Academic Freedom Abuses Unabated on Campus · 06 December 2005

In a recent article for the campus paper that URI, Ryan reported how Professor John Montgomery taught students in his class, Math 107, about Venn Diagrams, a mathematical tool for depicting subsets of a group:

Example:
W = all members of President Bush's administration
S = all members who are stupid
I = all members who are incompetent
Y = all members who are "yes -men" (or women)

Describe and draw a Venn Diagram:
a) all incompetent "yes-men" who are not stupid
b) those who are stupid or incompetent, but not yes-men.

While not a member himself of the Math 107 class, Ryan received this information from another student taking the course who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal. Ryan also reports that when teaching "All & No statements as conditionals: translate," this Professor used the phrase "No Republican cares for the homeless" as an example.

Ryan condemned this irrelevant and insulting political intrusion into the teaching of mathematics, but Prof. Montgomery did not agree that his examples were inappropriate. In a message responding to Ryan's article appearing on a public campus message board, the professor admitted that he used partisan examples in the classroom, but claimed that his use of these examples did not constitute indoctrination:

I never get to discuss politics or my worldview in class. The one-line statements that I use for examples (in symbolic logic) are never discussed because their truth or non-truth is irrelevant to the validity of a symbolic argument. In an attempt to keep the students awake, I try to make the statements provocative or entertaining. When I proposed the stereotype statement "No Republican cares for the poor," it was in the context of "how would you negate that" or "change that into an "if...then..." statement.

So if we are to follow Prof. Montgomery's logic, he picked the example of the Bush administration and applied insulting descriptions to its members merely to make the lesson more interesting. To whom? His Republican students who support George Bush or his leftwing students who despise George Bush? Surely the example had a different impact on both groups.

Suppose the example was set up this way:

W = all members of Peace Movement
S = all members who are stupid
I = all members who are incompetent
Y = all members who are traitors

Does anyone in his right mind think that Professor Montgomery could get away with using this example and defend it by saying he was only trying to make it interesting?

Of course if he used this example, a delegation of leftist faculty would have appeared in his office (if he was lucky) and in the Administration's office (if he was not). It is difficult to conceive a scenario where Professor Montgomery would not be forced to apologize and withdraw the example. Unfortunately - but typically - there are no conservatives to speak of on the liberal arts faculty of the University of Rhode Island to make such a protest. Consequently no such apology was forthcoming.

Instead, rather than taking Ryan's cautionary message under consideration, Professor Montgomery cavalierly dismissed his concerns and criticized the student for speaking out. "The students in my class," he said, "seem to be able to take care of themselves; they don't need Mr. Bilodeau to watch out for them." In fact - thanks to these intimidating attitudes and dismissals -- they do.

If you have experienced an abuse of academic freedom, please report it to me at Sara@studentsforacademicfreedom.org. We can help to expose the lack of academic freedom on your campus.

Yours in Freedom,

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom