Like many other universities, Indiana’s Ball State has a program of required reading for incoming freshman. Called the “Freshman Connections Program,” it requires all new students at Ball State – some 5,000 per year -- to read an assigned book called a “common reader.” This is the first taste that students get of a university sponsored text, and it is the only text that the university itself – as opposed to individual professors – will assign as required reading for students.
The Freshman Connections Program at Ball State has been in existence for eight years. In all those years it has never required a conservative text, but in the last two it has required consecutive readings from the radical left. Books like these might be an opportunity to stimulate intellectual debate. Unfortunately, the Freshman Connections Program fails to facilitate an environment through which such learning and discourse could take place.
For the incoming class in the fall of 2003, Ball State assigned Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled and Dimed. Ehrenreich is an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America who contradicts all evidence that America is an upwardly mobile society with unparalleled opportunities for the working poor. She condemns the market system and America’s defense policies and in favor of lifting sanctions against Cuba’s Communist dictatorship. She labels U.S. sanctions “criminal” but has no similarly harsh criticisms for Cuba’s Communist dictator who has bankrupted his country and turned it into an island prison.
In the fall of 2004, Ball State followed the Ehrenreich selection with Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, which is yet another attack on the free market system. Schlosser argues that it is the free market that causes problems in the food industry and that only far more intrusive government regulation than already exists will make the food industry productive and moral. In his book, Schlosser condemns Wal-Mart and Costco because they buy books in mass quantities, which allows them to sell at a lower price (though his own book is evidently sold on their shelves). Schlosser refers to capitalism – in fact the most productive economic system on record, a pseudo-religious ideology, and declares that “many of America’s greatest accomplishments stand in complete defiance of the free market: prohibition of child labor, the establishment of the minimum wage, the creation of wilderness areas and national parks, the construction of dams, bridges roads and churches. If all that mattered were the unfettered right to buy and sell, tainted food could be dumped next door to elementary schools, and every American family could import an indentured servant (or two) and pay them with meals instead of money.”
Ball State is not content to merely force feed students these radical texts. The authors are also invited to come and lecture to a convocation of the freshman class. The university pays travel, expenses and a hefty honorarium in the neighborhood of $15,000 so that its most vulnerable and least prepared students can get an extra dose of these extreme views presented under the imprimatur and with all the authority of the university behind them. Since it is a well established fact that the overwhelming majority of faculty at institutions like Ball State lean to the political left (the figures in most studies suggest a ratio of 9-1 aligning on the left side of the spectrum) there is little chance that students will be provided with the other side of the issues these radical texts raise.
However, even this loaded curriculum was insufficient for Ball State faculty in the case of the Schlosser book. After Schlosser’s appearance, the university allocated even more time and money to speakers eager to expand on his position and elaborate the ideological prejudices on display in Fast Food Nation. The Freshman Connections Program lined up speakers Chris Bedford, of the Humane Society of the United States, Rodney Walker, a disgruntled former employee at a Muncie hog farm, Dave and Sara Ring, local farmers practicing biological and/or sustainable farming, professor Mylan Engel a leftwing animal rights activist from Northern Illinois University, Alex Jameson, a holistic health counselor, vegan chef, and girlfriend of Morgan Spurlock, director of the movie Super-size Me, an anti-McDonald’s diatribe which was also screened for university students. No representatives of McDonald’s or critics of the film (of which there are many) were invited to attend. All of these sources presented views, arguments, and observations consistent with Schlosser's attack on the food industry.
On top of class credit, the university attempts to induce students to attend these events as a part of the Freshman Connections “passport program.” A member of the Freshman Connections team, Melissa Messineo, let all students attending know that they should get their passports “stamped” so they could be included in more chances to win money and prizes that would available only to those who attended the programs. While the passports do encourage attendance, they also favor students who are willing to support the radical agendas of the invited proselytizers. Students who disagree with the program will not get the extra credit or money rewards. So in this way the university is again supporting and subsidizing radical ideology.
In total, the university spent nearly $43,000, to bring in six speakers, one author and one film, all with a single radical message. Ironically, the funds for this indoctrination program were supplied by the taxpayers of a state whose economy depends heavily on the very industry under attack.
If the purpose of the Freshman Connection program were truly educational or academic wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that its Ball State organizers would provide at least one critical or dissenting view? How can students – freshman in particular – be expected to learn anything if they are only presented with one side – an extreme side at that – of so important an issue. The only conclusion is that the Ball State faculty and administrators responsible for this program were not interested in the education of its freshman class, but in their indoctrination in radical ideas, which are hostile to a major industry in the state.
Do traditional farmers have an opinion/response to the slanders in Schlosser’s book? Are there disinterested experts who disagree with Schlosser’s socialist attacks on the free market? An incoming Ball State freshman would not be made aware of them by the Freshman Connection program. It is inexplicable that an institution whose ostensible purpose is to educate students would spend tens of thousands of dollars to ram a one-sided view of so important a subject down incoming students’ throats. It is passing strange that this should take place in a publicly funded institution in a farm state, which has been richly supported by agricultural wealth.
There is a corollary to this story, which links it to another academic program at Ball State which is more properly termed indoctrination than education, and which I have actively criticized. This was the Peace and Conflict Studies Program headed by saxophone professor George Wolfe, who demanded adherence to his anti-military views and recruited students to his politically radical organizations, giving them academic credit for complying.
In the spring of 2004, Ball State professor, Abel Alves and his wife Carol Blakney, were convicted of trespassing on the property of a Muncie hog farm, owned by Bill and Kaye Whitehead. Ball State University student, Amanda Carpenter, decided to address this issue on her website http://www.BSYOU.net. Specifically, Carpenter wanted to look into the connection between Alves, whose ideological beliefs turned out be identical to those of the Schlosser book, the panelists and the propaganda film about McDonald’s. In an exclusive interview with Professor Alves, Carpenter demonstrated that it was Alves who suggested, and was able to get approved, the entire speakers list that reinforced the radical views of Fast Food Nation. This prompted Carpenter to post Alves’ role on her website and to post mock “Wanted” posters on campus to expose his connection to the program.
This tactic backfired as Alves claimed the role of victim, claiming he was being persecuted by Carpenter. When Carpenter tried to meet with University President Jo Ann Gora, she found herself persona non grata. Reporter Seth Slabaugh wrote a negative piece about Carpenter and her posters in the Muncie Star Press. Slabaugh is the husband of the campus ombudsman, who refused to respond to Carpenter’s concerns. Carpenter had become a pariah in the official the Ball State community.
The Ball State chapter of the American Association of University Professors rallied to the defense of Wolfe and Alves and without so much as contacting myself or Amanda Carpenter dismissed our claims and criticized our actions. One professor, John Rouse, invited us into his class to present our case but denied us the ability to present our evidence and dismissed our concerns as well. In sum, there is no element of the Ball State Administration or faculty that is interested in what we have to say, even to the extent of considering the evidence we have gathered to make our case. There is no interest in investigating our claims. There is only an interest in silencing us.
As a footnote to these events, Alves and his wife Blakney were given an award for peaceful activism by George Wolfe, the director of the ideologically oriented Peace and Conflict Studies program, whom I have criticized for indoctrinating students and rewarding academically for adopting his political views. The students in the Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies class, which Professor Wolfe teaches, were even required to attend the ceremony that congratulated and awarded Alves and Blakney for their actions. Protesting against productive members of the Indiana community, breaking the law, and violating the property rights of the owners of Seldom Rest Farm are the values honored by the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Ball State. What more eloquent statement could there be of the fact that this is not an academic program, whose interest is knowledge and education, but an ideological recruitment and training program for the political left?
In fact, wouldn’t it make more sense to reward the owners of the Seldom Rest Farm for peacefully settling the dispute in the court system, as opposed to taking the law into their own hands as Alves and Blakney, professor Wolfe’s honorees did. On the other hand, there is no chance of that happening at Ball State University whose administrators seem perfectly content with the law-breaking, business- and military-bashing agendas of their radical professors.