Political indoctrination on campus?

Are claims that some professors use their classes more to indoctrinate students in their own political ideology than to teach them anything true? Or are they like Elvis sightings? Liberal faculty members and administrators often scoff at such complaints, saying that the students who lodge them are just hypersensitive gripers.

I don’t think that the complaints about courses that amount to stuffing a political agenda down the throats of students should be brushed aside. For one thing, knowing something about the writings and behavior of many professors outside of the classroom, where they often display a single-minded vehemence for their pet causes, I find it easy to believe that they tend to treat their students as revolutionaries-in-the-making.

A newly begun web site may help concerned parents, taxpayers, alumni and others who are concerned about the academic integrity of colleges and universities. It is found at http://noindoctrination.org. Started by a woman in California who was upset over the strongly political nature of some of her son’s classes, the web site invites students to post information about courses where the emphasis is more on imprinting certain beliefs on students than expanding their knowledge and sharpening their reasoning faculties.

Here are some examples from the web site:

• A mandatory workshop course in writing at the University of California, San Diego is described as an indoctrination by the professor and teaching assistant, where the students are expected to agree with the instructors’ views on race, or else face intimidating questioning.

• A student taking a course on “Poverty and Income Distribution” at Barnard College wrote that, “All classroom discussion had the same moral: it is America’s fault that people are impoverished and they are therefore the victims.”

• In a course at the University of California at Santa Barbara (“Blacks in the Media”), the professor informed the students that “capitalism is a system based on racism.” Students who dissented from the professor’s views were met with “hostility and aggression.” Wrote the posting student, “I cannot comfortably express my own opinion at my public University, which is supposed to be a place of tolerance, open-mindedness, and higher education.”

None of the dozen postings to be found on the web site as of the time of this writing are from schools in North Carolina, but I suspect that the reason is that students have not yet heard about NoIndoctrination.org. I hope that students quickly learn about it and post their dissatisfaction with courses where the professor is preaching rather than teaching.

In fact, here’s a suggestion that will almost certainly be scorned, but is nevertheless a good one: The administrations of colleges and universities should publicize the existence of NoIndoctrination.org and encourage students to assert their displeasure with politicized courses. Yes, I mean it. It is utterly inappropriate for educational institutions to allow professors to use their classrooms to promote their personal agendas. College presidents who are true to the ideals of higher education and the implicit contract they have with students who enroll with the expectation of acquiring skills and knowledge should be diligent in cracking down on professors who try to brainwash their students.

But what about academic freedom? Three cheers for academic freedom, but it does not trump every other consideration. If a professor wants to speak out on issues that fire his spirit, that is fine — as long as it isn’t done in class. If a professor wants to enlist students in a crusade, jihad, campaign, mobilization or whatever to make the world a better place, that is fine — but don’t do it with the captive audience of students who signed up for the course. Colleges and universities should respect the freedom of faculty members (and other employees – there is nothing special about holding faculty status) to do what they want to on their own, but this is a two-way street. Faculty members (and other employees) must recognize that they have contractual obligations to fulfill, obligations that center around teaching their students.

Faculty contracts do not give professors license to turn their classes into soviet-style re-education camps. They should be told so and informed that the school will not tolerate ideological harassment any more than it tolerates sexual harassment.

A school that did that would probably find itself embroiled in controversy with profs who teach the various “identity” courses. “Women’s Studies,” for instance, are mostly classes in victimology, with the villain cast as capitalism, western civilization, or just men. I’d expect the profs to complain that their courses are predicated upon such assumptions and if they had to adopt a stance of intellectual neutrality, their courses would cease to have meaning.

To that, I reply that courses that depend on unquestioning belief in a set of dubious propositions shouldn’t be courses. If students want advocacy, they can easily find it outside the classroom.

Is political indoctrination a problem on campuses in North Carolina? Students who think so should go to NoIndoctrination.org and let everyone know about it.