Tuesday, April 12, 2005

One Small Step Backward for Man

So despite Chris' public service announcement, I was hit by a corrupted registry file... and lost use of my laptop for a while. My files are all gone except for the few I was able to rescue. Fortunately, I was able to get it running again, and the worst news is that my post is a couple days late.

In an April 5th op-ed piece which is, alas, now in archive, Paul Krugman examined the liberal tendencies within Academia. He rejects the frequently-made claim that there is bias when hiring professors, saying instead that anyone planning to devote his life to intellectual study is more likely to have liberal views, in much the same way that the military is predominantly conservative. None of this is shocking, but one piece of information caught my eye. Krugman mentioned an interesting Florida bill being discussed.

Under Rep. Dennis Baxley's "Academic Freedom Bill of Rights", students would have the right to sue their professors for providing a biased assessment or in some way publicly deriding their views. The Independent Florida Alligator, the University of Florida's newspaper, had some key quotes from Baxley which made me roll my eyes.
"Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't like it, there's the door,'" Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

"During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as 'leftists' struggling against 'mainstream society.'"
After quickly pointing out that the belief in Evolution IS the mainstream theory, I will acknowledge that there are some clear examples of professor bias, such as the Joseph Massad and the Columbia College fiasco. However, as Rep. Dan Gelber points out, this bill would give legal standing to students who don't believe that the Holocaust ever happened, or that spirituality is the only method of healing, or - Sorry, Neil Armstrong - that man ever landed on the moon.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but professors are men hired because they are experts in their field. Except for extreme situations, whenever a student disagrees with a professor the student should reassess his views. In those extreme cases, such as Joseph Massad, the current safeguards are working fine; overly opinionated and biased professors can be examined by their universities and dismissed or admonished if found guilty. Not only would the bill stifle academic progress, but it would also force universities to hire lawyers, driving tuition costs higher than they already are. Question of the day: How does this fit in with the "Abstinence-only" sexual education programs? If the conservative standpoint is that it only wants to teach about abstinence and not touch contraceptives, why now the belief that it is essential to teach all viewpoints?


At 9:38 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Didn't read the original Krugman article, but I do remember reading a similar article a few months back that really seemed to destroy the argument of "liberal universities:" it looked statistics for the political leanings of professors from various disciplines. The findings were pretty interesting because faculty in the sciences and technical areas (math, engineering, physics, chemistry, computer science, etc...) didn't have any large statistical difference in political leanings than those of their liberal arts counterparts (i.e. political science.) So if just as many physics professors on average are as liberal as political science professors, how can one claim that a University is consciously trying to not hire conservatives? It's highly doubtful the physics department chair cares one iota about whether or not a bright up-and-coming tenure track candidate has liberal leanings.


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