'Little Red Books' Will Help Protect Political Discourse · 12 December 2005

'Little Red Books' Will Help Protect Political Discourse
Letter from Professor Chris Clemens--UNC Daily Tar Heel--11/17/05

TO THE EDITOR:

On Wednesday, a Daily Tar Heel editorial compared the effort by Students for Academic Freedom to collect examples of liberal bias in academia to the Spanish Inquisition and the McCarthy hearings.

If the editors will review their course notes from "Liberal Polemics 031," they will find that the two events they invoke are "iconic emblems for any attempt by corrupt and dogmatic institutions to impose their philosophies or beliefs by exposing and punishing individuals who do not conform."

This makes their use inapt in the current situation, which, if I understand correctly, concerns a collective of students who hope to inform one another about potential political bias in the academy, and thereby to avoid potential negative consequences for their grade point averages.

I suggest that they refer to the section of their notes entitled "inflammatory rhetoric," where they will find the paragraph on "Hitler Youth" particularly helpful to their future attempts at journalism.

In the unlikely event that they wish instead to promote political discourse based on reason and logic, then I'm afraid they will have to change their majors to some more objective discipline.

As for the conservative students who still bother to read this paper, may I suggest that the appropriate response to attempted liberal indoctrination in the classroom is jubilation - there is no better evidence of intellectual bankruptcy in a movement than resorting to coercion.

Chris Clemens

Associate Professor

Dept. of Physics & Astronomy

A UNC Inquisition
Students for Academic Freedom and UNC College Republicans are harming on-campus political discourse with their "little red books."

November 16, 2005

Are some instructors politically biased? Of course. The Elyse Crystall controversy last year proved that.

But some efforts to root out political bias go too far.

The Students for Academic Freedom recently passed out "little red books" on classroom bias at a College Republicans meeting. Apparently SAF is on the lookout for conservatives on campus being ideologically abused in their classes. You can even submit your story to them anonymously.

But what does writing down "outrageous quotes" accomplish? And does it really matter what professors say offhand?

At the end of the day, unless a professor is ridiculing a student or allowing their bias to affect the student's grade, it's not a big deal.

This smells more like a witch hunt.

When Crystall mocked her student last year, that deserved attention. But the odd comment in class about the president's policies or local Republicans doesn't really hurt anyone.

If you don't agree with them, just stand up and call the teacher out on it.

What will it accomplish to string up some professor or graduate student? Will it create a culture of understanding or stifle debate?

By attempting to establish a network of informers - there's no other way to describe it, really - SAF conjures up images of the Spanish Inquisition or the McCarthy hearings. Hopefully that's not what they're going for - that kind of secret policing hardly promotes a climate for unimpeded learning.

The real problem is that SAF only has expressed an interest in rooting out bias against conservatives. Shouldn't they be just as worried about professors that dislike students of a certain major or perhaps a different nationality? There are lots of ways that instructors could be prejudiced against a student, and for an organization to only flex its muscles on the one stripe of discrimination is selfish.

In the end, it's really a matter of perception. Some conservative students feel persecuted by a few professors. Are they? Possibly. But it's not a widespread, systematic attempt to stifle the growing conservative voice here on campus, and beginning a policy of actively seeking quotes from professors in order to discredit them just isn't productive for anyone.