Abraham Shragge: Defends program from charges of bias

Historians in the News

... The Dimensions of Culture sequence [freshman comp, in effect] is required for all freshmen at UCSD’s Thurgood Marshall College, which as one of the university’s six undergraduate colleges has a unique mission. Conceived by faculty and students and founded in 1970, the college has been distinguished by a particular commitment to issues of diversity and social justice. The Dimensions of Culture program specifically is supposed to consider the question of “how scholars move from knowledge to action” as a central, overarching course objective in each of three quarters focusing, respectively, on diversity, justice and imagination. Billed by the college as a “study in the social construction of individual identity,” the curriculum covers a range of issues surrounding the human relationship to the self, work, community and nation.

But while the course has come under fire on the one hand for what the grad students say is its growing conservatism, so too does it come under fire for being too leftist to begin with. Students consistently complain of a left-leaning bias in the curriculum on evaluations, says Abraham Shragge, the Dimensions of Culture program director — even still.

Shragge, the program’s director for three years now and a historian who studies civilian/military relations, concedes that there was a problem several years ago when faculty failed to critically address the Family Research Council reading — a problem he says he attempted to address. But he takes issue with the argument that the program has been watered down, and questions the political motivations of those behind the campaign.

“The T.A.s who have been so critical of the program have argued that this should be a program in political indoctrination; it’s supposed to lead our students to political and social action. That’s not the purpose and it never was: This is social sciences, humanities, writing, with social justice as the backbone of the readings,” Shragge says.

“One thing we have done in recent years is add some material that does articulate the other side of the argument.... I know some of the T.A.s really object to the fact that our reader could include a reading from [free-market economist] Milton Friedman. ‘How can we do that?’ “

But, he continues, “If you look at the syllabus, there’s a lot of pretty hard-hitting material in there. I don’t believe that the course is conservative in any way: We’re criticized by many of our students for being too liberal, too left-wing.” Among the texts in the first section of the course (on diversity): George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” and Jonathan Kozol’s “Still Separate, Still Unequal: America’s Educational Apartheid.”...

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