A columnist for the Technician, N.C. State University’s official student newspaper, has ignited a controversy on that campus with his charge that the English Department is an “instrument…to convert the ideas and opinions of the student body to the conformist views of feminism.” Ryan Galligan, a fifth-year student and former “P.C. tool,” wrote in his Oct. 12 column that N.C. State English faculty use “subjective grading [as] a convenient power tool” against students, who are “academically bullied to cherish feminism.” He specifically mentioned English 111 and 112, the freshmen composition courses all freshmen are required to take.
Galligan wrote that the department’s attitude was, “If you are a naughty little rascal and do not write in accordance with the department’s agenda then we’ll be C-in ya.”
Prof. Judith Ferster, the Director of Freshman Composition at N.C. State, responded with a letter Oct. 20. Ferster noted the “diversity in education, background and political opinion” among the 80 writing faculty (and also among the much larger department as a whole), and she strongly asserted that the members of this diverse group neither “think alike [nor] impose their identical ideas on their students.” She further stated that Galligan’s article “stirred reflection for many of the teachers I’ve heard from since his piece appeared because we work hard at using the writing standards for focus, development, organization, style, grammar and mechanics – not our politics – as rubrics.”
Ferster also suggested Galligan should have spoken with his teachers about his grading and, if he still suspected unfairness, ask the writing program for a grade review instead of “censor[ing] himself at the time and…holding a grudge ever since.”
Another professor, however, seemed to argue that the bias Galligan decried was to be expected. “Galligan alleges that he must agree with feminism to make good grades in English. I want to say: well of course you must,” wrote Prof. Elaine Orr. “And by the way, it’s also a good idea to believe the Earth is round.”
Orr said that the “political correctness” (P.C.) that Galligan wrote about “is as old as human history,” using examples of Jesus and women in the early colonial days as examples of people who fought against what was P.C. in their times. “The only reason Galligan feels the pressure of P.C. today is because he’s the one under critique,” Orr wrote.
Jon Sanders, director of publications at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said that none of his English professors at N.C. State, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1994, displayed a discernible bias in the classroom. “The professors I had left their politics outside the classroom,” Sanders said. “Inside, we discussed literature.”
Sanders was critical of Orr’s letter, however, saying attitudes like Orr’s, if they are indeed brought to the classroom, fuel criticisms like Galligan’s and lend them credence. “If students in Orr’s classes really must demonstrate agreement with a political philosophy, in this case feminism, in order to receive good grades, then they have a serious complaint against the university,” he said. “Even philosophy classes don’t require advocacy of the professor’s pet philosophy, let alone equate it to a scientific principle.”