Students Complain of Liberal Bias on Campus · 10 October 2004


By Seth Slabaugh--The Star Press--10/11/04

MUNCIE - Posters arose recently on the Ball State University campus announcing that history professor Abel Alves was "WANTED." His alleged offenses include indoctrinating freshmen with liberal books, such as Fast Food Nation, and guest lectures by the Humane Society.

Professor George Wolfe, who teaches peace and conflict resolution, was recently the subject of an article in the national online journal FrontPage Magazine. It accused Wolfe of giving students extra credit for going to Washington to protest the war in Iraq and lowering the grade of a student who argued in favor of a military response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The professors dispute the allegations, which were made by two conservative students - Brett Mock and Amanda Carpenter, both seniors and members of the debate team.

The two students are supporters of a national campaign led by David Horowitz to expose left-wing political bias on university campuses through organizations including Students for Academic Freedom, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and FrontPage Magazine. Horowitz's theme has been, "You can't get a good education if they're only telling you half the story."

Among numerous complaints being investigated by Horowitz's organizations throughout the country are the one against Wolfe and one against an Indiana University professor who, in a class on the history of rock and roll, allegedly bashed the war in Iraq and made derogatory remarks about Rush Limbaugh and his addiction to prescription pain killers.

Horowitz was once an influential backer of the New Left and Black Panther movements who evolved into a leading conservative activist. He authored a pamphlet titled, The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win. Karl Rove, senior adviser to President Bush, endorsed the pamphlet, which was given to all GOP congressional candidates before the 2000 elections.

'Anti-capitalist'

Carpenter is the daughter of a nurse from the Flint, Mich., area, who plans to study law or journalism after receiving her undergraduate degree from Ball State in communication studies. Her minor is campaign communications.

She put up the "WANTED" posters of Alves to attract attention to her Web site, www.bsYOU.net.

Carpenter complains that Ball State's freshman reader, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, is extremely politically slanted to the left, as was last year's reader, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. Its author, Barbara Ehrenreich, is an honorary chair of Democratic Socialists of America, Carpenter points out.

When you combine Fast Food Nation with this fall's lineup of guest speakers who will address BSU freshmen, "that's indoctrination, not education," Carpenter says. The list of speakers includes Mylan Engel Jr., a Northern Illinois University philosopher who argues that eating meat is immoral; local organic farmers Dave and Sara Ring; Rodney Walker, a former worker at Seldom Rest hog farm who blew the whistle on alleged environmental violations and animal abuse at the farm; and Chris Bedford, a national campaign coordinator for The Humane Society of the United States.

It's obvious that this year's "Freshman Connections" program has an "anti-agriculture, "anti-corporation," "anti-capitalist" and "pro-government regulation" agenda, Carpenter says.

"I just want to see speakers from the other side come in, and maybe supplemental essays given to students presenting both sides of the argument," Carpenter said in an interview. For example, she says, why weren't any representatives of so-called factory farms brought to campus to tell students about all the regulations and inspections of their farms?

Carpenter notes that Alves and his wife, Carol Blakney, are animal rights/environmental activists who were convicted by a jury this year of trespassing on Seldom Rest farm. Alves was instrumental in bringing Walker and Bedford to speak to freshmen on campus.

After hanging up Alves "WANTED" posters, Carpenter says she was threatened with legal action. "I've talked to lawyers about it, and feel pretty confident that I'm OK," she said.

'Hate campaign'

Bedford, of the Humane Society, accuses Carpenter of conducting a "hate campaign" against Alves. He says he has offered to debate Seldom Rest's owner, Kaye Whitehead, Carpenter, or "any other representative of the industrial hog industry" on campus but has not received a response.

A graduate student who disapproves of Carpenter's Web site fought back by super-imposing Carpenter's face on pornographic pictures and posting them on a local Web site, she reports. In addition, fellow conservative student Mock's picture was digitally altered to add a Hitler mustache and a swastika.

Carpenter says it's probably too late to add balanced speakers such as Whitehead to the Freshman Connections lineup this year. So to resolve her complaint, she is suggesting that the university purchase pork from Seldom Rest, a confined animal feeding operation, and serve it, along with locally grown organic produce, to freshmen at one of the speaking events.

That would be "some kind of way of making amends" and "a good way for everybody to come together," Carpenter said.

Mock, the son of a truck driver and a nurse from Columbia City, plans to start a Ball State chapter of Students for Academic Freedom.

He says professor Wolfe "has no acceptance of any ideology outside of the extreme pacifist ideology he imposed on students in such a way that, if I disagree ... and wanted to express an opinion, when I wrote my opinion in articles I was docked points because he thought I didn't understand the pacifist, Ghandian philosophy."

Students for Academic Freedom has been mistaken as a partisan organization that is concerned only about liberal indoctrination, Mock said. The organization actually opposes any indoctrination, including conservative, religious, gender and racial bias in the classroom, he said.

'There are no sides'

Activities related to Fast Food Nation are only part of the Freshman Connections program, says Melinda Messineo, assistant director of the program and an assistant professor of sociology. And for those activities that are linked to the book, the primary focus of speakers and presentations is health and wellness.

"In terms of presenting multiple sides, the phrasing is awkward because there are not 'sides' per se in the way that this theme is being framed," Messineo said in an electronic interview. "We are generally focusing on health and wellness so the other side is difficult to pinpoint, since no one is advocating that we work to decrease our health knowledge or efforts at wellness."

According to Provost Beverly Pitts, Carpenter might not have all the information about all the Freshman Connections speaking activities. "They've contacted a number of farmers [about speaking]," Pitts said. "The problem they are having is, they are busy harvesting."

Mock's assertion that students received extra credit for a university-sponsored trip to Washington to protest the war in Iraq is incorrect, the provost said. Rather, three students in Wolfe's class chose to attend a lobbying workshop in Washington.

Pitts also said grading was based on performance, not student or faculty opinion.

"I can assure you that we uphold this standard in all of our courses and we have in place a grade appeal procedure for any student who thinks his or her grade was unfairly determined," Pitts wrote in a letter.

About 3,500 freshmen were asked to read Fast Food Nation, so it should come as no surprise that at least one or two might disagree with things in it, said Paul Ranieri, associate professor and director of Freshman Connections.

"This is an attempt to have students think deeply about issues," he said. "That is the intention, to generate interest, conversation, intellectual discussion and feedback. That's what we strive to do."

Contact news reporter Seth Slabaugh at 213-5834.

Who selected the book

The common reader that all Ball State University freshmen are asked to read is selected by a committee, which considers titles solicited from throughout the university community. The committee that selected Fast Food Nation:

- Mark Pyron, biology.

- Karen Jo Hiday, English.

- Robin Rae Rufatto, math.

- Amy Vander Sanden, residence life.

- Jennifer Warrner, student.

- Laura Pittman, advising.

- Gerald Waite, anthropology.

- James Hammons, library.

- Christine Shea, classics and modern language.

- Victor Lawhead, emeritus.


The books

This is the sixth year of the freshman common reader program at Ball State. A look at the titles:

- (1999) Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black, by Muncie native Gregory Williams.

- (2000) Night, an autobiography by Elie Wiesel, is written proof of the real life horror that existed during the Holocaust.

- (2001) Hunting for Hope, by Scott Russell Sanders, presents his reasons for being hopeful about the future.

- (2002) A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile, by Agate Nesaule, chronicles the terrible dislocations of World War II.

- (2003) Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, who goes "undercover" as an unskilled worker to reveal the dark side of American prosperity.

- (2004) Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, uncovers the inner workings of the fast food industry, from the appalling conditions in American meat-packing plants to the "flavor industry" along the New Jersey Turnpike that gives fast food its taste.

Elsewhere on the Web

At least three local Web sites deal with the controversy involving alleged political bias at Ball State University:

- www.bsYou.net.

- www.themunciescene.com

- www.biomuncie.org