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Saxophone Professor Sounds Off By: Kyle Ellis
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 11, 2005


One year ago, Ball State University alumnus Brett Mock (class of 2005) detailed the aggressively political nature of the university’s “Peace and Conflict Studies Program.” In particular, Mock asserted that George Wolfe, a professor of the saxophone who unaccountably serves as the program’s director, used his course as a bully pulpit to promote his dogmatic conviction that non-violent measures are the only acceptable solutions to conflicts, to thunder against American foreign policy, and to punish with lowered grades students who dared to voice dissent from his rigidly radical politics. 

Little came of the exposure. Mock’s charges, though well-documented, were largely ignored by the university administration. Professor Wolfe continues to practice his brand of activist pedagogy, described by Mock as devoted more to “indoctrination rather than education.”

Speaking at Ball State on October 31, under the sponsorship of the sociology department, Wolfe provided a vivid illustration of what Mock had in mind. Not content to serve as the poster professor for academic abuse, Professor Wolfe has now theatrically thrown himself into the role of free speech martyr. Wolfe took the opportunity of his speech to denounce his critics, most prominently David Horowitz and Students for Academic Freedom, while portraying himself as a victim of political “extremism.”

 

Missing from Wolfe’s lecture was any recognition that he had abused scholarly standards. For instance, Brett Mock has written that Wolfe made it seem as if he would lower the grades of students who questioned his view that non-violence was invariably the optimal solution to conflicts. It has also been noted that Peace and Conflict Studies, the textbook Wolfe assigns in his course, is not a serious scholarly text but a radical polemic that eschews history in favor of ideology.

 

Similarly, Wolfe has required students to attend a screening of the anti-war propaganda film Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the War in Iraq, without material critical of the film and representing the other side. On pain of a lowered grade, Wolfe has also required that students join the Peace Workers, his anti-war campus organization, or else participate in other “mediation” efforts he promotes in keeping with his self-described “Ghandian” philosophy.

 

Yet, throughout his speech, Wolfe refused to take responsibility for this unprofessional conduct. Or to explain how a professor of the saxophone (on which he duly played his own composition -- Weapons of Mass Destruction ) had any qualifications to teach a course about war and peace. The nearest Wolfe came to engaging the concerns of his critics was to claim that he had been unjustly attacked. “I had to allow myself to become a public victim of the injustice,” Wolfe maintained. Warming to this theme, Wolfe further proclaimed himself the target of the “new McCarthyism,” and (evidently without irony) also of “[p]ropaganda techniques are similar to those that were found in the Soviet Union.” (A totalitarian country, by the way, that the leftwing text book he uses portrays as a force for peace.) Asked to elaborate on the origins of these supposedly scurrilous attacks, Wolfe pointed to “bloggers.” At the same time, he claimed, “I don’t read a lot of blogs.”

 

Wolfe did elaborate on his approach to peace studies. But his remarks, far from exonerating him from charges of engaging in political indoctrination, merely strengthened the evidence. Sounding every bit like the pacifist ideologue of his reputation, Wolfe explained that his concern in the peace studies program was not scholarly inquiry into the causes of war but to highlight the “proud history of non-violent activism.” Moreover, Wolfe said, political activism should inform all instruction in peace studies. Toward this end, he explained that the slogan “Speak Truth to Power,” was vital to the “discipline of peace and conflict studies,” and that “this is perhaps the first and foremost axiom to be followed by advocates of non-violence.” Leaving no doubt that his self-professed role as a political advocate disinclined him to teaching diverse perspectives, Wolfe stressed the animating theme of the program: “I am conveying that at Peace Studies we teach non-violence, when you look at the history and philosophy behind that… particularly in the class that I am assigned to teach.”

 

Though he had nothing but scorn for David Horowitz, Wolfe insisted that the approach of another controversial academic, Ward Churchill, offered instructive lessons to professors of peace studies. Wolfe found much to admire in what he called Churchill’s theory of “economic imperialism.” The main allure of the theory was its willingness to identify the United States as the cause of international conflicts, Wolfe informed the audience. Thus he explained that it centered on “whether or not our economic and trade policies do more harm than good, to what degree they exploit other countries economically… especially those countries that don’t have child labor laws and don’t have limits on work per week and so forth. That’s a legitimate topic. That should be discussed and debated, and it should be talked about more often I think, especially in the halls of Congress.” Wolfe’s only objection to Churchill’s views was the Colorado radical’s “extremist language.” This, Wolfe explained, detracted from his political message—a message that, he suggested, should be examined in peace studies courses.

 

Like Churchill, Wolfe declared himself a proponent of “shock value” as an essential teaching tool. Elaborating on his distinctive understanding of academic freedom, Wolfe stated that “there is also a value of what I call ‘shock value’ teaching—that is, when a teacher purposely takes a provocative stance in order to jolt students out of places.” As if to demonstrate the point, Wolfe went on to present a composition by the Australian musician and left-wing political activist Martin Wesley-Smith. Entitled “Weapons of Mass Distortion,” it was a snide and cynical attack on the U.S. liberation of Iraq. Wolfe even played a score on his saxophone to accompany the visual graphics. Discussing the work, Wolfe acknowledged that it was little more than political propaganda. Nonetheless, he stressed that it was “compelling and highly effective.”

 

Even as he made time for second-rate anti-American propaganda, Wolfe did not attempt to address the allegations made by his critics. Never did he explain why a professor whose doctorate is in higher education was qualified to teach a course demanding an expert knowledge of the social, economic and political underpinnings of war and peace. Other than providing a telling illustration of the form, Wolfe also failed to explain why political indoctrination was appropriate for a university classroom. And while he paid lip service to the principles of academic freedom, including students’ “right to non-discriminatory treatment” and “the right to be graded fairly,” he declined to account for his role in violating both.

 

Those omissions will likely pass unnoticed by the university. When Students for Academic Freedom publicized the revelations of Wolfe’s biased curriculum and his conspicuous lack of academic credentials last year, the university chose to look the other way. It seems intent on continuing that tradition. Indeed, according to Rachel Kraus, a Ball State sociology professor who coordinated Wolfe’s recent lecture, he will present the same talk at several other universities throughout the next year. That means more university students will now be afforded the spectacle of Professor Wolfe dilating on matters on which he can claim no special knowledge while railing against American foreign policy and dismissing all adversarial points of view as the “extremism” of his political persecutors. Come to think of it, it will be a lot like taking his course at Ball State.

 

Kyle Ellis is a student at Ball State and runs the website BSyou.net.

 

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