Easily intimidated

Criticism is not censorship. In particular, criticism by people without power of people with power is not censorship. But you wouldn’t think it from this Washington Post story in which professors accused of propagandizing in class complain that conservative students are intimidating them. Young Conservatives of Texas maintains a “watch list” of professors the group feels are biased and promote personal agendas in class.

(Austin) Kinghorn insists the list is a tool for students to make informed course choices. Critics call it a blacklist whose goal is to intimidate liberal professors and cramp academic freedom.

The list censures (Journalism Professor Robert) Jensen, for instance, for subjecting “the unsuspecting student to a crash course in socialism, white privilege, the ‘truth’ ” and “using class time . . . to ‘come out’ and analogize gay rights with the civil rights movement.”

In response, Jensen, who said he is bisexual, said the list could have an ominous effect on the faculty: “If professors are constantly worried about being branded liberal, and not just liberal but inappropriately executing their duties, then it’s going to make people a little nervous and there’s a self-censorship effect.”

Students self-censor if they disagree with a close-minded professor. (Kinghorn, who was taking a class from Jensen in September, 2001, switched his major from journalism.) Do professors really cower because conservative students — a minority on almost any campus — criticize their teaching? Jensen, by the way, has written a book called Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream. And he’s worried about being branded liberal?

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  1. There is nothing at all wrong with individual students or student groups running private advising services about professors. I wish more people had steered me away from the 2 or 3 deadly boring professors I had in college!

    I also had a professor who, for all his lecturing splendor, had such idiosyncratic demands for paper writing that it was positively agonizing to write a paper; he had arbitrary rules which may or may not have connoted ‘good style’ to him. These practices were well-known and lamented among English majors; some people liked him enough to take a second and third course (he really was a great lecturer — later showed up in one of those catalogs of ‘great courses on tape’) and some didn’t.

    Then there are professors who truly do drone on about sex in a way to take all the fun out of it. There was a Freudian analyst-professor in the same English department who I was steered away from; I wish I had taken the advice!

  2. Ken Summers says:

    I saw Jensen interviewed shortly after the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon. He is virulently leftist and anti-American. His response to the attacks was, in effect, we deserved it. If I recall correctly, he was also the one who said he cheered when the Pentagon was hit.

    Sometimes I think people like this need to be taught the true meanings of “oppression” and “crushing of dissent”.

  3. If these profs have tenure, then they have no credibility in saying they feel intimidated — what the hell are they worried about? Students possibly dissenting from their worldviews? Get these profs back to kindergarten, to a self-affirming environment!

  4. I do have some sympathy for these professors. The last thing anyone wants to face is a roomful of undergrads on the edge of their seats, poised to take offense. Even if they can’t do much to your career, they can certainly up your stress level. Having to defend the propriety of every off hand remark is exhausting.

  5. Andy Freeman says:

    > Having to defend the propriety of every off hand remark is exhausting.

    Welcome to the life of an openly conservative student at many “elite” universities.

    Or, that of the professor that Reynolds reported on. Mecha wants him banned from using university facilities. (He’s not alone – he’s just the most recently publicized.)

    This stuff has been going on far too long for the “but I didn’t know it was happening” excuse.

  6. My heart “bleeds” for all those poor poor down-trodden leftie crybabies….What goes around, comes around.

  7. Let me make sure that I understand this…these profs are worried about being labeled as ‘liberals’? So much for the courage of their convictions, and all of that….

    I see nothing wrong with the labelling at all. After all, it isn’t as if there are penalties attached to the labels. Of course some of these profs might (and I emphasize MIGHT) be smart enough to realize that being labelled as a liberal might cut down on their class FTE count…liberals typically being seen as humorless drones who are distinctly unpleasant as instructors…

    In any event, this isn’t exactly something that can be stopped, free speech and all of that…

  8. Mark Odell says:

    Do professors really cower because conservative students — a minority on almost any campus — criticize their teaching?

    And if they do, what is it that they’re really cowering from — political “intimidation”, or merely having their leftist politics exposed to the clear light of day (and free inquiry)?

    Anne wrote: Having to defend the propriety of every off hand remark is exhausting.

    The “propriety”, or the factual accuracy? Does the Socratic method suddenly work only in one direction? Does “off hand remark” mean that they say things they don’t really mean to be taken seriously?

  9. But Mark,

    They (professors) are the educated and annointed. They are, by definition, always correct. It is the great unwashed mass (students) which needs to be enlightened and rescued from ignorance.

  10. I’m reminded of a remark by a professor at a very conservative Catholic university: “I’ve been a professed religious for thirty-two years, and I’m sick and tired of 18-year-olds who think they know something questioning my orthodoxy from a position of snottiness.” I don’t mind students questioning something I’ve said, and I don’t bring politics into the classroom. I do mind “gotcha” games.

  11. Doug Archerd says:

    One is tempted to cynically suspect that Professor Jensen has realized that he will get even more publicity (and presumably, greater book sales) via the notoriety garnered from his protest than he ever would have from simply proudly waving the “liberal” badge he’s been branded with by conservative students.

    And to think there was once a time when liberals across the country were personally offended because they didn’t make Richard Nixon’s “enemies list”! I would think a true liberal would be quite pleased to be labelled as such.

  12. This isn’t a matter of ‘gotcha.’ The students had 3 professors who they praised for not being one-sided (one who is a liberal). I don’t mind a liberal professor, its a professor who politicises the classroom. They can detail the horrible history of african americans, but they should also point out the improvements made, etc. No one likes a perpetual whiner.
    And sometimes, self-censorship is a good thing. Students do it all the time, and perhaps some of these professors aught to engage in it as well.

  13. PJ/Maryland says:

    In response, Jensen, who said he is bisexual, said the list could have an ominous effect on the faculty: “If professors are constantly worried about being branded liberal, and not just liberal but inappropriately executing their duties, then it’s going to make people a little nervous and there’s a self-censorship effect.”

    Now there’s a dangerous situation: professors worried about being branded as inappropriately executing their duties! Why, this sort of thing might, might force professors to reconsider how they bring their politics into the classroom! Aaauuugh, it’s McCarthyism! Run for your lives!

  14. What the hell does being bisexual have to do with anything? No love should speak it’s name. I don’t want to know. Really.

  15. I saw a news segment on this. The list does not ‘target’ only liberals. There is a non-liberal professor on the list as well. It’s just how many conservative professors are there?

  16. I really liked this quote from government prof. Jennifer Suchland:

    “I’m feeling like anything is possible. That at some point, someone can say, ‘We think you’re anti-American and we think you should shut up…’ “

    I wonder who she imagines “someone” to be. Does she think because a bunch of students put out a list, that the Ministry of Truth will be knocking at her door to tell her to shut up? Does she think the university’s administration will be as craven as she is, and tell her to pipe down? Or is she just plain afraid that “someone”—anyone—will criticize her, even call her anti-American?

    From what I’ve seen of these radical shrinking violets, it’s the latter. Any sort of criticism is censorship. I must confess I burn with envy; the times I’ve been told to shut up—sometimes justly, often unjustly—are without number.

  17. Well, the blog item certainly carries out the goal of conservatives to politicize universities. There’s been a drumbeat for several years now about the “liberal” bias of professors and the poor victimized conservative students who can’t possibly stand up to a radical sociologist. There’s an organized campaign to promote the notion that conservatives are victims (they’re running the country and the economy and the corporations, but let’s feel sorry for them anyway).

    One vehicle for the orchestrated university campus campaign is the Collegiate Network [http://www.collegiatenetwork.org/cn.php?load=staff]
    a well-funded, centrally run effort to develop so called “independent” student newspapers on university campuses. Just about every Research 1 university has such a paper which becomes a vehicle for circulating this tired idea of how liberal professors are indoctrinating all students. [The Univesity of Texas at Austin has four such papers.] The fact is that the coordinated, conscious effort to indoctrinate comes from these doctrinaire conservatives. The vast majority of professors at all institutions are engaged in honest inquiry trying to push knowledge forward. But there are monied interests trying to force their ideas on the academy, not win them in the course of serious research and publication. A little critical thinking would help here.

  18. greeneyeshade says:

    back in the 80s conservative students set up an organization called accuracy in academia, designed to expose what they called leftist indoctrination in the classrooms. usual howls of censorship, but the committee for the free world (to which i belonged until it disbanded after the ussr broke up) rapped the kids over the knuckles for reasons that fit in perfectly with neo-con principles (or ideology if you’re not an initiate): students shouldn’t take it on themselves to judge, or sanction, their teachers. sounds like someone was still scarred from the 60s campus strikes. wonder what they think now?

  19. Andy – “Welcome to the life of an openly conservative student at many “elite” universities.”

    It honestly depends on what department you’re in. I’m an econ grad student at an Ivy, and sure I’ve heard some real horror stories out of e.g. the anthropology department, but my department just isn’t like that. The worst I’ve seen, either in a course I’ve taken or one I’ve TA’ed, is something on the order of a professor making a crack about Republicans but then adding “of course that’s not a very scientific attitude, I just like saying it”. Not ideal, perhaps, but nothing to get excited about either. And even that level has only been reached in two classes.

    I’ve also never seen a student criticized for making non-PC remarks, let alone remarks coming from a right of center perspective.

    On the other hand, I have seen conservative students starting a class I’m TA’ing with the assumption that everyone is going to be against them. They come into discussion section all tense and belligerent, clearly expecting me to ridicule them and favor the leftist students. Which is a big waste, because I wasn’t going to, nor I highly doubt would anyone else in my department.

    Conservative students do have to be careful about overreacting, and seeing problems where they don’t exist.

  20. I will concede that my experiences date from the 80s (I rather doubt that the 90s were any better, but it is possible), but Anne, if you didn’t see any examples of students being harassed for non-PC comments or attitudes (grad or undergrad) then you simply aren’t paying much attention. I was at several Ivys, and a state university as well, and the thought police were zealous to a truly Orwellian degree. In at least one case (Women’s Studies, the worst of the bunch) a student was denied funding because (she was told this to her face) she was considered ‘politically unreliable’. The level of fear generated by these witch hunts (and some truly Stalinist show-trials of profs who didn’t toe the ideological line) was quite palpable, and easily evident to anyone who wasn’t trying to ignore it

  21. I wish such a list had been available when I was an undergrad. I remember my horror the last week of classes when the lecturer in our introductory lit. class announced we would be spending these last three days on gay literature. He than began his intro to the material by talking about his own homosexuality. Since I had a decent grade in class until then I felt prudence was the better part of valour and just “forgot” to attend the last two classes in the end-of-term bedlam.

    By contrast, I accidentally stumbled into an excellent medieval literature class my junior year. As the source materials were written in a very “Catholic” era, there would have been plenty of opportunities for a hostile-minded prof to bash on Catholicism left and right. But amazingly, he didn’t. Everyone was welcome to participate in the discussion, from both sides of the spectrum, and I never once feared that my conservative views would damage my grade. Based on how the liberals spoke out, I don’t think they entertained such fears either. (Or perhaps it never occurred to them…) 🙂 But either way, it was an absolute delight to be able to rigorously discuss great literature straight from the source, without having to constantly watch one’s language for political correctness and such.

  22. Scott,

    As I said, it depends on the department. I was trying to say I’ve never seen any pro-PC propaganda in my economics department. And it’s very important not to lead students to expect that the things that may go on in a women’s studies class go on universally.