Noindoctrination.org: Complaints Against Historians Accused of Bias





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Since last fall NoIndoctrination.org has kept track of alleged political bias on college campuses. Some 40-odd complaints have been posted thus far (about a third of the total complaints received). Half a dozen concern historians. The complaints, as listed on the website, are provided below in full.

Some readers, noticing that all of the complaints are against liberal professors, have wondered if NoIndoctrination.org is being used by conservatives to advance an ideological agenda. We asked the site to respond. We received the following email on February 6, 2003:

NoIndoctrination.org is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that will post any valid complaint of"indoctrination" -- from the left or right. To date we have put online only 30% of the submitted postings. Some postings we receive are bogus, and others may show just an ideological difference with the professor. Professors can legitimately express their opinions and biases, but when their biases become so excessive that valid alternative viewpoints are denied, silenced, or ridiculed, open inquiry becomes impossible given the power difference between professor and student.

Each posting we receive is checked very carefully, and we email or phone the student poster for additional information or clarification. Furthermore, once a posting goes online, the faculty member is contacted and encouraged to rebut any specifics in the student posting. Rebuttals, when submitted, are place directly beneath the student posting.

Most postings on our website concern courses with blatant liberal bias. To solicit postings from a wide spectrum of views, NoIndoctrination.org has contacted college debating societies, history clubs, Democrat clubs, music clubs, and others; but we have received no valid postings against blatant conservative bias. When we do, these postings will go online.

Sincerely,

Luann Wright
President and Founder
NoIndoctrination.org

#135 Brooklyn College

Course: HIST 54.C: History of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century

Course Catalog Description: Ottoman and colonial heritage of the Middle East; competing ideologies; oil and its impact, origins and development of the Arab-Israeli conflict; Iran under the Shahs and clergy; roots of radical nationalism in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq and Syria, sectarianism and class conflict in Lebanon; Islamic reform and revivalism; changing role of women and minorities.

Professor: Stuart Schaar

Required? No, purely elective

Lecture Bias: Excessive

Comments: Despite its seemingly innocuous title and banal course description, this class was replete with examples of ideological cant and bias. In addition to demonizing adherents of a different point of view--especially in lectures having to deal with discussion of the precepts of Islam and the methods in which Muhammed acquired his emprire, the professor also routinely disparaged any student who questioned his baseless assertions on certain subjects. For example, when a young woman deigned to raise the question of how Sadam Hussein treated one of Iraq's smaller minorities (the Chaldeans), he perfunctorily dismissed her question with the bald assertion that: "they don't count." His lectures dealing with the Israeli "occupation" of Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip were even more monolithic. He did not even entertain the possibility that these territories could indeed be part of a Jewish state, and often would refer to people who questioned this liberal nostrum, e.g, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, as extremists. Of course, we expect scholars to have a different standard than say, reporters, who are supposed to present a unvarnished account of a given situation without inserting their personal biases. My objection rested primarily on his refusal to entertain opinions that contravened his own. His reading of certain events, e.g. the Six Day War, was very selective in its allocation of the facts. The fact that he relied solely on the arabic perspective in his analysis of this crucial historical event is evidence of his ideological pedigree.

Discussion Bias: Objectionable

Comments: Even though the discussions were not quite as one-dimensional as the lectures, they did provide an opportunity for some of the professor's acolytes to heap scorn on the few students who dissented from his ideological programme vis-a-vis, the modern historiography of the Middle East. In fact, some of his more eager disciples took this opportunity to reiterate the views of the professor in a much less nuanced manner. Some of the numerous examples of bias that were exhibited during these discussions--led by the professor, of course, were the constant verbal attacks on Israeli settlers, the foreign policy of the United States, and a favorite of some of the class's "Palestinian" students-- ad hominem attacks against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The fact that the other students knew that they could ingratiate themselves with him by aping his viewpoint on certain subjects, certainly did not help matters. Overall, I found this portion of the class to be the most annoying, if not quite so intimidating. I can't say that he was particularly hostile. However, there were certain times when his ideological predilections made themselves abundently clear, especially during back-and-forth exchanges he had with a classmate. He also made some snide comments about the relative knowledge (or lack thereof), of the students attending his class. While these may have been warranted, I don't think that they were the most tactful way to begin a class. While I commend the professor for allowing several of us--in fact only two--to express our disagreement, and appreciate the fact that he kept his word not to penalize students for their personal political beliefs, I still think that he could have done a much better job providing a forum for dissenting voices.

Readings Bias: Objectionable

Comments: Actually, this portion of the course was not as objectionable as the rest of the class would lead you to believe. Nevertheless, there was a distinctly anti-Israeli, pro-Islamic and pro-Arabic point of view disseminated to the student body. The main text: William Cleveland's "A History of the Modern Middle East", was written by an academic in league with Islamists and distinctly hostile to the interests of Israel and America's Middle Eastern allies. Aside from a few readings that included the revisionist movement of Zionism, the Herut platform, etc., there was virtually no contextualization for a variety of important events that have occurred within the Mid-East over the past half century. In fact the Six day War was presented from the perspective of a radical muslim, with no countervailing Jewish point of view!

General Comments: Overall, I'd have to declare this course to be thoroughly biased. You would have no idea what the general thrust of the class will be like simply by glossing over the course description in the Brooklyn College Bulletin. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to take this class was because there was no blatently political broadsides included in the course description. I concede that Professor Schaar did a magnificent job of covering most of the topics listed in the description. However, the manner in which he covered them left a lot to be desired.

#17 Brown University

Course: HI0178: Modernizing America, 1890-1930

Course Catalog Description: The arrival of the modern age as recorded in novels, popular history, memoirs,and social and political commentary. Readings include works by Jane Addams,Theodore Dreiser, Charles Beard, W. E. B. Du Bois, Randolph Bourne, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others.

Professor: John Thomas

Required? No, purely elective

Lecture Bias: Excessive

Comments: The professor displayed his political opinions with great passion. While this is certainly not a crime in itself, the sheer frequency and fervor of his partisan proclamations eventually crossed the boundaries of appropriateness. When a professor openly refers to certain political parties as "idiotic" on a regular basis, he effectively censors that particular viewpoint from the class. No student should ever be expected to voice his ideological convictions if he knows that the professor holds an emotional, hostile reaction to such views. This professor absolutely hated a certain political affiliation, and he was quite happy to admit it. The history of labor conflict comprises a very specific area where I feel that the course failed to allow open discourse. The lectures unabashedly encouraged students to take a specific "side" and assign a very specific blame. The detailed policies and interpretations that were advocated are not of paramount concern in my complaint. The indoctrination came from the fact that these options were rigidly imposed on the students as absolute truth, without opportunity for real ideological criticism. Another bizarre moment in this course came when the professor decided to embark on a lengthy lecture about how students need to protest the administration more often. He did not advocate an issue to protest, rather he simply felt that a necessary component of any good student was the desire to actively oppose the establishment. Perhaps I am overreacting, but there seems to be something quite devious about using class time to recruit students for apparent acts of disobedience against their own university.

Discussion Bias: N/A

Comments: There were no discussion sections, as this course was a seminar.

Readings Bias: Noticeable

Comments: The course material contained several slanted selections, most often in the form of political novels penned by prominent Socialists of the era. This material clearly was chosen to promote a specific political agenda. These books were often used to support the professor's one-sided analysis of labor movement history. A student could not easily bring capitalist arguments into synthetic discussions if the coursework itself denies capitalism as a basic premise. Fortunately, this kind of overtly biased literature did not comprise the entirety of the reading material (perhaps 'only' a half,) which accounts for my milder overall criticism.

General Comments: N/A

#136 Cañada College

Course: HIST 100: History of Western Civilization 1

Course Catalog Description: A broad overview of the rise and fall of civilizations of the ancient world, the spread of Christianity, Medieval society, the periods of the Renaissance and Reformation, and the discoveries and explorations in early modern times.

Professor: Jennifer Helton

Required? Met a General Ed./diversity/other requirement with a few course options.

Lecture Bias: Noticeable

Comments: First day of class the students were told not to use the term "mankind" in the class as the professor found this to be offensive to women. Female students who did not agree were given a lecture on how language does not include women. However, the professor did not find it offensive to use the term "rule of thumb" every 5 minutes even though this term actually came about as a way to define the proper size of a stick with which women could be beaten. The professor did ignore or not call on students who in the beginning of class challenged statements such as we could not use the term "mankind." During the course of the semester, the professor made frequent comments about the oppression of women by men, especially white males. The professor also made it quite clear how she felt about organized religion. She made fun of people believing in miracles, visions and other divine occurrences. On several occasions there were remarks made ridiculing the Catholic Church and pointing out how this institution, filled with white males, was oppressing women. Later on, the same opinions were expressed about the reform churches and Puritans.

Discussion Bias: N/A

Comments: N/A

Readings Bias: None

Comments: The readings were appropriate to the subject matter.

General Comments: I did approach the professor outside of class about the constant ridiculing of religious beliefs as I felt an in-class discussion could affect my grade. From the outside- of-the-classroom dealings with this professor, I know that she thinks of herself as open-minded and sensitive to student diversity. It is quite obvious to me that diversity does not include white males or anyone who holds religious beliefs. Students coming to the class to learn history should not have to listen to any religion being ridiculed, whether this religion is the belief in little green men, pagan, Islam or Roman Catholic. The professor's personal opinions should be kept out of the classroom. Furthermore, I don't think it is this professor's job to re-educate me on which English terms or words I should find offensive to women - I (a woman) can do that fine on my own. Moreover, if she is going to educate me, she should at least realize that substituting "human" kind for mankind, still leaves her with the sticky problem of explaining why the "man" part of human is not just as offensive.

#86 University of California, Riverside (UCR)

Course: HIST 20: Twentieth Century World History

Course Catalog Description: HIST 020H. Honors World History: Twentieth Century. (Prerequisite(s): admission to the University Honors Program or consent of instructor. Honors course corresponding to HIST 020. An introduction to world cultures, political systems, war, and revolution in the twentieth century. Topics include the rise and fall of the superpowers, colonization and decolonization, boom and bust, fascism and communism, world wars, and contemporary history.

Professor: Devra Weber

Required? Yes, for all students

Lecture Bias: Excessive

Comments: At the beginning of the course the professor announced that she would read a different newspaper article related to different opinions of current world events from major news papers. So far we have had 17 lectures and she has read 14 articles. In all but three of these lectures, one being a midterm, she has read editorials from politically left newspapers explaining why George Bush is going to destroy America as we know it by killing all the innocent people in Iraq. When I told her that she was hypocritical for saying she was going to read a variety of opinions, she responded, "I included a Republican criticism of Bush's war as well." Although these articles were only read at the beginning of class to "stimulate our minds for world history" as the professor describes it, they helped her set the stage for her later lectures. They eventually fell into place connecting modern events to an anti-American, anti-globalization lecture during the final week of the course. In addition to biased articles at the beginning of class, the professor claimed that today America essentially has a one-party system because the Democrats have moved so far to the political right. I think this particular comment was inappropriate, untrue and frankly quite confusing to some of the students who didn't realize what she was getting at. On one occasion the professor said Bush is making particular decisions about Iraq because he does not study history. She then went on to say that some people just aren't smart enough to understand history: a subtle attack at Bush's intelligence.

Discussion Bias: Objectionable

Comments: The professor leads my discussion as well. On the first day of discussion the professor was completely one sided in her presentation on how History is used by politicians. She gave us hand-outs of two political speeches made in the 80's. One was a State of the Union by Ronald Reagan; the other was a speech by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. The Reagan speech made reference to George Washington in Valley Forge and Lincoln during the height of the Civil War. It was intended to demonstrate American greatness during rough times in American history. The Jesse Jackson speech spoke about union strikes and racial oppression and the existence of black poverty provoked by and created intentionally by white people. The professor presented the Reagan speech as an incorrect way to use history in a speech because it is not the true history of the common man. She said the Jesse Jackson speech was much more telling of the oppression felt by minorities. I began to assert that the history of Lincoln and Washington is the history of all Americans. She cut me off to tell me that individuals of color could not relate to either of those two individuals because their ancestors were enslaved or oppressed at the time. The argument escalated to the point where she essentially said that history for one person is completely different than history to another. I have never experienced this sort of relativism in History.

Readings Bias: None

Comments: The reading is not biased

General Comments: N/A

#10 University of Central Oklahoma (UCO)

Course: Hist 1483: History of US to 1877

Course Catalog Description: A survey of American history from the discovery of the New World through the Civil War.

Professor: Jere Roberson

Required? Yes, for all students

Lecture Bias: Excessive

Comments: Seriously objectionable anti-semitic sentiment such as Israeli mistreatment of "the Palestinians", combined with extreme liberal bias regarding any political idea other than that of the far left, severely criticizing President George W. Bush for his treatment of war with Iraq, and including Afganistan, deeming the war "a massacre". And blatantly calling former President Ronald Reagan "an idiot".

Discussion Bias: Excessive

Comments: Any slightly historical conservative or pro-Israeli comments made by the students are shot down, and severely depressed by his political position in the liberal left.

Readings Bias: Noticeable

Comments: Professor Roberson does not always refer directly to the text, which is "The American Promise", and tests mostly on the lectures, and a web site which he has constructed himself as a help to provide access to relative articles.

General Comments: Dr. Roberson's lectures are purely one-sided discussions, of which students are discouraged to take any other opinion than his liberal ones.

#79 University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK)

Course: Hist 261: History of World Civilizations

Course Catalog Description: Historical survey of world civilization. Origins to 1500. Writing emphasis course.

Professor: J. P. Dessel

Required? Yes, for my major or minor

Lecture Bias: Objectionable

Comments: Prof Dessel is very cynical, and often inserts his own opinions about current world affairs into lectures that are supposed to be about world civilizations from their origins to 1500. For example, he often refers to the conflict with Iraq as "President Bush's war with Iraq." Once he even informed us that the only reason we were interested in removing Saddam was "for the oil." He also harps on the oppressor and the oppressed, and implies that the U.S. is no different from past empires, and always tries to use "class envy" throughout history and the present by explaining it in terms of the "haves" and "have nots," instead of actual historical events. On top of this, Prof Dessel discourages anyone from challenging his viewpoints.

Discussion Bias: None

Comments: The discussion session was much better than the lectures, as we had actual discussions, and most points of view were addressed. The discussion was taught by a TA.

Readings Bias: Noticeable

Comments: There was a textbook, but we never used it. None of the tests came from it, and I don't see why he even gave it. The textook was "Traditions and Encounters" by Jerry H. Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler. The only book we were required to read was Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel," an anti-Western, politically correct book. I have no problem with this book, but feel it should be balanced by another viewpoint. Sadly, it is not.

General Comments: I would recommend avoiding Prof Dessel's classes if possible, unless you agree with his narrow world view.


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More Comments:


Chris - 10/31/2003

Very true about the Rule of Thumb...anyone who is curious can look this up on straightdope.com

The problem with the male oppression of women is, while there is some truth to this statement, it is often quite simplified. First there is the "especially white males"...this is a clearly biased statement. You mean to suggest that male domination was exclusive to Europe and North America? Second there is the observation that, although power in most societies was generally reserved for males, only a small percentage of males (admittedly compared to nearly 0 for women) benefitted from this "privilege". Most men, being peasants or slaved, were themselves oppressed. It also ignores the role that women themselves have played in perpetuating social roles that reserve power for men. Examples I can think of off hand include female circumcision rituals in Sub-Saharan AFrican which are performed and perpetuated by women, and the burning of female-child producing wives in India by their mother-in-laws. Lastly I think that such statements, while certainly drawing on past inequities toward women, ignore the great strides that men and women have taken together in producing a just and equitable society.


Jay Hatheway - 3/8/2003

As an historian, I think bias is good; as an historian of the Nazi period, I even encourage it. In short, bias is the stuff of life, and why are professors to be any more exempt from it than others. I encourage my students to find my biases, and then to challgenge me as to why I say the things I say. At the beginning of each semester, I also tell my students that if they are expecting an unbiased course, they're in the wrong class. Over the years I've become real tired of the academic pablum that comes under the rhubric "unbias." I'd rather anger my entire class than teach mush.


Kevin - 2/17/2003

Apparently, some American students believe that one of the Roman Emperors was Sid Caesar.


Marie Ford - 2/13/2003

Obviously Mr. Brown jumped to conclusions without bothering to read the material HNN posted at the top of the page. Had he done so, he would have realized that the professors ARE notified and given a chance to respond. I went to the website in question and sure enough that is their policy. One professor had responded. This is more than faculty members get to do on university-sponsored published course evaluations! And by the way, since when has a peer review ever corrected the sort of behavior seen in some of these postings?


David Parker - 2/13/2003

This is all well and good, but it seems to me that the only time professorial bias would be a problem would be if this bias was applied to grading. If a professor punishes you on an exam or a paper for political or religious views that he or she disagrees with, that's a serious problem. If you disagreee with something you perceive as bias, that's grounds for discussion, not for running to the Heritage Foundation with a complaint. Disagreement on issues and discussion of disagreement -- isn't that why you're at college to begin with?


Gregory S Brown - 2/13/2003

How can you reproduce these entirely unsourced, entirely acontextual rants by what appear to be disgruntled undergraduate ideologues? These faculty members are subject to regular peer reviews, which are the appropriate forum for this sort of issue to be aired. To allow such entirely sourced complaints by entirely anonymous posters with no chance for the faculty member in question to respond is completely non-sensical and basically puts HNN at the level of Fox News. REally below it. You should be ashamed of yourself for having this sort of slander on your site.


Gerard J. Perry - 2/11/2003

I don't think that the political prejudices of tenured professors at most of our nation's institutions of higher education will ever be fully known to the general public. Unfortunately, most people treat academe as a repository of distinctly foreign ideas; unapproachable and beneath examination, let alone ridicule.
The fact that Ms. Wright has taken it upon herself to expose the unremitting hostility exhibited by certain scholars to ideas that most people would consider unobjectionable, e.g. support for American foreign policy,upholding traditional gender roles, etc., is something that should be commended, not dismissed out-of-hand.
Granted, some of the people who complain about a perceived ideological bias present at their particular university may be exaggerating the case; however, the fact that so many students feel compelled to voice their indignation over this topic is a powerful statement.
It's ironic that the same people charged with cultivating an intellectually curious and open-minded student body are also the people who are stifling dissent within their classrooms.
This website, and others like it, are not McCarthyism. In fact, they are the antithesis of what Joseph McCarthy, et.al, stood for. This type of forum is a vehicle for the exchange of thoughts that would otherwise be suppressed.
Questioning timeworn nostrums, feeling free to pose difficult questions to those in positions of authority, finding out the truth through intense study and research; these are the type of values that should be inculcated into future classes of students.
I don't believe that young adults should be censured because they are not pliable enough, or do not submit readily to unvarnished propaganda in the guise of scholarship.


Hank Parker - 2/9/2003


Clara, let's make it more concrete -- would you defend the classroom behavior
described in the excerpt below (from the UC Riverside posting about Prof. Devra Baker)?
It seems to me that anybody can see this instructor just indulged herself by
exposing her classroom to a political diatribe (assuming the literal accuracy of the posting).
I am a moderate-liberal politically, but I have no desire to defend this sort of thing,
and I think liberals just discredit themselves if they do make excuses for it.

If classrooms across the nation were full of conservatives doing the equivalent,
I bet you'd be outraged, as would I.

>

Hank


Derek Catsam - 2/6/2003

Just got this little gem from the first exam in my US Survey (which I try, like I honestly believe most of my colleagues around the country also do, to keep as balanced as possible) just to add a touch of levity:

"W.E.B. DuBois wrote an essay entitled 'The Soles of Black Feet.'"


Stu Burns - 2/6/2003

Kudos to Jennifer Helton for ignoring the specious assertion that the term "rule of thumb" originates from "a way to define the proper size of a stick with which women could be beaten". As UCLA Professor Henry A. Kelly has shown in his article, "Rule of Thumb and the Folklaw of the Husband's Stick," Journal of Legal Education 44 (3) [Sep 1, 1994], 341-365, this assertion is clearly false, and aversion to this venerable phrase is misguided. Further, insistance upon non-sexist language is hardly a vice, and "frequent comments about the oppression of women by men, especially white males" reflect historical reality, not bias. Finally, when dealing with topics like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Witch Trials, I have found that tasteful humor generally softens the often harsh impact that an examination of religious violence can have; such an approach is hardly tanamount to "ridicule".

Overall, it sounds as though Ms. Helton ran a lively, thoughtful course. Congratulations.


Bill Heuisler - 2/6/2003

Arguing process does not interest me in the slightest.
The question posed by the student was one of "political correctness" and bias in Jared Diamond's classroom.

Two easily-researched instances of his bias will suffice:
When he describes whites "killing" or "murdering" New World natives, but describes the destruction of third world populations by other third world aggressors as "displacing" or
"engulfing" indigenous people.
When he treats religion as merely a method for the elites to control their people. He discards any possibility the search for a Higher Power may have been ennobled, dignified or even benign.

Now his thesis:
Diamond's population-disbursal theory depends on terrain utility, resource availability, yield and production, but his subject time-frame at the dawn of civilization occurred before agriculture, animal domestication or any technology at all. Would primitive hunter-gatherers be prescient enough to inhabit and protect a fertile living area so they could develop a civilization in a future they couldn't even imagine?
Was the process not more dynamic? Didn't the stronger, smarter people take the more desirable geographical areas from the less intelligent and weaker people as their utility became evident?

Answer my questions or not. Your advice on dialectics is wasted.
Call my terms and delivery what you will, but your inability to refute my position is becoming obvious.
Bill Heuisler


aulpflueger - 2/6/2003

The commentary seems to be so one-sided that this appears to be a right- wing political forum rather then serious discourse. Hard to be valuable by pragmatic thinkers


Timothy Burke - 2/6/2003

You really don't get it.

All of this is arguable--frankly, I have problems with the kind of hand-me-down ersatz Social Darwinism you're apparently making use of *and* some of Diamond's sociobiological materialism. But the point is, unless you think that literally no position other than your own has even minimal arguable legitimacy, these are the kinds of *interpretations* that historians of a materialist or sociobiological bent might *legitimately* disagree about. You know, reasoned argument, hypotheses, empirical data: the kind of thing that rational inquiry is supposed to be about. You might disagree with Diamond: that's fine. But to simply wave your hand and say, "Politically correct!" not only completely voids the substance of all scientific and historical inquiry with a lazy man's dismissal, it also accuses Diamond of acting in bad faith and without a reasonable interpretation of a rather massive and complex data set. If Jared Diamond is "politically correct", then so are 99.5% of historians practicing--and Diamond by your standards must be the least of them. At that point, "politically correct" becomes a meaningless epithet.


Bill Heuisler - 2/5/2003

"...Diamond's general frame of reference fairly easily accomodates a broadly materialist, sociobiological understanding of those relations."
This thicket shows me you know quite well what "politically correct" history is. But to accomodate:

1) "Heuisler doesn't make clear what he regards as the non-political but correct interpretation of global history."
Answer - Darwin not location. The victim-oppressor revisionist template (setting aside China) attacks Western or "Eurocentric" history. Diamond simply bends fact to show Blacks and Amerinds are victims of European Imperialism.

2) Geographical advantages of North America effecting progress?
Answer - First you pretend not to get it, "...human arrival considerably after the Eurasian landmass...". Then you admit there were probably people here before the Asian migration. Your second statement, while contradicting your first, also destroys Mr. Diamond's thesis, doesn't it?

3) "If you're talking about the rise and fall of various dynasties and state formations in Chinese history, it's not as if that is a historical phenomenon which can be explained in any simple way by any historian, nor does Diamond do so."
Answer - Diamond does explain a China dominance to bolster his thesis, but reality denies him. In China fertile land produced invasion, not dominant culture. My word was, "nomads", or people in migration who have clearly not taken advantage of geographic largesse to build smelters or brew poisons. The history of China is successive invasions from the less-developed to the settled and has been chronicled and explained often. (see Grosset)

Explain dominance? Accidents of location or birth are obviously important, but one man's defeat is another's migratory invasion - strong defeat strong, weak are subsumed or eaten.
A focused argument has been made - of nearer term and without reference to ethnicity - by pointing out the emergence of iron-smelting peoples who suddenly changed the world around 1200 BC by attacking the larger, settled "City States". See "The End of the Bronze Age" by Robert Drews 1993 Princeton University Press.
Bill Heuisler







Timothy Burke - 2/5/2003

First, you might want to try to learn the distinction between an argument and a close-minded agenda. Meaning, questions on which reasonable people can disagree about what the evidence shows--and the competing interpretations that arise from different reasonable readings of the evidence--are not the same as a single-minded attempt to advance a narrow viewpoint. If Diamond is centrally concerned with a "politically correct viewpoint" (I'm still not clear what Mr. Heuisler regards here as the central politically correct claim in Diamond, given that Mr. Heuisler doesn't make clear what he regards as the non-political but correct interpretation of global history), then Diamond has surely chosen a rather roundabout approach to making that argument. Why not just cut to the chase and write more garden-variety hard-core briefs on behalf of multiculturalism?

"The geopgraphic advantages in North America are the same as Europe". Arguably so (and Diamond discusses this in detail) but as you yourself note, the human arrival in North America was considerably after human habitation of the Eurasian landmass. More importantly, once the land bridge disappeared, the New World was no longer part of the larger "intercommunicating zone" of the Eurasian landmass to which every other human society was connected prior to 1492: the Pacific in particular was a formidable natural barrier. I have no idea what significance you attach to the "Asian source" of American Indians in the context of Diamond's argument (or who these 'more aboriginal' Americans are, though certainly evidence is now suggesting that the peopling of the Americas may have been a more complex affair than the old Asian land-bridge theory).

"The Chinese advantage allows progress, but doesn't explain constant historical displacement." Forgive me, but what the hell does that mean? If you're talking about the rise and fall of various dynasties and state formations in Chinese history, it's not as if that is a historical phenomenon which can be explained in any simple way by any historian, nor does Diamond do so.

Relations between nomadic pastoralists and sedentary cultivators in Eurasia's long history are not greatly discussed in Guns, Germs and Steel, but Diamond's general frame of reference fairly easily accomodates a broadly materialist, sociobiological understanding of those relations. I'm not sure what Mr. Heuisler thinks is the opposite of a "politically correct" discussion of the Mongols or Visigoths. Diamond doesn't deny their existence and his work in no way rules out their importance, so that can't be it.

The fundamental thrust of Diamond's work (with which I have a *reasonable* disagreement) is to argue that ecology, environment and genetics have had a profound impact on the long-term development of human societies. How is that "politically correct", exactly? What is the "non-politically correct" converse of it?


Timothy Burke - 2/5/2003

First, you might want to try to learn the distinction between an argument and a close-minded agenda. Meaning, questions on which reasonable people can disagree about what the evidence shows--and the competing interpretations that arise from different reasonable readings of the evidence--are not the same as a single-minded attempt to advance a narrow viewpoint. If Diamond is centrally concerned with a "politically correct viewpoint" (I'm still not clear what Mr. Heuisler regards here as the central politically correct claim in Diamond, given that Mr. Heuisler doesn't make clear what he regards as the non-political but correct interpretation of global history), then Diamond has surely chosen a rather roundabout approach to making that argument. Why not just cut to the chase and write more garden-variety hard-core briefs on behalf of multiculturalism?

"The geopgraphic advantages in North America are the same as Europe". Arguably so (and Diamond discusses this in detail) but as you yourself note, the human arrival in North America was considerably after human habitation of the Eurasian landmass. More importantly, once the land bridge disappeared, the New World was no longer part of the larger "intercommunicating zone" of the Eurasian landmass to which every other human society was connected prior to 1492: the Pacific in particular was a formidable natural barrier. I have no idea what significance you attach to the "Asian source" of American Indians in the context of Diamond's argument (or who these 'more aboriginal' Americans are, though certainly evidence is now suggesting that the peopling of the Americas may have been a more complex affair than the old Asian land-bridge theory).

"The Chinese advantage allows progress, but doesn't explain constant historical displacement." Forgive me, but what the hell does that mean? If you're talking about the rise and fall of various dynasties and state formations in Chinese history, it's not as if that is a historical phenomenon which can be explained in any simple way by any historian, nor does Diamond do so.

Relations between nomadic pastoralists and sedentary cultivators in Eurasia's long history are not greatly discussed in Guns, Germs and Steel, but Diamond's general frame of reference fairly easily accomodates a broadly materialist, sociobiological understanding of those relations. I'm not sure what Mr. Heuisler thinks is the opposite of a "politically correct" discussion of the Mongols or Visigoths. Diamond doesn't deny their existence and his work in no way rules out their importance, so that can't be it.

The fundamental thrust of Diamond's work (with which I have a *reasonable* disagreement) is to argue that ecology, environment and genetics have had a profound impact on the long-term development of human societies. How is that "politically correct", exactly? What is the "non-politically correct" converse of it?


Bill Heuisler - 2/5/2003

Mr. Burke,
The University of Tennessee student is correct. You are wrong.
Calling someone you disagree with an "intellectual illiterate" is both oxymoronic and foolish. Diamond's work is manifestly politically correct - anti-Western and pro-"victim-groups".

For those who have not read "Guns, Germs and steel", Diamond's theory can be stated briefly:
Europe and China had fertile lands that could grow abundant crops and large animals for domestication, whereas other areas of the earth (Africa, North America, Australia, etc.) did not.
So, he says, these Europeans and Asians had an advantage. They could feed large numbers of people who could then conceive new technologies (guns, steel) which allowed the fortunate Eurasians to dominate the rest of the earth's inhabitants and even to kill the unlucky with germs.
One is left with the conclusion that, had the ethnic/racial dispersal been reversed 10,000 years ago, the geographic results would be the same, but the dominant ethnic/racial groups would be black and "American" Indian.

The absurdities are obvious. The geographic advantages in North America are the same as Europe. The Chinese advantage allows progress, but doesn't explain constant historical displacement. He ignores migrations of stronger, more vigorous/warlike ethnic strains that throughout history have displaced weaker, more settled and civilized (dominant?) ethnic/racial groups - German tribes sacking Rome and Mongol nomads sacking Peking for instance. Diamond also ignores the Asian source of American Indians who crossed the Bering Land Bridge and probably displaced other (more aboriginal?) Americans.

Diamond's work is an obvious attempt to advance a politically correct viewpoint. Your failure to recognize this unmistakable fact, Mr. Burke, speaks volumes about your education.
Bill Heuisler


Jerry Sternstein - 2/5/2003

Here is another valuable article in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education, opposing the politicization of the academy in or out of the classroom. The author is Stanley Fish, certainly no stranger to controversy. Among many arguments he makes is "that it is immoral for academics or for academic institutions to proclaim moral views." According to Fish, "The university is primarily a place for teaching and research" and not for special pleading or the advancement of political agendas. If academics want to change the world, says Fish, they should do it on their own time.

This article is much worth reading.

Save the World on Your Own Time
By STANLEY FISH


Recently, Bob Kerrey, president of New School University, was besieged by students protesting his call for regime change in Iraq. The students accused Kerrey of "betraying the New School's pacifist legacy and miring the school in controversy" (The New York Times, December 5, 2002).

It is not clear from that report whether the students wanted Kerrey to come out against the war or refrain from pronouncing publicly on controversial nonacademic matters. I hope it was the second, because in my view no university, and therefore no university official, should ever take a stand on any social, political, or moral issue.

This is not Mr. Kerrey's view. He is quoted as saying that he did not want "this university ... to be led, like so many other universities in America, by presidents who are so concerned by fund-raising needs that they have no public opinion on anything that matters." Now, university presidents are citizens, and as citizens they have the right to express themselves on any matter; but when they speak as university presidents they should confine themselves to matters that matter academically. The alternative to an excessive focus on fund raising is not to have a lot of public opinions, but to have opinions that relate directly to the core educational activities that fund raising is supposed to subsidize.

Kerrey wants to be a virtuous citizen, and there are venues in which this worthy ambition can be pursued, but as president of an academic institution, the virtue he should be professing and protecting is the virtue of the academy. Academic virtue is the virtue that is or should be displayed in the course of academic activities -- teaching, research, publishing. Teachers should show up for their classes, prepare syllabuses, teach what has been advertised, be current in the literature of the field, promptly correct assignments and papers, hold regular office hours, and give academic (not political or moral) advice.

Researchers should not falsify their credentials, or make things up, or fudge the evidence, or ignore data that go against their preferred conclusions. Those who publish should acknowledge predecessors and contributors, provide citations to their sources, and strive always to give an accurate account of the materials they present. This is no small list of professional obligations, and faculty members who are faithful to its imperatives will have little time to look around for causes and agendas to champion.

My concern, however, is not with academic time management but with academic morality, and my assertion is that it is immoral for academics or for academic institutions to proclaim moral views.

The reason was given long ago by a faculty committee report submitted to the president of the University of Chicago. The 1967 report declares that the university exists "only for the limited ... purposes of teaching and research," and it reasons that "since the university is a community only for those limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness."

Of course it can and should take collective (and individual) action on those issues relevant to the educational mission -- the integrity of scholarship, the evil of plagiarism, the value of a liberal education. Indeed, failure to pronounce early and often on these matters would constitute a dereliction of duty.

The distinction I am insisting on -- between what a university properly stands for and what is, at most, tangential to its core activities -- can be illustrated by the recent debate about free-speech zones on campuses. Some activists on both the left and the right protest such zones and argue that the entire university should be a free-speech zone, one large Hyde Park corner, for after all isn't the university primarily a place for the unfettered expression of ideas? The answer is no. The university is primarily a place for teaching and research.

The unfettered expression of ideas is a cornerstone of liberal democracy; it is a prime political value. It is not, however, an academic value, and if we come to regard it as our primary responsibility, we will default on the responsibilities assigned us and come to be what no one pays us to be -- political agents.

It is entirely appropriate that special places and times (teach-ins, panel discussions, student rallies) be set aside for the airing of views on disputed matters, but such occasions should be understood in the strongest sense of the term as extracurricular; valuable and interesting to be sure, but not the point of the enterprise. Not everyone shares this understanding. Witness the instructor who included in his course description a request that conservative students go elsewhere, and the professor who, in the name of "openness," requires her students to subscribe to the tenets of tolerance and multiculturalism.

However, these lapses in individual judgment pale before the collective lapse of those who put pressure on universities to change practices of which they personally disapprove. In this category I would include the various calls for divestment, the movement to police the workplace conditions of the factories that supply the campus store with sweatshirts, the demand that sneaker manufacturers bring their labor practices into line with the preferences of student activists.

I am not saying that putting pressure on South Africa or Israel and agitating for workers' rights are not legitimate political actions. I'm just saying that political actions are what they are, which means that not everyone (either in the polity or the academic community) would approve them, which means that in endorsing them a university aligns itself with a partisan position, which means that sectors of the general public will come to regard the university as a special-interest lobby and decline to support it.

It might be objected that the line between the academic and the political is not so easy to draw; perhaps, but neither is it so difficult. The basic test of any action contemplated by a university should take the form of a simple question: Has the decision to do this (or not do this) been reached on educational grounds?

Let's suppose the issue is whether a university should finance a program of intercollegiate athletics. Some will say "yes" and argue that athletics contributes to the academic mission; others will say "no" and argue that it doesn't. If the question is decided in the affirmative, all other questions -- Should we have football? Should we sell sweatshirts? Should we have a marching band? -- are business questions and should be decided in business terms, not in terms of global equity. Once the university has committed itself to an athletics program it has also committed itself to making it as profitable as possible, if only because the profits, if there are any, will be turned into scholarships for student athletes and others.

The same reasoning applies to investment strategies. It is the obligation of the investment managers to secure the best possible return; it is not their obligation to secure political or social or economic justice. They may wish to do those things as private citizens or as members of an investment club, but as university officers their duty is to expand the endowment by any legal means available. The general argument holds also for those in charge of maintenance and facilities. The goal should be to employ the best workers at the lowest possible wages. The goal should not be to redress economic disparities by unilaterally paying more than the market demands. If you want to work for economic reform, pressure Congress to raise the minimum wage or otherwise alter conditions you could not and should not try to alter as an educational institution.

A university administration that does not hew (or at least try to hew) to the line I am drawing will set a bad example and encourage a confusion it might later have to rebuke. A couple of months ago, a professor of history at Saint Xavier university got into trouble when he replied to an e-mail message from an Air Force cadet by impugning the cadet's patriotism and suggesting that he and his colleagues were partly responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. The university's president found himself doing damage control, something he might have avoided had he looked at the professor's Web page where he would have found a declaration that teachers should teach "peace, freedom, diversity ... and challenge American unilateralism."

No, teachers should teach their subjects. They should not teach peace or war or freedom or obedience or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or antinationalism or any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk-show host. Of course they can and should teach about such topics -- something very different from urging them as commitments -- when they are part of the history or philosophy or literature or sociology that is being studied.

The only advocacy that should go on in the classroom is the advocacy of what James Murphy has identified as the intellectual virtues -- "thoroughness, perseverance, intellectual honesty" -- all components of the cardinal academic virtue of being "conscientious in the pursuit of truth" (The New York Times, September 15, 2002).

A recent Harris poll revealed that in the public's eye teachers are the professionals most likely to tell the truth; and this means, I think, that telling the truth is what the public expects us to be doing. If you're not in the pursuit-of-truth business, then you should not be in the university.

I was told something very different in the '60s when I was teaching at Berkeley. In the wake of the Free Speech Movement, a faculty union had been formed and I had declined to join it. Some members of the steering committee asked me why and I asked them to tell me about the union's agenda. They answered that the union would (1) work to change America's foreign policy by fighting militarism, (2) demand that automobiles be banned from the campus and that parking structures be torn down, and (3) speak out strongly in favor of student rights.

In response I said (1) that if I were interested in influencing government policy I would vote for certain candidates and contribute to their campaigns, (2) that I loved automobiles and wanted even more places to park mine, and (3) that I didn't see the point of paying dues to an organization dedicated to the interests of a group of which I was not a member. How about improvements in faculty salaries, better funding for the library, and a reduction in teaching load? You, sir, I was admonished, do not belong in a university. No, they didn't know what a university was and a lot of people still don't.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Stanley Fish, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes a monthly column for the Career Network on campus politics and academic careers. His most recent book is How Milton Works (Harvard University Press, 2001).


Clara Sherley-Appel - 2/5/2003

Having read Guns, Germs and Steel for my introductory Sociology course at RMWC, I agree with Mr. Burke.

Secondly, describing history in terms of class struggle is neither an uncommon nor a particularly biased form of historical interpretation. Just as with literature, there are myriad ways to analyze the changes occuring in our world.

Frankly, I think a professor *should* have views, and expressing and discussing those viewpoints is an important aspect of the learning proecss. What would an "unbiased" class entail? "Actual historical events," whatever those may be? I certainly would not be a history major if everything were to be described in names, dates and "actual events"--further, who presents the "facts" about these events? For example, during American involvement in the Spanish-American war, do we turn to the Spanish, the Americans, or the Filipinos? Each group has an entirely different interpretation on what happened.

Part of the study of history is historical analysis, which requires that we develop our own viewpoints and *theories* about given events. One of my professors at RMWC says that history is what changes. Merely presenting events themselves hardly does justice to history.

Thirdly, how is it that one can be discouraged from challenging a professor's viewpoint while noticing no bias in the discussion section of the class?

In reference to the student from the University of Central Oklahoma, being Jewish myself, I would like to ask what precisely is "anti-semitic" about raising questions over Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians? Anti-Zionist, yes. Anti-Semitic? Not so much.

I am sure that some of these complaints are valid, however it appears that several consist of hyperbole concerning professorial responses to the solipsistic world views espoused by students. Perhaps I am one of the stubborn few, but I have never come across a professor who intimidated me so fully that I felt unable to challenge him or her on his or her view when I felt it biased, whether or not that bias represented my own views. To play the part of the epistemologist, how can subjective creatures such as ourselves make any pretense of objectivity, especially when teaching events that are often hundreds or thousands of years old?

All in all, most of these respondants seem fully aware of the backhanded nature of their attacks, and consequently feel it unnecessary to provide examples (most, not all) or reveal their own biases. Don't you all write course evaluations? I'd suggest bringing these points up in private meetings with professors rather than spattering the internet with sophomoric expressions of your angst.


Derek Catsam - 2/5/2003

There is a very interesting article in the newest Chronicle of Higher Education on the issue of free speech and sites such as indoctrination.org and Pipes' website. It is by Daphne Patai at UMass and takes the basic argument that professors are up in arms about this sort of website because of implications for free speech while at the same time they support speech codes on campus. The Chronicle website is chronicle.com, but it often has many members-only articles, so many might have to find the hard copy. It is worth reading.


Timothy Burke - 2/4/2003

I'm not unsympathetic to some complaints of this kind. I think professors ought to be "biased", if by that we mean "have a distinctive interpretation of the issues and material at hand". No student would want to take a class with an impersonal robot. But part of the responsiblity you take on as a teacher is to nurture intellectual pluralism, to make students more capable in their own terms, to challenge everyone in the class, including yourself, to be open to persuasion.

That being said, the University of Tennessee student who complains that Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel is an anti-Western, "politically correct" book is pretty much an intellectual illiterate. I wonder if he/she even read the book. I wonder what the opposite "pro-Western", non-politically correct viewpoint to Diamond is. This is part of the problem with non-indoctrination.org. Rather than raising a legitimate question about pedagogy in academia and exploring it with some kind of reasonable standard, it's a dumping ground for a nightmare miscellany of disgruntlement that ranges from the well-documented, careful and wholly rational critiques to crude bashings by students who appear to have neither attended the course they're bashing nor read any of the materials assigned in it.


Timothy Burke - 2/4/2003

I'm not unsympathetic to some complaints of this kind. I think professors ought to be "biased", if by that we mean "have a distinctive interpretation of the issues and material at hand". No student would want to take a class with an impersonal robot. But part of the responsiblity you take on as a teacher is to nurture intellectual pluralism, to make students more capable in their own terms, to challenge everyone in the class, including yourself, to be open to persuasion.

That being said, the University of Tennessee student who complains that Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel is an anti-Western, "politically correct" book is pretty much an intellectual illiterate. I wonder if he/she even read the book. I wonder what the opposite "pro-Western", non-politically correct viewpoint to Diamond is. This is part of the problem with non-indoctrination.org. Rather than raising a legitimate question about pedagogy in academia and exploring it with some kind of reasonable standard, it's a dumping ground for a nightmare miscellany of disgruntlement that ranges from the well-documented, careful and wholly rational critiques to crude bashings by students who appear to have neither attended the course they're bashing nor read any of the materials assigned in it.


Irene - 2/2/2003

I found this fascinating, but wonder, why is this ok and Pipe's website not?

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