Will NoIndoctrination.org enhance or undermine free speech?

A new Web site http://www.noindoctrination.org/index.shtml allows college students nationwide to anonymously accuse their professors – who are named – of political bias. By following the link you can see that at this point in time the site includes only a handful of posts.

The site home page says that the site will help prevent the suppression of alternative views.

OTOH some professors called the site “silly” and “cowardly.” Presumably the charge of cowardice is based on the anonymity of the accusers. Furthermore, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education implies that the postings may be inaccurate.

However, NoIndoctrination.org responds

In addition to debating whether this site will do more good than harm, there is the question of whether it will even succeed. At the moment it contains a mere 22 posts.

My guess is that it will succeed, because it fills a need. Speaking as a parent who spent a small fortune providing higher education to my daughters, I would have great interest in information that tells me what they were getting for my money.

I would imagine that some frustrated students will be happy to have a place to express their displeasure at a particular course.

This is unquestionably the biggest pile of crap I’ve heard about in at least two days.

What is actually going to happen on this website is that students will accuse professors of “bias” mostly when the students have different biases. I absolutely, positively guarantee that the accusing students will be, to a wildly disproportiate degree, the most politically biased students on their campuses.

I don’t really have any problem with the idea from a free-speech angle. I do think that, were I a professor, I’d be pretty unhappy about some Web site containing anonymous criticism of me. The academic world is predicated on taking responsibility both for one’s own thoughts and for the thoughts of the grad students working for you, and professors are used to being able to respond specifically to the people criticizing them.

Besides, anonymous hate mail sucks to receive.

But I don’t expect that the site will do much good. When I was in college, I took very seriously the advice my friends gave me about different professors (she’s a great lecturer, he doesn’t know his subject matter, etc.), but that’s because I knew and trusted my friends. There’s no way I’d trust some anonymous bozo on the Internet to give me advice about professors.

I’d love to see a bunch of pinko students complain on the site about the free-market indoctrination they receive in their economics courses, though :).

Daniel

Um, I actually don’t see a problem with professors having political bias. In November 2000 my daughter was in high school and had several of her teachers rant and rave about one side or t’other, and she seemed to be able to understand that just because, say, her World History teacher thought Gore wuz robbed didn’t have anything to do with the curriculum.

She’s a freshman in college now, and if she came home and said that her Chemistry professor couldn’t stop talking about the New Republican Mandate, I wouldn’t be unduly disturbed.

However, apparently the website isn’t addressing the problem of simple “political bias”–it’s addressing what it perceives as “indoctrination” by extremely political professors in a climate of academic oppression.

They’re making it sound like college students have no rights of free speech, that they aren’t allowed to express their dissatisfaction, that there are no venues for criticism, which is not true. All colleges have newspapers, for one thing. If there really were a professor who was [ quote unquote ] “Indoctrinating” his students, I’d think it would be featured on Page 1 of the Panther Tracks, or at least in the Letters column.

Most colleges already have evaluation and review procedures set up whereby students are enabled to make their voices heard. It’s not like the Administration is composed of KGB agents who take you out behind the Student Services building and shoot you if you complain about a course.

I’m not sure what need the website would address, other than the general need of college students to vent about their teachers.

I also notice that the website is founded and run by parents–

http://www.noindoctrination.org/aboutus.shtml

–to which I respond, “WTF?” If college kids think they’re being indoctrinated and oppressed, shouldn’t it be their responsibility to get the facts and fight for their intellectual freedom? Must they wait for Mommy and Daddy to form a committee and fix it for them?

On the whole free speech is a Good Thing[sup]tm[/sup] and allowing people a forum to express their problems is certainly useful.

That said such a site is liable to be used by either disgruntled students or, as RickJay pointed out, students with their own agenda to advance. I forget what the loose stat is but in corporations it is generally accepted that you will get something like ten complaints to every one kudos. People simply tend to be motivated more to write when pissed off than when they are happy.

Also, I am unsure that it is possible to entirely avoid bias in any class. Professors are human too and bring their own experiences to the classroom. Hopefully the better ones will try and encourage various viewpoints different from their own but when I was in college I knew many people who wrote a given paper to the professor’s viewpoint rather than their own. Not ideal I know but not the end of the world either. Higher education has managed to get this far so I don’t know that the perceived problem is as great as No Indoctrination might make it out to be.

Okay, here’s who Luann Wright is, and here’s her agenda. Apparently what happened was, her son had to get up and defend his views in a writing class that she thought sounded racist, but she can’t just take issue with the professor in question–she has to make it into a Cosmic Event and start up a website hollering about “indoctrination”.

The original Chronicle article requires a $ub$scription.

http://noindoctrination.org/response01.shtml

And there’s this.

So someone has already posted to the website under the name of a Barnard professor who is actually no longer with the school. Yes, “Too many of our postings report such abuse.” I look forward to seeing posts from George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden, and Prince Michael Jackson II.

::sigh:: As you should well be aware, NoIndoctrination.org will have absolutely no impact on free speech, as NoIndoctrination.org is not a governmental agency.

Sua

What is this supposed to imply?

“The [Economics] department would not divulge her [Cecilia Rao]current whereabouts.”

Is that supposed to sound sinister? Why would Barnard College give NoIndoctrination.org private information about a former professor?

This has got to be a joke…right?

I mean, what can they do if you DO report your professors?

:confused:

Maybe there should be a site where bias by clergymen in their church sermons is reported.

How much credibility will these annonumous attacks have? Very little is my guess. Does the site even have the ability to check that the posts are written by actual students?

A better solution would be at the university level to have someone like a newspaper ombudsman. Students who have a problem can report to the ombudmsan confidentially but not annonymously. The ombudsman then investigates the complaint and makes a report with recommendations if necessary.

With this kind of institution the web might play a useful role in that universities can put the ombudsmans’ reports online for students’ convenience. But absent this kind of institutional setting, a web-site like this seems a recipe for irresponsible accusations by politically motivated students. I doubt serious people will pay it much attention.

Is it a great enough need that you would be willing to pay for it?cause otherwise that site probably won’t be around all that long.

Once again, the Internet has formed another channel for people with too much time on their hands to bitch about nothing.

Somehow, I don’t think these people quite get the point of a college education…

Uh, because every student should have to defend their opinions verbally in front of their classmates. How else would they learn how to support an argument? (Of course, if the instructor really requires students to defend their views if they hold Opinion X, but not Opinion Y, one group of students is indeed getting shortchanged – but not the one the author seems to think.)

I think it’s an extremely silly web site, but unlikely to have much effect on the academic world one way or the other.

Fretful, my ex-girlfriend went to the UNC-CH business school, and told me about a kind of scary experience. One of her professors was talking about (I think) unionization, and said something questionable. A fellow student raised his hand and challenged the professor’s statement. The prof ignored the challenge and continued the lecture.

Afterwards, he pulled that student aside and said, “Don’t you EVER question me in class again, do you understand?”

Obviously, I’ve got no cite for this incident – I heard about it secondhand myself, and it was about seven years ago. However, I definitely think that this sort of behavior on a professor’s part is unacceptable. Assuming that the student didn’t interrupt the professor, assuming that a nonconfrontational question wouldn’t have caused a problem, then the professor was way out of line.

Of course, if I read an anonymous post on a politically-motivated Web site describing this incident in reference to a professor, I’d take it with a salt lick. This would be better dealt with by speaking with the department head, or else by blowing the incident off.

Daniel

I didn’t read it that way, Duck Duck Goose. My interpretation was that someone posted a complaint about a course that was actually taught by a certain Barnard Professor, but this Professor is not with Barnard today. That’s different from a phony post.

Note that these posts could conceivably be used in several ways:[ul][]By a student selecting a class.[]By a Professor looking for feedback.[]By those making decisions about hiring or promotion or firing of Professors.[]By a student or her parents selecting a college. By someone who wants to evaluate a particular department of some college.[/ul]Since that Professor is no longer at Barnard, the post couldn’t serve the first purpose, but it could serve the others. It’s even possible that students at the institution where this Professor now teaches could find the post to be of some value.

That’s assuming the information on the site is accurate, December. I sincerely doubt it will be.

The people most likely to shriek “bias!” are the ones who are the most biased themselves. Just listen to people at the political extremes shriek about the media; left wingers claims the media is the fascist tool of corporate dictators, and the right wingers claim the media is the drooling mouthpeice of Communist propaganda. The same media, mind you. I havent any doubt this web site will collect much of the same “criticism.”

I don’t see evidence that the site was founded by “parents”, just that it is run by one Luann Wright, who is in a state of piss-off. If there’s more than one outraged parent, where are their names? Are they afraid of reprisal too?

Speaking of which, there are absolutely no former students or students who completed a course outside their major who are willing to go on the record?

Seems to me there are a number of schools where students rate the courses according to a variety of criteria (at least, there was such a system at my college), and there’s an opportunity to vent anonymously. Do students really need Luann and her Website O’Vengeance?

I agree that this sounds like a pile of crap.

Fair enough, Daniel, I’m the first one to admit there are some jerkish professors out there – but I don’t see much evidence that the instructor for the Writing and Race course is one of them. She could be (heck, I don’t know her), but showing a video on racism, assigning a set of readings which some readers consider slanted, and challenging students to defend their opinions don’t constitute unprofessional behavior in my book.

At the university I teach at, every student in every class submits an anonymous evaluation of the instructor. They have 15 minutes to write whatever they like, and my boss sees it and it’s a factor in merit pay for full-time faculty. I know many colleges have similar setups. More to the point, I’m sure my boss would be willing to discuss any problems anyone had with me.

If I had tenure of course, I perhaps wouldn’t give a rat’s ass.

But I suspect that the goal is not to change individual schools/professors, but to create a database so conservative parents can say “Hmmm. School X has dozens of complaints, but school Y has none.”

Besides, what’s to stop some students with a grudge against Professor WiggleNose because he failed them or caught them cheating, from sending in false reports?

It’s stupid.