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Liberal Bias Indeed

Matt brings up an interesting point: How can there be a crisis of liberal bias (and more broadly, academic freedom) at Cornell if a professor can create a course that honestly investigates the questions raised by proponents of intelligent design -- a theory openly derided by President Rawlings?

Personally, I have only experienced true, consistent, systematic, and blatant bias in one class. Does that mean there's a widespread problem? Not necessarily. In courses where it counts, such as history, my professors have always been extremely fair and open to all ideas (at least those that are relevant and have merit) even when they have been explicit about their own views. In a film class, despite the fact that the professor declared Hollywood's global market dominance "terrorism ... and I mean that in every sense of the word," it was hard to see how his politics would matter in the eventual grading process.

Yet I still support, in part, the ideas behind David Horowitz's crusade. Why? Because it's a principle all universities should be able to stand by. Creating a statement to the effect that Cornell will not hire or fire professors on the basis of their political or religious affiliations (or lack thereof) -- that only peer-reviewed merit counts -- would change absolutely nothing, if in fact there is no bias to begin with. But it's a public statement of principle, and that matters.

Cornell's Campus Code of Conduct already states this implicitly, you say? Well, it also covers all of what's in the "Statement on Diversity and Inclusiveness." No one complains that it's superfluous. What policies Cornell chooses to broadcast reveals its priorities: witness the Big Red Arches.

Of course, it's hard to support something backed by someone with such far-right credentials as David Horowitz. At least he retains credibility; when Ward Churchill was coming under fire, he supported his right to speak at Hamilton College, where the invitation was eventually rescinded. Where I part ways with Mr. Horowitz is his proposal that schools (or worse, legislatures) should impose balance on professors' curricula, which seems an incredible breach of the very academic freedom he espouses. If I had to choose between autonomy or balance, I'd choose the former. U.S. universities retain their edge worldwide in part because of their decentralized structure. A better alternative would be to provide a clear, simple process to lodge complaints and appeals, run by a board composed of faculty.

(The course, for the record, was Africana 280. It's hard to imagine a more poorly run, ideologically driven indoctrination-fest, yet it's been one of the more popular at Cornell. A topic for another post, perhaps?)

Andy Guess | Posted on April 12, 2006 (#)

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