Ball State's Critics Ignore Facts, Policies · 03 January 2005

By Jo Ann Gora--Guest Column in the Muncie Star Press--12/15/04

In recent weeks, The Star Press has reported on accusations by conservative author and commentator David Horowitz and his affiliated Students for Academic Freedom that the Peace Studies program at Ball State is intolerant of conservative viewpoints and that a faculty member teaching an introductory peace studies course violated students' academic freedom.

The potential for teachers to abuse power in the classroom or in the student-teacher relationship is a concern in all educational settings, not just universities. That's why Ball State has extensive policies dealing with issues of ethics and conduct, and the regard with which administrators and faculty hold these policies is reflected in our diligent review of situations in which there may be problems.

Sometimes, allegations made by a student or another party are not supported by the facts. This is the case regarding the allegations made by Mr. Horowitz's organization, Students for Academic Freedom, on behalf of Ball State student Brett Mock.

There are some things you should know about these allegations. Mr. Mock took the introductory peace studies and conflict resolution course last spring. On the midterm exam, students were asked to write a two-part essay question applying the Just War philosophical concept to the current war in Iraq: first using the five criteria of the doctrine to support the war and then using those same criteria to argue against the war. In addition, course instructor George Wolfe gave Mr. Mock credit for attending a Republican event in Indianapolis featuring Vice President Dick Cheney.

These examples illustrate that the course not only encouraged the discussion of differing viewpoints but also allowed students to fulfill a field assignment course requirement by participating in activities outside the classroom in ways that best fit their own personal beliefs.

It should also be noted that the course was evaluated by students that semester - as it has been each time it has been taught - and there were no negative evaluations. In fact, Mr. Mock has never made a direct complaint to the university - formal or informal - and he waited until months after the course had concluded before first making claims in an article published by Mr. Horowitz's online magazine.

The only complaint the university received was a letter from Sara Dogan of the national Students for Academic Freedom organization. Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Beverley Pitts responded promptly to Ms. Dogan after looking into Mr. Mock's claims as stated in her letter.

Ball State is merely one target in an unfair and outrageous smear campaign by Mr. Horowitz and his organization. Mr. Horowitz has stated that all "250 peace studies programs in America teach students to identify with America's terrorist enemies and to identify America as a Great Satan oppressing the world's poor and causing them to go hungry." Clearly, his problem isn't with Ball State or even with our Peace Studies program. I wonder if Mr. Horowitz is aware that a third of the course Brett Mock took focuses on domestic violence and another third on mediation, while only one third deals with the history of peace movements and nonviolence.

By their nature, universities are places of intellectual discourse and disagreement. Ball State is absolutely committed to allowing individuals, both students and faculty, to exercise their right to free speech, and Provost Pitts and I are committed to maintaining an academic environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas. In exercising their right, however, students and faculty are bound by our strong policies protecting academic freedom that explicitly call for tolerance of diverse opinions, fairness and mutual respect.

In fact, members of the university community - faculty, students, and staff - enacted these policies. While the "Academic Bill of Rights" promoted by Mr. Horowitz and his group has many positive attributes, its fundamental concepts are already codified at Ball State and have been since at least the 1960s. Our experience shows the systems built into these policies work.

At Ball State, our approval process for new programs is rigorous, and all programs have mechanisms for ongoing review. In offering courses from a wide range of topics - be they in ROTC or peace studies - we will always insist our faculty teach them with the highest standards of integrity while maintaining academic freedom for all.

Jo Ann Gora is president of Ball State University.

Read Sara Dogan's response to this column.

Read our response to the claim that the ABOR is unnecessary.