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.