Timeline of Ruth Malhotra Case at Georgia Tech · 28 May 2009

By Ruth Malhotra

Student:            Ruth Malhotra

 

School: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

 

Semester:         Spring 2004

 

Course:            PUBP 2012:  Foundations of Public Policy

 

Professor:         Dr. Georgia Persons

  

Academic Freedom situation at Georgia Tech

Timeline of Events:

  

1.                  January 6, 2004

a.       I enrolled in the PUBP 2012 course.  This is a required course for the Public Policy major, which I wanted to pursue in addition to my International Affairs degree. 

b.      The professor missed several class periods, often without prior notice:  Thursday, 1/8 (no prior notice); Tuesday, 1/13 (no prior notice); Thursday,
1/15 (room change, guest speaker); Thursday, 2/19 (class cancelled ahead); Thursday, 2/26 (no prior notice, email received later).

 

2.                  January 20, 2004

a.       My first day of class lecture. 

b.      I told the professor that I would miss one day of class because I would be in Washington D.C., and asked if there was anything I needed to do in advance.  When asked why I was going to D.C., I replied, “to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference”.  The professor responded, “Well you’re just going to fail my class.” 

  

3.                  January-March 2004

a.       Right from the start of the semester, this class was marked by tension and political bias.  This professor repeatedly used the class time to express her personal opinions and political preferences as fact, and was very derogatory towards those students who have expressed views that did not concur with hers and students were offended by her frequent and discriminatory remarks to social, racial, religious, and even regional references.  

b.      When a student expressed a point of view different from that of the professor, the response was most often one of dismissal, telling students “You are ignorant or you don’t know anything.” 

c.       Without giving any credence to our comments, the professor said, “You are making your decisions irrationally,” and continued to say that “much of this is silliness.”  A student expressed frustration saying that he didn’t appreciate the professor constantly laughing at some in the class after they would make a comment.  Her response was, “I don’t laugh at you.  I may ignore you and I may snicker, but that’s only because you don’t know anything.” 

d.      The professor repeatedly said, “You will learn” in a condescending manner, as if her mission was to indoctrinate us with liberalism before the end of the semester.  

e.       When discussing issues of education and socialism, I made a comment that I thought was relevant to the discussion.  “You are not an individual,” the professor told me, “you did not make it here on your own, but because of society.” 

f.        In discussions on society, a professor constantly referred to “Rich white kids that grew up in privilege” and inferred that people from the South were ignorant and dumb. 

g.       During a class discussion on President Bush’s economic policy, I defended the President’s position.  The professor told me, “You don't know what you're talking about.  George Bush hasn’t done anything for you. He's too busy pimping for the Christian Coalition.”

h.       Frustrated by this stifling atmosphere, I politely tried to talk to the professor about class debates and the need to discuss difference points of view.  Her response, “This class is unique because it has [my] liberal ideas in it… and you don’t like me because I am not a white male republican.” 

  

4.                  February 23, 2004

a.      Georgia Senate Higher Education Committee Hearing on the Academic Bill of Rightsb.      I testified in favor of the ABOR, along with David Horowitz, Congressman Jack Kingston, Student Russell Mildner, and an Emory Professor.   

c.       This hearing was public, however did not receive significant media attention at this time. 

d.      Georgia Tech was aware of my involvement in the hearing.  I even provided school officials with a transcript of my testimony; however, I did not receive a response. 

  

5.                  February 24, 2004

a.       My first paper had previously been returned to me with no grade at all. 

b.      My first test was returned and I received a failing grade. 

c.       The professor stated that the test grades ranged from that of a “2” to a “106” out of a scale of “100.”

d.      Having been told on the first day of class that I was “just going to fail [her] class,” it was obviously very disconcerting to receive a failing grade on a subjective essay test. 

  

6.                  March 5, 2004

a.       Meeting with Diana Hicks, Public Policy School Chair

b.      I shared my concerns with her and suggested appropriate changes. 

c.       Foundations of Public Policy” is a basic course that lays the groundwork for future studies in Public Policy.  The teaching should be focused on course content with emphasis on the theoretical and policy implications rather than on personal opinions and political preferences.  While is sometimes beneficial to discuss relevant examples to illustrate certain concepts, too much time and energy is spent on discussing irrelevant and often inappropriate topics which many students have found offensive.  

d.      Students should not be personally attacked in the class or made the target of derogatory remarks.  Rather, students and professors alike must share a basic level of mutual respect and dignity.  Dr. Persons' remarks are often demeaning and serve to discourage us from participating in the class (examples as mentioned- references to racial, social, and religious slurs, being called "ignorant").  To date, I had not experienced such an offensive situation in a classroom.  

e.       Dr. Hicks assured me of her “deep concern” and promised to work on an “appropriate remedy.”

  

7.                    March 16, 2004

a.       Once again, in class, Dr. Persons expressed intense vindictiveness and derogation towards certain students as well as to the class in general.  

b.      Rather than focus on the topic of “Policy Evaluation and Change,” she went on a vicious rampage, often using obscene and unacceptable vocabulary.  In reviewing my notes from today’s lecture, there was minimal reference to the subject matter, because most of the time was spent on irrelevant personal attacks.  I was appalled by the open disdain she expressed.  Students seemed confused and intimidated, and did not know how to respond to her.  

c.       Dr. Persons’ started her remarks by saying that it was “not an ideological
issue,” however she proceeded to make it just that, for example blatantly
attacking on conservatives and Christians.  At the end of one of her tirades, Dr. Persons stated, “This is what a University system should be.  I am Dr. Georgia A. Persons and you cannot shut me up.”

  

8.                  March 23, 2004

a.      The ABOR passes the Georgia Senate with a vote of 51-4.  b.      The issue of academic freedom starts to receive greater media attention and public interest in Georgia. 

  

9.                  March 24, 2004

a.       The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) publishes a story on the front page of the Metro section entitled, “Students fight alleged political prejudice,” featuring my situation in the Public Policy class. 
(
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/0304/24freedom.html)

b.      This article sparks much discussion and debate, both within and beyond the campus. 

c.       This particular situation is featured in print and online, as well as on the radio, and the story draws tremendous reaction.  

d.      Kim Peterson mentions the situation on his talk show (640AM, WGST). 

e.       The college administration was furious.  I met with an academic advisor who tried to intimidate me, and said that “because of your actions here, people will no longer trust you.”  She also said that this story was bad for recruiting new students and that I was to blame.  She tried to pressure me to not do any more interviews.    

 

 

10.              March 25, 2004

a.       I am interviewed on Tom Hughes’ AM Atlanta radio program (640AM, WGST). 

b.      Neal Boortz mentions the situation on his talk show (NewsTalk 750, WSB). 

c.       I met with a Dean of Students who advised me to make a statement saying that the AJC reported had misquoted me and misrepresented my situation.  She also told me specifically to not go on Neal Boortz’ radio show. 

  

11.              March 26, 2004

a.       I went on The Neal Boortz Show (NewsTalk 750, WSB) and discussed the situation.  Neal Boortz is very supportive of me and expresses disappointment in Georgia Tech. 

b.      Dr. Hicks suggested that I withdraw from the class.  Since it was beyond the drop date, I submitted a “Petition to the Faculty” regarding the matter.  It was obviously frustrating, especially after investing several weeks in the class, but I felt I had no other options.  I tried my best to cope with the situation but the trend was only worsening and I felt that it was in my best interest to withdraw and avoid further confusion.

  

12.              March 29, 2004

a.       Georgia Tech has become a hub of political controversy. 

b.      I received much feedback from every level – from the media to the school administration – both positive and negative.  

c.       The response from Georgia Tech students and alumni, government officials, conservative organizations, and the Christian community was overwhelming supportive. 

  

13.              April 6, 2004

a.       An article appeared in the AJC “Guest Column” in the New Attitudes Opinion section, entitled "A political trap was set to trip Tech professor." (http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/0404/06newatt.html)

b.      This letter was written by two students in my Public Policy class, and I
believe it completely misrepresented the general issue of academic freedom as well as the specific facts of my particular case.  

c.       I have been in touch with the administration since the beginning of this class, when I sensed there was obvious political bias against certain students.  My concerns have never been a personal issue, but rather a strong belief that political prejudice often pervades the campus.  I have not instigated the situation as alleged in the article, and my Senate testimony that clearly verbalized my concerns preceded any disclosure of grades. 

d.      Furthermore, both the students referred to, including myself, are scholarship recipients at Georgia Tech and have consistently solid academic performance.  (I am on the Dean’s List and in several honor societies; I have never even come close to failing a course.) 

e.       I am outraged at the rampant distortions some have employed to attack my case.  I am asking Georgia Tech to give me a definitive statement regarding their stand on the issue and what corrective steps they can take to prevent such situations from occurring in the future.  


14.              April 15, 2004

a.      David Horowitz visits Georgia Tech. 

b.      Mr. Horowitz and I met with the Dean of Diversity at Georgia Tech, Stephanie Ray.  He talked to Dean Ray about the importance of incorporating the concept of “intellectual diversity” into their platform.  Dean Ray was very receptive and committed to working on this. 

c.       Mr. Horowitz and I also met with Ben Scaffidy, Governor Sonny Perdue’s education advisor.  We discussed the importance of the ABOR and the situation at Georgia Tech.  Mr. Scaffidy promised to get involved and put pressure on GT to resolve the matter. 

d.      Horowitz’s visit to Georgia is referenced in his Frontpage article, “Democratic Abuse of the Academy”, (http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=13030)

 

 

15.              April 20, 2004

a.       After much thought and consultation, I decided to file a formal grievance at the Institute-level so the issue could come to a decisive resolution.  

 

 

16.              April 21, 2004

a.       Vice-Provost Robert McMath states that “Georgia Tech has an administrative procedure designed specifically to handle grievances against Georgia Tech employees concerning discrimination of any kind, including those in your statement.”  He maintained that “the proper and most expeditious forum for this case is the administrative one handled by the Office of Human Resources.” 

b.      Ms. Pearl Alexander will be the chief investigator and oversee the process. 

  

17.              April 22, 2004

a.       Georgia Tech School of Public Policy distributes anti-ABOR propaganda from the Revolutionary Worker, titled, “Beware the Academic Bill of Rights” 

b.      This “literature,” from a self-identified communist organization, directly targets David Horowitz and supporters of the ABOR.  It is posted all over SPP building and distributed it the front office.

c.       The article claims that, “Horowitz and the other reactionary forces involved with this bill aren’t interested in intellectual wrangling and they’re even less interested in truth,” continuing that, “they are undertaking a mean-spirited, aggressive and dangerous effort to create a climate hostile to critical analysis and understanding of the world.”

d.      Frontpage magazine runs article about story; Georgia Tech and School of Public Policy are flooded with calls and negative feedback.  Although Georgia Tech did not officially comment on this issue (to my knowledge), the propaganda is taken down and the office stops distributing it. 

  

18.              April 24, 2004 (exact date?) 

a.       Ruth meets with Vice-Provost Robert McMath to discuss situation. 

  

19.              April 29, 2004

a.       School opens “investigation.”

b.      I meet with Pearl Alexander and am questioned about the situation. 

  

20.              June 16, 2004

a.       The Institute concludes investigation and releases report. 

b.      School officials arranged a meeting with me to discuss their findings and conclusion to the matter.  I met with them (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.

c.       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.

d.      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 that, “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.”

e.       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.

 

21.              Fall 2004

a.       Correspondence between myself, SAF, and Vice-Provost McMath. 

b.      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.

c.       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.

d.      I consider it my responsibility to address these difficult issues in the
appropriate manner.  I stand by my statements and hope for a constructive
resolution to this specific situation, as well as a greater awareness of
academic freedom in general.  I continue my loyal support for Georgia Tech and the Ivan Allen College, and endeavor to make a positive contribution to the program.  

 

22.              Spring 2005 – Public Policy Course (PUBP 2012: Foundations of Public Policy)

a.      Dr. Persons is no longer allowed to teach this particular course at Georgia Tech.  In the Spring of 2005, Persons taught an elective course called “African American Politics.”  b.      I re-enrolled in this course, and received grade of “A”. 

c.       This course, taught by a different professor (Dr. Cheryl Leggon), was a very positive experience.  This course introduced students to a wide range of issues in public policy, some of which of course included controversial topics.  The professor truly generated spirited discussions, encouraging students to articulate their beliefs and defend the reasoning behind their positions.  It was evident that personal ideology would not interfere with one’s academic performance.  The way the professor presented the material was very relevant, as there was emphasis on the basic foundations and connecting it to current issues/examples.  There was a very diverse group of students in the class from different backgrounds and experiences, and the professor allowed and encouraged each one to express themselves individually whether through their presentations or general class discussions.  She also offered words of affirmation and constructive feedback for improvement, which is to be appreciated. 

d.      As a matter of principle, I am also working to get the “Withdrawal” removed from my transcript from the course last Spring. 

 

 

23.              Spring 2005 – General classroom atmosphere

a.       I am very encouraged at the change of atmosphere I’ve noticed in my humanities classes (Public Policy and International Affairs), with many professors paying particular attention to the issue of academic freedom and the need to encourage diverse thought in discussions.  There is a marked change and the progress is definitely evident in the classroom.

b.      There are many noticeable changes on campus, visible from course syllabi to classroom discussions. 

c.       In my Political Philosophies class, the professor devoted an entire segment to discussing the concept of academic freedom and intellectual diversity in the classroom.  She even made Horowitz’ “little red book” on the ABOR required reading for the segment, distributing them to the entire class of about 90 students (Thanks to SAF for providing these!)  Although the professor is a self-professed “liberal feminist” and does not agree with Horowitz and the ABOR, she did a good job of presenting both sides of the issue and encouraging student discussion on the topic.  It was encouraging to see that so many students were passionate about this issue and recognize the need for balance and accountability.  The fact that the academic freedom is recognized as a critical issue is in itself encouraging, as one year ago you would probably not hear issues like this being discussed on campus. 

 

24.              April 11, 2005 –  Campus-wide Townhall meeting on Academic Freedom 

a.       Georgia Tech’s Diversity Forum together with SGA sponsored a townhall meeting on “Academic Freedom in the classroom,” a topic that received little recognition just one year ago. 

b.      Speakers on the panel included State Senator Bill Hamrick (R-30), Public Policy Professor Barry Bozeman, and students Alan Bakowski and Jessica Smith.  The speakers each presented their perspective on the Academic Bill of Rights, as well as the general issue of intellectual diversity in the classroom. 

c.       While the forum left many questions unanswered, it was a good step in recognizing the importance of the issue and creating constructive dialogue.  The College Republicans applaud Dean Stephanie Ray in making intellectual diversity a priority.  We are hopefully that continued efforts will be made to address such issues and protect the rights of students both within and beyond the classroom. 

 

 

25.              Summer 2005 (ongoing)

a.       As conservative students, it is obviously frustrating to be faced with such leftist bias on a regular basis, however it is very encouraging to see a growing awareness that such problems exist. 

b.      Situations of political and religious discrimination are not isolated
incidents, but unfortunately they remain prevalent and must be addressed. 

c.       I recognize the fact that the pursuit of academic freedom is indispensable to the teacher and the student, and that the classroom is an effective platform to generate healthy dialogue.  I also recognize that teachers need freedom to design their courses without limiting constraints, and to foster creativity and originality.  However, when the imposition of strong political biases becomes a pattern and derogation becomes the style, regardless of which group is defended or disparaged, it stifles freedom and creates hostilities within a class, leading to extremism and confusion.  I value the chance in class for lively discussion and educated debate when relevant, and realize that students and professors alike must commit to a mutual level of professionalism and respect in order to ensure a meaningful academic experience. 

d.       Over the past several months, I have noticed some professors making efforts to incorporate different viewpoints into their teaching, and going to greater lengths to encourage students to express themselves.  While this is heartening, the fight continues and there is still much progress to be made. 

f.        Students for Academic Freedom has definitely had a significant impact on the situation at Georgia Tech, and David Horowitz’ intervention was a turning point in the school taking my grievance seriously.  I can confidently say that Mr. Horowitz and SAF are dramatically changing the academic environment in Georgia colleges, both through the Senate ABOR Resolution and through specific work on campus at Georgia Tech.