Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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HB 1122 under consideration in the South Dakota Legislature would require that universities file an annual report with the legislature on their efforts to insure intellectual diversity on their campuses. South Dakota public universities have been under the control of politicians for some time, and this bill would provide further pretext for pre-empting academic leadership and putting political agendas in its place.
Obviously, the authors of this bill do not have any experience with education, higher or otherwise, at least in working on the delivery of it. Most professors let their political and philosophical orientations be known. They consider it important to show students that they have intellectual stances but also to demonstrate that those stances do not intrude upon their scholarship, their teaching, and their evaluation of student work. Some professors prefer to avoid any possible accusation of ideological bias by refusing to reveal or talk about their political and philosophical preferences. On occasion, people who hold professorial positions do let their politics, their religious affiliation or lack of it, or other beliefs intrude into their work. However, there are disciplinary procedures for dealing with work that is biased and unfair.
Students, for example, have grievance procedures if they think their work is unfairly evaluated or if they think they have been downgraded for holding political views in opposition to their professors'. Such grievances can lead to having the student work reviewed by an outside panel of professors and students, usually from institutions other than the one where the dispute arose. I have sat on a number of those panels. On most of them, we upheld the professors' judgments.
In a few cases, the panel ruled in favor of the students. But in those cases, the problems with the professors were evident to everyone in contact with them. In a word, they were incompetent. They were professors who had already been informed that their contracts would not be renewed because of gross negligence, gross incompetence, or failure to perform assigned duties. In one case, the professor turned every class into a harangue for a particular cause. Students complained, but the administration had already taken measures to dismiss the professor. The problem was that they gave the professor the opportunity to finish the term. That was a mistake.
In another case that comes to mind, the professor was not reading most of the tests and essays submitted to him. Those that he did read often showed that he did not accurately understand what was in them. When the panel looked at student work, the professor had already been suspended, and the panel was actually called in to support his firing. We did.
In the cases where professors were at fault, there was evidence that they should not have been hired in the first place or that their performances as professors were being ignored. In one case, the problem involved a senior professor who was seriously ill.
However, in most cases the professors were not found to be at fault. The professors demonstrated that the evaluations of students that were challenged were based upon work and the grades assigned to the students were consistent with the grade patterns for their classes. The students tended to be competitive, and they thought their work was better than it actually was. In those cases, the professors had done their testing and evaluations diligently and could produce strong, objective evidence to support their evaluations. Student egos, not professors' biases, were the issues in those cases.
When the primary sponsor of HB 1122 was interviewed by the Rapid City Journal, she said that a concern was speakers on campuses being shouted down and prevented from delivering their speeches. This is not a matter of intellectual diversity. It is a matter of manners. Incidents where this has happened take place in extra-curricular venues that have little to do with university policy and administration. They have to do with students going wild. In a blog commentary, someone cited occasions where Gen. William Westmoreland was shouted done, as if this is something that campus liberals do to conservatives. We also recall an incident in which Secretary of State Madeline Albright was prevented from speaking in Ohio. In fact, we recall a whole bunch of incidents in the 1960s and 1970s, some of which involved students shouting down their university presidents.
HB 1122 and insuring intellectual diversity has no bearing whatever on misbehaving students. They have vandalizing riots, such as have occurred at Madison, Wis., and East Lansing, Mich., in recent years. They go to the Carribean on spring breaks and get on television by getting bombed and flashing honkers. They shout down speakers sometimes because they'd prefer listening to heavy metal rock, or something. It has nothing to do with intellectual diversity and establishing hiring practices to give certain political stances louder voices in campus affairs.
Politics can and should be discussed in the academic setting. The controlling criteria is professors competent in their disciplines and doing a fair job of presenting the issues by including all relevant points of view.A bill to require intellectual diversity sets the stage for the requirement to teach things such as creationism in advanced biology courses. The bill would introduce political agendas as a consideration in course syllabi. Its purpose is to gain political control over curriculum, course content, and extra-curricular programs.
If passed, the bill would provide a prime reason for talented and serious students to go to college at private schools or out-0f-state.