Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Pariahs of Our College Campuses: Conservative Students

Katherine Kersten: Over the years, Prof. Ken Doyle has seen a stream of students enter his office with a crestfallen look. The young undergraduates typically begin by saying they're worried about one of their professors. Doyle, who directs the communication research division at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communications, has a good idea how the story will end.

The particulars differ, but the complaint is usually the same. "Some students tell of being mocked for holding views that differ from their professors'," Doyle says. "Some fear they are endangering their grades. Many say, 'I've figured out what the professor wants to hear and I just parrot back his ideology.'"

It's become a common complaint that U.S. campuses are home to a stifling liberal orthodoxy where contrary beliefs are persecuted. Doyle says it's no illusion.

A new film, "Indoctrinate U," documenting that atmosphere, opens near campus tomorrow.

Bethany Dorobiala, a senior political science major at the U of M, knows just what Doyle is talking about. Dorobiala was one of the few students who agreed to speak on the record about the problem.

In many courses, Dorobiala says, professors load up reading lists with books that reflect their ideological agenda. "If you speak up in class and present an alternative view, you may risk being ridiculed by a professor twice your age with a PhD.," she said. "Students who agree with the professor's politics are regularly praised and encouraged."

Dorobiala has encountered this disregard for intellectual diversity in classes outside of political science. "In geology class, I had a teacher who made side comments bashing President Bush," she said. A rigid orthodoxy prevails on issues as disparate as the death penalty and global warming, she says, and some professors regularly pontificate on topics outside their discipline.

"I definitely know of students whose grades have suffered because they became identified as a conservative in class," said Dorobiala. If this happens, it's "very difficult to defend yourself. The authorities -- your adviser, department chairs -- think you're complaining because you didn't do your work."

The university rarely receives official complaints about ideologically motivated grading and follows a regular investigative process when it does, says Jan Morse of the U's Student Conflict Resolution Center.

Dorobiala's only solace is her work with College Republicans, where she can trade war stories without having to look over her shoulder.

Norman Fruman, an eminent professor of English at the U, now retired, believes that political correctness has gained a stranglehold in the humanities and social sciences.

"In recent decades, we've seen a relentless assault on American and Western history and values as the primary source of wickedness in the world," he said. "Literature no longer explores universal human experience, but instead has become a branch of politics, with a focus on often-second rate works about the victimhood of favored groups."Contempt and insults are regularly leveled at one group: white, heterosexual males," he added.

Doyle and Fruman see this rigid orthodoxy as self-perpetuating. "Birds of a feather hire together," quipped Doyle. Politically correct ideology is quasi-religious in nature, he explains. "You're not going to hire someone who seems like an infidel."

Intellectual diversity

Doyle is fighting the good fight for academic freedom and intellectual diversity as president of the Minnesota Association of Scholars, an organization to which I used to belong. The group's mission is to "promote academic rigor and free expression for everyone on campus, not just the politically correct," according to Doyle.

The MAS is sponsoring the documentary "Indoctrinate U" that opens tomorrow for a week-long run at the Oak Street Cinema near the U. The film showcases horror stories of political correctness from campuses around the country.

"Indoctrinate U" reveals a world where conservative campus speakers are shouted down, where conservative student newspapers are regularly stolen, and where teachers' primary role is seen as advocating for ideological causes.

Unfortunately, many Minnesota students who see "Indoctrinate U" may recognize in it colleges that look all too familiar. StarTribune

I don't think this is a particularly new issue. I recall at the U of MN taking a graduate course in Urban Geography, taught by a visiting professor from Oxford who had his PhD and was still in his early 20s. That doesn't happen often to get the degree at so young an age.

I still regret the day when I didn't speak up when he showed slides of neighborhoods in Northern Ireland alternating between neat and flower-bedecked row houses with views of similarly constructed but now run-down dwellings and littered streets. We were informed that the latter scenes were from Catholic neighborhoods.

Other than that one day incident, he actually was an extremely excellent teacher.
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