FrontPageMagazine.comEditor’s Note: The following report identifies several academic departments at Pennsylvania State University which openly and regularly violate the academic freedom provisions of the university. These provisions were only recently made applicable to students at Penn State by a resolution of the faculty senate (20.00) in May. The new policy was a response to the Pennsylvania academic freedom hearings and the campaign for academic freedom waged by Students for Academic Freedom and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The report examines official class syllabi, departmental web pages, and course descriptions and singles out the Penn State Women’s Studies Department for failing to meet academic standards and being a program designed to indoctrinate students in a sectarian ideology, which is expressly forbidden by Penn State’s academic freedom policy HR 64. For other studies in this series, click here:For more than fifty years, Penn State University has had one of the strongest and most clearly articulated policies on academic freedom of any institution of higher learning. Known as HR 64, the policy bars Penn State professors from indoctrinating students with “ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects.” It instructs professors, instead, “to train students to think for themselves, and provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.” It warns that “in giving instruction on controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supersession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators” – in other words to present students with more than one perspective on the subject.Finally, the Penn State policy forbids faculty from using the classroom to discuss controversial subjects outside their field of study. “No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.”There is nothing ambiguous in these policies. They define the standards of professionalism that Penn State University professors are expected to observe. But examination of a dozen courses in the Penn State curriculum reveals that these principles are often blatantly ignored, and the professional standards they set forth are widely – and in the case of select departments systematically — violated.The following analysis of course descriptions and syllabi in the Penn State catalogue shows that some professors feel free to teach the contentious issues of race, gender and justice in the social order through the frameworks of sectarian political ideologies, making no attempt to familiarize their students with the broad spectrum of scholarly views as required in Penn State’s academic freedom policies. Others presume to teach subjects for which they lack academic credentials. The introduction of such subjects into their courses appears to be motivated by political rather than academic agendas. In some instances, the curricula of entire departments, such as Women’s Studies, are organized to “indoctrinate … students in ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects,” a practice expressly forbidden by Penn State’s academic freedom policies.Legislative hearings held in Pennsylvania from September 2005 through June 2006 showed that the existing academic guidelines at Penn State and other public institutions did not apply to students. Hence formal student complaints about abuses of academic freedom were rare. Without such complaints, shared governance rules made it unlikely that university administrators would act against individual faculty members even in the face of clear curricular evidence that such abuses were taking place.This situation has now begun to change. In response to the hearings held by the Pennsylvania House Committee on Academic Freedom, both Penn State and Temple University have changed their academic freedom policies so that for the first time they now apply specifically to students. In the most encouraging sign of all, Penn State’s new policy – really an amendment to the existing policy – was passed by its Faculty Senate in May 2006. The new policy (20.00) states:Students having concerns about situations that arise within the classroom, or concerns with instructor behavior in a course that violates University standards of classroom conduct as defined in Policy HR64 “Academic Freedom,” may seek resolution according to the recommended procedures established under Policy 20.00, Resolution of Classroom Problems.
The following report on select courses in the Penn State catalogue is designed to encourage Penn State administrators, faculty and students to take a second look at the Penn State curriculum and particularly at the courses and academic programs herein analyzed, with any eye to addressing the problems it reveals. The Internet catalogue descriptions and syllabi (where not supplied by the professor) are available here.
 American Studies Program
This program is offered as a major at several Penn State campuses. On the main campus at University Park it is administered by the English Department, where its director is Deborah Clark, an Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies – not by a historian or a political scientist.
According to the Penn State catalogue, “American Studies 100,” which is the basic course in this program, is “a broad-ranging introduction to American culture. While specific topics may vary from class to class, the course examines what ‘America’ means and what it means to be ‘American:’ These issues will be examined from a variety of perspectives: literature, history, politics, film, race, gender, and geography.”
On campuses other than the main University Park location, the American Studies program is administered independently by different directors from different departments. Courses taken at one campus, however, may count towards fulfilling the American Studies major or minor at another. The two individual course descriptions that follow (one from the University Park and one from the Berks campus) reveal agendas that are primarily political, and whose one-sided view of American history and culture reflects the political prejudices of its instructors.
Introduction to American Studies (University Park Campus)
American Studies 100. Instructor, Melinda P.Wilkins
The course is taught by several instructors, among them M.P. Wilkins, a Senior Lecturer in English at the University Park campus. Wilkins’ syllabus depicts American culture as the expression of a history of uninterrupted brutality and oppression, in which minority groups suffer while their white oppressors write the official story as a narrative of unfolding freedom. This is not atypical of the curricula offered in other American Studies 100 sections.
Wilkins is not formally trained in history and only holds an M.A. in English Literature from Virginia Tech, which she received in 1982. The sole historical text assigned for this course is Jame’s Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. This book is not a scholarly work, but — as the title suggests — a sectarian polemic against the traditional teaching of American history and against what the author views as the black record of the American past. Among other harangues to be found in his text, Loewen laments “[h]ow textbooks misrepresent the U.S. government and omit its participation in state-sponsored terrorism.”
According to Loewen, the lies teachers told him result from facts being “manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written.” This answers the course’s instruction to students to determine who is telling the story and who benefits. But it is an extreme and sectarian answer, and is not tempered by a required text with opposing views. Hence it violates Penn State’s academic freedom policy which defines an appropriate academic instruction as training students “to think for themselves” and providing them with “access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.”
A typical chapter in Loewen’s required text is called “1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus.” Loewen summarizes the achievement of Columbus in these words: “Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.”
As an extreme view, Loewen’s amateur text might be a useful subject of analysis and discussion. It is certainly not an accurate view of the historical record, since the taking of land, wealth and labor from indigenous people, leading to their near extermination, was a well-known practice of the Romans, long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Moreover, the intercontinental slave trade (though not the translatlantic one) long pre-dated Columbus making his role hardly revolutionary as Loewen claims.
But Lowen’s tendentious text is not offered as a text to be examined critically and objectively as a reflection of extreme, uninformed, polemical views. Lies My Teachers Told Me is required as an official classroom guide for students. It is the only assigned historical text for Wilkins’ Introduction to American Studies course and its chapters are assigned in lessons throughout the semester to provide historical background to students as they study cultural artifacts throughout American history. In other words, it is the text designed by the instructor course to introduce students to the facts of American history which are said to underlie its culture.
For their other assigned texts, students are required to read novels that, taken together, are clearly intended to present the dark side of American history highlighted by Loewen — from the destruction of Native American tribes to the African slave trade to alleged massacres of civilians by American troops during the Vietnam War. (Among them the novels Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, The Way to Rainy Mountain by M. Scott Momaday and In The Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien.) Each novel is presented along with the relevant chapters in Loewen’s polemic to provide the background “facts.”
Here is the syllabus description of the lesson agendas in two weeks of Wilkins’ course:
9/20-29: Loewen, Chapters 2, 3, and 4
Momaday, THE WAY TO RAINY MOUNTAIN
10/4-20: Loewen, Chapters 5, 6, and 7
Johnson, MIDDLE PASSAGE
Civil War, Poverty and Race Relations
While there is nothing inherently wrong with examining cultural reflections on such chapters in American history – even when tendentiously presented – since there are no texts, fictional or otherwise, reflecting a perspective at odds with the course’s extreme viewpoint, the clear intent of the instructor is not to introduce students to the academic study of American culture, but to present them with a radical view of American culture, bearing the imprimatur of the American Studies program.
Since this is not presented as a course in radical culture (and since there are no critiques offered to students of its radical perspective) this is not a course designed to educate students about American radicalism but to present them with ready-made conclusions on controversial issues that reinforce the radical viewpoint. It is a course of indoctrination and it violates Penn States academic freedom policy.
Introduction to American Studies (Berks Campus
American Studies 100. Instructor, Dr. Ray Mazurek
Another section of “Introduction to American Studies” is taught on the Berks campus by Dr. Ray Mazurek, an Associate Professor of English, and is titled “Work in America.” This course purports to examine “work in America in the 19th and 20th centuries, with an emphasis on the last 40 years.” But the course description and syllabus reveal it to be anything but a judicious survey of American labor history. What the course offers students instead is a relentless political attack on modern free-market capitalism that lacks any intellectual balance.
Of the assigned books, only one – Frederick Douglass’s account of his enslavement and freedom — might be said to be an exception. The others include Nickel and Dimed by journalist and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich is a socialist who excoriates the capitalist system in her book and likens the state of low and medium-wage workplaces in the United States to a “dictatorship.” Another text, No-Collar: The Hidden Cost of the Humane Workplace isby Professor Andrew Ross, a well-known academic radical and socialist, whose political activism focuses on anti-globalization and whose work is featured in The Nation and The Village Voice. Although Ross is not an academically credentialed economist, his book calls for an “alternative economic arrangement” to replace what he presents as the failures of free-market capitalism. Another text, Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life, is an anthology of poems which collectively paint a negative portrait of working-class life in capitalist America. The remaining texts are A Short History of the U.S. Working Class by Marxist Paul Le Blanc and Working by leftist Studs Turkel.
This course is not presented as a review of the perspectives of radical socialists on work in America, but as an academic course about “Work in America,” which it is not. By presenting students with one-sided views of its subject, it fails to adhere to Penn State academic freedom policies that stipulate that “in giving instruction on controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supersession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.”
We have discussed two examples of politically influenced and therefore academically dubious courses in American Studies. With Women’s Studies, we encounter an entire program that is itself political rather than academic, and that contravenes Penn State University policy on classroom instruction.
The Penn State Women’s Studies Department features a curriculum designed to teach students to be radical feminists, rather than how to approach the study of women in an academic manner.
This is the description of the Women’s Studies program provided in the departmental template: “As a field of study, Women’s Studies analyzes the unequal distribution of power and resources by gender.”In other words, the Women’s Studies program is organized around the narrowly conceived and clearly controversial opinion that in a democratic and free market society like ours resources and power are unequally distributed by gender. This is the unexamined premise of the curriculum, not a question for study.
Under the guidelines set forth in the Penn State academic freedom policy, as under those laid down by the American Association of University Professors which require instructors to follow the scientific method, Women’s Studies is not a proper academic program. To earn a major in Women’s Studies, students are required to focus on politically framed concepts such as “feminist analyses of women’s lives” and the “structure of sex/gender systems.” In other words, the department presumes that there are actual systems that can be described this way and that such assumptions do not themselves require examination. Because they require students to accept the controversial assumptions of the Women Studies Department and do not subject its viewpoint – radical feminism — to scrutiny or questioning, the Women’s Studies courses we anaylyzed are little more than for-credit forums for feminist politics.
Introduction to Women’s Studies
Women’s Studies 001.8.
Instructor, Michael Johnson
A catalogue description of Introduction to Women’s Studies, taught by emeritus professor Michael Johnson, begins: “Men are privileged relative to women. That’s not right. I’m going to do something about it, even if it’s only in my personal life.”
Professor Johnson explains that he will “spend most of the course on just a few of the ways that men are privileged relative to women. We’ll look at how and why women face more barriers to happiness and fulfillment than do men, and how we might go about helping our world to move in the direction of gender equity.” These contentious propositions are not raised as a potential object of disinterested academic inquiry, but as “truths” students are expected to embrace. The professor commends his course to those students who “want a really full feminist experience.” This is an appropriate invitation to join a political party, not an academic classroom.
While Professor Johnson retired in 2005, his courses (there are several — equally ideological) are still listed in the catalogue). No authority in the Women’s Studies Department or in the Penn State administration appears to have regarded them as problematic.
Introduction to Women’s Studies
Section 4. Instructor, Yihuai Cai
This section of the Introduction to Women’s Studies course, taught by graduate student Yihuai Cai, focuses on recruiting students to radical feminist causes. To this end, students are asked to consider a number of politically spun “questions” clearly designed to impress on students the feminist claim that America’s democratic society is hierarchical and oppressive:
- “How do various forms of oppression (e.g. sexism, racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, and ablebodism) operate to divide oppressed peoples from one another and consequently facilitate the continued oppression of each group?”
- “Examining your own previous values and knowledge, have you consciously or unconsciously participated in one or more of those oppressive ideologies and discourses?”
- “What is feminist activism?”
- “How shall we develop strategies that address issues of power differentials in our society?”
These questions – especially the last — reflect the mentality of a political operative not an academic teacher.
Consistent with the stated goal of the Women’s Studies department “to connect theory and scholarship with feminist activism,” students in the course are required to volunteer for organizations that are both feminist and activist. The activist programs include the “Penn State Center for Women Students,” which is not just a center for women students but an advocacy group that protests “institutionalized sexism, sex-based discrimination, violence against women and other conditions which impede women students’ personal and academic development.” “Peers Helping to Reaffirm, Educate and Empower,” another Penn State sponsored organization, conducts campus programs about “healthy body image;” Men Against Violence, a “peer education group” focuses on “gender violence;” the “Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Support Network;” and the pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood are all part of the Penn State educational experience as conceived by the Women’s Studies program and its affiliates. These programs are housed in the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, named after a famous American Communist and fervent supporter of Stalin, American Communist and fervent supporter of Stalin, who is described in the official announcement of the Center’s launch as a “human rights” activist, who became “an eloquent, often controversial spokesperson against racism and discrimination,” and whose only university affiliation was with Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Among the organizations students are offered as options there are only two that appear either ambiguous or non-political. These are the HIV/AIDS Risk Reduction Advisory Council, a student organization that focuses on “health promotion and activism” and the Mid-State Literacy Council, which promotes adult literacy programs. No conservative activist groups with interests in women’s issues are included, nor is there any indication or awareness that encouraging political activism in an academic program might be at all problematic.
At the conclusion of their volunteer project, students are asked to write a paper that “summarizes the project and makes connections to the course readings and your own learning experience.” Since all of the course readings are written by radical feminists or “critical theorists” sympathetic to feminism, it is evident that the sole function of this course is to turn students into feminist activists. It is precisely this sort of classroom environment that is specifically prohibited by the Penn State rules under HR 64. This is not education; it is indoctrination.
Yihuai Cai is only a graduate student, but she teaches this course regularly, which means the course as she teaches it has the approval of the Department of Women’s Studies. The ideological, non-academic nature of the course she has devised itself calls into question the character of the graduate education she is receiving at Penn State.
Introduction to Women’s Studies
Women’s Studies 006. Instructor, Marla Jaksch
Another section of this course, taught by adjunct lecturer Marla Jaksch, is described as “an introductory feminist, survey course.” This merely spells out what the other course descriptions reflect. This is not an introductory course about women in which, in accordance with the school’s academic freedom policy, students can expect a balanced view of the relevant issues; it is, instead, a course in feminism – a sectarian ideology — with no option for students to take different or dissenting views. Jaksch explains that her motivation is to “examine (and challenge) the nature of power and privilege in our lives and institutions,” a mission appropriate to a political organization, not an academic class, let alone one funded by the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.
One of the principal texts assigned to Jaksch’s students is Feminism is for Everybody by radical author bell hooks. Hooks text is required in many courses in the Women’s Studies Department at Penn State.
A plodding ideologue, hooks explains to readers that her book is an exercise in “revolutionary feminist consciousness-raising.” More precisely, it is a manifesto devoted to hooks’ well-known extreme views, including the claim that black women are “never going to have equality within the existing white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” White supremacist capitalist patriarchy is the way hooks habitually describes America’s democratic system. Hooks is credentialed as a Professor of English Literature at the City University of New York. What her academic expertise on capitalism, race or patriarchy is, is anybody’s guess. Penn State students in Jaksch’s Women’s Studies section are assigned no texts that present a different perspective from hooks’ extreme views.
It is not only radical views that Professor Jaksch intends to instill in her students. As she also explains, students are expected not only to learn about feminist politics but to practice them. To this end, the course is designed to “create possible strategies for change through appreciation and engagement with many creative strategies that women have employed historically and contemporarily.”
What such strategies entail is explained in her course assignments. One requires students to write a biographical paper on a “feminist” artist, activist, or writer. The purpose of the assignment is not to inspire students to think critically about their subject. Rather, it is to “familiarize you with feminist strategies for telling unique and possibly untold stories.” Students are also required to attend events that promote feminist activism, such as a “feminist film.” An entire section of the course is given over to the subject of feminist activism and presented under the title “Social Justice & Global Feminism,” which makes no secret of its underlying political agendas.
In common with other professors in the Women’s Studies program, Professor Jaksch states that she encourages “critical thinking” and “critically examines” the issues discussed in the course. But ample evidence shows that the term “critical thinking” is a common academic usage that refers to Marxist and post-Marxist critiques of capitalism. It is not a commitment to the kind of scientific skepticism and intellectual pluralism within an academic course that Penn State policy requires.
This section of Introduction to Women’s Studies is precisely a course in “ready-made conclusions in regard to controversial subjects” that HR64 is designed to prevent. The course violates the core principles of Penn State’s academic freedom policy and the academic standards that Penn State faculty are expected to follow. Indeed, the Women’s Studies Department itself describes its curriculum in terms which are political not academic and thus violate Penn State policy as well.
Global FeminismsWomen’s Studies 502. Instructor, Melissa Wright“
Global Feminisms” is a politically lopsided attack on international capitalism and the free-market system taught by Associate Professor Melissa Wright. A principal required text for the course is Feminism, Theory and the Politics of Difference by Chris Weedon, which examines the “political implications” of feminist theory. For Weedon, the implications are that capitalist societies are “both oppressive and hierarchical.” They are also racist and governed by racial stereotypes applied exclusively to Third World people: “Irrationality and violence are stereotypes regularly applied, for example, to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Muslim fundamentalist regimes,” according to Weedon. Racial stereotypes of white Americans don’t count since white Americans don’t qualify as oppressed people.
A second required text for Professor Wright’s course is Chandra Mohanty’s Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. This book is also required in several other courses in the Women’s Studies Department and also features a an unscholarly, polemical attack on capitalism. A radical feminist, Mohanty is frank about her political (and therefore non-academic) goals in writing the book. Proclaiming her “feminist commitments,” Mohanty proposes her text as a “transnational feminist anti-capitalist critique.” Her utopian vision is a world in which “ecological sustainability” and “the redistribution of wealth form the material basis of people’s well being.” Mohanty describes her target audience as the “progressive, left, feminist and anti-imperialist scholars and intellectuals” and further outlines her intention to influence pedagogy by “theorizing and practicing an anticapitalist and democratic critique in education and through collective struggle.”
A third required text for Wright’s course is The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Employing a vulgar Marxist analysis of free-market economies, the authors (who are not economists) assail “globalization” (the liberalization and integration of global trade) and “capitalist hegemony,” and make many extreme (and debatable) claims about capitalist “oppression.” They assert, for instance, that women are “allocated to subordinate functions of the capitalist system,” as though there were no women ceo’s of Fortune 500 companies, or as though two of the last three secretaries of state and the current Speaker of the House – third in line for the Presidency — were not female. Of the other texts used in this course all but one, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, advance a polemical feminist or anti-capitalist agenda.
The course’s non-scholarly agendas culminate in its final section, which is dedicated to promoting radical activism, specifically the cause of the anti-globalization movement. Titled “World Forums, Women’s Solidarity and the Human Rights discourse” this part of the syllabus is entirely devoted to an appreciation of the World Social Forum, its agendas and activities. The World Social Forum is an international conference of Marxists and other anti-capitalist radicals, terrorist organizations like the Columbian FARC and anti-American leaders like Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. The World Forum’s Manifesto states: “We are building a large alliance from our struggles and resistance against a system based on sexism, racism and violence, which privileges the interests of capitalism and patriarchy over the needs and aspirations of the people.” The Manifesto further declares that, “an urgent task of our movement is to mobilize solidarity for the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination as they face brutal occupation by the Israeli state.”
This is not a course appropriate to an academic institution, let alone to a public university funded by the taxpayers of the state. It presses on students ready-made conclusions to controversial questions, exactly what Penn State policy is designed to prevent.
Women’s Studies 507. Instructor, Joan B. Landes
“Feminist Theory,” taught by Professor Joan Landes, adopts the language of intellectual pluralism while sharply limiting its scope to the idées fixes of the radical feminist Left. According to its catalogue description the course “aims to introduce students to the range of debate among feminist theorists on questions of patriarchy and male domination; gender, sexuality and desire; identity and subjectivity; experience and performance; maternity and citizenship; universalism and difference.” But by narrowly and exclusively focusing on leftwing perspectives, this approach falls decidedly short of an appropriate spectrum for an academic debate. Such disagreements as exist between the “feminist theorists” analyzed in the course pale in comparison to their shared beliefs, or to the views of those who do not share their assumptions.
To judge by the assigned readings, the feminist theory as presented in this course is inseparable from a political agenda that describes American society and free-market capitalism as racist and oppressive and urges radical resistance to both. This theme is stressed in a number of essays that students are required to read, including one titled “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” by bell hooks. In this essay, hooks explains her view that feminist theory is primarily a political tool that should be used to “challenge the status quo” and the “patriarchal norm” of American society – assuming without analysis that there is such a norm. The feminist writings of conservative and liberal academic thinkers who do not share these views – Professors Christina Hoff Sommers, Daphne Patai and Camille Paglia come immediately to mind — are simply ignored.
It should be noted that one section of Introduction to Women’s Studies (WMST 001) taught by Mary Faulkner does meet the test of providing an actual debate on these issues, at least for one lesson.
Friday, December 1st: Future of Women’s Studies?
Readings: Daphne Patai, “What’s Wrong with Women’s Studies”; Judith Stacey, “Is Academic Feminism an Oxymoron?”; Harry Brod, “Scholarly Studies of Men: The New Field is an Essential Complement to Women’s Studies”
Yet this assignment stands out as an exception among the Women’s Studies courses we looked at and merely highlights the failure of others to do the same.
It bears mentioning that the bell hooks essay, required for “Feminist Theory” makes no pretense to being a scholarly work. It urges readers to engage in “feminist struggle” against the injustices alleged by the author. Similarly, in the required text by Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, the authorwrites: “Feminism is a politics.” Echoing the theme of the course, Weedon suggests that feminist theory is largely the instrument of a political cause. Specifically, it “must always be answerable to the needs of women in our struggle to transform the patriarchy.” A theory that is answerable to the needs of the “women’s struggle” as defined by a group of sectarian ideologues, cannot by its nature be scholarly since it lacks the freedom to challenge the assumptions of those engaged in the “struggle” including the idea that the “women’s struggle” has definable “needs” that everyone can agree on.
The political agendas that make up the course in Feminist Theory find their most explicit expression in its concluding section. Titled “Transnational Feminism in the New Age of Globalization,” this is yet another leftwing critique of capitalism, a subject in which the course instructor has no academic credentials.
Typical of the readings in this section is a chapter from Feminism Without Borders, a book by the feminist and anti-globalization activist Chandra Talpade Mohanty, mentioned earlier in this report. In this essay, “Under Western Eyes’ Revisited: Feminist Solidarity Through Anti-capitalist Struggles,” Mohanty laments her disenchantment with what she calls the “increasing privatization and corporatization of public life” in the United States, calls for the revival of a more radical feminist movement, and boasts that her “site of access and struggle has increasingly come to be the U.S. academy.” The purpose of a university is not to be a focus of political struggle, nor were the faculty members in the Women’s Studies Department hired to be political activists in the classroom. Yet that is precisely what they are.
Women, the Humanities and the Arts
Women’s Studies 003. Instructor, Stephanie Springgay
On its face, a course on art might seem to have little in common with the feminist ideology and political activism promoted throughout the department. But Women’s Studies 003 shows that even a subject with no obvious connection to politics can become a canvas for the political agendas of activists posing as academics.
While Assistant Professor Springgay claims that her course does not propose a “right answer” for students to accept and encourages them to think “critically,” there is little evidence that she conducts the course in accordance with these appropriately academic standards. As the course description makes clear, students in this course will not simply learn about art. They will also be trained to “challenge the nature of power and privilege as it relates to gender, race, class and sexuality and in particular how it shapes the lives and experiences of women.” Additionally, they will be expected to “find spaces of resistance within these terms” and to “understand how women have, at times, been silenced by the constructions of gender, race, class, sexuality, and nationality, and how they have also reformulated those constructions through a variety of creative expressions.” The idea that gender may be innate rather than “socially constructed” – a view common, for example, among neuro-scientists — does not appear to have a place in Professor Springgay’s curriculum.
Not the least of the problems with this course it that is unclear what expertise the instructor, Stephanie Springgay, has to lecture about such complex topics as, for example, class, nationalism and globalization, which is the focus of an entire section of the course, based on three feminist instructional texts, two by professor bell hooks whose expertise is English literature. Professor Springgay is listed as an assistant Professor of Art Education and Women’s Studies and earned her doctorate in art education. How is Art Education an academic credential for teaching about class, race, nationality and globalization?
In violation of Penn State’s academic freedom provisions, Professor Springgay’s course is structured exclusively around the writings of feminist authors. In a typical reading assignment, author Linda Nochlin asks, “Why have there been no great women artists?” Her answer is that the problem lies with “social structure and [the] institutions” of the art world, specifically that they are dominated by white, middle-class, males: “As we all know, things as they are and as they have been, in the arts as in a hundred other areas, are stultifying, oppressive, and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class and, above all, male.”
While ignoring great artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Mary Cassatt, this argument fails to explain why there have been so many great women writers throughout history, since they experienced the same social restrictions. Sappho, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson and the Bronte sisters come to mind, not to mention the greatest writer in a famously patriarchal society, Murasaki Shikibu, the 10th Century author of the Tale of Genji, which is regarded as the Iliad of Japanese civilization.
The few reading assignments that cannot be classified as feminist in this course nonetheless are overtly political. In this category are essays like “The Other History of Intercultural Performance” by the visual artist and activist Coco Fusco. Fusco describes a performance art project in which she took part and explains that its intent was to “dramatize the colonial unconsciousness of American society.” According to Fusco, “our experiences…suggested that even though the idea of America as a colonial system is met with resistance — since it contradicts the dominant ideology’s presentation of our system as a democracy — the audience reactions indicated that colonialist roles have been internalized quite effectively.”
Not only do students learn about the convergence of art and political activism, but they are also required to create their own political art project. One section of the course asks students to participate in a “public art project as a form of student activism on the Penn State campus;” this form of activism counts for 15 percent of students’ final grade. Another section of the course is actually titled “activism.” Here students read essays that encourage them to participate in political — particularly feminist — activism. For instance, in her essay, “Bringing feminism a la casa,” feminist writer Daisy Hernandez asks students to consider the following query: “How do you go off to college, learn about feminism in English, and then bring it home to a working-class community where women call their children in from the street at night in every language — except ‘standard’ English?” Bringing feminism to a working-class community is a challenge for feminist activists, not for students who have signed up for an academic study of women at
a major university.
An examination of the African and African American Studies Program at Penn State reveals an underlying aim to encourage students in the view that American society and its institutions are racist and discriminatory against black Americans. Students earning a major in the program are given several related areas of study, known as “options” within the program. One such area is called the Law and Social Justice Option.
“Social Justice” is not an academic concept but a politically loaded term; there is in fact no societal consensus about how justice is best achieved and the term itself is historically associated with only one set of beliefs — those of the political Left.
Inequality in America
African and African American Studies 409. Instructor, David McBride
Professor McBride’s course requires only two texts, both of which reflect a one-sided view of the race issue. The dubious premise of Joe Feagin’s White Racism is that “few whites are aware of how important racism is to their own feelings, beliefs, thinking and actions,” and that in fact all whites harbor unconscious feelings of racism against blacks. On the other hand, blacks evidently have no such feelings against whites: “From the perspective of this book, black racism does not exist.” The required Feagin text also claims that the United States is governed by “white racism,” which the author defines as “a centuries-old system intentionally designed to exclude Americans of color from full participation in the economy, polity and society.” This would be news to the richest woman in America, Oprah Winfrey, to the Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, to the ceo of Time Warner (the largest media company in the world) Richard Parsons, and to the 49 percent of African Americans who are part of America’s middle class.
The second required text, Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change, by Dr. Joseph F. Healey, is an academic text, notwithstanding tendentious observations like the following: “Lynchings have not been relegated to the Civil War past.” According to Healey, the defining feature of minority groups in the United States is that they are discriminated against by the “dominant” white majority. “The United States faces enormous problems in dominant-minority relations,” the book claims, adding: “Four crucial concepts for analyzing dominant-minority relations are prejudice, discrimination, ideological racism, and institutional discrimination.” The idea that there is such a dominant group in a society as ethnically diverse as America’s, whose civil rights laws make such discrimination a crime, is not questioned.
Status of Blacks in the Twentieth Century: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
African and African American Studies 100. Instructor, Darryl C. Thomas
The course description and curriculum for “Blacks in the 20th Century” make up an extended rant against the United States and free-market capitalism. This is the course description in the Penn State catalogue:
Through an examination of African American contestation and engaging of Globalization, Democratization and Empire from the contested Presidential election of 1876 to the recent disputed 2000 Presidential election and its’ [sic] aftermath in 2004, we can analyzed [sic] the divergent strategies employed by this non-state actor to changed [sic] the set of unequal power relations within the United States and to transformed [sic] the power relations that governs human rights practices, racial capitalism, and the global apartheid international regimes supported by the United States during divergent waves of globalization and racial capitalism.
This course description is not even written in coherent English, raising questions about the competence of the instructor, who will be grading student papers. The language employed — “racial capitalism,” “global apartheid international regimes supported by the United States” – is ideological rather than academic. The assignments for the course are exercises in learning the instructor’s ideological prejudices not in examining the subject in an academic and professional manner. Students are asked leading questions obviously intended to influence their answers. For instance, they are asked to write a paper explaining how “racial capitalism” has ill-served “underdeveloped African Americans in the past” and how it “continues to stifle African American financial and economic development today.”
Students are further asked to ponder whether the ideology of “Afrocentrism” provides “the essential instruments for combating the ‘new racism’ in the new era of colorblind America…” Afro-centrism, however, is itself a racialist ideology, which is based on tendentious claims that Egyptians were black and that the Greeks “stole” their contributions to civilization from them. In another assignment, students are asked to “develop a case why liberalism has failed African Americans?” No assignment asked them to assess whether radicalism has failed African Americans. The instructor, Darryl Thomas is an Associate Professor of African American Studies.
African and African American Studies 297C. Instructor, David McBride
“Minority Health” concentrates on “social and cultural factors, poverty, racial and ethnic discrimination, and health care barriers that are causing minority groups to have much higher rates of illness and disease.” Once again, a controversial conclusion is presented as the course assumption. An academic examination of healthcare might be expected to ask whether minority groups have higher rates of illness and disease due to genetic factors or cultural behaviors rather than racial discrimination.
The two required texts for the course are Social Injustice and Public Health and Mama Might Be Better Off Dead: The Failure of Health Care in Urban America. The first is edited by a team headed by well-known political activist Marian Wright Edleman who claimed that the Clinton Administration’s welfare reform would cause a million poor children to starve. The second is by Laurie Kaye Abraham, not an academic, but an investigative journalist with the Chicago Reporter, which is published by a community activist group. This course is not interested in educating students in the range of factors that affect minority health, which undoubtedly include inadequate care. It is interested in persuading students of the validity of a radical perspective, which blames racial discrimination and racially determined economic inequalities for minority health problems. It is indoctrination, not education and it violates Penn State policies.
Diversity and Health (proposed)
African and African American Studies 302.
This course is currently being proposed by four members of the Penn State faculty to study “the impact of diversity on health in America and across nations.” The course’s methodology focuses on the “interaction between concepts of diversity including but not limited to race, ethnicity, culture, gender, age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation…” In other words, this is a course in radical concepts and categories, a doctrinal schooling expressly forbidden by Penn State’s disregarded regulations.
This course is described as an “advanced study of major contemporary issues of peace and conflict.” In fact the course is primarily intended to promote the belief that violence is under no circumstance a legitimate “solution” to conflict and that “nonviolence” alone is the answer. Only two books are used in this course. One is Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies, written by David Barash, an animal psychologist. Barash is a self-described “progressive”and an activist for non-violence who makes exceptions for “revolutionary violence” if it is used to good ends as in countries such as Cuba.
Barash has no professional qualification for putting together an academic text on these complex issues. The other book, co-authored by a professor of peace studies, is titled An Anthology of Historic Alternatives to War, and reveals by its title its slanted perspective on the subject.Students in this course are not exposed to contrary perspectives but are presented with the ready-made conclusions favored by the instructor. Students are required to attend several lectures featuring anti-war radicals. Pennsylvania radical Barbara Ballenger, for instance, speaks to students about “personal peace activism after 9/11.” Peter Shaw, an anti-war radical, delivers his “reflections on a career of peace activism.”
The Politics of the Ecological Crisis (proposed)
Science, Technology, and Society 135.
The political agendas of this proposed course are evident from its title. Is there an ecological crisis in the first place? The very assumption of the course is a controversial viewpoint. There is, in fact, no consensus about whether this “crisis” actually exists. The course curriculum does not pose the question of whether there is a crisis, but proposes to focus on its politics. It presumes this contention as a fact. This directly contradicts the professional standards of academic discourse established by Penn State’s academic freedom policies.
The course description is rather candid about the fact that is agenda is polemical rather than academic: “Much of the reading assumes that our civilization faces the twin problems of increasingly serious shortages of resources and a growing ecological crisis that threatens the basis of life. Further, it argues that these ‘twin crises’ feed upon each other, and that together they pose serious short and long run challenges to survival. Some readings attribute these problems to the dominant values that characterize modern Western society. The course does consider some dissents from this perspective, arguments that things will be just fine. However, it concentrates on problems and predictions of trouble. Thus, the class does not claim to present an evenly balanced assessment. Rather, it recognizes that most of what we learn, read, and see supports the status quo and assumes our civilization and energy-dependent way of life will continue. Consequently it makes sense to emphasize the less frequently argued position that we may be headed for disaster. (emphasis added)
In other words, this course is designed as an attack on what it presumes to be the prevalent view of these matters. This is not an academic approach, but a political program. It specifically violates the Penn State guidelines. Whether or not the course is correct in its assumptions about the nascent ecological threat facing the Western world, or that the case for this threat is not adequately presented in the culture at large, it is not the function of an academic course to impose on students “ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects.”
This is only a small sampling of the problematic courses offered by Penn State University – courses that violate Penn State’s academic standards and academic freedom policies. The fact that many of these courses are offered by departments whose mission statements are themselves problematic suggests the scope of the problem. There will be no remedy until the Penn State administration and faculty take seriously the standards they themselves have adopted, and find ways to enforce them at the classroom level. On the evidence, such enforcement would require the inclusion in reading lists of diverse perspectives; the reformulation of curricula so that they approach complex and controversial issues from an academic and analytical, not a sectarian viewpoint; the rephrasing of essay topics and the re-casting of class questions so they do not lead students to particular conclusions on controversial issues; the removal of all inducements and requirements designed to recruit students to political organizations and causes.
Appendix: Penn State Academic Freedom Policy HR 64
“The faculty member is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject. The faculty member is, however, responsible for the maintenance of appropriate standards of scholarship and teaching ability. It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects. The faculty member is expected to train students to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently. Hence in giving instruction upon controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supersession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.
“No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.”
Faculty Senate Policy 20-00:
“Students having concerns about situations that arise within the classroom, or concerns with instructor behavior in a course that violates University standards of classroom conduct as defined in Policy HR64 ‘Academic Freedom,’ may seek resolution according to the recommended procedures established under Policy 20-00, Resolution of Classroom Problems.“In every case, student concerns arising from questions about classroom situations or behavior shall be resolved in a manner that provides for equity and due process for students and for instructors. Students may attempt to resolve classroom problems with assurance that confidentiality will be maintained as appropriate.”
Tom Ryan helped with research in this report.
 Because the American Studies major is being phased out at University Park itself, and no new students are being accepted, courses in American Studies taken at the secondary campuses only count for general education requirements at the main campus, and not for an American Studies major.