Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Indoctrinate U., the Review

My review of the movie Indoctrinate U. (and a response I arranged by the filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney) appears today on Minding the Campus and in the spring issue of Illinois Academe. Here’s my reply to the response written by Maloney:

Maloney objects to my claim that liberty on campus is far better protected today than it's ever been. To disprove this, he writes that FIRE “receives hundreds upon hundreds of reports each year in which those rights have been trampled.” But that doesn’t prove anything. For example, the ACLU didn’t exist until after World War I. The fact that the ACLU publicized violations of civil liberties after 1918 does not show that civil liberties were better protected during World War I, it only shows that we lacked organizations to publicize these violations. For example, virtually all of the speech codes FIRE objects to (and usually with good reason) today were typically far worse in the past, when administrators usually had arbitrary power to punish students without due process, without rules, and without appeal.

As for Ward Churchill, Maloney says that he defended his free speech. He did, but none of that is mentioned in the movie, nor is the fact that Churchill was banned from speaking at some campuses (which is separate from the controversy over his firing). That’s a key point considering how Maloney tries to show in the movie that only conservative views are silenced in academia.

Citing the fact that Ignatiev hasn’t been censored is a rather odd analysis by Maloney, considering that he ignores the counterexample of Churchill. Maloney, after all, doesn’t put on film all of the conservatives who haven’t been censored, nor any of the liberals who have. At some point, if you only discuss liberals who haven’t been censored and conservatives who have been censored, and ignore the counterevidence, you’re twisting the data.

On the Clemens case, Maloney claims that “professors were required to inject into their courses political topics.” Clemens called it an “ideological loyalty oath.” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that faculty on campus said it wasn’t a requirement to inject political topics in class; it was a requirement that faculty proposing a new class had to answer a dumb question on the form about the role of race, class, and gender in the proposed class. After Clemens objected, he was allowed to leave the question blank and had his course approved. He never had his job threatened in any way, so I dismissed this as rather unimportant compared to the far worse penalties suffered by liberals and conservatives in many colleges. (Contrast that with a case this year where a pacifist Quaker professor was fired under a real loyalty oath.)

As for K.C. Johnson’s case, it is complicated, but it always struck me much more as a personality conflict rather than an ideological conflict.

In the Foothill College case, Maloney repeats the claim of a professor “ordering a student to see a school psychologist under the threat of losing his visa.” This claim is based solely on the student’s assertion, with no supporting evidence. Maloney failed to include the professor’s denial, and quite frankly this is just not a plausible assertion (for one thing, professors can’t revoke visas). Unlike most of the cases in the film, the Foothill case is purely a disputed “he said/he said” example without any added evidence. Maloney claims that he avoids grade disputes for precisely this reason, but in the Foothill grade dispute I mentioned, the evidence of retaliation was overwhelming and supported by emails sent by the professor.

Maloney claims, “left-of-center folks sometimes have their rights suppressed in academia. This is undoubtedly true, and it is a point that is explicitly stated in the film.” I don’t have a transcript of the documentary, but I don’t recall hearing Maloney say that, although I’m glad to have him confirm that. I certainly don’t recall any of the examples of suppression in the movie including liberals who are silenced.

Maloney wonders “why Mr. Wilson believes I only favor free speech for folks I agree with is beyond me.” The reason is given in my article. At times, conservatives in the movie (including Maloney) seem to advocate censorship in a few cases. So I asked Maloney, does he believe that Foothill College should have banned flyers criticizing the conservative student? Does he believe that the professor in Michigan who denounced a student’s op-ed on affirmative action should have been punished or fired? Does he endorse David Horowitz and ACTA’s efforts to stop professors from discussing politics in classes? I didn’t get a clear answer. I have no problem with Maloney expressing his conservative viewpoint and criticizing professors he disagrees with; but I do want to know if he really support free speech for those he disagrees with.

As for military recruiters, I have my disagreements with the protesters and I have no doubt that some of them should be arrested if they step over the line. However, Maloney still hasn’t defended the right of students to protest, and he hasn’t acknowledged the fact that the rights of student protesters have been restricted at many campuses.

Maloney writes that I’m “pretending that campuses reflect the 50%/50% red/blue split of the rest of the country.” No, I’m not. There’s no doubt that more liberals than conservatives teach. However, that tells us nothing about what views get suppressed on campuses.

Maloney claims, “Ultimately, these counter-anecdotes do nothing to refute my actual argument, which is that there's an overwhelming double-standard regarding speech on campus, and most often (but not always) right-of-center thinkers are the ones who have their rights curtailed.” How do we know that’s true? Just because a group like FIRE, funded by right-wing foundations, says so? FIRE does a lot of great work on individual cases, but that doesn’t mean that they have a representative sample of campus censorship or an accurate generalization (for example, they exclude all cases of repression by conservative religious colleges). There are certainly areas where conservatives are the primary victims of suppression (the pie-throwing pinheads, for example), but there are some areas where liberals are the primary victims (bans on campus speakers), and a vast number of incidents where liberals and conservatives can each make legitimate complaints.

Ultimately, I believe Maloney’s argument would be stronger if he adopted at least part of my argument in my book “Patriotic Correctness”: that there is censorship on college campuses, from both the left and the right, and we need to unite in the struggle for freedom of expression rather than joining an ideological attack by right-wingers who think that suppression of liberal political views should be the goal. I think that Maloney fundamentally agrees with my basic values about campus liberty, and that’s what makes it so disappointing that he failed to include the other side (conservative repression of campus liberals) in his movie at all. That’s what makes it fundamentally flawed, even though most of the cases described in the film are serious acts of repression that deserve the attention and condemnation Maloney heaps upon them.


Anonymous said...

"Maloney objects to my claim that liberty on campus is far better protected today than it's ever been. To disprove this, he writes that FIRE “receives hundreds upon hundreds of reports each year in which those rights have been trampled.” But that doesn’t prove anything. For example..."

You're still not backing up your claim, you're just rebutting his.

Anonymous said...

lol, you got pawned by Maloney.

Just admit that you have no real evidence to support your points...

Anonymous said...

"Maloney has response to this one and pretty much sets it straight. I am an artist who attended University of Maryland back in the late 90s. I witnessed first hand professors manipulating students into "the mold", that being their mold. As each semester passed it became nauseating to watch students' grades be put on the line depending on their views. It wasn't until it happened to me in my junior year that something in me clicked. I realized this was happening throughout the university system. It wasn't even subtle. I'll never forget, a student created a video art project based on Genesis from the Old Testament. The professor proceeded to tear this student's personal views down without even making any critique of the project itself, which was actually a beautiful piece of art. It became a platform for the professor to give his rant on his atheism. It wasn't until a fellow Jewish student spoke up and against the professor that he finally backed down and crawled into the hole he came from. This was so common in my college experience. Eventually students would just conform, not question, because it was easier (and sometimes safer). The sad part is many students began to buy into the censorship and scare tactics.

Maloney has got it right. Some will choose to look the other way. For those that do, shame on you.

Anonymous said...

If you had a better understanding of what FIRE does, you would know that your comment "they exclude all cases of repression by conservative religious colleges" is moot. FIRE defends the right of expression on all publicly-funded institutions of higher learning. If you could site a case where campus censorship occurred on a publicly funded (tax payer dollar) conservative religious college, FIRE would most likely look into the issue if asked to do so. You of course can't, because there are NO publicly funded conservative religious colleges in the US.

Detroiter said...

A true sign of a coward: right-wing tools that post their propaganda annonymously.

Anonymous said...

Heh. And ejw is not anonymous?

Perhaps it was easier to click that radio button rather than going through a registration process to post a thought?

(Lester Dent)

Anonymous said...

You state "I do want to know if he really support free speech for those he disagrees with." (paragraph 9)

In his previous article, Maloney stated "suppression of ideas and attacks against free thought are TYRANNICAL, and it is something I would OPPOSE REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THE IDEAS ARE ONES I BELIVE MYSELF." (paragraph 37, capitalization add for emphasis)

You also dispute Maloney's claim that "no administrators were harmed in the making of this film" because the film will damage thier credibility. MAKING THE FILM ITSELF DID NOT HARM THE ADMINISTRATORS! The thing that damages their reputations is RELEASING the film NOT the filming itself!

As a personal opinion, I think collages should be able to censor papers with specific content, such as profanity and/or death threats. You seem to suggest that in such cases where ofensive material was used that the suggestion of regulating it was only supported because the people being targeted were conservative.

ejw ought to realize that some of us are not tools for a group, but FREE-THINKING PEOPLE who are stating their own opinions. Also, another reason I'm posting anonymously (besides the fact that it's quicker) is because anyone can read what I'm posting and I don't need to have my identity stolen. And why does being right-wing have anything to do with it -unless you're upset because you don't have anything to say. If you think we're wrong, you should at least have a reason besides the fact that you disagree -and yet you attack us instead of our ideas. Who's the coward now?