Letter to the President of Ball State University · 14 September 2004
Note: The following letter was sent to the president of Ball State University in Indiana in response to a severe violation of academic freedom documented by BSU student Brett Mock.
September 13, 2004
President Jo Ann M. Gora
Office of the President
AD Building 101
Ball State University
Muncie, IN 47306
Dear President Gora,
I am the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, a student organization dedicated to promoting academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and civility on American university campuses. We currently have chapters at 135 institutions of higher learning nationwide, including at Ball State University.
I write out of concern about the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Ball State University, and its director, Professor George Wolfe.
BSU student Brett Mock recently contacted our organization with an account of his experience in Professor Wolfe's "Introduction to Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution" class last spring. He describes an intellectual atmosphere that was entirely closed to all political or philosophical viewpoints that differed from Professor Wolfe's personal belief in extreme pacifism. Students who attempted to argue that violence is sometimes the only means to achieving peaceful resolution were intimidated from presenting their views to the class.
Among the specific violations of academic freedom alleged in this class:
-Professor Wolfe asserted to the class that violent responses to violent aggression are never acceptable, even in extreme circumstances, thus alienating and silencing those members of the class who believe that force can be an instrument of peace.
-When a book report and presentation were assigned to the class, Professor Wolfe refused a student request to review a book presenting a theory of non-peaceful resolution to conflict.
-Professor Wolfe created the impression that he would lower students' grades on papers when he disagreed with their views, claiming that they "didn't understand how peaceful resistance works."
-Many articles were distributed in class criticizing U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and highlighting casualties, but not a single article was presented defending the decision to go to war.
-In order to receive full credit in his course, Professor Wolfe requires students to be involved in one of the ideological programs he promotes: devoting a semester to Peace Workers, mediating at the Peace Studies Center, or attending Interfaith Fellowship meetings. Failure to comply would result in a lowered grade.
-Professor Wolfe offered extra credit to students who attended a university-sponsored trip to Washington, DC for the purpose of protesting the war in Iraq. No funding or extra credit was granted to students who would have preferred to show their support for the war on terror.
In short, Professor Wolfe's conduct in the classroom smacks of indoctrination, not education, and constitutes a blatant violation of his students' academic freedoms. It is deeply troubling that at a prominent university like Ball State, a professor would find it acceptable to coerce students into accepting his own personal political creed with no regard for the importance of encouraging open debate and discussion on complicated issues.
We believe that an apology is in order from Professor Wolfe to the students in the Peace Studies program and request that your office launch an immediate inquiry to ascertain whether the Peace Studies program is appropriately fulfilling its educational mission.
We would further like to see a policy statement from the Ball State administration reminding faculty and students alike that intellectual diversity is a primary educational value and the university is not to be used as a partisan political platform. To restore and/or strengthen the educational standard at the University, we would encourage you to incorporate the following statement in your existing diversity program:
Statement on Diversity:
This office was established with the premise that expanding diversity within the university enhances the educational experience and furthers the understanding of the entire scholarly community. An atmosphere of civility and mutual respect towards difference is indispensable to the educational process and enables the free interchange of ideas that is the basis of scholarship. These differences may be immutable or changeable, cultural, ethnic, religious, intellectual, ideological or political. Each of these qualities is integral to the identity we form as individuals, and all are essential to creating a vibrant university community composed of individuals with unique perspectives and backgrounds. The university must commit itself to a policy of inclusion, respect for difference, and fairness, and guarantee the same rights and freedoms to all its members to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom.
I look forward to hearing from you in respect to these matters.
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom