A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


And now for some alarming news, Ohio is considering legislation which as the headline notes is aimed to counter "college liberalism". Some provisions would include prohibiting "public and private college professors from presenting opinions as fact or penalizing students for expressing their views. Professors would not be allowed to introduce controversial material unrelated to the course."

If this legislation was passed and enforced it would mean the death of the university, especially in liberal arts departments in this country. Part of the reason is the ever expansive definition of what is included as "liberal". Most academic disciplines have ways of approaching their subject material which would likely receive such a designation. For instance evolution, the basic building block to modern biology or reading sacred texts with historical critical tools are both likely to be seen as "liberal".

Years ago I used to be involved with InterVarsity and there was a professor known as a "christian hater" who delighted in destroying people's faith. Taking the course, I discovered that she was actually a member of the UCC and her crime was reading the Bible as literature, along with other ancient writings. But if a student was offended and did not believe there was equal time (such as treating the Bible as God's holy revelation) then the professor would get penalized.

The other problem is the distinction of fact and opinion, which the authors of this legislation seem oblivious to. What counts as opinion? Especially in a field like philosophy the most thought out reflections that have engaged the history of western thought could be treated as opinion, so that equal time with some tract could be easily demanded. And what counts as "controversial"? And how do we determine what is not in the purview of the course? Will there be right wing monitors in classes?

And will there be subjects that these disciplines will not be allowed to touch or question? When a professor in North Carolina gets in trouble for assigning freshmen the Qur'an, I assume the answer will be yes. The only provision which makes sense is efforts to prevent students from being penalized for disagreements with the professor, but every university has an appeals process for grading and such a thing is already prohibited.

The author of this legislation "questioned why lawmakers should approve funding for universities with professors who would send some students out in the world to vote against the very public policy that their parents have elected us for.” If the goal of a school is to insure that students do not have different thoughts after they are done then before, why have universities or liberal arts curriculm? Why not simply have trade schools where one learns their immediate craft. That should solve the problem.

This legislation is being worked on in a number of states, but given the right wing drum beat against universities, professors, and tales of "left wing indoctrination", I assume this will become an effort which gathers steam and if it does professors will be subject to persecution. This is a prospect that I don't think troubles the right. If one looks at the abandonment of academic rights in conservative religious contexts, this pattern already exists.

4 Comments:

At 8:43 AM , Blogger Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

The only provision which makes sense is efforts to prevent students from being penalized for disagreements with the professor, but every university has an appeals process for grading and such a thing is already prohibited.I wouldn't support the legislation you describe, but I will say that universities have brought this on themselves with stuff like this tale of left wing indoctrination.

Tom Harrison

 
At 2:12 PM , Blogger Chris T. said...

This is the dumbest thing I've seen come out of this movement.

What needs to happen is a spate of lawsuits from progressives against conservative history profs. Historiography in the last century has made it clear that history is to a significant extent all opinions, meaning under this law all history departments in the state of Ohio would have to be dismantled.

For that matter, science is to some extent opinion, too—it makes no claims about facts, it only presents perspicuous descriptions of what processes *might* lead to the observed data.

Unless the courts define "facts" in an entirely non-intuitive way, this is truly the end of higher education as we know it. Any idea whether it has any chance of passing?

 
At 5:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like the slippery slope has become a mudslide...

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