2/04/2005

Ohio Legislator Proposes that Academics Teach their Discipline

Ohio Legislator Larry Mumford is fed up with academics preaching ideology rather than teaching their discipline. Mumford has proposed legislation that would require academics in Ohio to reach their discipline and require that
be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study and shall not be discriminated against on the basis of their political, ideological, or religious beliefs. Faculty and instructors shall not use their courses or their positions for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.
David Horowitz' Academic Bill of Rights inspired Mumford

The left and Democrats (is that a posimoron?) are having a hissy fit. Here | Here | Here | Here | Google News.

I find it ironic that the Bowling Green State University faculty senate discussed extending benefits to gay/lesbian employee partners that same day they railed against Mumford's proposed legislation.

To be clear: I do not support Mumford's legislation. I do think that Mumford's legislation offers a potent indictment of the academy.

That said, the left would be wise to recognize a shot across the bow when one comes within glancing distance. My liberal academic friends that work for state institutions suggest that the state legislators -- the very legislators that determine the budget for their institutions -- are "dumb" and "don't get it." Familiar rhetoric. Mumford's legislation should give them reason to look in the mirror and ask, "what have we done to precipitate this"?

UPDATE: A student's view:
While professors may feel as though this bill could limit academic freedom or their ability to run their classrooms in a free and unrestricted manner, don't we, the students, deserve an unbiased education?
Hmm ... sounds reasonable to me. An education consumer expecting an education.

The Marion Star sounds off. The ACLU steps in.

Update 2 (Feb6 @ 2:15 p.m.): Welcome Instapundit readers!


20 comments:

  1. I apologize if I offend;

    While I do not agree with everything in the proposed bill, I have to ask;

    What's wrong with requiring educators to actually do their job?

    We require mechanics to actually fix cars, plumbers to fix pipes, etc. Why shouldn't teachers just teach and not preach?

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  2. Jon, No offence taken. I interpret this legislation as evidence that the higher education community is not doing its job. I have no problem with delivering what my students expect. Unfortunately, some do have a problem with that. Many shouldn't be in a classroom, IMHO.

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  3. What an extrordinary idea! That students should be graded on the coursework that they do, that teachers should teach the courses they say they are teaching!!

    I am still bitter about the "text analysis" prof that gave me an F because I was a College Republican, and kept be from Honors.

    There are several academic bloggers right now who are taking the tact that Professors must be true to themselves and not yield to their "customers." That will last until the customers - students, alumns and legislators, get well pissed off.

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  4. I hope Mr. Mumford gets his law passed, and not just because it would provide the basis for a lively public debate about just what a farce "academic freedom" has become under the heavyhanded leftism now ruling most campuses.

    I'd particularly like to see troglodyte leftist professors explain to the people and legistlature who employ them, why the teaching of anything incorporating premises or analyses derived from the now-entirely-discredited corpus of Marxism should not be considered academic malpractice.

    We would not, after all, consider it pedagogically sensible - even with respect to some fractured notion of "diversity" - to employ chemistry professors who champion the Pholgiston Theory of combustion, physics professors who reject Einstein, astromony profressors who profess allegience to Ptolemy or even professors of electrical engineering who intend to ignore semiconductors in favor of vacuum tubes.

    Marxism, having been about as thoroughly debunked as any of the other intellectual blind alleys just named, has no place - except as a subject of historical inquiry - in any curriculum with serious pretensions to rigorousness and currency.

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  5. I am a high school teacher, and it is safe to say, that I as well as any teacher, will bring their biases into class. For example, I teach modern civ, and I focus more than other teachers on western philosophy and warfare. Some focus on people and cultural issues. Is taht bias? Absolutely. However, when I offer an opinion, 1) I ALWAYS say, "This is what I think...", and 2) I NEVER test them on what I think. I gather that is a fair trade off. Now, I also ahy away from a variety of topics, even historical ones, out of concern that they have no place in the classroom. I use my best judgement, but I assume many profs don't or won't.

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  6. Anonymous11:49 AM

    As an Ohio taxpayer, why should I pay these guys six figure salaries to indoctrinate their students. As a parent, why should I fork out $100 - $200K+ to have my kids mind filled with leftist drivel. Still don't think there's a problem - check out this site - http://www.noindoctrination.org/.

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  7. Anonymous12:04 PM

    A lot of lefties think that universities exist primarily for the benefit of professors. Myself, I think that universities should be considered to exist primarily for the benefit of the students. -- Steven Den Beste

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  8. What's striking about the "hissy fit" links that you posted is the dearth of any kind of actual argument against Mumford's proposed legislation. DailyKos comes closest by offering some scenarios that could result from the bill, but even those are somewhat half-hearted -- he equates a biologist having to mention creationism in his class to be something akin to a doomsday scenario. All the other articles posted merely engage in ad hominem attacks and scare-tactic jargon; one of them is actually entitled "Can your state government get any stupider?" And one dismisses the entire bill because it looks like something written by David Horowitz, who is a "racist". Is he really a racist? Why? No reason given. Statements about how the bill would restrict academic freedom are not backed up.

    If the left is so heavily populated by intellectuals, who presumably deal with reasoning and examining the vailidity of ideas, why don't they actually attack the argument *behind* the bill rather than the people who support it? The way they're approaching it now makes them sound exactly like the caricature that Mumford paints of them -- reactionaries who are scared of anything, and hate anybody, that would contradict what they think.

    And the thing is, I think there is a lot in this bill that *is* weak and there are a lot of reasons to try to defeat it. But calling people names isn't going to make it happen, and in fact it may rile up people against you who would otherwise be persuaded to your side. You'd think the left would have learned this by now.

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  9. It's really enough to rethink the idea of state universities -- choose now, academic freedom or reasonable utilization of tax money, NOW. Gah.

    None of my professors at Ohio State seemed to grade me down for disagreeing with them (I did get a 1/2 grade point drop for writing a 17 page paper when they asked for 12 pages, once... sigh). And most were good about covering whatever it was they said they'd cover at the beginning of the year -- I always thought that was a function of the department's head.

    I did have some major problems with professors at Long Beach City College (in California), though -- my World Regional Geography teacher, who was supposed to be teaching, you know, national capitals and who has a representative democracy and where all the dictators are and which countries are in the EU (and so forth), spent 8 of our 16 lessons on how evil Israel is. We were also assigned to defend World System Theory (as he presented it, a revised Marxist concept -- "no current struggle against the inequities of capitalism poses a 'fundamental ideological challenge'") on two of our four exams. But I got the highest grade possible in the class despite arguing against him in nearly every class, and challenging WST in both of those exams (and refusing to go soft on my group's project, which was on the recovery from Soviet influence in the Baltic states vs. Yugoslavia). I was mostly just annoyed, because I took the class expecting to finally get the geography class I'd never really had at any point in school. After that I just gave up and started reading the CIA World Factbook entries for any country named in the news. I also found the fact that he couldn't spell "Tuesday" properly to be... very irritating (he always wrote it on the board, because that's when the student/teacher world-peace-is-good-and-George-Bush-is-evil meeting took place; he was a faculty advisor for the group).

    Anyway, I do think teachers ought to teach what they say they're going to teach -- a 5 credit course at Ohio State or Bowling Green costs more than $500, before books. It's more a matter of false advertising when you call something "Introduction to Literature" and spend the entire 11 week period cursing at your students to "challenge their paradigms about women and authority" (my English teacher only did that the first day: she was very creative, and I was homeschooled before that, with the result that she said something so offensive even the guys were blushing, but I wasn't embarassed because I'd never heard the word before).

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  10. Anonymous12:14 PM

    I teach at a small Catholic college and our faculty handbook presents a view of academic freedom that's a bit different from the normal view. It is perhaps overly limited, but I like the spirit of it.

    Our sense is that academic freedom is limited within the confines of ones own discipline. Since I teach medieval literature, and have specialized education and continued study in that field, I can say whate'er I want about Dante or Chaucer in the classroom. But I don't have the license to pontificate about the war in Iraq, tax cuts, education reform, or anything else extraneous to my classroom calling.

    I suppose there are ways around that -- I could, I suppose, suggest that Dante would be anti-Bush, or that Chaucer would decry one abuse or another. After all, both poets were social critics, and projecting their vision forward is part of a literary education. But were I to do so in a blatant or indecorous fashion, at students would have technical grounds for a grievance (although I can hardly imagine any of them figuring that out and actually filing one).

    That's 'cuz when they pay for their three credits of Chaucer, they expect three credits of Chaucer.

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  11. Anonymous12:58 PM

    After that I hope there's legislation to get rid of the professional-victim courses being taught in the universities.

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  12. Anonymous1:40 PM

    This discussion is a very useful one, both here and
    in society more generally.

    Some not-so-random thoughts:

    While it is pretty clear what "teach your discipline"
    means in the physical sciences, it is not so clear in
    the social sciences. Some folks, not all of them
    thoughtless or stupid, think that neo-classical
    economics, which is what I teach and what you will
    get in most university classrooms, is a political
    creed and not a scientific endeavor. I disagree,
    which is why I teach it, but it is not clear to me
    who should decide, other than the intellectual "market"
    broadly defined.

    I do think that truth in labeling is very appropriate
    and that students should be able to complain, and
    profs should be punished, for not teaching the material
    advertised in the list of courses and on the department
    webpage. If the prof wants to bash Isreal for 13 weeks,
    that should be made clear so that students at least
    know what they are getting. Relatedly, departments
    (and deans and university administrations) need to
    make sure that *required* courses have either profs
    with a balanced view or multiple, clearly labeled
    sections.

    I am not entirely sure that this is a left/right issue.
    I had a real lefty for a poli sci class as an undergrad,
    whom I disagreed with actively in class almost every
    day (though in a polite and scholarly way). This was
    during my anarcho-capitalist phase (I got more moderate
    by doing my Ph.D. in economics at Chicago!). I had
    a chat with him about it one day and he said that he
    really liked having me in class because I was not a
    drone like most of the other students. I was actually
    listening to and responding to what he said on an
    intellectual level. Having now taught undergraduates
    for a decade myself, I could not agree more.

    Finally, to the person who got counted off for turning
    in 17 pages instead of 12. Following directions is
    part of life. Learning to say what you need to say
    clearly in a limited space is also a very useful skill.
    You should be thankful for being taught a valuable
    lesson.

    Jeff Smith (or, if you prefer, Prof. Smith)

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  13. My blog, OpinionMeister, links to this post and adds the following comments:

    Talk about a mixed message. In one paragraph, this bill seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of students and curtail the First Amendment rights of the teachers. It is hard to argue with the idea behind first half of the paragraph. Students should not be penalized for holding different opinions than the teacher, or favored for holding similar opinions. The big problem is how it is enforced. It sounds like juries will start deciding what grades a student should receive, after a trial that should not be taking up court time. It could prove to be another Trial Lawyers Employment Act.

    As for the second half, it not only violates Academic Freedom, it also violates the First Amendment. I believe it was George Orwell who described a particular idea as "so stupid, only an intellectual could believe it." Many in the academic community are fonts of crackpot ideas, but we should not want the government to censor them. One solution is the kind of publication found at certain universities in which students rate faculty members and warn fellow students away from the crackpots. Universities should not fire teachers for what they say in class, but they should fire them if no students want to take their classes.

    Jeff Perrin
    http://opinionmeister.blogspot.com

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  14. Anonymous2:43 PM

    Re: 6 figure salaries.

    Do you know how few faculty make greater than six figure salaries? The salaries of people at most major state run institutions are available via a FOIA request. For example, at the University of Michigan, the state institution considered one of the most 'left', I as the department computer guy, making just barely $60,000, make more than 90% of my department. Some of your assumptions are faulty, I'd say...

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  15. The problem here is the same problem that exists in most areas of our society: the failure to understand that rights cannot exist without concurrent responsibilities. Yes, educatiors should have academic freedoms, but at the same time, they should have to acknowledge the responsibilities of exercising those freedoms. There are some issues that are sensitive, even damaging to society as a whole, that must be addressed carefully. The problem with many "academics" is that they only see the 'rights' portion of the equation, and ignore the 'responsibilities' portion. It's incumbent on the administration, and in the case of State-run schools, the legislature, to clearly define the goals and limits of academic behavior.

    A university is still a consumer-oriented organization. Its primary function is to provide an advanced education to its students. That's why it was originally created, that's why it's funded (whether it's by state funds, grants, or alumni donations), and that'sy the SOLE reason it continues to exist. The "publish or perish" philosophy originated to ensure that teachers kept up with the latest developments in their field, and contributed both to the current debate and the future development of the field they're teaching. The existence of a university strictly to exist is both insane and untenable. Having members at any level that don't understand both the primary reason for the university itself, and their role in it, fails both the university and its students.

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  16. Anonymous3:53 PM

    According to the Chronicle's table for faculty salaries, 2003-2004, a full prof at the U of M makes
    $117,800.

    It's true that only a minority of professors make more than $100,000/yr. The point that is relevant is that, regardless of the salary, professors are not being paid to impose their opinions on students and should not punish students when they don't regurgitate the professor's propaganda.

    As a professor who is getting his Ph.D. in May, I got the lowest grade in one class for defending Christians in the South as not all being slaveholders in spite of having out-published the other 23 T.A.'s combined. There is very real political and religious discrimination that goes on, especially in the humanities.

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  17. Even though I have been in practice for almost twenty years, I still recall the medical ethics professor who assigned my first year medical school class an essay on abortion. Everyone who wrote a pro-abortion essay did well; those of us who wrote pro-life essays were all given "D"s. I know because there were very few of us. His justification was that we used faulty reasoning to reach our pro-life conclusion. As I had minored in Philosophy in undergrad and had used the classic refutation of his Utilitarianism stance, I knew that excuse was total hogwash. I can see some problems with a law like this but see even more with the state of academia today, and even then.

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  18. This bill certainly seems reasonable and ought to pass. The idea that it limits the first amendment rights of faculty is ludicrous. No one has an unbounded right to express one's opinions on the job at the expense of doing the job itself or at the expense of a captive audience that has no interest in those opinions.

    I suspect this law would put the dampers on the most abusive faculty but would be devilishly difficult to enforce - in particular, outside of the classroom.

    It also, does nothing about such things as "Women's Studies" programs that exist simply to promote a narrow ideology under the guise of an academic discipline.

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  19. Hmmm.

    In essence what's being described as needed is an anonymous system of rating professors for prospective students.

    Heh.

    That'll shake up the Marxists.

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  20. Hmmm.

    "The idea that it limits the first amendment rights of faculty is ludicrous."

    What I find curious is that universities generally seem to use the First Amendment to defend activities of leftist professors. Republican students on the other hand will get expelled with no reference to the First Amendment.

    Hypocritical that.

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