Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Facts? We don't need no stinking facts!

The title above links to an article at Inside Higher Ed that covers recent events at hearings in Pennsylvania relating to the so-called "Academic Bill of Rights". The basic news is that the major proponent of these laws across the country, David Horowitz, was caught using fabricated stories to support his contention that students are penalized at universities for espousing views contrary to their professors' supposedly liberal biases. Here's Mr. Horowitz:

Everybody who is familiar with universities knows that there is a widespread practice of professors venting about foreign policy even when their classes aren't about foreign policy... the lack of evidence on Penn State doesn't mean there isn't a problem... These are nit picking, irrelevant attacks.
In other words, he doesn't need evidence, his assertion of liberal bias in and of itself is enough justification for writing laws to counter that liberal bias.

Is it any wonder that these laws are, by and large, Orwellian intrusions of politics into education? As for the supposed liberal bias of academia, here's an nice quote from the comments to the article:

And someone really needs to say this: Contemporary American conservatism has come to devalue not only evidence, but knowledge and the [search] for knowledge itself so completely that it is nearly impossible to obtain a graduate degree without learning to think far more clearly and rigorously than contemporary American conservatism will permit. By default, such thinking makes one a 'liberal,' and the statement, 'The campuses are full of liberal professors' is essentially equivalent to 'The campuses are full of professors who have studied, continue to study, and value knowledge.'
As I and others have said before: if academics tend to be liberals, it's because modern conservativism has embraced a mindset that in many ways is the polar opposite of learning, critical thinking, and discovery of new knowledge.

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  1. Ok. I've had professors who have promoted some of their political views in their classes and I never attended pol. sciences classes. Right. So? No big deal.

    Would I feel like I'm being penalized if I oppose the prof.'s point of view. I might feel that way.

    However, I found that students overestimate the "feelings" we have for them while marking. Myself, when marking, I pretty have only one concern "I must be fair". That's about it. I don't tend to care who the student is until after the fact.

    I'm sure this is widespread. Prof. are busy people. They have no time to target student Smith because student Smith said president Bush was great. Nope. I don't buy this.

    It will happen. No doubt. And some professors give better grades to women with big breasts. And some give bad marks to black students.

    But political views are not strongly correlated with the bias. No way.

  2. I agree. It's probably possible to make inappropriate/offensive remarks about almost anything if you try hard enough. If a faculty member does this consistently (i.e., not just a political joke every once in a while), then that would likely be cause for some sort of administrative action. But there already exists mechanisms for dealing with faculty who've gone round the bend.

    Similarly, if a student feels I've graded him down for political reasons, he need only file a complaint, and then his work and my grading would be reviewed to see if something strange was going on.

    There's no need for an "Academic Bill of Rights" because academia already is very cognizant of everyone's rights, and has made a conscious effort to err on the side of letting people say almost anything, even if that offends.