Response to Georgia Tech Vice-Provost McMath, 12/20/04 · 10 January 2005

December 20, 2004

Dr. Robert C. McMath, Jr.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332

Dear Provost McMath,

I'm sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your letter. In order to write this response it was necessary for me to contact the student in question and go over the details of what occurred. Part of the problem was the misrepresentation in your letter of this case and curt dismissal of our reasonable requests.

The student in question, Ruth Malhotra, was an "A" student in Public Policy when she took Dr. Persons' course. What you describe as a "disagreement" with Dr. Persons was no such thing. Dr. Persons told Ruth that she would fail her course because she intended to attend a conservative public policy conference in Washington, DC. Dr. Persons then proceeded to give Ruth, until then an A student, failing grades on her papers until she decided to withdraw from the course. Georgia Tech officials familiar with Dr. Persons and with the particulars of this case allowed Ruth to withdraw without penalty from the course after the deadline. Obviously they did so because they concluded that Ruth's withdrawal was for reasons beyond her control.

To this date, no reasonable inquiry has been made into this matter. I am attaching below Ruth's account of the inquiry that took place and its conclusion which shows that the only question examined was whether Ruth was discriminated against on the basis of gender or race. Her claim is that she was discriminated against on the basis of her conservative beliefs. Perhaps you have another explanation for what happened. If so, we would like to have it for the record. We would also like an explanation as to why you find it offensive to ask for a reasonable inquiry into why an A student at Georgia Tech was forced to drop a course required for her major simply because she is a conservative.

It is true that Governor Sonny Perdue has been invited to speak at Georgia Tech (to pick one among the several speakers you mention in your letter). However, it is our understanding that he has appeared either as a guest of the College Baptists or on a ceremonial occasion such as commencement. Cynthia McKinney, on the other hand, was the featured speaker at an academic program put on by the School of Public Policy. I'm sure you appreciate the difference. Molly Ivins, the Ivan Allen founding day speaker is not a former Speaker of the House, or former Senate Majority Leader or the head of one of Georgia's largest employers. She is a journalist with a reputation for making nasty attacks on political opponents. Yet she was honored as the founding day speaker at the Ivan Allen college. Perhaps you have so honored a conservative journalist with similar credentials, like Ann Coulter? Ivins devoted her founding day speech to an inappropriate rant against the President and the war in Iraq, rather than to civic or educational issues. I don't suppose you are suggesting that the speeches by Speaker Gingrich or Majority Leader Dole fall into this category.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that President Mike Adams of the University of Georgia is presently conducting an inquiry into the conduct of one of his professors for inappropriate behavior in the classroom displaying intolerance for the conservative views of his students. I am extremely disappointed in the way you have brushed off our legitimate concerns in this similar matter. I hope you will reconsider your position and support an inquiry into the matter of whether Ruth Malhotra was forced to drop a required course in her academic major because of Dr. Persons' intolerance for her conservative beliefs.

Sincerely,


Sara Dogan
National Director
Students for Academic Freedom


cc: Dr. G. Wayne Clough, Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Senator Zell Miller, U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, Ben Scaffity (Education Advisor to Governor Perdue), U.S. Representative Jack Kingston, U.S. Representative Sanford Bishop, U.S. Representative Jim Marshall, U.S. Representative Denise Majette, U.S. Representative John Lewis, U.S. Representative Johnny Isakson, U.S. Representative John Linder, U.S. Representative Mac Collins, U.S. Representative Charlie Norwood, U.S. Representative Nathan Deal, U.S. Representative Phil Gingrey, U.S. Representative Max Burns, U.S. Representative David Scott, State Senator Eric Johnson, State Senator Bill Hamrick, State Senator and Senate Education Committee Chair B. Joseph Brush, State Senator Vincent D. Fort, State Representative and House Higher Education Committee Chair Louise McBee, State Representative Mable Thomas, State Representative LaNett Stanley-Turner, Georgia College Republican State Chairman Britton Alexander, Dean Stephanie Ray, Ruth Malhotra (Georgia Tech Student), President of Century Strategies Ralph Reed, Mr. Bob Harty, Executive Director, Institute Communications and Public Affairs, Mr. Andrew Harris, Director, Government Relations, Ms. Patty Barlett, Senior Research Associate

RESPONSE FROM RUTH MALHOTRA TO PROVOST MCMATH'S LETTER

Below is my response to Dr. McMath's most recent letter, dated September 23, 2004. Again, I apologize for not being more prompt in responding to you. The final weeks of the campaign were very intense, and since I was constantly traveling it was hard to keep up with my correspondence. I really hope this is helpful... please let me know if you need anything else! Thanks for your continued help!

Sincerely,
Ruth Malhotra

Dr. McMath wrote: "Your letter restates the essence of a six-month-old newspaper account of a student disagreement with a professor on campus. We took the allegations seriously and as soon as it was directly reported to us, we launched a thorough investigation by an independent reviewer to determine if there was indeed political, religious, or cultural discrimination in this particular classroom. After interviews with the principals and more than half the students in the class, the investigation found no credible evidence of any such discrimination. While the results of that investigation are not nearly as 'newsworthy' as the initial allegations, they remain a valid and important conclusion.

My controversy in a Public Policy class last Spring was more than a single isolated incident or a simple "disagreement" with the professor as [Dr. McMath's] most recent letter suggests.
The issue was in fact, a much larger matter of what I believed to be political prejudice and religious discrimination continually expressed in the class, so serious that it prompted me to withdraw from the course and file a formal grievance with Georgia Tech regarding the situation.
The Institute conducted an investigation, and arranged a meeting with me to discuss their findings and conclusion to the matter. I met with school officials (Dr. Diana Hicks, Public Policy Chair; and Pearl Alexander, Chief Investigator from the Office of Diversity Management) and was presented with a document entitled "Summary of Findings", which outlined the main points of the investigation.

On close examination, it was clear that my core concerns and the fundamental issues have not been addressed, and the matter remains unresolved. It seems that in the investigation, the focus shifted from addressing the real problem of the academic environment, to the issue of Equal Opportunity policy, which was never a part of my grievance. I believe that the school (Georgia Tech) has circumvented the central problem and needs to provide further clarification.
The chief investigator (Pearl Alexander) concluded that, "There is no conclusive evidence or indication that discrimination resulting in an Equal Opportunity policy violation was committed by Dr. Persons." I am not familiar with the legal terminology, however this seemed to be a very narrow clause and one that did not address the core problem. When I discussed this at the meeting, school officials essentially admitted its weaknesses; the investigator stated, "academic environment is a separate issue from Equal Opportunity," and went on to say, "it was not possible to address the academic freedom issue with the limited amount of information and time constraints, so we focused on the Equal Opportunity policy."

Furthermore, in the report there are several discrepancies and distortions regarding my involvement in the class, which are simply untrue and cannot be factually substantiated. The report also imputes several actions to me, which were never discussed with me and again have no justification.

I am deeply disappointed with Georgia Tech's response, and I have not responded to the School in detail since the conclusion of their investigation. Although this particular situation occurred several months ago, I think it has significant ramifications for my future as well as that of students on campus, and it must be resolved in a conclusive manner.
At the outset of my situation, I asked Georgia Tech for an unequivocal statement regarding their stand on this issue and what corrective steps they can take to prevent such situations from occurring in the future. Although this seems to be a rather basic request (given everything I've encountered) I do not believe that the school has given me any definitive answers.

Sincerely,
Ruth Malhotra