In the latest academic war to hit the Internet, a San Diego mother who objected to what she said was one-sided teaching in her son's college writing course has launched a Web site allowing students across the country to anonymously accuse their professors of political bias.
Luann Wright says she started the site, NoIndoctrination.org, this fall after complaining unsuccessfully for the past two years to university officials and state legislators about a required writing course that her son took at UC San Diego.
She says the course, which was developed and overseen by literature Professor Linda Brodkey and taught by teaching assistants, was supposed to teach the students how to write for a broad spectrum of subjects. Instead, it focused on race and attempted to advance a liberal sociopolitical agenda, intimidating students who held opposing views, she said.
"There is a time to study these things but why in a mandated course?" she said. "I hope to give a voice to these kids who are sitting in the back and feel intimidated. I would like the public, taxpayers, tuition payers, parents and donors, to know what their money supports."
The postings are anonymous, Wright said, because students fear reprisals from their professors, but the site does allow for rebuttals from targeted professors.
Bucknell University economics Professor Geoffrey Schneider, who was criticized by a student for portraying capitalism as a system that should be scrapped, posted a rebuttal saying that many points of view were considered.
"All perspectives were criticized," Schneider wrote. "However, as is typical of closed-minded students (from all perspectives), only the criticisms of the student's chosen perspective are remembered. The student might be interested to note, for example, that radical students criticized the course as pro-managed capitalism and biased against noncapitalist regimes."
A posting about UC Santa Barbara Professor Aaron Belkin's political science course said, "Part of the course was based on national identities and how it affects international relations. What was focused on however, were negative portrayals of American and Western identity."
Belkin has not posted a rebuttal but said Wednesday that he bends over backward to create an atmosphere in class in which students of all political persuasions can develop and articulate their views.
"I am very careful to include both readings and lecture discussions presenting positions from the left and the right explaining all the phenomenon we study," Belkin said. "It is unfortunate that someone would have concluded from the class that the syllabus is biased."
Students and others are increasingly turning to the Internet as a method to address perceived injustices.
In September, a Web site called "Campus Watch" by a pro-Israeli group created an outcry in academia because it singled out professors with views supporting Palestine and Islam. In the past few years, Web sites allowing students to anonymously review their professors on their teaching have also been popular.
Wright says she just hopes to get people talking about the issue of professors' using the classroom as a forum for their political agenda.
She was shocked to find out that Brodkey was involved in a similar controversy about a writing course on race and gender at the University of Texas at Austin in 1990.
"I'm not out here to criticize their research," she said. "I'm criticizing what students are paying for. If they are paying for a writing course, they should get a writing course."
Brodkey could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but UC San Diego Provost David K. Jordan, who is also accused on the Web site of overseeing a biased course, says it doesn't matter what the theme is in writing courses because the purpose is to get the students to write. Sometimes provoking them with controversial positions does that best, he said.
"The idea is to pull them out of the high school mode of just putting down a lot of facts," he said.
He says that he doesn't have a problem with the site in general but that he doesn't like its anonymity.
"I am sympathetic to the problem of politicization of curriculum," Jordan said. "If the Internet provides a forum in which students can complain, it is harmless as long as they aren't defaming anyone."
Although most of the postings NoIndoctrination.org criticize liberal teachings, Wright says she does not have a political agenda. A former high school teacher who now develops science curriculums, she describes herself as "straight down the middle" politically and just wants to see balanced teaching.
"I would be equally appalled if (Brodkey) were a real right-winger and were against the death penalty or abortion and was presenting all the information in one way so student with other views feel intimidated," Wright said. "I see education as looking at both sides."