Thursday, September 22, 2005

Combating The Faculty

As an undergraduate student in a California State University, I am sometimes shocked and apalled by my course material. This is by design. When I take a Debate and Persuasion class, we encounter controversial material and have at one another. But what about in a more neutral class setting? Spanish II - should I be subject to my professors views on President Bush? American Lit of the 1920's - a professor that is really reaching can link some of the ideas in these works to today's social critique, but should that be the central focus of the class? When these questions are asked, by me, of the faculty I get the boilerplate responses - I am a "fascist censor" who is "discriminating" against these innocent, tenured lambs simply because I disagree politically. Hmmm. Never mind the fact I pay your salary, asshole...

“Discrimination” and the resulting outcry of public disgust has become more and more a ‘red herring’ in today’s society. Recent news shows a sub-par Harvard librarian suing for promotion on the basis of gender discrimination, when really it is a matter of professional proficiency. Constantly, individuals that cannot measure up to the bar in certain areas look outside of their own shortcomings, seeking to place the blame on the “establishment” or “corporate America” or “the Man. When did personal accountability die? These people constantly bemoan their lack of vertical achievement as though their mere existence itself warrants a raise or promotion, not the actions and attitudes they reflect. In all but one arena, this is proven true, time and again. In academics, public outcry simply doesn’t happen. Discrimination on the basis of political affiliation or belief occurs on a daily basis. Not only are tenured pundits in academia doling out lower-than-earned grades, but they are indoctrinating future generations of students in the same logically flawed principles they hold dear. Conservative students on college campuses are becoming increasingly vocal, reacting to the flaws in dogma that the faculty presents. However, in many colleges across the country, including this one, moderate and conservative students are being discriminated against via grades, not for writing bad material, but for thoughts that are independent of some professor’s warped ideologies and delusions of grandeur.

Professors contest that the proposed California state legislation, Senate Bill 5 (SB5), serves an anti-pluralism agenda, and is censorship masquerading as fair practice. Get a grip. To cite my class notes on this discussion, “SB5 is scary, and getting scarier all the time.” What exactly is it about the bill that is so frightening? Well, to further cite from my notes, “its utter nonsense aimed at making us look unaccountable while promoting anti-pluralism in a very covert way. In other words, if you can't present all viewpoints than you can't present any of it at all.”

The legislation of SB5, the actual verbiage of the bill, says nothing about presenting all opposing perspectives on any or all curricula, but rather pointing out the fact that distinctions do exist. It does, however, seek to prevent indoctrination of impressionable students. There is an implicit difference between educating a student versus indoctrinating them - one involves imparting understanding, knowledge, training and mental growth onto a paying consumer, while the other revolves around the uncritical acceptance of a body of principles which the student may be too naive to reject. By ignoring the tacit differences in these definitions, faculty of the 60’s and 70’s eras have often abused their inferred power by brainwashing students and hiding behind academic freedom. To quote directly from 66015.8b3 "Faculty shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination." This is not the end of academic freedom, but hopefully the end of professor-sponsored anarchic-socialist agendas being posited in academia and upheld as gems of the institution, then being hidden behind tenure.

An example of “academic freedom” run amuck would be University of Colorado, Boulder professor Ward Churchill. In his controversial essay “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” he draws parallels between the victims of the 9/11 attacks and Eichmann. Now, normally I’m all for free speech, but this crosses the line into the “hate speech” arena, by implicating one of the most famous Nazi figures and all he stands for in association with 3000 victims of an unprovoked terror attack. This essay, in all its vitriolic, hate-filled glory, is standard reading for the students in his class. Not a Political Science class, or an American Politics class – “AMIND 440 – A History of American Indian Art.” How, exactly, would this fit into an art class, let alone a general education, group specific class taken by many undergraduates of all different majors? These students didn’t sign up to read this essay, but to study pictographs left on the caves of New Mexico by the Anasazi (yeah, I’ve taken Native American History at SDSU, and it was well taught and informative - highly recommended class for undergrads).

Sometimes students are free to choose a path that involves straight brainwashing and indoctrination. Some college majors today have very little to do with “education” and everything to do with “ideology.” To demonstrate this, I would like to use a San Francisco school as an example – the New College of California. Specifically, one of their MA programs jumps out at me. Most MA programs involve 50 credits, a thesis, and a working knowledge of the field you are in. Mine, for example, in English Literature, will likely involve a very thorough and comprehensive study of Chaucer and Milton and their effects on early monastic culture in Europe. The MA program at NCC is in “Activism and Social Change.” You can literally complete this course of study in a year if you are anti-everything. One of the faculty advisers makes her claim to credibility as having lived in a tree for two years to prevent it from being removed. The tree is now predicted to die within 10 years as a result of her stay, or in academ-ese “her imperialistic colonization of the tree in her greedy, blindly reaching quest for personal gain and attention only further solidifies the need for revolutionary action on the part of redwoods everywhere. Rise, woodland friends!” This loosely termed “course of study” is a political indoctrination which the student there chose to undertake. Churchill’s use of a GE classroom as a political forum is one which the students didn’t choose, but were burdened with.

By legislatively drawing this distinction, the bill is preventing the dissemination of information that may possibly be erroneous or unsuitable for relatively uninformed and unformed audiences. 95% of the time, this measure is meaningless, as most college curricula is indisputably set in solid foundations and many college freshman already possess critical thinking skills. However, the other 5% of the time, this bill may prevent valuable classroom time from being dedicated to highly disputed, controversial opining on the part of a handful of faculty being presented as fact rather than conveyance of subject matter of great importance to a student’s academic success.

We should never forget that as a public educational institution, whom this legislation applies to, we cater to the student. The student paying for Art History or Calculus should receive instruction in that discipline, not in some tangential ideology that the professor holds dear. I’ll state again: we, the California public educational institutions, exist at the whim and service of the voters and taxpayers. Monies that universities once received from alumni are dropping rapidly. Often, alumnus organizations that reduce or reject funding of scholarships and operational monies cite a divergence of curricula from statewide guidelines and note an increase in ideological distinctions in the classroom, as noted in the 3/21 Daily Aztec.

It may be fair to examine the complete text of the legislation before vilifying it. The text of the bill, in it's complete and amended form can be found at: LINK

From 66015.8b2 :

Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences
shall respect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human
knowledge in these areas, and provide students with dissenting sources
and viewpoints. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own
findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider
and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines
should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.

This bill is not about anti-pluralism or censorship in any way, shape or form. Rather, it is about fostering an academic atmosphere in which a free exchange of ideas may occur, uninhibited by the personal ideologies of the faculty or student body alike. A Students Bill of Rights is necessary to achieve freedom of speech in academics by those whom academics exist for: the students.