(/sites/default/files/uploads/2013/10/Photo-college-student-in-a-classroom.jpg)When Stephen Hawking decided to boycott Israel earlier this year based on the opinions of academics like Noam Chomsky I was astonished. How can it be that one of the smartest people in the world can hold such a dumb view? It turns out that this is quite common. As I began to teach at Queens College (City University of New York), I have seen firsthand how this can be.
It has often been said that there is no cure for stupid, while ignorance is easily treated through education. What happens when educators willfully steer their ships in an ignorant direction? It seems that many academic ships are sailing in this direction. I happened to board one myself recently.
I began teaching “Introduction to Political Science” (PoliSci 101) at Queens College as a Graduate Teaching Fellow this semester. As I am new, I was given a “mentor” whose syllabus I essentially mirrored. After a brief review of the content I got a sense of what textbooks are being used in the practice of college-level teaching. I researched syllabi elsewhere to get some more ideas. It seems that what is being assigned at Queens College is not all that different from what professors assign elsewhere.
When I looked a little deeper into the material I was assigning I began to notice what I could only say is institutionalized liberal bias. As a Ph.D. student who has sat through some of the most virulent professorial liberal rants, I knew it was quite common. (In the past I had attended numerous schools, mostly in New York; they include State University of New York Orange, the City University of New York that included study at Brooklyn College, Hunter College, City College and the Graduate Center). I swore that my pedagogical style would be centered on the presentation of opposing viewpoints and not descend into the sort of demagoguery that thrives on sycophant head bobbing.
In reviewing some of the chapters of the “textbook” I was requiring students to read I saw a clear socialist trend. When I think of a textbook a few adjectives come to mind. It should be a technical guide on concepts. It should be dispassionate and devoid of fiery ideology. Well, that isn’t quite how it works.
The “textbook” pushed the agenda of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, denigrated any conservative viewpoints, assaulted libertarianism, and promoted only Democratic presidents and liberal/progressive interests. I decided that since the ship was listing to the left I would give it a shove toward the center by assigning two chapters of Mark R. Levin’s book, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.
That didn’t go over too well. The department chair called for a submission of all syllabi, which I promptly complied with. I guess this is the first time they were seeing some conservative heresy being assigned. I found it odd that shortly thereafter I was informed by my “mentor” that I would be observed in the classroom. Routine observations do occur. However, I was informed that they don’t generally take the form that mine had. It was quite interesting that he chose the specific day that I would be reviewing Levin’s material with the students.
Following the observation, I had a brief discussion with my reviewer/mentor. He seemed to make some useful critical remarks, which I immediately recognized as helpful. Then he spoke about Levin’s book (I had sent him two chapters in advance of the observation). He didn’t like that I used a “polemical radio personality” to teach. I told him that Levin is an accomplished constitutional attorney and former Chief of Staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese. He sort of nodded and the conversation ended.
A few days later I got the written version of my observation report. The same matters discussed were now on paper. I was told that the observation process requires that I must seek a full-time professor to be a rapporteur. That person’s job is to simply note my comments in a neutral fashion and convey them to the chairperson. I was told that I should see a particular professor, whom I decided not to see. I was then told that the department chair would suffice. So, I went into her office and exchanged polite greetings with her. As I began to tell her that I needed a rapporteur she took out a scratch pad and started to take notes, while barking at me that I have a “big issue” in assigning Levin and that she agrees with my observer’s remarks. I was dumbfounded.
When a person goes to court they don’t expect that the judge will be play the roles of stenographer and prosecutor. She told me that I needed to get that material out of the syllabus. I tried to defend my usage of the material as being consonant with what I would think the school values: the presentation of facts from various perspectives. She laughed and said that since Levin’s book was not a textbook it did not qualify as being on an equal footing as the (leftist) textbook. As much as it pains me to say so, she is right. Textbooks don’t seem to present arguments that folks like Levin are making.
When I told her that I merely assigned Levin to provide a counterpoint to the biased arguments being made in a so-called textbook that was “peer-reviewed” she suggested that perhaps I couldn’t find an alternative because the viewpoint is not legitimate. Then I got to thinking, if one’s peers are all liberals and academics tend to be the same then the jury is rigged. One cannot expect to be published in a peer-reviewed textbook when what they have to say is so unpopular among those who publish.
This is what people mean when they describe academia as a cesspool of liberal ideologues. Over the years, I had come to see the students and professors (in New York City) as overwhelmingly liberally biased. What I now can see is how such a bias is sustained by willfully suppressing any material that conflicts with the agenda. As I have also been informed, the concept of “academic freedom” applies to professors with tenure. I am not a member of such a privileged class. Hence, I have no academic freedom. One can safely conclude that since I (and my students) am not academically free, a liberal autocracy is the system that I must bow before.
I am left to understand that my place in this system is akin to that of an insurgent. I am therefore compelled to brand myself as a “Conservative Insurgent.” The difference is, however, that I will never seek to indoctrinate the students (as the liberal incumbents do). I only desire to grant conservatism a voice amongst the cacophony of liberalism.
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