By Erin Bergstrom–03/15/05
To Whom It Concerns:
My name is Erin Bergstrom. I am a 45-year-old businesswoman and free-lance writer. I am also a student at REGIS University. In the 2003-2004 term I was a volunteer activist for Students for Academic Freedom. I interviewed students on several different campuses regarding their first-hand experiences with academic bias and discrimination. In November, 2003, a young man told me about a woman at the University of Northern Colorado who had a distressing experience in one of her courses. He contacted her, and she agreed to talk to me. She and I talked over the phone on several occasions, and I also met her at the Greeley campus. I found her to be a warm and personable young woman. She is articulate, and seems intelligent and sincere.
I have my original notes from our first conversation. I interviewed her for more than an hour. She described her criminology professor, and how he asked her and her classmates to describe why President Bush is a war criminal on an exam. She did not believe that her test question was fair or reasonable. She was not willing to dishonor her President-someone she greatly admired. Instead, she wrote why she considered Saddam Hussein to be a war criminal. The professor gave her a zero on her test. She was an “A” student, so she formally appealed, but was not able to change her grade. There were certain things that stood out to me about her account.
The first thing that impressed me was her attitude. Her professor was not willing to allow her to express her scholarship in a manner that was consistent with her conscience. She talked about how hurt and distressed she was over the situation, yet she did not express vindictiveness or a desire to embarrass her university.
The young woman was persistent in her efforts to formally complain about the situation, which showed courage and integrity on her part. One reason was to try to change her grade. Another reason is her belief that she represented other students, who also did not deserve to be subject to this type of ideological aggression. So even though it was unpleasant, she pushed the issue up the ladder of academic authority. She said: “I just kept thinking if I took it higher someone would make it right. None of them did anything. The school just kind of pushed it under. They said that I just needed to move on . . . I love this university, but I am angry, and disappointed.”
This young woman allowed me to begin using part of her story in December, 2003, and it received nation-wide exposure. In March of 2004, she asked me to stop using it. I presented some of the positive benefits if she was to go completely public with her story, but she decided against this. She recognized the value of speaking out about this issue, but was afraid to be in the public spotlight. She was afraid that it might somehow hurt her chances of getting into law school. She said that she wanted to move on with her life, and just put it behind her.
In our conversations she expressed the type of ambivalence that I have often heard in other 18 to 22-year-old conservative students-or even students who are much older. They want to stand up for their rights, but they are easily intimidated. They are afraid of possible negative consequences, such as ridicule, contempt, lower grades, or missed academic opportunities. They are uncomfortable in the role of whistle-blower, or protestor. The students want to believe their authorities will respond in an honorable way, and will present a just solution. So even if professors and administrators are unreasonable or self-serving, students will still talk about wanting to please them, and act in a loyal manner.
I had not talked to this young woman again until March 3, 2005, when Ryan Call contacted me regarding the allegations of certain members of the press that this young woman’s story is not true. I could have told him her name, and contact information, but it would have been unethical and unkind for me to do this without her permission. As much as possible, she deserves to remain in control of a situation that has already caused her so much distress. I called her on March 3 to see if she would now be willing to come forward as the source, and reveal her name. I spoke to her again on March 10. She was willing to share additional information, but not her name.
The imbalance of power between young students and academic authorities is extreme. In this type of situation, it is helpful if the parties with the greatest amount of power act with the greatest amount of restraint and decency. It is my hope that the university’s authorities and the press will keep this in mind in regards to this young woman-or any other student who has the courage to speak out in any way about this type of matter.
3633 Harding Drive
Loveland, Colorado 80538