Academic Freedom Vs. Educating Students

A college professor teaching a wacky course? How could it happen here — here in “Police State USA:”

“The classroom where North Carolina Wesleyan College’s only political science professor is teaching a course titled “9/11; The Road to Tyranny” has become the latest battlefront in the ongoing campus culture war.

On Tuesday, the six students enrolled in the elective course taught by Jane T. Christensen were to attend the course’s final session: “Police State USA (Where Do We Go From Here?)”

Christensen’s course has conservatives raging against campuses loaded with unaccountable liberals. The president of N.C. Wesleyan, a school of 1,800 students 50 miles east of Raleigh in Rocky Mount, is defending her right to academic freedom.

“Slander and anti-Semitism are permitted by a bigot posing as a scholar,” Mike Adams, a criminal justice professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, wrote in an online critique on

…One text required in Christensen’s 9/11 course holds that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States were orchestrated and carried out by U.S. government elites. The course teaches that the official story about Sept. 11 is the result of “government involvement in the cover-up.”

The attacks were used by neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, acting on behalf of pro-Israel Zionists, as “a catalyst for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the attack on civil liberties in the United States,” according to the course’s syllabus.

“I teach the truth about 9/11 in all of my courses,” said Christensen, who also teaches classes on research methods and the American political system.

…Ian Newbould, N.C. Wesleyan’s president, defended Christensen in an interview.

“We don’t tell professors what to think. We don’t tell professors what to teach. The Eastern European Communist regimes, or Saddam Hussein for that matter, that’s what they did,” Newbould said Monday. “What makes America great is we don’t do that. I’ve often used a quotation that they say comes from Voltaire, ‘I may disagree with what you say but I’ll fight to your death your right to say it.'”

A year ago, Newbould participated in a panel discussion at a convention of independent college administrators about whether college presidents should express personal opinions on controversial national issues. He said presidents should stay in the background, while providing opportunities for campus discussion.”

Now, there’s no need to blow this out of proportion since we’re talking about a class with 6 students in it at a university most people have never even heard of. But, it’s still a great example of how ridiculously all-encompassing the concept of academic freedom has become at colleges in 2005.

Here we have a course that features bizarro-world conspiracy theories and sounds like it’s being taught by a lunatic. The title of the course’s final session is practically self-refuting. If it’s really “Police State USA” then why hasn’t Christensen been dragged off to a gulag already? Isn’t that what police states tend to do when people complain about how things are run publicly?

But what do we hear from Ian Newbould, N.C. Wesleyan’s president:

“We don’t tell professors what to think. We don’t tell professors what to teach. The Eastern European Communist regimes, or Saddam Hussein for that matter, that’s what they did. What makes America great is we don’t do that.”

This is like reading one of the cockeyed Hitler comparisons that you come across on the internet so often:

“Well, ya know. Bush fought wars and Hitler fought wars. Plus, did you know Nazis were patriotic, just like Americans are? Therefore, Bush is Hitler and America is Nazi Germany!”

Nobody is asking universities to actually make professors read every word off of some script prepared by Commie bureaucrats at the “Central Planning Office.” But, is it too much to ask that the teachers be sane? Does that make us like Saddam Hussein, too?

Every time something like this happens, we get lectured about academic freedom & about the responsibility of the University to make sure that the teachers’ views aren’t unfairly squelched.

The problem is that the concept of academic freedom isn’t being weighed against the fact that there are young, easily-influenced students, paying the university to get an education, and they’re not being well-served by being taught this sort of garbage. Why isn’t the education of the students — which should be the number one job at a university — being treated as if it’s as important as the right of professors to get paid to profligate nutball theories to students? The priorities at a lot of universities in this country, not just North Carolina Wesleyan College, are out of whack…

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