Freedom Line

One can’t help but wonder if such one-sided education prepares students for the world outside the comfortable confines of the college campus.

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Is a Little Intellectual Diversity Too Much to Ask?

By Erin Murphy

A life-size photography exhibit put on display this week depicts a George W. Bush look-alike in a drunken stupor fondling a woman’s breasts. The artist described it as symbolizing the President’s "imperial infidelity," for whatever that’s worth. As fascinating as it is that this is someone’s version of art, even more puzzling is who would display such an exhibit. Of course, once The New York Times and The New Yorker had the good sense to refuse, the artist had only one place left to turn: academia. Sure enough, the exhibit found a home on the walls of Lehigh University’s political science department, with the approval of administration and faculty alike.

Compare this with an occurrence at California Polytechnic State University, where a little over a year ago a student attempted to post a flier in the campus multicultural center advertising an upcoming speech by a black author. The flier contained the speaker’s name and picture, the time and place of the speech, and the name of the speaker’s book, which argues that African-Americans are too dependent on government programs. Students at the multicultural center asked the student to leave their public campus space, then called campus police and complained of "a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature." The student was forbidden to post his flier and forced to apologize for his monumental offense to the multicultural students.

Thus is the wonder of the world of higher education, where portraying a President in compromising sexual positions is considered to advance political discourse, but suggesting that minority students come hear another point of view is grounds for police action. Only high inside the ivory towers of academia, the breeding grounds for those to the left of left, could such logic exist.

College students love to complain about how campuses are removed from "reality," which is generally defined as living in subsidized housing, sleeping on a park bench, or working in a makeshift medical clinic in Africa. But these same students seem completely oblivious to how far removed their campuses are from the rest of the nation’s political discourse. In the country as a whole, Democrats and Republicans are almost evenly split, but studies indicate that academic faculties are often skewed at least 10 to 1 in Democrats’ favor. My law school’s faculty of more than 100 includes only one registered Republican. On many campuses, students are more likely to find a Marxist professor than a conservative professor. It’s not unusual to hear a professor assert that Ronald Reagan systematically and deliberately spread AIDS to homosexuals, or that George W. Bush is not legitimately our president; many professors at my law school quite convincingly contend there is no such thing as a free-market economy and that law itself is completely indeterminate.

The most disturbing aspect of this phenomenon is how students on both sides of the political spectrum — most paying astronomical tuition — are being shortchanged. Schools often structure their curricula around professors’ specialties; thus when liberal thought is so drastically overrepresented, it is bound to overshadow necessary curricula. During most of my terms as an undergraduate, the journalism school I attended offered at least three advanced courses on race, poverty, gender or the evils of the death penalty, but not a single class on editorial writing.

Although many classes attempt to examine issues from both sides, conservative arguments are bound to be less convincing when rarely advanced by anyone who believes them. This is regrettable for both conservative and liberal students — for conservatives because they are not taught the most defensible form of their arguments and for liberals because their own views are not adequately challenged. Sure, students can make an effort to push the envelope themselves, but shouldn’t the bulk of that burden belong on the faculty? After all, they are the ones paid to foster diversity of thought.

Professors with a point of view are not incapable of teaching two sides of an issue — in my experience, many do a remarkable job. But not all professors are so open-minded; some blatantly intend to inculcate students with their political views. For example, last year a Citrus College professor required students to write anti-war letters to President Bush, and a Colorado professor asked students to write an essay explaining why the President was a war criminal. Students who refused or expressed different opinions received no credit. Sometimes professors offer such assignments for extra credit, but is that really a proper option — those who think like me get extra credit, and those who don’t, please keep it to yourself?

Maybe one Berkeley professor had it right in adding to a course description: "conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections." Although the professor later apologized, one can almost appreciate the initial honesty in admitting up front that a course is designed in furtherance of a professor’s point of view. Perhaps some schools should follow suit and footnote this disclaimer on their standard-issue mission statements professing life-long pursuit of intellectual freedom and diversity. Then at least students could weed out the schools that had no intention of fostering conservative thought.

One can’t help but wonder if such one-sided education prepares students for the world outside the comfortable confines of the college campus. The cold harsh truth is that, as deluded as professors may consider them, most Americans accept that George W. Bush is our constitutionally elected President, that Ronald Reagan was not trying to kill off homosexuals, and that we need to fight terrorism. Hopefully, most students understand this and take professors’ personal mantras to the contrary with a grain of salt. For those who don’t, graduation and the working world are going to be quite a culture shock. But then, if reality is a little too much to face, they can always seek jobs in academia.

Erin Murphy is a Contributing Editor with the Center for Individual Freedom. She is also a law student at the Georgetown University Law Center.

[Posted February 5, 2004]

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