February 26th, 2004
Back to Opinion page.
Bias in academia a concern
Academic bias has been in the news quite a bit recently, and this act from a UNC-Chapel Hill instructor underscores the worry many have about academia being a mecca for Leftist thought at the expense of ideological diversity. After a student expressed views critical of homosexuality at the end of class, the instructor, Elyse Crystall, told her students in a mass e-mail: "[W]hat we heard [T]hursday at the end of class constitutes 'hate speech' and is completely unacceptable. [I]t has created a hostile environment."
The thing about e-mail and the Internet is that it allows people to spout off quickly to a large audience and instantly deliver it without thinking through what they have to say. Twenty years ago, a teacher may have had a similar reaction to a conservative student, but the Internet has made it easier to blast that reaction to the whole class. By the time the professor got done printing, signing, and taking the letter of "apology" to be mailed, he would likely have realized how much of an idiot he would look like when mailing this.
Regardless, such a scolding of a student for expressing a reasonable, bible-based viewpoint is inexcusable. Crystall's attack on "Tim" is creates a hostile environment in the classroom, unfairly hampering his performance in her class. Furthermore, Crystall has damaged her credibility as a teacher with this statement. Any grade lower than an "A" is now automatically suspect because the student can easily claim discrimination.
Bias in academia has been a past concern of the Indiana University College Republicans, which published the primary voting records of the IU political science department in the first issue of Hoosier Review way back in 1997. (At the time, HR was the bi-weekly online newsletter of the CR's.) I republished the chart in a September column.
In my time at IU, while some professors have made it clear they have Left-leaning views, I did not feel that being a conservative (and, my last two and a half years, a conservative activist) in any way hampered my academic studies. I took a class from the much-maligned Gender Studies department my final semester at IU, and (while I felt the reading list was weighted to the Left) I felt no concern that my grade in the class would suffer as a result of my conservative views, which I expressed in class. As a matter of fact, I got an "A" in the class.
But, as the experience of "Tim" showed, that is not the case throughout academia. Other UNC students shared similar concerns with the Chapel Hill Herald-Sun. That is not even the case throughout IU. Other conservative IU students have had different experiences than I did. One such former student is former HR editor-in-chief Brian Wilhelm. There is also a more recent example, which HR's own Brent Smith comments on here.
Bias in academia is also a concern of conservative activist David Horowitz, who is campaigning for the "Academic Bill of Rights". There is a myriad of examples of bias in academia. Horowitz reports of a professor with an anti-military bias who singled out and ridiculed one of his students who was in the campus ROTC program. Syndicated columnist David Limbaugh reports that in a "Seminar in Women’s Studies" the University of South Carolina required students to "acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and other institutionalized forms of oppression exist" in order to participate in classroom discussion. We have all heard horror stories of campus "speech codes".
Closer to home, we have the case of Eric Rasmusen. In September, some Leftists were outraged that the IU business professor made statements on his Web site critical of homosexuality. Some (such as failed 2003 city council candidate Mark Brostoff) called for censorship of Rasmusen's ability to post such comments on the MyPage server. Others (including IU senior Aja Romano in a letter to the IDS and IU senior Melissa Taylor in a letter to the IDS) went to the extreme of stating that Rasmusen should either be fired or should resign because of his politically incorrect views. Sharon Brehm took the opportunity to, in her official capacity as Chancellor, publicly denounce Rasmusen for his statements.
Note the difference in Crystall's public attack on an individual student and Rasmusen's blog. While some Leftists worried that Rasmusen's publicly stated views may be "intimidating" to homosexual students, Crystall singled out a student for his views and ridiculed him to the entire class. The two are not even in the same league.
It is fine that American universities are, by and large, havens for Leftist thought. I expected no less when I entered Indiana University my freshman year in the fall of 1993. The problem is when the Left at a university (especially a tax-funded university) uses force to suppress opposing viewpoints. We hear a lot about the need for diversity in matters of race, gender, religion, national origin and even sexual orientation. But for the free exchange of ideas to be truly beneficial to the university community, ideological diversity must be valued as well. Indeed, without respect for ideological diversity, there is no such thing as the free exchange of ideas.
Horowitz has found a good cause with the Academic Bill of Rights, and it is a law that all 50 states should consider passing.