Bias Hearings Begin at Pitt · 20 November 2005

Bias Hearings Begin at Pitt

By Bilal Muhammad--Pitt News--11/10/05

State representatives listened to testimonies from academic experts and professors in the William Pitt Union yesterday, at the first of four hearings in Pennsylvania investigating liberal bias at state-funded universities.

About 10 state representatives are part of the House Select Committee, which is charged with determining if state-funded universities infringe on students' academic freedom.

House Resolution 177, introduced by Rep. Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster, grants the committee the power to examine bias at state-funded and state-related universities.

The resolution also grants the committee permission to investigate this bias either from professors or departments that could hamper students' access to an academic environment conducive to critical thinking and independent thought.

Specifically, the committee can investigate whether or not professors grade based on subject knowledge and performance or ideological views.

Stephen H. Balch, the president of the National Association of Scholars, testified in favor of the resolution yesterday.

"I think [the committee] should communicate to the legislature from the university that there is need for reform," Balch said.

In his presentation, that lasted more than two hours, Balch concluded that there is enough evidence in universities across Pennsylvania "specifically Temple, Penn State and Pitt" to suspect political bias among faculty members, making these collegiate environments ripe for indoctrination.

After defining advocacy, activism and education, Balch explained how state universities should separate education and advocacy.

In an academic context, advocacy transforms education into indoctrination, Balch said in his statement.

Balch defended his position at length against comments made by committee members such as Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

"I don't think we are brainwashing any students, which is what you are implying," Frankel said.

Balch continued to answer committee members' questions, but he eventually came to an ultimate conclusion: because of the number of faculty members at state-funded universities in Pennsylvania who identify with a particular political group, state legislatures should make sure that no advocacy, as he said, exists.

At the end of Balch's presentation, the committee took a break.

Returning with a drink from Schenley Cafe, Frankel commented on Balch's presentation.

"We had to need to hear more than two and a half hours to understand his perspective," he said.

Frankel said that Balch's statements could be simplified to one general idea: that state government should monitor state-funded schools.

He added that this hearing makes Pennsylvania's higher education system look like a laughingstock, because it shows that, even with credentials and certifications, professors are not trusted to teach without trying to indoctrinate students.

When the committee finishes its circuit of hearings and investigations, it will have to make appropriate recommendations to the legislature by June 30, 2006.

Senior Vice Chancellor and Provost James V. Maher will give a presentation to the committee today, at the second part of the hearing at Pitt, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 1:30 p.m.