Below are three questions that appeared on a recent midterm (answers in bold):

37. In the video, Greetings from Iraq, the filmmaker demonstrates that U.N. sanctions mandated following the Gulf War of 1991

a. effectively weakened Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
b. produced rampant inflation.
c. resulted in dramatic increases in malnutrition and related diseases among children.
d. made basic medicines and hospital supplies difficult or impossible to acquire.
e. ANSWERS “b.,” “c.,” and “d.” are all TRUE.

38. According to material presented in lecture written by a retired military weapons, munitions, and training expert, ______________________ are “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD). In contrast, ______________________ are “area denial” and or terror weapons.
a. only nuclear weapons; chemical and biological weapons

b. only nuclear and biological weapons; chemical weapons
c. nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; land mines
d. only nuclear and chemical weapons; biological weapons
e. only chemical and biological; nuclear weapons

39. Using the definition above in combination with the findings of U.N. weapons inspectors, it is possible to state definitively that Iraq clearly _________________ “weapons of mass destruction.”
a. possesses, has used, and intends the future use of
b. does NOT possess

c. has exported
d. intends to supply terrorist groups with
e. formerly possessed but now has destroyed all of its

These questions are dishonest for many reasons. One is because these questions, especially the last two, are based on shoddy scholarship. According to the students, the email on which these two questions were based was not distributed to the class and the qualifications of this expert were never provided. Most importantly, the questions ignore the common definition of the term “weapons of mass destruction.”

A simple Google search says it all.

· The American Society of International Law: “‘Weapons of mass destruction’ is a term that generally encompasses nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, with radiological weapons occasionally included.”

· E-Cyclopedia (BBC Online): “weapons of mass destruction n 1. any weapon which could potentially inflict fatalities and physical damage on a massive scale. 2. polit. the nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) arsenals of states identified as belonging to the axis of evil. also abbrv. as WMD.”

· The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI): “The most widely used definition of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in official U.S. documents is ‘nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.’”

As a matter of fact, the term “weapons of mass destruction” predates the nuclear bomb. It was first used in 1937 to describe Nazi bomber planes during the Spanish Civil War.

As a result, many students did not know what to make of these questions. And the use of absolute qualifiers such as “clearly” and “definitively” (a bad test writing technique in any case) only confused the issue further. “The questions didn’t bother me because I saw the test as a linguistic test,” says a student. “But I know some people who answered them on principle and got them wrong.”

Another reason why these questions are dishonest is because they are a shameless attempt at left-wing indoctrination. For example, if “Iraq clearly does NOT possess ‘weapons of mass destruction’”, then the unstated conclusion is “therefore, the war in Iraq is unjustified.” If the sanctions in Iraq “resulted in dramatic increases in malnutrition and related diseases among children,” then sanctions are BAD and the United States must be BAD for keeping them in place all these years. These are anti-war arguments commonly used by the Left, and they are not balanced by any questions containing arguments commonly used by the Right.

None of this escaped the Carolina Review, the conservative student publication at UNC. Earlier in the semester, the Review had written a short piece on Greene entitled “Academic Dishonesty,” and in preparation for a follow-up story to cover the recent exam, Review publisher Steve Russell arranged for an interview with Greene in her office. When he arrived, however, he had a surprise waiting for him.

“I go to meet her at the scheduled interview time and there’s a note telling me to go upstairs,” Russell says. “So I go upstairs and I see it’s the department chair’s office.” Waiting for him was Greene, department chair Judith Farquhar, and Dee Reid, the director of Communications for the College of Arts and Sciences. They flatly denied him the interview. “They were all pretty upset about things,” says Russell. “They were concerned that I would use their words in a bad way. I told them that it was in their best interest to tell the truth. And I read them a couple of the complaints from students and they said they wouldn’t respond…. It was a pretty hostile meeting…. I think that Greene could have responded to this very well and really put an end to this controversy but she wont ‘fess up to it. I think she knows. She acted like a cornered animal immediately. She knew she was cornered in there. She knew she screwed up big time, and she was getting called out on it. I’m sure she didn’t expect to be called out on it but she certainly was.”

Indeed, Greene has a lot of explaining to do. Her teaching methods run afoul of many teaching policies presented in the UNC instructor’s handbook which can be found on the UNC website. One salient passage, under the heading “Absence of Fear”, on page 18, explains that UNC teachers should:

[w]ork to establish a spirit of open inquiry in the classroom. If students find that their comments are ignored, belittled, ridiculed, or treated as irrelevant, then out of fear or frustration, they will not participate in discussions.

Greene also violated UNC Policy and Procedure for Classroom Instruction number three, found on page 64, which instructs that a UNC teacher

is obligated, in general, to present the pre-announced subject matter of his course, and he should rarely inject material irrelevant thereto.

Juxtaposed to this, the Anthropology 10 course description, taken from the department website, reads as follows:

An introduction to anthropology, the science of humans, the culture bearing animal. Topics considered: human evolution and biological variations within and between modern populations, prehistoric and historic developments of culture, cultural dynamics viewed analytically and comparatively.

Since incessant anti-war rants were not mentioned in the “pre-announced subject matter” of this course, it would be fair to say that such information is irrelevant.

The fourth Policy and Procedure, however, says it all:

The Faculty Member as a Teacher-Scholar…should allow his students the freedom of inquiry that he demands for himself, should make them aware of viewpoints differing from his own, should carefully distinguish between fact and opinion, and should never require agreement on debatable matters as the price of success.

“I think on several levels [Greene] fails the criteria on the university website about good teaching practices,” continues Russell. “I think the professor’s role goes beyond reporting one opinion, even if he prefaces it with ‘this is my personal opinion.’ You can’t hold students to a grade on it. You can’t make it the focus. That’s not anthropology and that’s certainly not good honest teaching.”

The upshot here is that, despite Russell’s failure to procure an interview with Greene, freedom of the press is a beautiful thing. Russell wrote his article anyway, many people on campus read the article, and Greene has since toned down her McChoakumchild routine and concentrated more on anthropology. And though this is a welcome change for many students, some remain dissatisfied with the course.

“I’m just thankful that I’ve had enough experiences in college to know that what she was doing was wrong, and that I was able to pick up on this bias and know that I didn’t have to believe these things,” says Natalie Russell. “And I think it’s scary that there might be some naïve, more impressionable students who might have actually been indoctrinated by these kinds of teachings.”

“The only thing that really bothered me was that if I wanted to, I could go in my free time to the quad and listen to protestors discuss their anti war sentiments,” says another student. “But in a class that I’m paying for, that is part of a requirement, I would like to have a teacher that is more unbiased. . . . That’s what education is all about, getting the holistic view. That’s even what [Greene] said on the first day of class, that anthropology is a holistic discipline - you have to look at everything.”


Christopher Speck is a writer living in Durham, NC.


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