Groups Complain of Bias in the Classroom · 15 November 2005

By Lindsey Naylor - Daily Tar Heel

Groups Complain of Bias in the Classroom
Concerns about indoctrination

By Lindsey Naylor--Daily Tar Heel--11/14/05

A state-ordered panel in Pennsylvania on Wednesday gave members of the state legislature and academia the chance to discuss an alleged presence of political bias on public college campuses.

The concerns in Pennsylvania reflect those held by others nationwide - that state intervention might be necessary to ensure that professors of public universities do not reveal, or to any extent peddle, their personal doctrine to students.

Sara Dogan, national campus director for Students for Academic Freedom, said states should adopt the set of guidelines proposed in 2003 by David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

The guidelines, which Horowitz named the Academic Bill of Rights, call for policies meant to foster intellectual diversity on campuses.

She said the Colorado state legislature signed a memorandum in accordance with the guidelines, and the Ohio legislature signed a similar resolution.

"That's what we'd really like to see in other states," she said.

Judith Wegner, chairwoman of the faculty at UNC, said support for the guidelines within the N.C. legislature had not warranted further deliberation.

"There had been an introduction of what has been described as an academic bill of rights - which I think is kind of a misnomer," she said. "When it was heard from here it basically went into committee and was never heard from again."

The issue came to a head in North Carolina in 2004 when UNC English lecturer Elyse Crystall sent an e-mail to her class criticizing a student for making anti-gay comments.

A federal investigation found UNC to have handled the situation appropriately, but the debate sparked a bill in the General Assembly advocating for the state to adopt its own academic bill of rights.

The bill, proposed by Andrew Brock, R-Davie, failed.

Wegner said Horowitz's guidelines were introduced in the legislature only to give members a chance to politic.

"If the state is trying to intervene in terms of trying to say what speech is good speech in the classroom and what dialogue is good dialogue among professors, it's unconstitutional," she said.

Wegner added that it is inappropriate to apply a political template to hiring processes in which university administrations attempt to find the best thinkers and teachers.

"It's kind of ironic," she said. "The nature of the policy itself brings politics into the college."

But Dogan said sometimes it is necessary to bring politics into play when cases arise such as those in Pennsylvania, in which universities have not taken the steps needed to ensure students' academic freedoms.

"If there is discrimination due to political beliefs, then, yes, there should be discussion about it," she said.

"We'd much rather see the universities taking these steps."

Glenn Ricketts, public affairs director for the National Association of Scholars, said the president of NAS spoke at the Pennsylvania panel to bring attention to the lopsided ideology present on many public campuses, particularly within the humanities and social sciences.

He said women's studies programs provide examples of this lopsided ideology.

"Many of them are upfront about trying to convert people," he said. "How much academic work is being done as opposed to political advocacy?"

Wegner said that most professors make a point of presenting multiple perspectives and that some critics tend to exaggerate and generalize situations in which bias is perceived.

She said exposure to different ideas is at the core of a solid university education and the development of analytical thinking.

"When people raise a challenge that says, 'My political views are being trounced,' I don't know whether that just means you think something's not worth analyzing more deeply that I'm trying to expose you to."