Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Australia: 'Activist' academics black-list under fire

Academics named as militant left-wing ideologues in a black list tabled in federal parliament claim they are victims of a Young Liberals "witch-hunt". While many of the black-listed academics admit that humanities and social science faculties are dominated by progressives, they say bias is not a serious problem in Australian universities. The list of more than 30 academics who are described as "unashamed activists for political and ideological causes such as radical feminism, animal rights and gay rights" has been published on the Young Liberals' website. It was submitted to a Senate inquiry on academic freedom in schools and universities.

Among those on the Young Liberals' list are controversial philosopher Peter Singer, feminist and activist Eva Cox, former ABC Four Corners producer and now journalism lecturer Peter Manning, and UNSW's Sarah Maddison. [What? The openly Communist Hannah Middleton is missed out?]

"The way they've gone about this has the smell of a witch-hunt," said Dr Maddison, senior associate dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of NSW. "They don't want to create public discussion about the quality of education, they want to score political points." Dr Maddison - an expert in women's rights and indigenous politics - said "there is probably a grain of truth" in the notion that humanities academics are more left-wing than the general population. Regular student feedback surveys and existing grievance policies already protected against bias, she said. [How?]

UNSW deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Richard Henry said he had full confidence in the independence and integrity of his staff. "It's ironic that in the name of academic freedom people have created a black list that decreases academic freedom." He said the Senate inquiry into academic freedom - due to report on November 11 - was a waste of taxpayers' money.

Young Liberals national president Noel McCoy, who compiled the list from student complaints and his own Google searching, disagreed. "We don't want a dependent society of zombies who have only had the opportunity to hear one set of ideas," he said. Mr McCoy said that 49 out of the 68 submissions to the inquiry argued that bias was a problem in Australian schools and universities.

Wendy Bacon, program director of journalism at Sydney's University of Technology, said the list was about "mud-slinging and branding", not academic freedom. [Wendy comes from an old Communist family and has been far-Left as long as anyone can remember]


I am guilty as charged of bias and prejudice

By Peter Slezak

Sleazy Peter is not joking in the article excerpted below. He is indeed a far-Leftist bigot, though one with a nice voice. He is even one of those most execrable characters: An anti-Israel Jew. But everything he says below is reasonable -- on one condition: That viewpoints opposed to his are also frequently presented to students. That does not happen, of course. If he really believed in the sorts of things he advocates below, he would be preaching conservatism and reaction to his students -- because no-one else is. When will his students hear a lecture from Peter on the good points of the old White Australia policy, for instance? There is a philosophically-sophisticated lecture outline for him here. Such a lecture would be a REAL Socratic challenge to authority

I should probably be writing under a pseudonym. If submissions to the [Australian] Senate inquiry into bias and academic freedom are taken seriously, I'm in trouble. As a university lecturer, I confess my teaching and publications are thoroughly biased, riddled with prejudice and entirely lacking in even-handedness.

I am undeniably guilty of the sins the submissions warn against. My reading lists are not representative of all points of view. My lectures not only criticise but sometimes ridicule views I regard as misguided and pernicious nonsense - often the views of other colleagues. I vigorously assert my prejudices without any pretence of neutrality. I confront my students and provoke them to defend their views, especially when I disagree with them, which is most of the time. In short, I am precisely the kind of academic who some submissions propose to deal with by means that include disciplinary procedures and even sacking.....

Like regular charges of left-wing bias against the ABC, the moral panic evident in submissions to the Senate inquiry rests on a certain implicit, though questionable, assumption - namely, that only deviation from prevailing orthodoxy constitutes bias. Conventional views are presumed neutral, and the possibility is never entertained they may be invisibly, systematically biased in the other direction. It follows that the regular complaints of bias and proposed remedies are a form of harassment designed to maintain doctrinal conformity....

However, the highest educational ideals require precisely the reverse attitude - that is, encouraging the exploration of alternatives to preferred, taken-for-granted views. As Bertrand Russell remarked, education should make students think, not to think what their teacher (or government) thinks.....

In his classic 1859 essay On Liberty, J.S. Mill famously articulated the principles at stake: the need to protect and, indeed, encourage unpopular opinion against the "tyranny of the majority". This tyranny may be "more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since... it leaves fewer means of escape .... enslaving the soul itself".

Mill argues counter-intuitively that preventing opinions from being heard because they are regarded as not merely false but immoral, impious or pernicious is the case that is "most fatal", for "these are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity".

Socrates and Christ were put to death for challenging authority. Mill says their executors were not bad men; on the contrary they were "men who possessed in a full, or somewhat more than a full measure, the religious, moral, and patriotic feelings of their time and people".


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