Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? Round II

[Indoctrinate U, a documentary by Evan Coyne Maloney on the state of intellectual freedom at American universities, premiered at the Kennedy Center in September 2007 and has screened in multiple locations since. Peter Berkowitz, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called Indoctrinate U a “riveting documentary about the war on free speech and individual rights waged by university faculty and administrators…” John K. Wilson, founder of The Institute for College Freedom, doesn’t think the film’s quite fair. He provided us a critique of Indoctrinate U and invited us to solicit Maloney’s response. You can read Wilson’s original review, and Maloney’s response here. Below is their second round of comments. Indoctrinate U is screening at select campuses and theaters in the near future; check the film’s website for more information (and read our original review here.)]

No.
By John K. Wilson

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 KC 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.
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John K. Wilson is the founder of the Institute for College Freedom (collegefreedom.org) and the author of Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies (Paradigm Publishers, 2008). This response appeared originally at College Freedom.com

Yes
By Evan Coyne Maloney

In my last exchange with John K. Wilson, he tried making the case that Indoctrinate U suffers from “biases, distortions, and omissions” and that I am only a fair-weather friend of free speech.

My response pointed out the various ways in which Wilson makes off-base assumptions about my views. It seems that unless Wilson hears me explicitly state an opinion, he simply assumes I hold whatever position he disagrees with most and proceeds to argue against me from there.

And in his response-to-my-response-to-his-critique, Wilson does it again.

As reluctant as I am to encourage him to issue another interrogatory of my views, Wilson does ask three direct questions that merit answers. He introduces his questions in this discussion:

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.

I appreciate Wilson’s questions, but first I need to address another one of those pesky assumptions by turning the tables and asking him a question. He claims, “conservatives in the movie (including Maloney) seem to advocate censorship in a few cases.”

So, my question: When and in what way did I “seem to” advocate censorship?

Perhaps Wilson would have me preface each case in the film with a disclaimer: “Warning: Even though the following scene contains no call for censorship, please be aware that the following scene contains no call for censorship.”

Anyway, getting back to his questions…

Question 1: “Does [Maloney] believe that Foothill College should have banned flyers criticizing the conservative student?”

No, I don’t, and I never said I did.

My purpose in going to Foothill was to try to determine if a professor was responsible for producing the flyers in question. If a professor of Ahmad al-Qoloushi wrote flyers disparaging him, it would be a major revelation that would add to the public’s understanding of the story. And because those flyers were literally stamped with the approval of the school, someone in the administration had to know whether a professor submitted those flyers for approval.

Unfortunately, I ran into a comically evasive administrator who stonewalled, stammered and summoned the police. So I never got a straight answer.

In the film, I wanted the audience to see the contrasts among the different handling of controversial flyers at different schools. At a number of schools, rather tame flyers have been censored, sometimes leading to Kafkaesque disciplinary proceedings that drag on for months. Yet in this case, flyers attacking a student by name got the school’s official stamp of approval. Merely pointing out this contrast should not be confused with advocating censorship.

Question 2: “Does [Maloney] believe that the professor in Michigan who denounced a student’s op-ed on affirmative action should have been punished or fired?”

(In the case Wilson references, a professor harshly criticized a student in class over her letter in the school paper. In the letter, the student discussed her multi-racial family and how it informed her opinion against racial preferences.)

In general, I think that a professor who uses class time to give political lectures when the issues involved have nothing to do with the class is acting in an unprofessional manner. Doubly so when the professor is haranguing a student over political views that she never expressed in class and that had nothing to do with the topic being taught.

Do I think the professor should be fired or otherwise punished? Not for this. But I’d hope that someone somewhere in the university would remind this professor what it means to act like a professional.
And if students ever decided to demand a refund for the portion class time wasted on off-topic political rants by professors who repeatedly and egregiously abuse their academic freedom, a school would be on thin moral ground to deny that refund.

Academic freedom bears a cost that is paid for by tuition and tax dollars, and it carries with it the expectation that professors will use that freedom to fulfill their educational responsibilities to students.
Having said all that, I think that professors should be given absolute freedom to discuss whatever controversial topics they wish in the classroom, when it relates to the educational purpose of the class. And outside of class, of course, professors are free to say whatever they’d like.

Question 3: “Does [Maloney] endorse David Horowitz and ACTA’s efforts to stop professors from discussing politics in classes?”
Wilson refers to a person and an organization, each with a long history of activism in academic circles, so I’m not entirely sure what efforts in particular he’s asking me to discuss.

I think my answer above covers my view of political advertising in class well enough.

But in case it’s still not clear where I stand, rather than consign myself to an infinite loop of questions aimed at determining whether I really am a genuine supporter of free speech in Wilson’s eyes, let me offer a rough outline of my thinking:

– People should have the right to speak their minds
– Academic freedom does not exempt professors from criticism
– Feeling offended by speech does not give one the right to suppress it
– People should not be forced to finance the speech of others
– If a person declines to finance the someone else’s speech, that is not censorship
– The right to speak encompasses groups, so that assembly and protest are possible
– A protest that disrupts an event or otherwise interferes with the speech or movement of others is not covered by the concept of free speech

Hopefully this list will help make Wilson’s future assumptions about my views a little more accurate.

But, in the end, it may not matter much. I don’t think I’m going to persuade him. The author of a book called The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education might have a vested interest in not being persuaded by the data and cases covered in Indoctrinate U.

Wilson closes his piece with a plug for one of his other books and a call to “unite in the struggle for freedom of expression.”

As Wilson knows from my previous response, I publicly defended Ward Churchill’s speech rights despite comments that I personally found abhorrent. I’m already on the free-speech-in-the-abstract team. But since Wilson still seems not to believe me, I’ll just end with something I wrote last September:

Erwin Chemerinsky, “a well-known liberal expert on constitutional law” according to the Los Angeles Times, was hired and then quickly fired by the Irvine campus of the University of California. The culprit, says Chancellor Michael V. Drake, was “conservatives out to get” Chemerinsky. Later on, an “emotional” Drake, “his voice at times quivering,” reversed his position and “said there had been no outside pressure and that he had decided to reject Chemerinsky” himself because the professor’s views were “polarizing.”

Given the unreliability of Chancellor Drake’s public testimony, it’s hard to know whether there really was a conservative cabal trying to take out Chemerinsky, or whether he was just the victim of a spineless administrator seeking to avoid controversy. Either way, the only decent thing for the university to do is to re-hire Chemerinsky, assuming he’d be forgiving enough to take the job instead of taking the school to court.

[…]

If there was a concerted effort among conservatives to block Chemerinsky, they probably felt justified in doing so, thinking that they’d just be preventing the dominant campus thinking from dominating another campus. But it’s hard to argue for tolerance of your views when you’re damaging the career of a man whose only transgression is disagreeing with you.

Whatever the sequence of events that led to Chemerinsky’s firing, conservatives who believe that their views deserve better respect on campus must stand with him on principle.

And who knows? Maybe the next time a conservative professor runs into career trouble for his or her views, some decent-hearted decision-maker will think back to this story and remember how not to act.

Respect can be brought back to campus if only enough people have the courage to practice it.

———————————————
Evan Coyne Maloney is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in New York City. “Indoctrinate U”, his first feature-length film, premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC last September. The film was recently released to the public and is available online at indoctrinate-u.com. Maloney is a 1994 graduate of Bucknell University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. This response originally appeared at Brainterminal.

9 thoughts on “Indoctrinate U. Was It Fair? Round II

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  4. Kurt, obviously you are missing a point. You did not listen to the episode of Skepticality that covers the film “Expelled”. On the episode they cover that Ben Stine deliberately took the scientists took the scientists out of context to make them look like fools.
    Saying that the Discovery Institute dose not advocate creationism is like saying the Catholic Church advocates Catholicism and not Christianity. Intelligent design and creationism are interchangeable. In fact, Dean H. Kenyon, fellow of the Discovery Institute, in his joke of a book “Of Pandas and People” replaced every mention of “creationism” or “creation science” with “intelligent design” for the second edition.
    It is besides the fact, that has been pointed at over and over again, INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT SCIENCE! The Catholic Church ruled that intelligent design is not science! John E. Jones, a Lutheran judge, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled that intelligent design is not science! It is not science by the very nature of its argument. Saying “God did it.” or “Someone must have designed it.” is not an acceptable scientific argument! You need proof of the designer! Which there is NONE!
    Persecuted!? Not receiving tenure is hardly persecution. It is very difficult to receive tenure as a college professor. You need to display a strong record of teaching and research. I will assume that these professors who advocate intelligent design, and applied for tenure for a science position, have neither a strong teaching or research record.
    Being denied a promotion, again, is hardly persecution. When was the last time you asked your boss for a promotion and cried “persecution” if you didn’t get it. If these “scientists” who advocate intelligent design are seeking promotions in scientific positions, they will have a very hard time. Since it has been displayed on multiple occasions that intelligent design is not science!
    Being denied publication, again, is hardly persecution. In order to have a scientific article published it must stand up to peer review. I will assume that these “scientists” are attempting to publish articles advocating intelligent design. That would be a very difficult peer review process to get by. Because as we have established… (do I really need to say it again?)
    There is no such thing as “Darwinian orthodoxy”. In fact there is a fertile debate regarding the the finer points of evolution, debate like weather natural selection or evo-devo have a stronger impact on genetic expression. There are scientists who believe in God like Ken Williams, but that is only because he is a good genetic scientist and dose not try to prove the existence of God through his research.
    If there is a reason why there are scientists being ostracized in the social circles of scientists, it is because the theory of evolution has been proven to a point where it is absurd to question it. It is like a scientist trying to publish an article advocating the position that the Earth is flat. Or a scientist attempting to receive tenure for his research on how the Earth is the center of the universe.

  5. Ray, you sound like one of those naifs who still believe the storybook description of science: the dispassionate search for truth, where all scientists are at all times and to the ultimate degree objective, self-effacing, ready to acknowledge the shortcomings of their theories, always welcoming healthy debate with their peers. The truth is that science is a human enterprise, complete with all of the foibles that humans are known for: territoriality, power struggles, orthodoxies, fraud, closed-mindedness, etc. All of these occur at times and in varying degrees.
    Why listen to the opinion of an ideologue like Dawkins, who makes no bones about having an axe to grind, when you can straight to the source? Anyone can read the writing of intelligent design theorists at the Discovery Institute and elsewhere. I have; and you apparently have not. And while I myself am not in the ID camp, I can say that these people are *not* espousing creationism. Those who try to paint them with the creationist brush are either ignorant or disingenuous. As scientists, ID theorists are saying something very specific. They may be ultimately wrong, there may be plenty of explanations for what they see as holes in current scientific theories, but such debate is the heart and soul of science. Any “science” which has squelched debate is dead.
    So they deserve a hearing. However, while perhaps no one is being persecuted for *believing* in ID theory (whatever that means), many of those who discuss or espouse ID, or indeed those who question the Darwinian orthodoxy even if they do not embrace ID, *are* being persecuted: they are being denied tenure, promotion, publication, etc. This is incontrovertible fact. That is the point that “Expelled” is trying to make.
    I notice that you also fail to appreciate the distinction between evolution (via natural selection, which is both a process and a theory) and Darwinism, which has many possible meanings, most of them broader than the theory of evolution. For example, there are some atheists who point to Darwin’s theories (evolution via natural selection being prominent among them) as significant evidence supporting their disbelief in God or divine beings. Some refer to this attitude as “Darwinism”, though this is by no means the only meaning of the term. Contrast this with the many Christians who do embrace evolution as a scientific theory and still believe in a divine Creator. These would be creationists in the broadest sense, though not the “young earth creationists” that most people use the term to refer to these days. From Barbara’s post, it seems that when she uses the phrase “Darwinian orthodoxy”, she is referring not so much to the theory of evolution as rather to the social aspect, the collection of those scientists who not only embrace the theory of evolution, but will brook no dissent, particularly those who resist any suggested theory or criticism that could be perceived as providing a toe-hold for “religionists” within science. This social group does indeed form a orthodoxy. It is a very apropos term.

  6. I must apologize, but the last comment just made me angry! “Expelled” is a terrible film! It is a tool created by the Discovery Institute in order to push a creationist agenda and to make it look like creationists are being persecuted. Nobody is being persecuted for believing in intelligent design.
    And evolution, or “Darwinism” as you so derisively refer to it as, is not an orthodoxy. It is a science. Science is the means in which we observe the physical universe through the examination of physical evidence. Science is always changing and improves on past mistakes.
    Intelligent design has been proven over and over again not to be science. It is not a theory. It is not even a hypothesis. It is an assumption based on no observable evidence.
    To everyone reading this, to everyone who thinks that “Expelled” actually has a valid point to make, and especially the poster above, I encourage you to download episode #074 of the Skepticallity podcast. In that episode they interview the scientists that are featured in the documentary “Expelled”, Richard Dawkins and Dr. Micheal Shermer. They dispel all myths set up by the film.
    http://www.skepticality.com/index.php

  7. I attended the premier of “Indoctrinate U” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and was alternately amused and repulsed by the hypocritical and cowardly college administrators and professors who embarrassed themselves in Evan Maloney’s brilliant and disturbing film.
    Then I attended a screening of “Expelled” – another documentary starring Ben Stein that explored to similar comic effect a very serious subject: the blacklisting of academics who publicly embrace the theory of intelligent design. These scientists, ridiculed as “creationists,” are being hounded out of the academy, but their critics are not required to address the substantive scientific objections to the prevailing Darwinian orthodoxy.
    These two films in tandem depict a closed, stratified system of higher education that persecutes any student or professor who dares question anything beyond a proscribed set of beliefs stamped with an elite imprimatur. As a result, colleges and universities today are as rigidly doctrinaire as they were in the Middle Ages.

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