Friday, April 01, 2005

Ward Churchill and the College Right

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches in the University of Colorado system. I won’t give any more details in order to protect this person’s identity. My friend told me the effect that Ward Churchill has had on higher education in Colorado. My friend said that the Churchill controversy had empowered conservative students, not to engage material or to feel better about making their conservative views known in classes necessarily. Rather, it has engaged them to be bullies in class and to accuse professors of liberal bias against them whenever they receive a grade less than they want.

Conservatives, particularly conservative males I think, are naturally bullies. It fits the nature of men who are resentful of having their former white privileges slightly negated. Of course most academics are liberals or on the left. We are not generally inclined to be bullies. But we have to toughen up in our classes against these kinds of people. As I have said before, I believe, on this blog, the academy is the last institution in American society controlled by people somewhere left of center. I don’t believe that this is really going to change anytime soon. It’s not as if there is a horde of conservatives waiting to become professors for $35,000 a year after 10 years or more of education. They wouldn’t be Republicans if they would take a job like that. But where we have to watch out is in the self-censorship. Administrations are running scared of conservative legislatures who want to eviscerate higher education budgets. Departments don’t want to have the next Ward Churchill, or the infamous Richard Berthold in the case of my department at the University of New Mexico. Thus in some departments, though not my own to the best I can tell, political statements by professors are actively discouraged by department chairs, deans, and administration figures.

Maybe there’s not too much teaching graduate students, adjuncts, or assistant professors can do about censorship coming from above. However, we have to do what we can. We can tell conservative students for one that they can listen respectfully to viewpoints that they don’t agree with for once. We can directly challenge their bullying on grades and toward other students in class. Finally, we can tell them that if they don’t want to abide by the rules of our classes, and if they accuse us of grading through political bias to drop our courses if they don’t like us, but that we will, under no circumstances, accept them accusing us of bias because they don’t like the fact that they are lazy.

As you can see, I am preparing for the day I receive a challenge like this.