Letters to the Editor. Accuracy in Academia: monitoring the classroom
To have the media acknowledge potential threats to academic freedom is reassuring [``Angling for red herrings in academe, Dec. 9'']. The objectives of Accuracy in Academia (AIA) can indeed have a chilling effect. On occasion I have thought that it might be stimulating to have student monitors in class, their presence paid for, while they showed interest, focus, skepticism, and challenge to received authority -- qualities that every professor encourages from his good students. But on balance, the potential they bring for disruption, and the fact that they represent judgments of ``correct beliefs'' derived from outside the university community make them a very great risk indeed. Universities are already faced with similar risks, and they have faced them without much media attention. For example, a black professor at a SUNY campus, recently denied tenure, found himself the focus of considerable political pressure from off-campus groups for including in his syllabus a sect ion that equated Zionism with racism. He was even publicly denounced by the governor of the State of New York. Professors at Marquette and Howard Universities have been censored for classroom remarks made about blacks in American life. Many of my colleagues have reported the chill they feel knowing that their lectures and illustrations are being monitored for their sexist content. In Arizona, citizens' groups have brought pressure on a university Middle East studies group and a high school program of study because the content of each was perceived to be pro-Palistinian.
There are differences between the organized monitoring of Marxist orientation by AIA and the real concern with eradicating sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism from schools. As to the methods employed by outside pressure groups, I hope the differences in response do not reduce to the fact that one pressure may coincide with our own political values while another may not. It is equally risky to be so selective in our denunciation and silent approval. D. W. Murray Brandeis University Department of Anthropology Waltham, Mass.
The effort to monitor the classrooms of America's universities to weed out the ``Marxist threat'' points out the uncertainty and insecurity of the people behind it.
John Stuart Mill observed that even a false statement may make a valuable contribution to public debate, since it brings about ``the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.''
The risks that the introduction of censorship into the classroom presents are many. The most serious is sheltering students from different and controversial ideas. This lack of broad exposure caused by the homogenization of the educational process will result in a generation which is easily manipulated. Such consequences in a democratic society are the greatest threat to its survival. David T. Musselman Cleveland Heights, Ohio
The editorial, ``Defending academic freedom'' Dec. 4, states that students ``from their first freshmen days ought to analyze professors' views'' after having started from the premise that they are in college to ``develop analytical skills.'' By implying that college students are able to defend themselves against Marxist indoctrination, you ignore the fact that their analytical underdevelopment and desire to earn high marks place them at a distinct disadvantage to Marxist professors.
The assertion that ``young people need to be exposed to a variety of ideas'' is not a principle Marxists believe in. That is why Marxists and other leftists disrupt speeches by anticommunists such as Caspar Weinberger, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Eldridge Cleaver on many American college campuses.
Marxists should be free to express their views on campuses. Also those who value freedom should be free to challenge Marxist doctrines without being subjected to cowardly sniping about ``McCarthyism.'' Mark Hendrickson New Wilmington, Pa.
``Defending academic freedom'' is an appropriately titled description of the goals of Accuracy in Academia (AIA). However, your understanding of AIA's objectives is far off the mark.
You say ``young people need to be exposed to a variety of ideas . . . and engage in rigorous intellectual debate with proponents of various concepts.'' We couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, this intellectual exchange cannot occur when professors seek to impose only one point of view on their students. The primary objective of AIA is to enlarge academic freedom by increasing the flow of information in the classroom.
The editorial says that ``Accuracy in Academia is trying to recruit college students to monitor professors . . . .'' There is nothing further from the truth. Students on 150 college campuses have contacted AIA to complain about distortions and inaccuracies in their classes.
You say ``the people under attack should be faced by their accusers willing to identify themselves.'' We would prefer that students openly challenge their professors about complaints. However, many of them fear that they will be penalized with bad grades for doing so.
You recommend that ``any problems of academic imbalance ought to be dealt with by the faculty or administration. Or by the students, who . . . ought to analyze professors' views rather than accept them unquestioningly.''
We agree. But the spread of inaccurate and distorted information proves that the situation has not been effectively remedied from inside. The deluge of complaints received by AIA is a measure of students' concern with questioning and challenging their professors' views.
Encouraging intellectual debate on college campuses will result in better-educated students. Our campaign to restore balance and fairness to the classroom is designed to increase the information flow, not restrict it. ``Accuracy'' is hardly a neutral term, as you contend. There is nothing neutral about being correct. Deborah Lambert Accuracy in Academia Inc.
The Dec. 4 editorial that suggested the organization, Accuracy in Academia, is ``reminiscent of the chilling McCarthy era of the 1950s'' is unworthy of the Monitor.
Considering the obvious leftward ideological bent of the country's most influential newspapers and the television networks, and the irrefutable evidence of it continually uncovered by Accuracy in Media, the establishment of Accuracy in Academia was long overdue.
The idea that academic imbalance could be dealt with by students analyzing the views of the professors charged with instructing them seems at least naive. Is or is not Marxism an ideology inimical to our society? Then why defend exposing our college students to its propaganda in the name of academic freedom? What woolly thinking masquerades as broadmindedness! Walter M. Edwards Sedona, Ariz.