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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Professor rights examined

By Emelie Heltsley
News Editor
and Jean Mullins
News Editor

Friday, March 11, 2005

Students and faculty filled Viking Theater Tuesday to discuss a professor's rights in the classroom. This forum, hosted by the Intellectual Diversity Task Force, featured William Gorton, assistant professor of political science, and Paul Zorn, chair of the mathematics department and professor of mathematics.

Gorton and Zorn spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about the place of a professor's personal opinions in the classroom. Conversation focused on political, religious and economic views.

The forum addressed the ongoing intellectual diversity debate, which contends that academic institutions have a liberal leaning and that political bias finds its way into the classroom.

Zorn opened the forum by stating his views on the place of professor's opinions in the classroom, reminding attendees that free speech is not without cost.

"Some ideas are genuinely hurtful," Zorn said, "And the best response to offensive speech is more speech, not silence."

Zorn supported the right of students and faculty to show unorthodox opinions and contribute unique thoughts to discussion, saying that diversity in the classroom is good and political indoctrination is bad.

Zorn stated that, while there are more liberals on the college campus, conservatives lack concrete evidence to back up their claims of a classroom bias.

"I have yet to see a conservative head on a liberal pike," Zorn said.

Zorn would consider it a "good thing to have more conservatives represented" on college campuses, but mentioned that, since liberals are well represented in academia, "they must be underrepresented somewhere else."

Zorn ended his opening remarks by stating that, just because liberals outnumber conservatives in academia, there is no reason for a lack of respect.

Gorton then took the podium, stating that a completely neutral atmosphere which presents all possible viewpoints and lacks any bias whatsoever is not desirable or plausible. All viewpoints do not deserve to have a fair hearing in the classroom, he said, mentioning astrology and fascism as two subjects which lack adequate scholarship to be taught.

Gorton defined the aim of professors as "not to present all viewpoints, but to present the viewpoints that have survived academic rigor." He mentioned that, in his classroom, he tries to "present all viewpoints deemed worthy, including conservative."

He continued by mentioning the advantages and disadvantages of professors making their beliefs known in class. Students could filter out the biases if they knew their professor's strong beliefs. But when a professor makes his or her beliefs known, it can "send out subtle signals about 'appropriate' views," Gorton said.

Gorton stressed, however, that the only way for students to truly appreciate and understand their own beliefs is to look at opposing viewpoints. He mentioned discussions in his classroom about tough moral issues, such as abortion and euthanasia, stating that "anyone with a hard and fast viewpoint hasn't really thought about it."

Intellectual Diversity Task Force co-heads Ishanaa Rambachan '08 and Victor Wong '08 then opened the floor to questions from students and faculty.

In response to the question of a lack of conservative viewpoints among students during class discussions, Gorton mentioned the professor's duty to bring conservative views into the discussion and fairly represent both sides of an issue.

One student asked how to get away from the uneducated attacks on viewpoints in the classroom, and Gorton mentioned the need to keep discourse elevated. Zorn noted how the attack of students' beliefs "reflects [our] highly adversarial culture," and stressed the need to enforce respect in the classroom. Gorton agreed, saying that "comments left unchecked can create an intimidating environment."

The Intellectual Diversity Task Force plans to send out a student questionnaire at the end of the year to gauge the level of intellectual diversity on campus and to measure student concern.

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