Campus Watch in the Media
Bias Necessary to Promote Diverse College Learning Experience
by Danny Tenenbaum
Life isn't fair. But don't tell College Republicans who perennially complain about feeling uncomfortable being conservative in Madison. And don't tell the Office of the Dean of Students either — their new "Think. Respect." campaign seeks to protect us fragile students from any potentially offensive political arguments on campus. The push to eliminate all forms of bias on campus targets professors who are incapable of maintaining constant sanitized political neutrality.
Academia, specifically in the humanities and social sciences, is dominated by internal politics. Every history has a variety of interpretations and every political theory has its supporters and detractors. Just look into your run-of-the-mill academic journal to see your professors duke it out. It's through this constant scrutiny that weak theories are disproved and outdated assumptions are put to rest. Is there any good reason to shield students from this marketplace of ideas?
Kevin Barrett's semester-long contract seems to have renewed irrational fears of academic faculty infiltrating universities and brainwashing their students into half-baked urban legends spawned in Internet chat rooms. Much to the chagrin of shrill conservative media pundits, neither professors nor students are that stupid. It's amazing how one irresponsible instructor can spark so much noise about a non-existent problem.
Some choose to see a pervasive liberal bias as indicative of a leftist conspiracy that plagues higher education. Others see bias as a liability that could potentially damage the "inclusive learning environment" the Office of the Dean of Students harps on about. In their quest to create a classroom void of any thought or speech that could potentially make a student somewhat uncomfortable, perhaps the university forgot that the world outside of Madison isn't quite so sanitized.
Unbiased teaching is impossible. Every one of your professors has read thousands of books and journal articles and has developed complex opinions on every topic under the sun. Whether in lecture, discussion or office hours, a professor inevitably expresses bias, however subtly, and to actively conceal one's political views would be academic dishonesty. To expect academic faculty to teach without bias is to set an unrealistic expectation that leaves students with hours of bland and inconclusive discussions. Instead of succumbing to pressure to hide the biases and opinions every human has, professors should disclose and explain their stance on the material they are required to teach.
A well-qualified professor is adept at covering politically sensitive topics. A well-qualified college student reads and listens critically. Wisconsin is teeming with both and yet our university assumes itself to be dominated by preachy professors and gullible students. The atmosphere that currently pervades Madison is thick with fear of politicized arguments, whether they be liberal, conservative or conspiracy theorist. University administrators have also been keen on fanning the flames of fear with their new "Think. Respect." campaign, which threatens to prosecute any incidents of political bias in the classroom.
If a professor of World War II history believes that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary, or if a constitutional law professor supports the ban on gay marriage and civil unions, their students can only benefit from hearing their justifications. Conversely, a professor of international relations shouldn't shy away from explaining his disagreement with the war in Iraq and a professor of Southeast Asian politics need not avoid discussing Thailand's recent coup in a subjective manner. In each case, students would benefit to hear their professor take his years of research and use it to form a logical argument on a relevant topic. Whether or not the student agrees, the end result is inevitably a stimulating discussion in place of bland equivocating.
The push for unbiased teaching aims to turn Wisconsin into the USA Today of higher education, replacing stimulating discourse with offensively inoffensive rhetoric. As college students, we aren't paying thousands of dollars to the university so professors can regurgitate Wikipedia articles. By creating an environment ripe with political discussion where professors can openly share their opinions, students graduate not simply with more knowledge but as critical consumers of information. In a world where politicized speech is everywhere all of the time, the university can do nothing better.
Danny Tenenbaum (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in political science, international studies and history.Note: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
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