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Hoosiers for Campus Free Speech By: Sue Loughlin
Tribstar.com | Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Indiana State University sophomore Grant Scharton remembers walking into a political science class the day after the Nov. 2 election.

While some students bemoaned the re-election of George Bush as president, Scharton, a Republican, was elated.

A professor asked students their views on the election, and the majority opposed Bush's re-election. When Scharton raised his hand to say he was happy with the outcome, he remembers the professor looking at him and saying: So you're happy George Bush can invade more countries and bring war to more people.

Scharton admits he may not have an exact quote, but does know the professor's response offended him. "I didn't know what to say. I shrugged my shoulders and said, 'That's not how I see it.'"

While the political science professor, Glenn Perry, hadn't yet begun teaching the class when he made the remark, Scharton believes that Perry crossed the line with his anti-Bush response. He believes the comments were inappropriate and Perry - who is in a position of authority - should have remained neutral.

Perry doesn't recall making such a comment, although he acknowledges, "I'm not very happy with the foreign policy of this [Bush] administration. I've made a few statements that might have irritated some Bush supporters."

Perry said he does attempt to present different points of view in his classes.

While Scharton was offended, he still respects Perry and described him as "a very smart individual."

Scharton's experience and concerns touch on an issue of growing, national prominence on college campuses - conservatives who say there is a liberal bias at state universities and that students need legal protection from harassment or discrimination based on their political beliefs.

David Horowitz, a conservative intellectual, is leading a national campaign to expose so-called left-wing political bias on university campuses through organizations including Students for Academic Freedom, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and FrontPage Magazine. Horowitz's many endeavors have received millions of dollars in funding from major conservative philanthropic groups such as the Bradley, Scaife and Olin foundations.

The "Students for Academic Freedom" organization has been actively pursuing legislation in 20 states.

In Indiana, House Bill 1531 authored by state Rep. Luke Messer calls for an academic bill of rights at state universities. It would require the boards of trustees at public colleges and universities to develop guidelines and implement an academic bill of rights that protects students. On Jan. 18, the legislation was referred to the Committee on Education; the bill has not yet had a hearing.

Part of the legislation states: "Faculty should not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination."

While Messer declined comment on the bill, his legislative assistant, Quin Cheatham, said Messer "thinks it's an important measure for state universities to keep an open mind as far as academic curriculum. It's not necessarily a right-wing conspiracy to quell the liberal side of a lot of universities." She suggested that the bill, rather than being a dictate "is more of a suggestion. It encourages boards of trustees and those who decide on curriculum to keep an open mind."

The bill has no provisions for sanctions or penalties.

The state and national chapters of the American Association of University Professors oppose the legislation and are actively monitoring it, said Joe Losco, Ball State political science chairman who has been active with organization at the state and national level.

The bill is "ideologically driven and not a matter of good policy," he said.

It's not needed because all universities have means of redress, such as review committees, if students believe they are being unfairly treated for giving the "wrong" political views, Losco said.

"At Ball State, there are provisions about student rights incorporated into the handbook," said Losco, past president of the Indiana American Association of University Professors who is currently on the national organization's board.

One of Losco's concerns is that the bill "essentially gives authority to boards of trustees to intervene in specific cases. I don't think boards want that."

He's also concerned about a provision that says: "Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should respect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas and provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints."

That could mean creationism is mandated and brought into college classrooms, "and that certainly is a retrogressive step," Losco said.

Bradley Shipp, national field director for Students for Academic Freedom, suggests the legislation is needed because university faculty "have wiped political and intellectual diversity away and instituted their own viewpoints in classrooms. This has been shown over and over again."

According to Horowitz, the legislation would be telling colleges, "We want you to encourage intellectual diversity on your campus and discourage indoctrination," he said. He suggests university faculty "have lost their sense about what's appropriate."

At ISU, Robert Guell, associate professor of economics, knows his conservative views are in the minority on campus.

"I don't consider it a problem," he said. "I've never felt my political views have held me back in any way."

He doesn't believe legislation including an academic bill of rights is needed. "That is a solution in search of a problem, in my mind," Guell said. "It's the wrong reaction."

He believes that "every good, liberal college professor I know would love a conservative student in their class making an articulate debate."

Students might mistake a faculty member's desire to engage in debate as an effort to propagandize.

In Guell's classroom, he tries to present both sides of an issue, whether he's discussing affirmative action or possible changes to Social Security.

He believes it's good for students to be challenged on their views, and students should use the opportunity "to hone their ability to articulate what they believe."

Rich Schneirov, who has more liberal political leanings, said he doesn't give his opinions in class but he will present a point of view.

"That's what academic freedom is all about. We have the right and obligation to present our view of the subject matter," supported by evidence, said the history professor.

Academic freedom comes with responsibilities, and faculty, as a matter of professional ethics, "should not use the classroom as a place to sound off on issues that don't relate to the course."

Faculty strive for objectivity, not neutrality. Objectivity "doesn't mean you don't have a point of view," he said. "We do students a disservice if we don't express that point of view and show how it's embedded in a larger philosophical argument and marshal evidence for it."

Faculty must always keep an open mind that their point of view might be wrong. "All human knowledge is provisional," Schneirov said. "We're always revising, modifying and sometimes discarding our points of view based on the evidence."

Schneirov, who is involved with ISU's American Association of University Professors chapter, said the proposed legislation "is a very bad thing for academic freedom." He believes it could be a license for students and other conservatives to intimidate faculty.

He maintains that "right-wing groups" are behind this national movement and they are targeting professors. "That's what the government did and conservatives did during the McCarthy period. They targeted people and people got afraid. That's not a good thing," he said.

It's one thing if the goal is to invigorate debate and discussion, Schneirov said. "We always can use more debate and discussion."

But conservative groups are targeting people and accusing professors of abusing their authority in order to get right-wing views into the classrooms.

"That short-circuits the whole intellectual process that should be at the center of things," Schneirov said. "They are arguing that the bulk of the professoriate are unprofessional. I don't believe that is the case."

Linda Maule, interim director of women's studies, suggests "there seems to be a fundamentalism that is growing in our society and culture and an intolerance for people or views that we don't like," she said.

The whole point of higher education is to expose students to a variety of views, she said. But after a student learns them, "What you do with them is your own business. How you integrate it into your world view Š you have absolute control over."

While she often disagrees with conservatives, she believes it's important to be knowledgeable about their views and not misinformed, she said. "I want to be exposed to conservative thinking. I think there are reasonable conservatives," she said.

Maule is concerned that "we're becoming intensely ideological on all sides of the spectrum," she said. Once people believe their view is the only correct view, "You've stopped critically reflecting, and someone who does that is in a world of trouble. How can we continue to grow?"

Often, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

While she is an activist in matters of social justice, she knows it's important to be open to different points of view. "I can't get them to learn if I hit them over the head and do things in such a way that it alienates them," she said. "Maybe in the beginning I was too ideological."

Higher education needs to do a better job of modeling for students how there can be a diversity of views, she said. "I don't always do it well."

She's not concerned about the proposed legislation. "I don't think it means anything," she said. "The Supreme Court has been clear. Professors are protected in what they can say in the classroom, as long as they can make a connection that it is part of the education process," Maule said.

The professor-student relationship might also pave the way for misperceptions, she said. Students who are 18-to-24-year-olds often view professors as having a lot of power; if so, those students might have a hard time understanding that when a professor voices something, that opinion or view is not being imposed on them.

"Often we as professors don't realize how much power we have. We don't see ourselves as that powerful, so we don't understand the impact on our students when we speak passionately about something," she said.

ISU senior Jonathan Moore, who is active with the campus College Republicans group, suggests that conservatives on campus do not feel comfortable expressing their point of view in class or outside class. They might be concerned about criticism from faculty or even fellow students.

He notes that when College Republicans put up fliers on campus, they will quickly be torn down.

Moore, who was interviewed as he watched the inauguration of George Bush on television, believes there is a liberal bias at ISU but that it is no different than at many other colleges.

"I don't think there's an intentional bias in the classroom," he said, but sometimes professors use their position to preach their point of view and in most cases that is a liberal point of view.

He does believe he's been in classes where if he expressed his conservative point of view, it might have hurt his grade.

Moore supports an academic bill of rights. "It's designed to eliminate bias in the classroom" and protects liberals as well as conservatives, he said.

"I think the legislation is needed because there are universities that are overly biased and sometimes don't allow diversity on campus," he said.

Other students on campus don't see liberal bias as a problem or something that affects them.

Jayson Meyer, a fifth-year student and fine arts major who describes himself as more Republican than Democrat, said he feels free to express his point of view and doesn't believe it would hurt his grade if he differed with a professor.

Sophomore Anna Kelly, a life sciences major, said faculty "say what they think if you ask them, but they don't impose it on you," she said. She finds that they try to present different viewpoints on an issue "and let you choose what you would prefer."

She describes herself as a political moderate, with Republican views on some topics and not on others.

Kelly has some friends who are more liberal and feel "there is more of a conservative bias here on campus" among other students.

This article appeared in the Terre Haute Star Tribune




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