Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Reading Assignment: Update

As promised, here are some of my thoughts on the article. I will proceed from the assumption that we all agree that there is a substantial liberal bias on most university campuses, and rather than trying to prove that point again, I just want to discuss what can or should be done about it.

To the extent that the article mentions grading bias or student intimidation, I don’t think there’s much open for debate. There is no justification for a professor punishing you for your conclusions. Obviously that issue turns on proof of actual bias, and professors who are caught grading outspoken conservative student more harshly should be censured, if not fired, because what they are doing is the opposite of education. They are simply promoting unthinking acceptance of their own opinions - dumbing down their students to advance preferred social causes.

The more difficult issue is whether students can or should have influence in the materials to which they are exposed. Suppose a professor shows his class Fahrenheit 9/11. Should he be compelled to show them Dick Morris’ Fahrenhype 9/11 in rebuttal? If a student must read the Qu’ran for a class, can the professor be compelled to assign the Bible as well? If a history professor assigns a book that is favorable to Communism, should he be forced to assign another book critical of that view? Or forbidden from assigning the first book altogether?

I deliberately phrased my question that way because I think even conservatives will bristle at the use of the words "compelled," "forced" and "forbidden." The Golden Rule simply means that if I wouldn’t want a University administration forcing me to teach certain materials, I shouldn’t want other professors (even those with whom I disagree) to be forced into teaching certain materials.

It’s also impractical. Not every point of view can be taught, not every book can be read, and exposure to the Qu’ran doesn’t necessarily require exposure to the Vedas, the I Ching, or the Book of Mormon. And not every point of view should be taught. In a course on Middle Eastern history, the Bible has an impact, but certainly not as great an impact as the Qu’ran (depending on your focus - if you include Greece in a Middle Eastern history course, the Bible takes on a much larger role).

So there are practical problems with a blanket approach to force equality of thought onto campuses and into classrooms, and ethical problems with the very notion of compulsion in education. To the extent that these lawsuits go beyond attacking intimidation and grading bias, I don’t know that I can support them. A professor’s freedom of thought is as inviolate as the student’s, even if the professor has a captive audience. I fear the result should we try to upset the system, because there is very little that can be taught that won’t offend someone. And I do not fear the impact of leftist propaganda on even a captive audience, because those who are independent-minded enough to question the bias will do so regardless, and those who are not will be indoctrinated by one source or another, it seems.

"Many teachers insist personal politics don't affect teaching. But in a recent survey of students at 50 top schools by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group that has argued there is too little intellectual diversity on campuses, 49 percent reported at least some professors frequently commented on politics in class even if it was outside the subject matter."

As to the first sentence, I don't care what teachers insist, only on facts. As to the last part, so what? You’re going to be exposed to asinine viewpoints in life, so you’d best learn to deal with it, instead of trying to shut up the speaker. So you math professor wants to lecture about politics? Raise your hand and ask him what that has to do with math. He doesn’t approve of the War on Terror? Ask him what that has to do with math, and ask him what he’s being paid to teach. Or go to his office afterwards and refute him. But putting a gag on him? No, I can’t support that, any more than I would support an unconstitutional move by Lefties to shut down talk radio, or Fox News.

"‘I feel like (faculty) are so disconnected from students that they do these things and they can just get away with them,’ said Kris Wampler, who recently publicly identified himself as one of the students who sued the University of North Carolina. Now a junior, he objected when all incoming students were assigned to read a book about the Quran before they got to campus."

You’re not paying tuition so your professors can "connect" with you. You’re there for an education, and one thing you must learn is that a degree doesn’t change a fool into anything but an overeducated fool. And I don’t have much sympathy for his legal challenge (which, according to the article, ended with a small degree of success), because exposure to different viewpoints - even stupid ones - can have serious educational benefits, such as refining one’s ability to spot stupid viewpoints.

So the University used to require student to read a book about the Qu’ran. My wife argued that this would be appropriate for students who take a class on religion, or political science, or history, but not as part of general education. I disagreed. A university is not a vocational school, which only teaches the necessities for a job. If that were the case, we might as well send kids to vocational schools. Education is best when it exposes people to the maximum breadth of views possible. Education involves the entire scope of human knowledge.

I don’t mean to entirely trash the article, or suggest total disagreement with the movements described therein. I think it’s for the best if faculties take notice that yes, there are conservatives in their class; no, conservatives won’t take any crap just because they are conservatives; yes, conservatives should be able to defend their views without fear of retribution; no, professors are not immune from criticism. I love reading Mike Adams columns (and his book, Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel) and seeing the institutionalized idiocy at our universities. I think that legal battles for the free speech rights of conservative and Christian students are essential to defending our nation from internal attack by intellectual elitists.

I have my quibbles with some of the battles, even if I support the war.

Barely Related Tangent: Patton has an interesting read on First Amendment and the freedom of the press. I tried to comment on it over there, but it wouldn't let me for some reason. It kept asking me for my e-mail address, even though I had already entered it.