Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Assault On Campus Professor Expression

In the legislatures of California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Islade, Tennessee and Washington state, the political right is attempting a flurry of new bills to limit what college professors may teach in class. The claim is to "level the field" to allow "conservative views" by students an equal level of discussion and respect. Yet such bills with the power of law if passed, unless they are a general philosophical resolution, are aimed at limiting the ability of many professors who are seen as liberal to progressive in their thinking from expressing their personal philosophy into their classroom teaching environment.

There may well be a few cases of a self-righteous professor who will grade a student lower who expresses political views different from them. But in most cases, a good professor will recognize that not everyone thinks the same, has the same background, has the same life experiences. A good professor will never grade down a student for thinking differently or should ever do so. This would be gravely unethical to pervert the grading system in this way. Whether the thinking is more liberal or more conservative in nature should have no bearing on the final grade. The standard should be the quality of the work. The intellectual processess involved to arrive at the college paper or project involved.

Right wing thinker, David Horowitz, founder of Students For Academic Freedom is largely responsible for inspiring the notion that somehow "conservatives" are not allowed freedom of expression in college settings. Yet many colleges feature conservative, Republican, Christian conservative or other right of center groups. And in reality, the number of college conservatives on most campuses may roughly number the number of progressives or liberals. And on many religious college campuses are no doubt the majority by far.

Horowitz may parade an example of one college biology professor who had an airing scheduled of Michael Moore's "Farenheit 9/11" right before the election as an example of some professors presenting a liberal bias unrelated to their study discipline. Of course this example seemingly has nothing to do with the study of biology. And whether this was presented as a nonclass event is not known to me. But any professor should relate course materials to the study at hand. In a political science class for example, airing this film as well as a more "conservative" one could be used for class discussion purposes. But if presented as part of the regular biology class, it is unclear how a class that usually relates to frog dissection or other study should include any film not related to biology study environment.

In high school, I once remember a French class having a discussion of the Vietnam War during one of the Moratorium Day protests. There were some pretty raw feelings, that to this day I still found very objectionable. And the thin reasoning that because so many French opposed this war, meant this was somehow appropriate seemed like a gnat thin justification for a discusion so unrelated to the learning of the French language for high schoolers. Because so many students boycotted school nationwide that day, that perhaps the teacher felt it was comparable to a national event. And no doubt many nonpolitical science classes did discuss 9/11, the Kennedy or Martin Luther King assasinations or Pearl Harbor, the day these horrific events took place. But in general, divisive topics not related to the study should be avoided, unless a terrific national event warrants such a discussion.

I seriously doubt many conservatives are not free to speak their mind as the aim of these bills in various legislatures so claims. And if a professor gets too far from teaching the subject at hand, a complaint to the college can also result in some sort of conference with the Dean or department head about the teaching content, and the justification for such methods or content. And some department heads should consider sometimes attending a class to getting a feel for the quality of the professor in general. Did they prepare for class? Are they inspirng learning? And professor evaluation surveys are always useful. The power of legislatures to extend their grip into America's college classrooms is a real danger to academic freedom. This is one professor input not needed. Within the walls of the college a variety of internal means can make the college learning experience a quality one. The long reach of government or "conservatives" seeking to legally gag political views they object to is simply not the way.