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A Tale of Two Testimonies By: FrontPage Magazine
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 11, 2006


The following are testimonies given at Pennsylvania's Academic Freedom Hearings (held on January 9 and 10), by Stephen Zelnick, a veteran professor at Temple, and Logan Fisher, a senior majoring in business law at Temple.

*

Testimony of Stephen Zelnick:

I have been a faculty member in the Department of English since 1969, thirty-six years, and tenured in that department since 1976, now approaching thirty years. In that time I have served as Director of University Writing Programs and Director of the Intellectual Heritage Program (a Great Books Program); I have assisted the previous President, Peter Liacouras, as a member of his staff, and more recently served as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies. I have been an active member of the faculty union (the TAUP), and am a member of the American Federation of Teachers. I have also served as President of the Faculty Senate. I am the co-founder of a flourishing association supporting core text education and have been an adviser on humanities programs internationally in Russia, Georgia, and the emerging nations of Central Asia. My devotion has been to education and the best service to the intellectual and personal growth of students through the tradition of the humanities.

I am also a graduate of Temple University, having earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1963, and am a long-time supporter of the best traditions of this University. I am happy to tell the story, and have told it internationally, of how my life was transformed by my education at this institution; how a young man whose father was an illiterate immigrant became an English Professor and one committed to the values of honest, fair, and challenging education I experienced here at Temple University. Over the years, I have been proud to be part of an institution that reproduces that mission and of a faculty that by and large works hard for our students.

 

In my student days, I was taught by professors, mostly male, and entirely white, but representing a broad range of social, political, and religious views in an intellectually tolerant atmosphere. Many of them were World War Two veterans and were what I would call inquisitive patriots, devoted to American political and cultural values, always alert to the distortion of those values, but also moderate idealists in their expectations of what this or any society could achieve in reality. They had positions to advocate but were wise enough to know the difference between education and indoctrination, between the free flow of ideas and teaching the truth as they themselves alone possessed it.

 

I am here to help you consider the usefulness of establishing some mechanism to supervise the balance of discussion in the university. I have seen enough over the past decade or so to tell me that there is good reason to consider some supervision, or at the very least to raise the question of the dangers of unbalanced views and the dangers of dictatorial classrooms. The damage to our students, as I will try to explain, can be severe, and the damage to educational institutions may be irreparable unless someone takes notice and works for change.

 

I don’t suppose I would be here testifying today were it not for the rallying event scheduled at the weekly meeting of the “Dissent in America” forum.  The meeting was organized by the faculty union, with the support of the Faculty Senate with the purpose of rallying faculty support against House Resolution 177, a resolution calling upon a body of the legislature to be delegated to investigate the issues of students’ rights to open discussion and for protection against abusive assertions of ideology in the classroom..

 

The presentation at the “Dissent in America” forum was one-sided and an excellent example of the replacement of sober discussion with group adherence. One presenter connected these concerns for student rights and the appeal to the legislature with the purge of communist professors in the 1950’s and in particular the banishment of Professor Barrows Dunham, the distinguished chairman of the Philosophy Department at Temple University at that time. The attempt to connect that moment with this was inflammatory and ill-conceived. The notion that any hearings conducted by the legislature, and representing the interests and concerns of the citizens and tax-payers of Pennsylvania, amounted to a witch-hunt to condemn faculty members for their political affiliations wildly misstates the purposes and spirit of these hearings. That rabble rousing does, however, represent what too often passes for thinking.

 

The gathering also heard about the testimony of Dr. Stephen Balch in Harrisburg in November.  I know Stephen Balch, as I also knew Barrows Dunham, and admire his careful thinking and tactful expression.  Yet the characterization of him, of his motives, and of the content of his presentation was predictably inflammatory and not factual. A student attending the “Dissent in America” forum asked whether Balch was part of the same movement that asserted intelligent design against real science and was assured by the panel that it was all of one piece. But Professor Balch is a deep student of the history of science and devoted to enlightenment rationality and is as far as one could be from the “know-nothing” stance attributed to him. But untruths told to students is part of what brings us here, and it was brashly on display.

 

As is typical these days at this and many other universities, holding a meeting where only one side is represented and where a disfigured account is offered as truth is the order of the day. The historic AAUP statement that promises full consideration of all views in the search for truth, and which provides the foundation for House Resolution 177, has been replaced sadly with truths that are beyond question.

 

The Women’s Study Program subsequently raised the prospect of danger to their liberty and right to a political agenda by mis-characterizing Professor Balch’s presentation in Harrisburg and with a strange challenge against the writer of a letter to local newspaper.  The Women’s Studies group asserted that Balch had misrepresented a speaker series they sponsored by asserting that the speakers had presented views in their talks which they had not.  Clearly they had not read Balch’s presentation and instead assumed the right to guess at what he presented and offer that as factual.  Also, in challenging the letter writer, the women’s study spokeswomen chastised her for not identifying whose husband she was while expressing her views; I trust this group would normally find such a demand abhorrent. But perhaps where group advocacy is involved, standards of truth and value are secondary to the end in view.  This style of combat represents a powerful problem for an institution of learning and honest inquiry.

 

Stephen Balch cited several concerns about a left leaning agenda at Temple University. As noted earlier, one of those concerns is the Women’s Study Program. I have less of a concern here about direct abuse to students in such specialized programs since it is unlikely a student who enrolled in a women’s study course would expect anything other than feminist advocacy. A student who had traditional views of women’s role in marriage, for example, would be unlikely to enroll in the Women’s Study Program or to feel put upon by a feminist perspective if he or she did. There is no requirement for students to enroll in women’s study courses. At the same time, there seems to me a problem for students and for scholars who might adhere to a traditional view of woman’s role in society.  I am not sure where such a view would be supported or be given a fair hearing. The greater concern, however, is for the agenda of the Women’s Studies Program to assume prominence in departments across the university. This feminist agenda has succeeded in directing patterns of hiring and in shaping curriculum. It is now common for courses to be cross-listed as Women’s Studies and English, or Women’s Studies and History, and so on. The feminist perspective is visible virtually everywhere in the humanities and the social sciences. I recall attending a scholarly colloquium in which a classicist presented research on Latin marriage ceremonies.  It seemed taken for granted that these weddings were similar to animal sacrifices, and as I recall, the speaker apologized several times for the fact that she herself was married and pregnant.

 

I am concerned also by Temple’s requirement that all students enroll in a course on race.  The course was imposed on the curriculum after a student disturbance in the early 1990’s that seems to have degraded into a police riot where several African-American students were clearly mistreated. That event became the occasion for a demand that all undergraduates be compelled to enroll in a course on race relations and racism in order to be sensitized to racism, surely a deep concerns for our society. At the time, one professor expressed worry that there needed to be some supervision of these courses so they did not become an occasion for hectoring abuse of students. The topics, all admitted, were sensitive and their presentation ought to be handled carefully or more harm than good could result. As I recall, this warning was dismissed as unnecessary, and Temple has since required all undergraduates to pass such a course in order to graduate.

 

Part of the dissenting professor’s worry was that since so many sections would be required to accommodate the entire student body, teaching would end up in the hands of graduate students who were likely to be angry and inexperienced in teaching and especially in teaching difficult material to a captive and possibly resentful audience. That prediction has come to pass, unfortunately, and sections are now taught by inexperienced instructors who have abused their assignment. In one case I know of, an instructor badgered a young female student who had asked a simple question and then forced her to leave the room; the student who told me this outrageous tale herself dropped the course in indignation.

 

Examples of such direct abuse, I suspect, are rare. More common is a less obvious abuse that requires more careful attention. One solution to offering so many sections of a Race Studies course has been what President Adamany has referred to as “double dipping.” In this approach to curricular requirements, more than one requirement can be satisfied by a single course; and so, many sections of freshman Composition offer race studies as the course content. No tenured faculty member teaches this course; instead, a great many sections are taught by graduate students, who are young, socially inexperienced, highly idealistic, and deeply opinionated. Because there are so many of inexperienced instructors and so few full-time faculty to supervise them, these instructors are on their own when it comes to offering a balanced approached to so complex a concern as racism. A student who may harbor doubts about affirmative action quotas is likely to have a difficult time in these classes.  Students generally learn very quickly, of course, to give the teacher what s/he wants and to keep their own views to themselves.

 

It isn’t only the instructor who enforces a one-sided approach to this and other debates.  The reader provided the instructor (Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, by Thomas M. Shapiro) is a forceful example of limiting views and foreclosing serious debate and discussion.  The keynote is sounded by the opening article “The Diminishing American Dream,” an article that would, for example, surprise many of our Asian and East Asian students and their parents.  The author’s introduction intones as follows: “The changes we are seeing in our society during the 1990s—stagnating living standards, increasing poverty, a precarious middle class, and a growing gap between rich and poor—are probably the result of the specific way that economic restructuring is taking place in the United States.” I find no counter view in this volume, one that might suggest that these restructurings are constant and that this one may open unusual new opportunities for our students. The gloomy account is familiar as a mainstay of left thinking, something that I suppose anticipates the revolutionary action of the working classes, presumably the students in our classrooms.

 

The textbook includes many authors well known on the left side of these discussions: Karl Marx is there; Herbert Gans; Harry Braverman; W.E.B. Dubois; William Julius Wilson; Ronald Takaki; Jonathan Kozol; and many others less well known and less articulate and persuasive. What I don’t find are the articulate and persuasive voices on the right, and especially on issues of race: there is no Shelby Steele, no Thomas Sowell, the cantankerous Walter Williams is absent, as is the challenging and courageous Ward Connerly. All these voices are absent and their views absent and unaccounted for.

 

Now, I would not care so much if this course was entitled “The Evils of Racism in Capitalist Amerika” and students who wanted to be rallied to a sectarian view were free to enroll and enjoy the good feeling of shared indignation and dreams of revolution. The course that concerns me, however, is required, and so several evils are compounded: (1) students miss an opportunity to explore a topic of concern in a real way; (2) students miss an opportunity to sharpen their thinking and writing abilities by participating in real debates; and, (3) students who hold contrary views or perhaps even harbor a modest question, learn to keep quiet, and also learn that their academic experience is a sham. [Would you like to say something here about a fourth evil? I mean the lost opportunity to  expose students to genuinely good writing, presumably the paramount objective of a composition course, and something that I’m sure most Temple students dearly need. The essays in Great Divides, I gather, have been chosen more for their polemical than literary values – if they possess any of the latter at all].   

 

This last evil is most pernicious. The university is a rare institution, in this or any society, where open inquiry ought not only be protected but also be promoted actively. When education becomes advocacy and indoctrination we and our students and society at large lose the precious opportunity to realize our freedom in the most meaningful way. An old left-leaning professor of mine once pointed out that the freedom most desired by workers in factories was the freedom to talk back to the boss; it’s a freedom now waning in our university classrooms, and my old-lefty professor would have resented.

 

These exclusions go on all the time. In Intellectual Heritage, our great books course, economics is represented by Karl Marx, an excellent writer to be sure and most interesting on the emergence of capitalism, but Adam Smith, the original architect of capitalism thought and certainly as fine a writer as Marx, is absent. Students are required to study Freud and Gandhi, or even the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but not, in its classic expression, the founding philosophy that shapes our lives. The old joke has it, such a thing could happen only in a university.

 

As director of two undergraduate programs, I have had many opportunities to sit in and watch instructors teach and also to review their assignments and their grading of student papers. I have sat in on more than a hundred different teachers’ classes and seen excellent, indifferent, and miserable teaching and done what I could to encourage the good and to repair the bad. In these visits, I rarely heard a kind word for the United States, for riches of our marketplace, for the vast economic and creative opportunities made available for energetic and creative people (that is, for our students); for family life, for marriage, for love, or for religion.  I did hear a great deal about the importance of diversity and tolerance, about the evils of imperialism; about the need to be skeptical of all institutions and traditional values; and about the stupidity and mendacity of prominent politicians.  There is much to applaud in this heterodoxy and rebelliousness.  However, without the balance of the arguments for loyalty, tradition, and reverence, these appeals to radical thinking fail to serve education well. Worse yet, most students have long since stopped listening to what they have learned to expect to hear when instructors begin to range freely into their own grievances and ideological fixations when their business ought to be education.

 

Patriotism is complicated in that it can lead to dangerously emotional behavior.  Nevertheless, I have found that my students in Intellectual Heritage and in my English Literature courses have been imbued with a decided ignorance of our nation’s history and accomplishments. Typically, my students can tell me about the failure of the U.S. Constitution to end slavery (what Professor Mary Berry has taught us to call America’s “Birth Defect”), but can tell me little else about that remarkable document and its clever fashioning. They know that George Washington had wooden teeth and that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemmings, but little else about these titanic figures. They have been taught about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and worthy stories they are, but associate Abraham Lincoln only with President’s Day car sales. They know that we rightfully ought to give the land back to the Native Americans and apologize to Japanese Americans for their incarceration during World War II and to the Japan for the atom bombings. All this is worth discussing, but without the countering facts and stories there is little chance they can appreciate their native land or make reasonable judgments about how American history or any other competent historical account works.

 

Religion is another subject for classroom abuse. Most students are religious in some way and come from families that maintain meaningful religious affiliations. In college classes, they tell me, they are often regaled with harsh comments and witticisms about religious ideals and the Bible.  I was myself a witty fellow at the expense of religion until a student took me quietly aside to suggest I be more respectful. I will always remember this young woman recently arrived from the Philippines for the gentleness of her complaint. It made me recognize better who my students are. I believe it has made me a better teacher. In my classroom visits and conversation after with instructors who are similarly witty debunkers, I have tried my best to extend this view.

 

I gained another insight into the problems of one-sidedness in reviewing the grading and commentary on student essays. I don’t doubt that the great majority of instructors grading student papers are dedicated to the principle of fairness.  Still, it is very difficult for most of us to escape the blindness that comes from a habitual practice of uncontested conclusions. It is very difficult not to accept an incomplete argument on a proposition with which we agree, or to accept the merits of arguments on propositions we oppose. It is very difficult not to write “good point” next to a conclusion that has not been supported when that conclusion is our own; and it requires a rare intellectual alertness not to write “needs more examples” or “where’s your proof” next to arguments, even reasonably well supported ones, in support of conclusion we abhor.

 

As more and more instruction, especially in required courses of the core curriculum falls either to graduate students or to adjuncts hired one course at a time, and when fewer seasoned faculty are available to train and supervise them, we should expect problems of fairness, of intellectual rigor, and abuse of the privilege of teaching. All these problems are compounded by the one-sidedness of the faculty in their ideological commitments and a growing intolerance of competing views. The result is abuse of students, occasionally overt and reported, but most often hidden and normalized, and the degrading of the strong traditions of intellectual inquiry and free expression. The faculty, as witnessed by the uniform support shown by the faculty union and the Faculty Senate here at Temple University, sees no problem other than the legislative inquiry being conducting today in this proceeding. For them, the issue is Academic Freedom, which now means the freedom of faculty to do as they please and to be accountable to no one. In contrast, the AAUP statement speaks of obligations and responsibilities to free and open expression and to the diversity of viewpoints.  That statement deserves our reverence and loyalty.

 

I agree with the faculty union and with the Faculty Senate and probably with most of you, that requesting the intervention of the State Legislature is more than uncomfortable.  No one wants government telling instructors what to teach or how if we can avoid it.  Nonetheless, in the present circumstances we need to find a way to re-institute a diversity of views, their free expression, and fair treatment in keeping with what educating our students requires. It is what citizens and tax-payers expect and deserve.

 

Thank you for letting an old professor speak his mind.

 

*

 

Testimony of Logan Fisher:

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak today. My name is Logan Fisher and I am a senior majoring in business law at Temple University. I want to start off by saying that my testimony today will not only contain my personal experiences, but that of many students who are afraid to testify, for fear of repercussions to their academic careers. As a Vice-Chairman of the Temple College Republicans and Vice-President of the Temple Chapter of Students for Academic Freedom, I experienced first hand the apprehension students had to testify today, as they expressed to me concerns of retaliation by professors and fear of being singled out in their classes in the future.

One issue that concerns me is the partisan role that my university, which is a taxpayer supported institution, seems to take in presidential elections. During the 2004 Presidential election year, Michael Moore spoke on campus. While I did not attend the speech myself, I was fully aware that his intention on our Campus was to support John Kerry. Mr. Moore’s website even confirms this. This was part of his “Slacker Tour” which was targeted for battleground states in the election, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and similar states.

Some of my College Republicans who did attend the event also expressed to me how biased it was. My objection, however, was not that he was on campus, but that it was during an election campaign and that while he attacked President Bush and supported John Kerry, no one was invited to speak for the other side. In a setting which is supposed to promote debate and dialogue, Temple provided none.

In addition to Mr. Moore's event, Temple University sponsored "Vote or Die", a campaign which was created rap-star Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, and which was designed to get students out and vote. The tour visited numerous college campuses around the country claiming they wanted to encourage students just to vote. Tickets were handed out in this very Student Center, and were free to anyone with a Temple ID. During their performance at Temple I was treated to entertainer-led chants of "FUCK GEORGE BUSH, FUCK GEORGE BUSH, FUCK GEORGE BUSH." Throughout their performance they lectured students about how important it was to “throw Bush out of the White House” and “…send him the f--- back to Texas.”

It does not seem proper for a taxpayer-funded university to be institutionally partisan like this. I have since spoken to others who have informed me that the election laws require public institutions like universities to provide equal funds to speakers from both sides of the election debate. This was not done at Temple.

While I am a business major, and one would not expect many political comments to be made in business courses, I have had numerous professors make rude comments about Bush, one who told my class that we elected "the dumb ass to a second term", one who harped on the slow federal response to Katrina for over 15 minutes but did not utter a single word about the slow or responses at the state or local level, which Democrats controlled.

I had a professor last semester ask if "Is it ever justified for the United States to break with the international community to protect our own interests?” When I answered, "Yes," the professor told me "well… you're going to have a rough semester in this class." Is it appropriate for professors to threaten students like this just because they disagree with them on political issues? Many of my professors have pictures of Bush on their office doors with derogatory comments attached. This is not very reassuring to me when I show up to talk to them about non-political class-related issues, since they know I am a Vice-Chairman of the College Republicans. I come to my professors seeking help and advice in my academic courses. It is not helpful when my professor feels that it is necessary to inform of his contempt for views of mine which have absolutely nothing to do with the academic subject I am consulting him about.

I recently asked members of my Students for Academic Freedom chapter to respond with any complaints they had about recent classes they had attended at Temple. I would like to read some of those comments:

[Read comments]

Some have suggested that this will “lock down the academic environment.” Quite the opposite. We are not saying “You can’t talk about this, or You cant talk about that.” We are saying “By all means, Talk about it! But talk about both sides.” The only time I feel it is inappropriate is when a professor goes completely out of their individual field of study.

I am saddened that some of you may think this is a waste of time and money. But, I urge you, as the representatives of the taxpayers of this state who provide the generous funds to the university, to educate their students—not to indoctrinate them in one political party’s views or another’s—to find a way to rectify this situation. Thank you for your time.

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