Archive for February, 2005

The Case for Academic Freedom

Monday, February 28th, 2005

A recent proposal in the Tennessee General Assembly has caused a great deal of angst on college campuses in our state over the past couple weeks. The bill (HB0432), proposed by State Rep. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville in the House, and Raymond Finney of Maryville in the Senate, is known as the “Academic Bill of Rights.” To hear some tell it, you’d think it was an effort to repeal the first amendment. Professors at this and other institutions strongly oppose it. Some label it a “witch hunt.” It has been editorialized against on these pages. Let’s examine it.

So what is this bill that has caused such wailing and gnashing of teeth among the academic elite? It is basically a proposal to encourage a greater diversity of viewpoints in the classroom. It is an attempt to outline some basic rights students should have in order to ensure that they will not be treated unfairly if they have religious or political views that are not shared by their professor. Among rights outlined in the bill include:

* “The right to expect that their academic freedom will not be infringed upon by instructors who create a hostile environment toward their political or religious beliefs or who introduce controversial matter into the classroom or course work that is substantially unrelated to the subject of study.”

* “The right to expect that they will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study and that they shall not be discriminated against on the basis of their political or religious beliefs…”

* “The right to expect that their academic institutions shall distribute student fee funds on a viewpoint neutral basis and shall maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political or religious disagreements, differences, and opinions…”

* “The right to be fully informed of their institutions’ grievance procedures for violations of academic freedom by means of notices prominently displayed in course catalogues, student handbooks, and on the institutional web site.”

Oh, the horror!

A similar Academic Bill of Rights is being considered by a number of other states. It was first proposed by the group, Students for Academic Freedom, a nonprofit campus organization nationally headed by noted intellectual David Horowitz. This group has been fighting “political correctness” and attempting to expand the boundaries of knowledge on approximately 150 campuses across the country (UT has a chapter). The main principal of the organization is that it is hard to get a good education if you are only getting half the story.

The bill is naturally controversial, as any new regulation always is. Some professors feel that it limits their academic freedoms. This is not true; it merely seeks to protect college students (who are, after all, what colleges and universities exist for) from professors who treat students unfairly, either by giving them lower grades than they deserve or maliciously attack their religion or political views. If anything, it will encourage more students to speak up about their views, and thus enhance freedom of speech.

Recently, someone asked how conservatives, who generally favor limited government, could support such a bill. After all, it is an intrusion into the classroom, is it not? And conservatives generally want the government out of as many institutions as possible. Does the government really have any right involving itself in the classroom?

The problem with this reasoning is that the government is ALREADY in the classroom. The UT system and the Board of Regents are state-sponsored. They are funded by taxpayer dollars. Therefore, is it really so unreasonable to expect that taxpayers, who are footing the bill, should have some oversight in higher education, through their elected officials? To say no, I would argue, is very arrogant and condescending. The people of Tennessee are intelligent enough to know what constitutes education and what constitutes indoctrination.

There is much politically correct rot contaminating campuses (see Ward Churchill or Evan Coyne Maloney’s “Brainwashing 101″). Often lost in the debates are the voices of the students. Enhancing their voices is hardly a bad thing.

State Rep. Stacey Campfield and State Sen. Raymond Finney are to be applauded for their efforts to encourage a wider array of voices on college campuses. Everyone, whether they be liberal, conservative, or moderate, who supports a broader and more balanced education, should support their legislation.

Letter on Education

Monday, February 28th, 2005

I stumbled on this letter written by a former teacher of mine from high school, Mr. John Strunk. Strangely, it was written on May 24, 1999 – three days after I graduated. It is kind of interesting to find things like this…

Black Confederates

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Civil War reenactor and Harriman native Edward Bardill takes a look at some soldiers forgotten by history.

Night

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

This weekend, I read Elie Wiesel’s Night, which told the story of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps. Though just over 100 pages in length, I can honestly say that this is probably the most powerful and disturbing book I have ever read. Everyone should read this book, so that they can know the truth of what happend, and so that they can never allow it to happen again.

Yarbrough x 2

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

My friend Todd Yarbrough has two new blogs: The Daily Yarbrough, which serves as sort of a journal, and Modern Stylistic Ramblings From the Right Side, which offers news and political commentary. I recommend both.

As a side note, my laptop is currently in the shop. Hopefully, I will get it back on Monday, but who knows. In the meantime, blogging may be a bit light.

Yarbrough x 2

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

My friend Todd Yarbrough has two new blogs: The Daily Yarbrough, which serves as sort of a journal, and Modern Stylistic Ramblings From the Right Side, which offers news and political commentary. I recommend both.

As a side note, my laptop is currently in the shop. Hopefully, I will get it back on Monday, but who knows. In the meantime, blogging may be a bit light.

Academic Bill of Rights

Friday, February 25th, 2005

An editorial in today’s Daily Beacon attacks the Academic Bill of Rights:

Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, are proposing something they’re calling an “academic bill of rights” to ensure that professors never use their classrooms as a forum for their religious and political beliefs. The bill calls for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to adopt a system to accept complaints from students who feel their rights have been violated. Further, the bill would also address funding for speakers which the legislators proposing the bill feel are disproportionately liberal.

This one of the worst ideas we’ve heard in quite sometime. We don’t use the word “stupid” very often, but this is a case where we’re really tempted to do so.

The editorial then goes on to outline its objections to the bill, each of which merits a response:

First of all, there is no way to tell whether a “complaint” is actually legitimate or not. In a lot of ways it comes down to the professor’s word against the student’s

This may be true in some cases. But to say there is “no way” is dishonest. Many students tape lectures. If a number of complaints are filed against the same professor over an extended period of time, I think it is safe the assume the situation may merit investigation. Also, if a student feels he has been graded down by a professor for his or her political or religious beliefs – and another professor’s reviews the work and concurs – then the matter is pretty open and shut.

Secondly, this sort of situation is a slippery slope, creeping dangerously close to limiting the freedom of speech of a professor. Of all the places whether lively debate and discussion should occur, it’s in the college classroom. And this bill offers avenues to limit this freedom, spiraling into a potentially Orwellian university environment and raising questions of constitutionality.

No it doesn’t. It simply aims to ensure that students can speak up and challenge their professors without fear of retribution. It actually encourages freedom of speech, on behalf of the students. And aren’t the students what the college classroom is supposed to be all about?

Finally, and most importantly, there is absolutely no need for bill.

The faculty handbook reads that the “classroom should not be used as a theater for expression of personal views not germane to the course.”

As someone who has attended UT for three years, I can say that this part of the faculty handbook is not being enforced. I have sat through many classes and been informed that capitalism is a racism, sexist system, the U.S. is solely interested in Iraq’s oil, and to read books like Blowback (with no balancing perspective), among other enlightened opinions. These assertions mostly went unchallenged. Why? For one, some of them happened in classrooms of hundreds of students. In these rooms, it is next to impossible to challenge a professor since questions are rarely ever addressed. Secondly, students are often afraid of the consequences on their grades. That’s not to say that all professors would grade them down; most probably would not. But it can be quite intimidating for an 18 or 19 year old freshman to challenge a professor. If this bill helps them do so, I see no reason to oppose it.

Even if the UT faculty handbook policy on politicization was enforced, the bill would still be positive. Sometimes, the University of Tennessee forgets that there are other colleges and universities in the state. There are UTC, East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee State, Memphis, Pellissippi State, Roane State, and Austin Peay to name a few. Do they all have similar policies? And if so, are they being enforced?

The editorial ends thusly:

And what right does the Legislature have to address where funding for university speakers goes? It’s absolutely not in their realm of worry as to what speakers, say, the Issues Committee brings to campus. Plus, groups such as the Issues Committee almost always takes pains to be sure there is a fair balance of conservative and liberal viewpoints presented when it creates its schedule of speakers.

To our brilliant state legislators who came up with this idea, we only have one thing to say – stay out of matters that are absolutely none of your concern.

The last time I checked, UT was a public institution funded by taxpayer dollars. Yet the author of this editorial feels that the taxpayers should have no say in where their money goes. This is the utmost of arrogance. Why shouldn’t the good people of Tennessee have a say in the matter? Is it because they are too stupid? Perhaps the writer thinks so, as he closes by attacking the intelligence of Stacey Campfield and Raymond Finney. That is unfortunate state of political discourse today – it isn’t enough to simply disagree with one’s politics, you must also attack their intelligence.

The part about the Issues Committee will bring a smile to the fact of anyone who remembers the events of the Fall of 2003. Sukhmani Singh Khalsa outlined the chronic bias of the committee in an editorial, which led a committee member to suggest that he be “shot in the f—–g face” (This is featured in “Brainwashing 101″). Another members admitted the committee’s liberal leanings. Shockingly, none of this is mentioned in the editorial. Instead, we are assured that “groups such as the Issues Committee almost always takes pains to be sure there is a fair balance of conservative and liberal viewpoints presented.”

In fairness, the Issues Committee has worked harder and done a better job since the incident to bring a wider array of speakers. But it shouldn’t have taken death threats against conservative columnists to make it happen. The university has made it clear that it cannot be trusted alone to give equal times to both sides of a debate.

This editorialist’s anger should be at the university, for failing in it’s mission to provide a balanced, non-politicized education. Instead, it simply opts to shoot the messengers.

Academic Bill of Rights

Friday, February 25th, 2005

An editorial in today’s Daily Beacon attacks the Academic Bill of Rights:

Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, are proposing something they’re calling an “academic bill of rights” to ensure that professors never use their classrooms as a forum for their religious and political beliefs. The bill calls for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to adopt a system to accept complaints from students who feel their rights have been violated. Further, the bill would also address funding for speakers which the legislators proposing the bill feel are disproportionately liberal.

This one of the worst ideas we’ve heard in quite sometime. We don’t use the word “stupid” very often, but this is a case where we’re really tempted to do so.

The editorial then goes on to outline its objections to the bill, each of which merits a response:

First of all, there is no way to tell whether a “complaint” is actually legitimate or not. In a lot of ways it comes down to the professor’s word against the student’s

This may be true in some cases. But to say there is “no way” is dishonest. Many students tape lectures. If a number of complaints are filed against the same professor over an extended period of time, I think it is safe the assume the situation may merit investigation. Also, if a student feels he has been graded down by a professor for his or her political or religious beliefs – and another professor’s reviews the work and concurs – then the matter is pretty open and shut.

Secondly, this sort of situation is a slippery slope, creeping dangerously close to limiting the freedom of speech of a professor. Of all the places whether lively debate and discussion should occur, it’s in the college classroom. And this bill offers avenues to limit this freedom, spiraling into a potentially Orwellian university environment and raising questions of constitutionality.

No it doesn’t. It simply aims to ensure that students can speak up and challenge their professors without fear of retribution. It actually encourages freedom of speech, on behalf of the students. And aren’t the students what the college classroom is supposed to be all about?

Finally, and most importantly, there is absolutely no need for bill.

The faculty handbook reads that the “classroom should not be used as a theater for expression of personal views not germane to the course.”

As someone who has attended UT for three years, I can say that this part of the faculty handbook is not being enforced. I have sat through many classes and been informed that capitalism is a racism, sexist system, the U.S. is solely interested in Iraq’s oil, and to read books like Blowback (with no balancing perspective), among other enlightened opinions. These assertions mostly went unchallenged. Why? For one, some of them happened in classrooms of hundreds of students. In these rooms, it is next to impossible to challenge a professor since questions are rarely ever addressed. Secondly, students are often afraid of the consequences on their grades. That’s not to say that all professors would grade them down; most probably would not. But it can be quite intimidating for an 18 or 19 year old freshman to challenge a professor. If this bill helps them do so, I see no reason to oppose it.

Even if the UT faculty handbook policy on politicization was enforced, the bill would still be positive. Sometimes, the University of Tennessee forgets that there are other colleges and universities in the state. There are UTC, East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee State, Memphis, Pellissippi State, Roane State, and Austin Peay to name a few. Do they all have similar policies? And if so, are they being enforced?

The editorial ends thusly:

And what right does the Legislature have to address where funding for university speakers goes? It’s absolutely not in their realm of worry as to what speakers, say, the Issues Committee brings to campus. Plus, groups such as the Issues Committee almost always takes pains to be sure there is a fair balance of conservative and liberal viewpoints presented when it creates its schedule of speakers.

To our brilliant state legislators who came up with this idea, we only have one thing to say – stay out of matters that are absolutely none of your concern.

The last time I checked, UT was a public institution funded by taxpayer dollars. Yet the author of this editorial feels that the taxpayers should have no say in where their money goes. This is the utmost of arrogance. Why shouldn’t the good people of Tennessee have a say in the matter? Is it because they are too stupid? Perhaps the writer thinks so, as he closes by attacking the intelligence of Stacey Campfield and Raymond Finney. That is unfortunate state of political discourse today – it isn’t enough to simply disagree with one’s politics, you must also attack their intelligence.

The part about the Issues Committee will bring a smile to the fact of anyone who remembers the events of the Fall of 2003. Sukhmani Singh Khalsa outlined the chronic bias of the committee in an editorial, which led a committee member to suggest that he be “shot in the f—–g face” (This is featured in “Brainwashing 101″). Another members admitted the committee’s liberal leanings. Shockingly, none of this is mentioned in the editorial. Instead, we are assured that “groups such as the Issues Committee almost always takes pains to be sure there is a fair balance of conservative and liberal viewpoints presented.”

In fairness, the Issues Committee has worked harder and done a better job since the incident to bring a wider array of speakers. But it shouldn’t have taken death threats against conservative columnists to make it happen. The university has made it clear that it cannot be trusted alone to give equal times to both sides of a debate.

This editorialist’s anger should be at the university, for failing in it’s mission to provide a balanced, non-politicized education. Instead, it simply opts to shoot the messengers.

Knoxville Creepiness

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee’s blog has been updated.

Knoxville Creepiness

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee’s blog has been updated.