Monday, October 18, 2004

I've been bouncing around a bit. The posting are by college students, mostly freshman, who believe they have encountered political bias in a class. I rapidly came to the conclusion that the website is quite useful for prospective students, but that the postings themselves are worthless.

It's impossible to determine from a posting if the writer is correct and incapable of clear writing, or if they are simply thin-skinned and incapable of clear writing, or if they are themselves pushing a political agenda and are incapable of clear writing. NoIndoctrination apparently investigates all the claims posted; they say that 70% are rejected for lack of evidence. If only there were a style criterion as well. There's nothing that lances the boil of sympathy faster than a misused comma.

That being said, I still think that the website is extremely useful. The posts may be worthless, but the responses are telling. Sometimes the student is clearly over-reacting, as this student is to the speaker at convocation, and the administration's response is quite right:

The student who posted this item is correct that Barbara Ehrenreich, speaker at Miami's convocation this fall, politicized her speech and joined a rally for a local union afterwards. But the writer completely misses the point of the opening convocation (which is not required). The summer reading program and the convocation are designed to immerse students immediately into the college experience where you confront ideas, think deeply about issues and debate them passionately. Although Ehrenreich's book and speech may have fallen short in many people's minds, her writing and talk did create a great deal of passionate discussion. As the poster mentions, the reading program specifically schedules small group sessions following the speech where students are expected to dissect the book and the writer's thoughts and debate them. By all accounts, these group discussions were filled with healthy disagreement on the issues Ehrenreich presented, as were the follow-up opinions presented in the student newspaper and in follow-up discussions in and outside of classes.

The "article" about the convocation mentioned in the posting is not a news article at all but an opinion by a conservative local columnist. There were other views on the subject; read for example the student newspaper's editorial:

The anonymous poster writes that there was no visible disagreement at the labor rally after the convocation, and that's not true, for the College Republicans were also quite evident passing out flyers and presenting an opposing point of view (and they are a very strong and vocal force at the university). Also, what is not true is the student's assertion that conservative views are not presented at university events, for the major university lectures planned this year include a healthy dose of speakers from the right and left. P.J. O'Rourke and Pat Buchanan have spoken in recent weeks. Alan Keyes is coming to debate Ralph Nader. And in a few days students will have the option of hearing separate speeches by Rudy Giuliani and Gloria Steinem on the same night.

The administration addressed the complaints, pointed out the mistakes or falsehoods the poster perpetrated, and seems quite interested in fostering real dialogue. Other times...well...:
Well, here we go again. I sometimes get such glib, knee-jerk patriotic "you hurt my feelings" reactions to my lectures. For many of my students, I am their first encounter with the stark reality of the world at large. I expect to be attacked by people whose reality has been largely formed thorough indoctrination into unchallenged patriotism, unexamined Christianity, and a general absence of understanding of world history, especially the role of multinational corporations and the U.S. military in neocolonial ventures. Yes, I do occasionally "soapbox" on topics involving our species' headlong plunge into self-destruction (after all, I do teach anthropology, the study of people). I am guilty of placing the Earth, all its living systems, and human well-being above corporate greed, national policy, hegemonic religion, and the "comfort level" of students in my class. For every "griper" like the one I am responding to on your site, I can furnish dozens of students whose lives have been empowered by my influence.
Yes, I feel quite comfortable with your skills as a dispassionate, objective thinker now, thank you.

The two postings were not terrifically different, and from them alone it would impossible to tell if either poster had a real complaint (my gut reaction was "No". The "women are too lazy to breast feed" line in the second posting--what? Followed by the oddest commas). But from the responses of the professors (and I've chosen for my second the most extreme one; most of them are reasonable, friendly, and address the complaints quite well), we get a glimpse at the real situation.

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