On September 18, Metro State College in Denver announced that campus officials would investigate a college professor who assigned an essay in an English composition course which explicitly called for a critique of the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
According to students, their instructor, Andrew Hallam, told them that their assignment was to write an essay to critique the “fairy tale image” of the governor that was presented at the Republican National Convention.
Students in the class who did not agree with the instructor’s views reported that the instructor and students ridiculed them and that they had felt like they were singled out. The college officials will be investigating students’ claims of bias and bullying in the classroom.
One student, Jana Barber, suggested that the professor used the classroom setting as “just an open door for him to discuss politics with us.” She has filed a complaint against the professor.
Another student suggested that the professor allowed other students to bully him and his peers who disagreed with the professor. “I said something to him like, ‘Well, there may be five of us, but we’re ready to debate this,’ and he cussed us out,” said Ben Faurer. “He’s trying to avoid all this, go along like nothing is happening,” Faurer said about the instructor who is in his first semester at the college.
A spokesperson for the college, Cathy Lucas, agreed that the professors need to foster free thinking. “The faculty’s responsibility is to provide opportunity for critical thinking and civic engagement, so bringing something of relevancy into the classroom was the faculty’s goal.”
These scenarios, unfortunately, have become far too common in academia. Consider that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit organization which has intervened successfully in defense of liberty-related issues on behalf of students and faculty, often finds itself intervening on behalf of students and faculty who are not part of the “campus left.”
Many of us will remember the “affirmative action bake sales” that were being shut down by campus administrators in 2003 and 2004. Consider that during the last day of “Welcome Week” at UC Irvine in 2003, the College Republicans set up a booth to sell pastries and recruit members, but quickly found that the campus administration was about to shut them down. The College Republicans issued different prices for their bake sale for certain races and genders. For example, a white male would pay $1.00 for a doughnut while a non-white male would pay $0.75. The obvious intention of the event was to satirize affirmative action programs within the University of California. The event at UCI was similar to events on other campuses and was sponsored by UC Regent Ward Connerly. When members of MEChA, the Chicano student group, noticed the bake sale, they contacted administrators and the bake sale was closed down. One MEChA member even ripped down the poster that the College Republicans had hanging at their booth. Sally Peterson, the dean of students at UC Irvine, shut down the event and claimed that selling pastries at different prices for students was a violation of policy and discriminatory.
From 2003 to 2004 bake sales were shut down at Southern Methodist University, William & Mary, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Washington, DePaul, UC Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, University of Indiana, and others.
Regardless of one’s position on affirmative action, colleges were created with the intention of promoting free thought rather than stifling it. When I was a student at UC Irvine, I supported the right of the College Republicans to host this event and was disturbed by the level of animosity exhibited by other students who attempted to stifle the rights of their peers. The groups who attempt to censor organizations like the College Republicans, however, were often the ones who would ally themselves with groups which supported Islamic terrorists and anti-American movements.