Thursday, October 14, 2004

Becoming that which you despise 

We're now on our third week of a group of leftists on campus showing "documentaries" (quotes because I would think a documentary contained facts, and I don't believe these do), including sponsorship by an academic department (quotes optional). Scholar Dave posted on the campus discussion list a fake ad:

A Documentary Exposing John Kerry's Record of Betrayal


Video followed by panel discussion

Monday, November 1 @ 6 p.m. - Atwood Little Theater


I repeat, it's fake. Some said that would be fine to do. The defense was expressed most eloquently thus:

I have been biting my tongue very hard to refrain from expressing my political views in my classes. This has occasionally been tricky, as for example when I encouraged my students to vote and they asked me what I thought about the value of voting for third-party candidates. But somewhere I got the idea that my students might be unduly influenced by my view, given their undoubted awe of my wisdom and authority, and that I should therefore refrain from diluting the academic truths I impart to them with my subjective political opinions. Or maybe it was that in my paid capacity as a state employee I was a state resource and shouldn�t be used for political purposes.

However, I find the view expressed by some here persuasive: that diversity of opinion is indeed important at the university level, and that my expression of opinion will be balanced by other professors� expressions, and that students will be better served by getting several strongly expressed perspectives rather than having us speak from our ivory towers, as if above the political fray.

On the other hand, I do feel strongly that, if current politics were the topic of a class discussion that I as the instructor was facilitating, the discussion would almost certainly be more free and open if I refrained from injecting my viewpoint and maintained a relatively neutral stance.

As another admittedly liberal faculty member pointed out, though, that argument presupposes that faculty are relatively evenly distributed politically across the spectrum. Even that fellow agrees that this isn't so on most campuses, and certainly not at SCSU.
I might add it is not an easy life to be a political conservative on a typical U.S. campus. My own experience is that those of us considerably to the left of center have a much easier time of it.

My own intuition is to especially treasure our home grown conservatives and to admire their courage.

Hats off to you mean old fogies.
I see a new Scholars t-shirt. Calling Cafe Press!

Seriously, it's a good point. I treasure the many friends, including both the authors above, as committed leftists who engage in reasoned debate. Arguments sharpen the mind and steel the will. If the academic world consisted of folks like them and me, and even if there were more of them than me (chosen in objective fashion) I could turn this site to other things. But of course that isn't the case. What we see instead are people who insist that their job is to get people to think outside the box without respecting the box. Or even knowing themselves what is in the box.

Besides the failure to create a balance of voices in the faculty as a whole, there is the separate question of the propriety of using state money for this purpose. The ever-dependable Miss Median (new readers may go here to get the reference) tries this bit of piffle:
To say that everyone who expresses a viewpoint at a state university has to express "both" or "every" viewpoint is ludicrous. A campus should be an open forum for many viewpoints, and no one has prevented any unit from expressing their viewpoints through a film, a speaker, or other event (as a matter of fact, the students will present a political debate for homecoming week). Why any specific faculty member or department is obligated to present "all viewpoints" because state universities are partially supported (less and less each year) by the taxpayers (who are all of us), does not make any more sense then insisting that a columnist must argue both, or every, side of a debate in every column she or he writes !!
Nobody says the first sentence; we note only the point made in the first letter, that keeping your views in the background probably encourages students to speak more. This is probably more so in Lake Wobegone country than elsewhere, where embarassment is not acceptable. The students' homecoming debate indeed is a debate between a Republican and a Democrat, to be followed by a showing of F-9/11. Nobody asked the students their thoughts on having student activity fee dollars used on F-9/11, but I doubt it would raise too much of a stink. We already know what F-9/11 is.

Her answer completely evades Dave's original question which was whether this was an appropriate use of tax dollars. One of this site's purposes is to expose these types of things to the taxpaying public. Consider it done. If you are reading this and think it an outrage, tell your state legislator.

But the question isn't even about taxpayer dollars in my view. The question is how it is part of an academic department's mission to finance a series of movies committed to only one political view? In the case of Human Relations, the mission statement is clearly not about "respecting the box". Most departmental missions have an object of study that is value-free, though those choosing to discuss that object will bring their values to it. There are left- and right-wing economists, Democratic and Republican finance professors, etc. Running only one side of a debate is anathema to those missions. But not to a department which avows that it "provides education in self awareness and skills essential for living and working in a pluralistic, democratic society."

Those who wish to protest this activity, I think, have one of two choices: either to continue to fight to get any such missions written out as inconsistent with the university's goals, or creating countervailing departments that would naturally attract only right-wing academics, that might make an extra credit project out of seeing Stolen Honor this weekend. While I believe the first option is the better one, I despair of ever seeing it become reality. Becoming like those we oppose, sadly, may be the only course left.