The recent firestorm of controversy over the Campus Watch website may be only the beginning. Now a new website called NoIndoctrination.org has the potential to draw wide public attention to the abuse of fairness and trust regularly practiced in today's politically correct college classrooms. In fact, the site has already kicked up a public controversy. That's because NoIndoctrination.org invites students who believe their professors are egregiously biased or intolerant to post complaints against these professors on the Internet.
Recall that the September inauguration of Dan Pipes's Campus Watch website provoked a torrent of criticism from professors of Middle East studies, many of whom were listed on the site, along with links to their statements and publications. Pipes argued that these statements were riddled with errors, and with bias against American interests. Campus Watch also offered students an opportunity to send in reports of errors, biases, or acts of intolerance by professors of Middle East studies, for possible posting on site.
In response, the professors listed on Campus Watch charged Pipes with McCarthyism, blacklisting, and an attempt to chill the climate of free speech. Outraged scholars from a variety of disciplines, out of solidarity with their supposedly oppressed colleagues, wrote to Pipes demanding to be listed alongside the offenders on his site. (One of the outraged professors was Peter Kirstein, who recently gained fame for refusing to help a military cadet publicize a political forum, for denouncing the cadet as a cowardly baby-killer, and for calling on members of the military to resign, or disobey their orders.)
Of course, this was all nonsense. As I argued in "Balancing the Academy," if anyone has been singling out scholars with accusations of bias and political offense, it is professors of Middle East studies. In fact, the grander a radical scholar's accusations against his non-leftist colleagues, the more likely he is to get tenure.
But all this may have been only the runup to greater controversies to come. That's because a brand new website, NoIndoctrination.org, is inviting students to post reports of bias and intolerance by any professor. In other words, the very feature of Campus Watch that sparked the most outrage has now been generalized to all disciplines and given its own special site. And although I say it with some regret, I think NoIndoctrination.org is an idea whose time has come. I do not believe that the public posting of student complaints about professorial bias and intolerance is anything close to the best way to handle this problem, but I do believe that it has become a necessary remedy of last resort.
You will understand that NoIndoctrination.org is a necessary last resort when you hear the story of Luann Wright, the site's founder. Wright was a high-school science teacher, mostly in the San Diego area, for about a dozen years. Since then, she's done volunteer teaching and helped to design science curricula. But Wright got a different kind of education when her son arrived at Warren College, one of the six colleges of the University of California, San Diego.
Wright followed the progress of her son through his freshman year. Beginning with the mandatory freshman orientation (his preceptors preferred the word, "freshperson"), her son started complaining of being subjected to pressure to conform to a radical political perspective on issues of race, class, and sexual orientation. At first, Wright downplayed the problems, thinking that her son's difficulties were confined to an isolated class or program.
Then her son hit the school's required two-quarter writing course. Nearly all the readings for that composition course were heavily political in nature, haranguing, in one way or another, "the ruinous pathology of whiteness." Wright was concerned, but still believed that the course was an isolated problem. Why, she thought, shouldn't college expose kids to many points of view, even those that seem bizarre or extreme?
But when even the course's second quarter was filled with material attacking the "tyranny" of American culture, Wright sat up and took notice. Using the California Public Records Act, Wright obtained a raft of university documents relating to Warren College's writing course. She discovered that parents, students, and faculty had complained about bias in the college's required composition course for years. In fact, in 1998, a faculty-review committee was convened to look at the course and recommended that, "if controversial issues are examined, multiple and contrasting points of view should be presented." Yet the recommendations of the university's own faculty-review panel were shelved, and de facto thought reform went on, unchecked. Despite the many complaints of Wright, other parents, students, and professors, Warren College's provost, citing academic freedom, said that there was nothing he could do about the writing curriculum.
In response to ongoing complaints about its politicized composition program, UC San Diego appointed one useless faculty-review board after another. In the meantime, however, Wright began researching composition programs at other colleges of UC San Diego, and at other California universities as well. She found that the Warren College problem was in no way isolated. Required composition courses at a wide array of universities had been thoroughly politicized by professors openly committed to radicalizing their students, discouraging them from cooperating with "the system," and eliminating "U.S.-Centrism."
After seeing years of complaints from students and parents ignored, faculty-committee recommendations set aside, and after discovering that the problem went far beyond any one university, Luann Wright finally took matters into her own hands and established NoIndoctrination.org. Her hope is that, by exposing the extent of classroom politicization, she might help to make a place for genuine intellectual diversity on campus.
There have already been howls of protest over anonymous student complaints about particular professors and courses posted on the web. In a recent story in the daily Chronicle of Higher Education, professors listed on the site called NoIndoctrination.org "silly" and "cowardly" for encouraging anonymous accusation. The question is a difficult one, but by no means without precedent. Many colleges have course-evaluation guides that offer anonymous student advice about teacher competence and inclination. It is certainly a matter for concern when an anonymous student with a grievance can make statements that unfairly impugns a teacher's reputation. And it is well for all to remember that student evaluations are opinions only — often self-interested opinions. At the same time, professors hold tremendous power over a student's future, and there is a very strong case for a mechanism that alerts students to what they might be in for by choosing to study with a given professor. NoIndoctrination.org has attempted to come to grips with these competing goods in a very thoughtful and creative manner. The site allows and invites professors or administrators to post rebuttals to student complaints.
But what about the larger question of academic freedom? Is it really true that, because of academic freedom, administrators have no choice but to hand over control of their universities to professors who are committed to indoctrinating their students? No, it is not. For one thing, administrators have a say in hiring. It is their responsibility to make sure that the best representatives of a wide array of viewpoints are present at their institutions. That intellectual diversity, in and of itself, would do a lot to insure that professors with a single narrow political viewpoint cannot commandeer and entire department or curriculum.
NoIndoctrination.org also argues that the academy has been betraying its own stated standards in the matter of academic freedom. Posted on the site are the official statements on academic freedom of the American Association of University Professors and of the University of California. Both statements highlight the need to allow students to express their own opinions, and to protect them from pressure to toe a political line. The University of California's guidelines on academic freedom, for example, state that, "To convert, or to make converts, is alien and hostile" to the "dispassionate duty" of a teacher. The university "assumes the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige...by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda."
These prohibitions clearly give the university grounds for taking action against professors who place their wish to radicalize students over their obligation to expose them to contrary views, or to allow them to freely voice all views without punishment or pressure. I don't see why tenure decisions should not be influenced by a professor's willingness to allow his students freedom of thought and expression.
And when a university's required composition course is taken over by a coterie of political propagandists, it is the obligation and responsibility of administrators to restructure that program. At a minimum, college officials are liable to public exposure, censure, and loss of support for having allowed their faculty to become so unbalanced that granting academic freedom to professors means taking it away from students.
No doubt, it would have been far better had our nation's colleges and universities not allowed themselves to be hijacked by a narrow claque of tenured radicals. But hijacked they have been. Given that, it seems to me that a website like NoIndoctrination.org has become a sad but genuine necessity.
Yet students need to take the responsibility of filing a complaint very seriously. Ideally, they might consider going to the professor in question first and asking for assurance that they will not be punished or pressured for taking a different viewpoint in class from that of the professor. That may seem like naive advice, but in many cases, it may actually serve to protect a student without need for further action. In effect, it puts the professor on notice that there is a problem. But if going directly to your professor fails, or if you truly judge it too risky to try, then posting at NoIndoctrination.org may be in order. And of course, if you know that you and others have suffered from a professor's egregious ideological suppression in the past, then you might also want to post. (For examples of posts, go here.) Whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of sites like Campus Watch and NoIndoctrination.org, their advent signals a burgeoning legitimacy crisis in the academy. The problem of campus PC has been known and discussed for 15 years now, yet we do seem to be entering a new stage. I think there are two reasons why: the war, and the Internet.
The war has unquestionably brought a new level of scrutiny to our politically correct campuses. Once the initial years of the campus culture war had passed, the public decided that campus leftism was either beyond the reach of anyone who hoped to do something about it, or irrelevant. The war changed that. Now the general public has passionate, often highly informed, opinions about matters on which our Middle East "experts" declaim. People now feel they have the right to make a judgment on a Middle East scholar's failings, and they see the importance of the issue to our national security. Websites like Campus Watch are the result.
But the Internet has provided the essential catalyst. The web gives moderates and conservatives a way around the radical's grip on our mainstream journalistic and educational institutions. To put it in terms that the radicals might understand, the web has allowed oppressed mainstream students on our campuses to develop a form of "class consciousness." Marx thought that by piling up workers in factories, capitalism would bring them to awareness of their shared oppression. You might think that students would gain awareness of their collective oppression by PC professors at the campuses where they're piled up, but our campuses aren't ordinary factories. They are factories of consciousness, so to speak, run by leftist overseers. It was the advent of the Internet that gave grumbling students a place to go for an alternative to the closed intellectual shop of the universities. And with sites like CampusNonsense.com, David Horowitz's frontpagemag.com, and others, it has given them a place to gain awareness of their shared oppression. Now, NoIndoctrination.org points the way to revolutionary action in defense of student intellectual freedom. So students on the web unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.