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.
In my interactions with the administration, I realized that their commitment to supporting free speech would only be selectively and hypocritically enforced. When I was involved in pro-Israel life on campus, Jewish students were told by the administration that they should not refer to themselves as Zionists because this will “undermine dialogue” with Muslims on campus. On the other hand, student organizations like the Muslim Student Union which blatantly supported vile terrorists and promoted genocidal ideas against Israelis or “Zionist Jews” were perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the campus administration.
In the classroom, depending on a student’s major, the situation could also be worrisome. In certain classes I had to sit through ten minutes of anti-Bush comments at the start of class that took away precious time from analyzing text. While I certainly agree that it is important to critique our government and president, an English class which focuses on the writings of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift is not the time or place to opine about current events. When students in these courses complained or anonymously alerted the professor in early evaluations that his political comments were unnecessary, the professor would redouble his efforts and mention that “evil Republicans” are offended.
Unfortunately, students who aren’t ready to adopt the views of their professors find themselves tiptoeing around certain issues. English majors were obligated to take courses in Chicano studies and postmodernism. Rather than focusing our energies on the classics, we studied how gender is socially constructed and capitalist America is responsible for most of the ills in the world. When I wrote papers, I always made the most objective arguments possible so that I wouldn’t feel hypocritical about adopting anyone’s view and wouldn’t have my grade suffer either.
And yet, the absurdity of it all is how frighteningly easy it is to get an “A” so long as you read the work and present a well-written argument that a professor wouldn’t take offense to.
I would argue that the curriculum in colleges has been diluted. Instead of a focus on intelligent literature and encouraging free thinking, students will find themselves reading strange, poorly written postmodernist literature in the humanities. It becomes abundantly clear to many students that if they write what the teacher wants to read — no matter how horribly written it is — they’re still likely to do okay. If students laugh at the asinine anti-Bush and anti-Republican comments, the professor will smile with glee and appreciation.
In departments like political science and social science these problems are even more pronounced. For instance, one of the students who came forward during the Orange County Independent Task Force investigation described the campus climate as dominated by a philosophy that looks at the United States and Israel as enemies, while supporting terror organizations. The same student had a professor who had a picture of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on her computer. This student also recounts an argument with an Iranian student who said “f— Israel” and pulled down his trousers to show his swastika tattoo.
College institutions were initially created with the objective of fostering open, rich dialogue and free thought. Students shouldn’t have to avoid certain professors like the plague; nor should they adopt the positions of professors in order to make the grade. My personal college experience was spent defending my Israeli heritage, defending America, and trying to find those few professors who could actually teach. It shouldn’t be that way for me – or anyone else.