Muncie Star Supports Ball State Inquiry · 13 December 2004

Muncie Star Supports Ball State Inquiry

Editorial from the Muncie Star Press, 12/13/04

Debates conducted on ideological fringes and indulging extremes of language and tactics are highly dangerous. They attract radicals and they propel institutions - such as legislatures - on corrective courses capable of one-sided and serious damage.

An example is the continuing debate involving alleged liberal bias by some professors at Ball State University and whether students are being indoctrinated by leftist instruction and textbooks.

The fray began several months ago when conservative Ball State students Brett Mock and Amanda Carpenter began campaigning on a website against certain BSU professors they said were polluting their classrooms with liberal bias.

The argument was quickly joined by David Horowitz, an author/commentator and founder of Students for Academic Freedom, a national conservative organization that exposes what it believes are politically biased college professors and administrators.

Based as he is hundreds of miles from BSU's campus, Horowitz has minimal direct knowledge of local instruction; also, his verbal bomb-throwing tends to discredit what otherwise is a valid topic for objective study:

Do, indeed, some BSU professors hide behind a shield of academic freedom to deliberately indoctrinate their students, not with facts and knowledge or even legitimate questions about the status quo, but with attitudes and opinions that exclude other views?

That is the question that Ball State administrators should be focusing on, but instead have merely dismissed by either knee-jerk denials or expressed contempt for Horowitz and his tactics.

For instance, an "official" investigation of Brett Mock's complaint involved talking to the professor in question, perhaps interviewing others familiar with his classroom work, reviewing the class textbook, but not speaking with Mock.

Instead, Ball State's explanation put the blame on Mock, for filing his complaint with Horowitz's group and not taking it through "official" BSU channels. Ball State's reaction amounts to bureaucratic exclusion and indicates, to those interested only in learning the truth, that the university's mind is made up.

A Star Press reporter pursuing official reaction about the bias charges was referred to a university media spokesman who threw a few verbal stones at Horowitz's group and proclaimed that all was well at good old BSU.

What should have happened, at some point, was an explanation from someone at Ball State - for instance, President Jo Ann Gora - that the university was actually concerned about at least the potential of ideological abuse. Academic freedom must protect classroom rights to explore ideas and views, and it's certainly not out of line for a university to articulate content-neutral expectations for objectivity and balance by professors.

Such a reaction might have headed off Horowitz, who said that Ball State's lack of serious interest in the subject further validates his plan to convince the Indiana Legislature that Hoosier universities are ripe for a state-imposed academic bill of rights.

A response by Ball State that it is at least interested in the wider issues of academic freedom - however clumsily raised by Mock and Horowitz - would also have reassured those who assume (we believe unfairly) that BSU has been victimized by the same liberal political correctness that has engulfed many American universities.

Several sources, including The New York Times, have reported on a new national survey of more than 1,000 academics showing that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least 7 to 1 in the humanities and social studies. At Berkeley and Stanford, according to a separate study that included engineering and science professors, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans was even greater: 9 to 1.

This doesn't prove that Ball State is similarly afflicted, but the local university is not doing much serious work to convince doubters to the contrary.