On political bias in the classroom: liberals, conservatives and student empowerment

An unpublished email interview by Emily Mullin, then campus reporter for the Athens News

YAF_Poster
(Oh, the horror! Produced by Young America’s Foundation, stacks of this glossy, full-color, 24″ x 36″ poster were distributed at lectures delivered by members of YAF’s speakers bureau held quarterly on Ohio University’s campus with the sponsorship of the YAF front organization, OU College Republicans.)

By Emily Mullin and Damon Krane
April 5 – 9, 2007

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April 5, 2007

Hi Damon,

My name is Emily Mullin and I am a campus reporter for the Athens NEWS. I understand that you are involved in the group InterAct, and I was just wondering if you would be willing to answer a few questions about an article I am writing on political biases in the classroom. I am trying to collect a variety of different student opinions from left/activist organizations to more conservative groups and also from those who consider themselves “apathetic” or “moderate” when it comes to politics. Let me know if you would like to do a phone interview or if you’d rather have me e-mail you some questions so you can think about them and get back to me when it is convenient for you. Also, if you know anyone else who would like to talk about this subject, let me know.

Thanks a lot!

Sincerely,
Emily Mullin
Campus Reporter, The Athens NEWS

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Hi Emily.

I’d be happy to answer questions for your article. However, I just want to point out a couple things first to make sure I’m the kind of source you’re looking for.

I am a founding member of both InterAct and The InterActivist magazine. One of the many projects I worked on through InterAct was our campaign against Ohio Senate Bill 24, this state’s incarnation of David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights.” I’ve also worked on students’ rights and free speech issues since I was in high school.

That said, I am not presently a member of InterAct, nor am I enrolled at OU this quarter. In fact, it’s been a while since I have been enrolled. A quarter shy of graduation, I took time off from my studies to focus on grassroots organizing projects full-time. I currently work part-time as the Executive Coordinator of a local non-profit called People Might, which I co-founded along with some other veteran members of InterAct about a year and a half ago. People Might conducts skill-building workshops for progressive campus activists, and it coordinates staffing and production of The InterActivist magazine in collaboration with the student groups InterAct, the OU chapter of Amnesty International, the Sustainable Living Organization and the progressive performance arts group Up In Arms.

So I’m still very much involved in student activism and free speech issues, but technically not as a student activist myself. And at this point, I’m a few years older than most OU student activists — undergraduates, at least.

If you’re still interested, I’d be more than happy to answer your questions. (In fact, I think I have a different take on the issue than you’re likely to hear from a lot of liberals, leftists or, for that matter, libertarians.) In which case, please email me some questions and let me know when you’d be available to talk on the phone.

-Damon

**************************

April 6-9, 2007

Thanks Damon. I just had a few questions for you. I’m actually leaving to go home for Easter this weekend so I probably won’t be able to give you a call until Monday or Tuesday. If you want to though, you can just email me your responses if that would be more convenient. Feel free to add any extra comments as well.

(…)

1. In your experience at Ohio University, did you ever feel that there was a political bias (whether to the left or right) in any of your classes?

Certainly. Education is inherently and inescapably political. Everything from what readings a teacher chooses to assign a class, to how school is organized and what the roles of “teacher” and “student” mean (parts of what’s often called the “hidden curriculum”), are the products of subjective human decisions. These decisions express values and assumptions about how society should work and how people should relate to one another. In other words, these decisions necessarily reflect political or ideological biases, whether intentional or not. Unless we program computers to compile reading lists by randomly selecting from some all encompassing data base, I don’t think it’s possible for education to be value-neutral or apolitical. So in my opinion, the issue is not whether schools are political, but how they’re political and who has the power to decide.

Because I’m a leftist radical, basically in the anarcho-syndicalist tradition, most of my professors have been to the right of me. But perhaps more importantly, the way schools are organized reflect authoritarian assumptions about human nature and proper governance that are way, way to the right of me. And short of the social revolution I try to work for as best as I can, I don’t expect that to change completely, though I think some positive reforms are definitely possible in the short term.

However, a more obvious and superficial (but not irrelevant) reflection of political bias is what courses are offered. Young America’s Foundation gives a lot of attention to course offerings. For people who may not know, YAF is a very well-connected, well-funded national right-wing organization, headquartered at Ronald Reagan’s former ranch, that supports right-wing student groups across the country. Here at OU, the College Republicans are essentially a front for YAF. Every recent president of the College Republicans has done a summer interneship at YAF’s ranch (YAF calls it “The Reagan Ranch”), and the main function of the OU Republicans is to bring people from the YAF’s speakers bureau to speak at OU. In fact, most quarters that’s all the Republicans here do. They get money from OU to bring in one of these speakers. Then the president of the College Republicans puts on a suit, get’s up and stammers out some obligatory introductory shpeil written by YAF. The YAF speaker gets up and talks, and then Republicans are done for the quarter until it’s time to divert some more of OU’s student activities fee to YAF next quarter.

Now, as I said, YAF focuses a lot on course offerings. More specifically, YAF is always trying to outrage its conservative followers with examples of “wacky liberal” courses. Usually these are the ones that have to do with women, racial minorities and gay people. In fact, I have a poster from YAF entitled “Invasion of the Liberalien Professors” (pictured above). It’s kind of a mock sci-fi film poster that shows people running in fear from a 1950s-style alien and flying saucers. The saucers have beams coming out of them that illuminate scary, supposedly liberal, course titles. The poster is intended to be humorous, and I think it’s hilarious — but only as what should be a very embarrassing, unintentional satire of YAF and its ilk.

First of all, everyone who’s pictured running in fear is white. Apparently they couldn’t find any person of color at the Reagan Ranch that day, which is a little less than surprising. Second, most of them also appear to be over the age of 30, which says something else about “Young” America’s Foundation (just as 60-some-year-old David Horowitz says something about the authenticity of his group, Students for Academic Freedom).

Much more important, however, is the fact that those wacky, scary course titles are actually pretty mild and innocuous. Like “Black Marxism,” for instance. I’d guess that would be about the relationship between Black Nationalism and Marxism… Franz Fanon, the Black Panthers, etc… which is just a historical phenomenon. I mean, the FBI and CIA probably taught their agents courses on it, and I doubt those courses were from a left-wing perspective. I could teach a class called “The Modern Conservative Movement,” which I happen to think is a fascinating subject to study. Would that make me William F. Buckley?

Another course title on the YAF poster is “The Bible and Horror.” Well, for better or worse I grew up on horror movies, and I’m pretty confident in saying that the entire genre of horror films and much of horror literature as we know them simply wouldn’t exist without the Abrahamic religions. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the multiple film adaptations of all of these classic works and so many others like them, all essentially present a paranoid fear that the pursuit of scientific discovery is encroaching into “God’s” domain and therefore likely to incur “His” wrath. You’d probably have to go to a convention of creationists these days to find the same level of antipathy toward science.

And then there are all those slasher films from our childhoods about sexually promiscuous, drug-using teenagers who get sliced up by some unstoppable, mindless automaton. It’s pretty easy to argue that the Friday the 13th and Halloween series were basically retellings of the Sodom and Gomorrah story; that Jason Vorhees and Michael Meyer were reconfigured representations of the wrath of a vengeful, Old Testament god, graphically inflicting “His” judgement upon decadent sinners. In fact, one film critic I came across pointed out that in the Friday the 13th series, the climactic killing spree of each film is usually, if not always, preceeded by a thunderstorm, suggesting that the killer is meant to be understood as part of the natural order of things as created by “God.”

Beyond that, how much horror has to do with hell and the devil and demons, all of which come from the Bible? The Omen, The Excorcist, Rosemary’s Baby… all explicitly used scripture as their inspiration and jumping off points. The first two films were hugely successful, and had multiple sequels. All three have been copied innumerable times.

Now, were these works of art created by people who intended to promote Christianity? That is, were they propaganda films to some extent? Or were the writers and filmmakers giving voice to a subconscious paranoia ingrained in them by Christian upbringings, even if they rejected Christianity as adults? That is, were they giving voice to a fear that maybe their parents and church authorities and the scripture were right? And what about the audiences who’ve been attracted to these hugely popular and enduring works in such large numbers? There are a lot of really interesting questions that can be pursued here.

So much has been written about these things. I can’t do the film and literary scholarship justice here. I just want to point out that there’s ample material for a class on the subject and, if I were a Christian, there’s no reason for me to believe that class would be in anyway blasphemous. All of the examples I just gave are of horror that exists, often explicitly, within the constraints of a Christian worldview. So if conservatives are scared of studying horror and the Bible, then to a very large extent conservatives really are scared of their own shadows.

Finally, the third ostensibly wacky liberal course on the YAF poster is “How to be Gay” — a little more provocative, right? This could be about a lot of different things, but I seriously doubt it features instructions on proper anal penetration, felatio or cunnilingus for same-sex partners. It could be about the performance of gender and sexuality. That is, the mannerisms and attitudes culturally identified as straight or gay, and by extension those identified as feminine and masculine — in which case, once more we’d be talking about the rather straightforward study of observable social phenomena, to which lots of scholarship has already been devoted.

But who knows? I can only speculate. I do know, however, that OU offers a course called “Communist Revolution.” If “How to be Gay” scares young conservatives out of their minds, then I would think “Communist Revolution” would, too.

Well, I took that course, and it turned out to be a course on the history of tsarist Russia in the lead-up to 1917. Nothing about communist revolution at all.

It was a pretty good course, actually — particularly in its use of Peter Kolchin’s book Unfree Labor, which is an extremely well-researched, fascinating comparison of Russian serfdom and colonial American slavery. But the course title, “Communist Revolution,” was totally deceptive. I suspect the professor used it to increase enrollment. And if that’s true, then only left-wing bias “Communist Revolution” reflects is the left-wing bias of OU students, not OU professors.

Anyway, these are the kinds of courses we hear conservative groups and individuals complaining about: “Black Marxism,” “The Bible and Horror,” “How to Be Gay.” I’ve already said that course titles are a relatively superficial indicator of the political bias of a university as compared to the unspoken but pervasive lessons about how society should function which are conveyed by the basic authoritarian organization of universities. But since course offerings are the primary evidence conservative groups like YAF put forward in alleging liberal bias, I want to stick with the subject long enough to make just one more point about how ridiculous these claims are. That’s because if you really look at course offerings, you can find much, much clearer evidence of political bias than anything that David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes or Anne Coulter can come up with.

Liberals are generally pro-union, right? They want workers to be able to bargain collectively. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to favor the so-called free market and individualistic ideas of meritocracy. Working class people disproportionately vote Democrat, while more affluent business owners and upper level managers tend to vote Republican. Even more basic than voting patterns is the simple fact that managers are rewarded by maximizing profits for owners, and part of maximizing profits is minimizing labor costs. You don’t have to be any kind of Marxist to recognize that owners want the most work for the least pay to employees, while workers want the opposite. After all, that’s how market transactions are supposed to work, and we’re talking about the labor market.

So open up OU’s course catalogue and, exlcuding general courses on economics and finance, count how many classes focus on making owners and managers more successful versus how many classes teach students about the legal rights of workers, labor history and successful union organizing strategies. I wrote a column about this for The Post in the fall of 2002. Back then the ratio was 60 to 1. I just now tried to find that one course on OU’s website and it looks like it’s gone. But the one class, which I took in 2002, dealt with workers’ rights and union organizing was still taught through the College of Business. “Human Resource Management 425: Labor Relations,” taught by Terry Conry, covered both union strategies for winning organizing campaigns and management strategies for defeating them. But that 60 to 1 ratio, likely 60 to 0 now, is a crystal clear example of extreme political bias — bias that is much more significant than anything Horowitz and company can come up with. But it’s conservative bias, not liberal bias.

There’s a parallel to the example I just gave, too. Actually, it’s probably what inspired me to search OU’s course catalogues for labor studies. In a film aptly called Myth of the Liberal Media, Noam Chomsky recommends opening up the newspaper and comparing the size of the business section to the size of the labor section. His punch line is that there is no labor section. The vast majority of Americans primarily derive their incomes from wages and salaries, not from business ownership: stock dividends or direct profit. Yet the needs of owners and managers warrant an entire special section of the newspaper. US newspapers used to have labor beat reporters and even labor sections, but not any more. So again, there’s a case of extreme conservative bias inherent in the mainstream media, but all we hear conservatives complaining about is that the media are liberal.

The only truth to any of these claims of liberal bias is that universities and the media are in fact too liberal for conservative activists. Thus the conservative effort to define these institutions as liberal is not about accurately describing what these institutions really are, it’s about changing these institutions so that they better conform to and promote conservative ideology.

It would be one thing if conservatives were honest about this effort. I’ve been quite honest about my political ideology and how it relates to my view of proper education. But conservatives like David Horowitz, who act as though they’re advocating ideological neutrality in opposition to liberal bias when in actuality they’re promoting conservative bias… either they’re so crazy that they think their particular worldview really does represent some absolute, unbiased, natural, all-encompassing truth, or they’re just being manipulative liars. The former might be true about some of Horowitz’s followers — those sheltered, niave children who would run in terror from a class on Black Marxism, the Bible and Horror, and anything else that migt provoke the kind of learning and personal growth they seem to be utterly terrified of. But I don’t think Horowitz is sheltered or niave. I think he’s a manipulative liar.

2. Were you ever intimidated by a professor or given a lower grade because of your ideological views?

From kindergarten through high school, most students are taught to be intimidated by their teachers — it’s called “classroom management.” Teachers have the power to control discussion, to arbitrarily give or deny students permission to speak. Teachers have power over whether students pass or fail, which can affect everything from students’ senses of self-worth and relationships with parents, to students’ future earning potential and basic life circumstances. Indeed, for at least 13 years students can’t even go to the bathroom — that is, can’t even perform a very basic and necessary bodily function — without explicitly asking for, and receiving, the permission of their teachers.

I think that might be the pinnacle of a very depraved kind of authoritarianism. And we wonder why kids are so vulnerable to being physically and sexually abused by the very people they’re taught should have so much control over them and their bodies! I’m inclined to say that if I ever have a kid and someone tells that kid that he or she needs that person’s permission to go to the bathroom… well, then my kid has my permission to urinate in that person’s face. At least that’s what would happen in a decent world.

Anyway, my point here is that I don’t think it’s at all surprising that students, even college students, would feel intimidated by their teachers — they’re supposed to. As much as I disagree with it, that’s how our schools work.

That said, my ideology has led me to be an activist and to prioritize my activism over a lot of other things. So by the time I got to OU my teachers’ abilities to intimidate me were greatly diminished. I only felt intimidated to express ideological disagreement with a professor when I didn’t feel prepared to win a debate on an issue. Even then, I’d still usually say what I thought most of the time, even though I’m actually kind of shy.

So did I ever get a lower grade because of my politics? Absolutely. Lots of times. But only once because I took a position in a class assignment that was in opposition to the politics of my professor.

I attended community college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before transferring to OU. Overall, my community college experience was very positive. However, I took a couse on public speaking and had to give some sort of persuasive speech. So I decided to give my first ever talk on democracy, education and student empowerment. It was the first time I organized a lot of my thoughts on the matter, which eventually led to the work that brought me to Athens — work focused on the First Amendment rights of public high school students to distribute their own, uncensored publications at school.

Anyway, I stayed up all night writing that speech, and I was very nervous to deliver it. I’m generally nervous about public speaking, but this was something I cared about and was talking about for the first time, so I was especially nervous. As it turned out, the professor was so opposed to the contents of my speech that he wouldn’t even let me finish. He interupted me several times pretty rudely, eventually cut me off completely, and gave me a “C-“, if I remember correctly.

Interestingly though, all of the students in the class were required to fill out evaluation forms, providing each speaker with feedback on his or her speech. Aside from one or two right-wing students who criticized the contents of my speech (but not its delivery), the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive, with a bunch of students expressing their anger at the professor and saying they wanted to hear more. Well, that turned out to be a lot more valuable than any “A+,” so I didn’t really mind the “C-.”

I don’t recall anything like that happening at OU. Instead, I got lower grades because my politics led me to prioritize social activism over my coursework. Plus, I often found my activist experiences to be more educationally meaningful. So there were times when I skipped class or assignments to do organizing, attend rallies or whatever, and it affected my grades negatively. Ultimately, I quit school to focus on organizing.

Oh, but I should mention one specific example of an OU professor inappropriately utilizing their political bias.

In 2002 I helped organize a 300-person student walkout in protest of the university administartion’s response to campus violence against female and gay students. At the time OU was violating the basic federal guidelines set forth by the Clery Act for simply informing students and employees of reported crimes, as well as the very procedures for reporting those crimes, and prevention programs and survivor support resources. Indeed, OU was hiding all of this information from students at a time when moe rapes were being reported in OU’s residence halls than in those of any other publicly-supported college or university in Ohio.

The walkout culminated in an open mic rally, attracted a bunch of regional media attention, and led to a subsequent campaign that not only forced OU into compliance with the Clery Act but also proved instrumental in getting OU to create a campus women’s center and contributed to OU granting domestic partnership benefits to employees.

Some professors reportedly punished students for walking out, while at least one canceled class in support of the walkout. In both cases, the professors made decisions that expressed their own political ideologies.

As it turned out, I didn’t have class during the walkout, but two quarters later I found myself arguing in class with a professor who was so hung up on the walkout that she kept making disparaging comments about it during her classes. Her comments didn’t intimidate me. In fact I eventually confronted her about them — fairly diplomatically, I though. She sort of blew up early on in the argument and ended up looking pretty childish. But I wouldn’t be surprised if her comments intimidated some other students, particularly in the lead-up to the walkout when students were considering whether or not to walk out of her class.

Lastly, after I got arrested protesting the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, OU judiciaries sent me a letter saying they wouldn’t punish me for my actions so long as I acted like a more responsible citizen in the future. Obviously, that statement reflects a political bias. Some might say the bias is liberal because the university decided not to punish me. I’d say it’s conservative because it defines responsible citizenship as going about business as usual and not actively resisting one’s government during a time of war. In my view, of course, I was acting with greater civic responsibility than everyone who wasn’t arrested at that rally… although with less responsibility than those who’ve taken more militant actions against this horrendous — and illegal — war of aggression.

3. Do you think it is appropriate for an instructor to express his or her political views in class?

Because I believe it is impossible for a professor’s teaching to be unaffected by his or her politics, I would much rather know what the professor’s politics are. That way I can more critically examine what I’m being told. I think the answer is to make speech freer for students, not to restrict it for professors.

But particularly given the power professors have in their classrooms (which is what I ultimately have a problem with, regardless of what professors’ politics are), professors can certainly present their views in a way that discourages critical discussion rather than invites it. People like this, regardless of what their politics are, shouldn’t be teaching. But even with all the power professors have over students within the way our schools are organized, a professor — including a right-wing professor — can still express him or herself without automatically subjecting students to some kind of indoctrination.

4. Do you think instructors — especially those in the social sciences — should provide materials/texts presenting more than one side of an issue so that students can make their own decisions?

Of course debate can play a vital role in fostering learning. But regardless of how many competing perspectives a professor presents, students still have other sources of information and their own first-hand experiences to rely on in order to make their own decisions. Furthermore, I don’t see the point of professors presenting ideologies whose claims are refuted by the basic methodologies that comprise a discipline. Just as a biology professor shouldn’t be spending time on the finer points of creationism, sociology professors shouldn’t have to present views unsupported or contradicted by empirical data — except maybe as case studies to illuminate the distinctions between science and unsupported belief. So just because debate can be educational doesn’t mean it always is.

5. You mentioned David Horowitz’s “Student Bill of Rights.” Why are you opposed to it? What does “academic freedom” mean to you?

The obstacle to academic freedom is not the political bias of professors — be it liberal, conservative, centrist, Marxist, fascist or whatever else. Students resent the power professors and other university officials have over them. Ultimately, I think that resentment is justified. I think we ought to democratically control the institutions in which we spend most of our waking hours –- that goes for schools, workplaces, etc. That’s most of what academic freedom, and freedom in general, means to me. And that’s exactly what the leftist student movement of the 1960s was all about —- from the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, to the heyday of Students for a Democratic Society and so on.

A lot of conservatives suffer from an irrational paranoia, a kind of siege mentality. Even when they controlled all three branches of the world’s most powerful government, many still saw themselves as the noble underdogs, constantly persecuted by some all-powerful liberal elite. Nevertheless, when progressives today simply dismiss conservative students as pathetic cry-babies, without critiquing the authoritarian hierarchies of the university, progressives abdicate to the Right what ought to be a key organizing issue for the Left. And then liberals are surprised when conservatives out-organize them. Right now conservatives are practically the only ones telling students that the frustration and disempowerment students feel is legitimate. I hope the revival of SDS changes that.

But this whole idea of liberal bias is just one more example of the Right skillfully manipulating the legitimate resentment of disempowered people to serve the interests of the most powerful members of our society. David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, Young America’s Foundation, and to a somewhat lesser extent the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education are simply cherry-picking examples of alleged liberal bias to argue that it’s the fundamental problem, rather than the more basic lack of power students have over their own education relative to professors and administrators — or, for that matter, the lack of opportunity a lot of people have to even go to college. After all, what does academic freedom mean to someone who can’t afford tuition?

Furthermore, the actual text of the “Academic Bill of Rights” is pretty vague. Problems arise in terms of how it would be interpreted and implemented in the real world. Ohio Senate Bill 24, for example, inspired by Horowitz and introduced in 2005 by Senator Larry Mumper, aimed to prevent professors from “persistently introduc[ing] controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.”

Apparently, the bill would have put the Republican-controlled state legislature or the courts in charge of determining what is and isn’t related to various subjects of study. And as Mumper put it to the Columbus Dispatch, “Why should we, as fairly moderate to conservative legislators, continue to support universities that turn out students who rail against the very policies their parents voted us in for?” So SB 24 wasn’t at all about protecting academic freedom from liberal ideology, it was about subordinating academic freedom to conservative ideology by giving more power to a Republican controlled government, not to students. On the one hand, I’d say that seems short-sighted of Republicans. After all, what happens if control of the state government shifts to the Democrats? But then I think maybe they see its potential to be a rallying point either way. That is, when Republicans are in power, they can act like they’re taking steps to challenge a largely fictional left-wing take over of public universities. And when they’re not in power they can rally people against the very “Big Brother”-type government control of curricula that they themselves created.

However, the shift of power from universities to the legislature is one of the reasons why so many right-wing libertarians, as well as liberals and leftists, opposed SB 24. Here at OU, the College Libertarians rejected SB 24 and the chapter of Students for Academic Freedom disbanded after even they couldn’t support it. At the national level, Reason Magazine carried several pieces arguing against Horowitz’s overall effort — one expressing a suspicion that I share. Specifically, that David Horowitz has to be smart enough to know that by accompanying his vague and neutral-sounding “Academic Bill of Rights” with a host of exaggerated claims about the pervasive influence of liberal “campus totalitarians,” his effort could result in a chilling effect on speech or even government restrictions on the expression of left faculty. And that’s something that the more honest libertarians, to their credit, don’t want.

While I disagree with the so-called libertarians about many, many vitally important issues (including even their Orwellian appropriation of the term “libertarian,” which has a totally different, and much more appropriate meaning in most of the rest of the world — Murray Bookchin has suggested calling US libertarians “proprietarians” instead), I will say that I respect the fact that some of them actually do have a principled ideology beyond simple opportunism.

Horowitz, however, strikes me as a pretty disingenuous guy. I think that comes across pretty clearly with his campaign for the “Academic Bill of Rights,” just as it came across clearly the last time he made national headlines. Back in the 2000/2001 school year, a href=”https://damonkrane.wordpress.com/2001/04/26/horowitz-has-as-much-insight-into-free-speech-as-he-does-racial-inequality/”>I wrote a little about how Horowitz’s ad campaign against slavery reparations — bad enough itself — was also based on a fundamental misrepresentation of freedom of speech. In five or ten years, Horowitz will probably come up with some new ridiculous gimmick to keep him in the headlines and on the lecture circuit. That’s his schtick, and I wish gullible people would stop falling for it.

*****************

(Editor’s notes, 1/23/13 – Athens News reporter Emily Mullin did extract some quotes from the interview above and include them in her article “Some OU students wouldn’t mind rules to curb classroom bias” (Athens News, 4/12/07).

Two years earlier, Athens News senior reporter Jim Phillips responded to InterAct’s campaign against Ohio Senate Bill 24 with his commentary “Believe it or not, most profs enjoy being challenged in the classroom” (Athens News, 4/21/05) — a piece I strongly recommend reading.

Although I would criticize it for “dismissing conservative students as pathetic cry-babies without critiquing the authoritarian hierarchies of the university,” Phillips’ piece is about more than its title implies. (And don’t get me wrong — I do think conservative students complaining about liberal bias are largely pathetic cry-babies, and also mostly delusional. I just think there’s more to it than that, as I explained above.) Indeed, Phillips tackles and issue I had dodged back in my 2002 column “Hard work finding labor studies at OU” and again in the above interview.

In showing the conservative bias of OU’s lack of labor studies coupled with its abundance of courses for future managers and employers, I had explicitly excluded from my analysis all general economics courses. Of course I am convinced that the “discipline” variously described as “neo-classical,” “neoliberal” or “free-market” economics is ultimately an attempt to naturalize and thereby justify a capitalist economy, rather than an effort to explain how it actually functions, and consquently embodies a fundamental conservative bias. However, I didn’t feel prepared to make this argument myself in 2002 or 2007, so I stuck to something more obvious and uncontroversial. Phillips, however, (who knows more about economics than I do) tackles this very issue in his commentary. Even though his treatment of the subject is brief, it makes a nice addendum to the discussion above.

See also:

“Prof speech bill spurs faculty response,” Athens News, 2/10/05
“Student senate goes on record against classroom speech bill,” Athens News, 2/14/05
“OU plans forum to discuss free speech and censorship,” Athens News, 10/14/04)

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