Yesterday, a friend of mine forwarded this article from Women's eNews. I also noticed that Jessica already blogged about this at feministing. I live in PA, whose House was the first to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) and I have definitely had exposure to the Students for Academic Freedom platform of seeking legal remedies for courses they find to have a liberal biases. Its not fun. You feel like you are part of a witch hunt. In my experience, the students who make accusations of "liberal bias" against courses or professors haven't necessarily taken the course or had a conversation with the "offending" faculty member.
Here is my incomplete list of what is just plain wrong with this movement (I would love to hear from others):
1. It is disengenous. Those pushing the ABOR in state legislatures or on campuses use the language of "academic freedom" or "diversity" to then persuade state or local governments to engage in censorship.
2. ABOR supporters make the fallacious leap that if the content of your course is critical of the status quo; offers viewpoints deemed "liberal;" or bears on current political issues, even they are not obviously (to them that is) related to the content, then such course is indoctrinating. This point merits further discussion. Do the conservative groups that support this bill really think teaching Marx, John Dewey, Auguste Comte, or Betty Friedan is that threatening? PLEASE. What are there subliminal messages buried in these texts that colonize the minds of students? Btw, have many of these students read Marx's Capital? It is hardly the pornographic text they make it out to be.
3. When you try to have a rational discourse with many of the conservative students who support this bill, they tend to use victim language. Rather than debate the substance of this proposal, they garner sympathy for their cause by telling horrendous stories of liberal professors who made them feel uncomfortable by disagreeing with their support of the war. I am all for a real discussion of FREE SPEECH. I am also quite sympathetic to those who actually have been discriminated against for their views. But, mostly what I hear is overblown stories. I take OFFENSE that the victim language used by these students, or the stories posted on the SAF website, are implicity suggesting that experience of being in the class of a liberal professor is like rape or some other horrendous trauma that destroys your sense of security, or your self-esteem.
Because I imagine that I will continue to be hunted and scrutinized by these forces on campus, I opened my first class with a discussion of whether or not Women's Studies is a subject matter geared toward indoctrinating you. It was an interesting debate, wherein I mostly adopted the role of defending the ABOR (after all I am a philosopher, so I am going to take the opposite side of whatever view seems to be winning out).
I have no idea what is in store this year? What will come of the September hearings in PA over House Resolution 177?
However, it is clear to me that the inspiration for this witch hunt in Women's Studies, which no doubt will go after any heterodox economist, sociologist, area studies, Peace and Justice studies program (who have I left out?) is the Powell Memo.
Written in 1971, Lewis Powell gave the game plan for how to turn the national discourse back to conservative views. Here are two snippets from this memo to muse on:
Now, for Powell's strategy:
"The Chamber." I wish it were just a science-fiction dystopia novel.