WASHINGTON – Universities were criticized for their lack of “intellectual diversity” by witnesses in a Senate hearing Wednesday.
“There appears to be an increasing number of incidents in which alternative viewpoints are either silenced or ignored in the classroom – often with hostility or disdain,” said Sen. Judd Gregg,R-N.H.,the committee chairman.
Witnesses testified before the Committee on Health,Education,Labor and Pensions about how the types of courses offered and the ideological biases of professors affect students’ education.
Gregg said professors are not representative of the political views that are held by a majority of people today. He cited a poll by the Angus-Reid polling firm that said 72 percent of faculty members surveyed at 140 colleges and universities were politically liberal and only 15 percent were conservative.
Gregg sponsored legislation called the Higher Education for Freedom Act to create programs and centers that would provide materials to educate students of all ages on “traditional American history.”
David Johnson,a professor of history at Brooklyn College,testified that he suffered from intellectual discrimination. He said the college attempted to deny him tenure because of his “ideals and academic values.”
He said he teaches political,diplomatic and constitutional history,subjects he said are perceived as conservative. Other history classes focus on the working class,minorities,women and gays,he said. He has been branded a conservative because of what he teaches,he said,even though he is liberal.
Johnson said classes that focus on specific groups are important,but a broad survey of history is vital to helping students understand the world they live in.
“All we want is some sense of balance,” he said.
“Since 1960,professors have changed,” he said. “There is more emphasis on race,class and gender,which was originally thought to create balance,but now it is the only view.”
Johnson cited courses at Evergreen State College,in Olympia,Wash.,which he said offers two courses on 20th century U.S. political history called “Dissent,Injustice and the Making of America” and “Inherently Unequal.” He said the second course was based on the premise that African American progress has been hindered by racist opposition and conservative government structures.
Sen. Lamar Alexander,R-Tenn.,agreed that there was little diversity in the viewpoints of college professors. He said universities should encourage students to think differently about subjects. In physics and sciences,for example,he said students are rewarded for thinking differently.
“What is disturbing to me is that we've created wonderful colleges and universities,but on those campuses,all thought goes one way,” he said.
Anthony Dick,a student at the University of Virginia,said he expected an environment that encouraged open discussion of ideas. But he said not all professors are fair to all opinions.
He said university policies that prohibit racial or ethnic slurs “imply a threat of punishment for engaging in constitutionally protected expression.”
A columnist for the student newspaper who said he is a Democrat,Dick founded the Individual Rights Coalition along with other students to promote free speech for all political viewpoints.
“Students are silencing themselves,” he said. “When they see their views disagreed with,they may hold back.”