Monday, November 14, 2005

How About a Viewer's Bill of Rights?

In his latest editorial, Mark Hyman begins a multi-part look at the "movement" afoot to have state legislatures pass an "academic bill of rights" that would mandate teaching practices that promote "alternative viewpoints."

Traditionally, conservatives have been suspicious (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) of tendencies in higher education to introduce "alternative voices" into the college curriculum. So why Hyman's sudden championing of government action to mandate respect for "alternative viewpoints"? Because the only alternative viewpoints at issue with the proposed "academic bill of rights" are conservative.

Railing (yet again) against the "many colleges [that] have become bastions of liberal ideology," Hyman offers no evidence to support his claims. Rather, he simply states as fact that some professors "promote intellectual orthodoxies that are out of the mainstream," "introduce political discussions unrelated to the course material," and "sometimes punish students who express alternative viewpoints or who practice certain religions."

If you'd like an example of any of these, you won't get it from Hyman. He offers none.

In fact, this "movement" is actually a crusade by a fairly small but noisy and well-funded group of neo-conservatives, spearheaded
by David Horowitz and "Students for Academic Freedom" (which, oddly enough, was founded by Horowitz, not students). Horowitz's modus operandi (beyond his general tactics of using smears against opponents) is to find scattered complaints from conservative students (complaints his organization actively encourages) and suggests that these are somehow indicative of what's going on in the average college classroom. But as has been noted, Horowitz often embellishes the facts to suit his purposes, and is unapologetic about doing so (his attitude being, "I'm right, so the facts don't really matter").

Regular readers might remember that we saw how
disingenuous and hypocritical "The Point" is when it comes to attacking higher education. In a recent series feigning to offer disinterested advice to prospective students and their parents, "The Point" gave its viewers several installments of interviews with conservative activists and promoted a highly conservative (and, according to many reviews on, poorly researched and written) guide to colleges.

As I've said many times, there are plenty of problems and issues with higher education (just ask any college instructor), but political indoctrination is not one of them. Horowitz has had to work hard to come up with the smattering of complaints he's got, and there are already rules in existence at all colleges and universities that offer procedures for students to file grievances against instructors who show bias of any sort in their grading or who replace instruction with off topic rants (political or otherwise).

True, there are facts that might lead someone to believe that liberal indoctrination might be going on in college campuses. For example, polling suggests that
the average American holds political views that are considered "liberal" on any number of issues, such as Social Security, the minimum wage, universal health care, gun control, taxation, the environment, education, etc. In fact, in many cases, the majority of Americans actually hold positions that are to the political left of most elected Democrats. However, there is little to no evidence that this widespread liberalism is somehow the result of indoctrination received in college.

The truth is that bills of academic freedom are attempts by conservatives to attack what they perceive as a haven of liberalism.

But there are any number of layers of hypocrisy here. To begin with, you have the oddity of conservatives asking for what amounts to "Affirmative Action" at college campuses. The same people who argue that the invisible hand of the free market should be allowed to work its magic in almost every other walk of life seem to think that the government should intervene in the educational market. But if indoctrination is such a problem, wouldn't one expect institutions where this is a problem to be punished financially by having their application pool dry up and/or losing current students by the truckload as they transfer to other schools? Why this single exception to the cult of the market?

Moreover, as we've also noted before, the attack on the supposed liberalism on college campuses is actually far narrower than it claims to be. It's actually an attack primarily on the humanities and, to a lesser extent, social sciences. The Horowitzes of the world would be horrified if their logic was applied equally across the academic spectrum. Should professors of business be required to spend equal time talking about the "alternative viewpoints" on capitalism offered by Marxists? Should schools of economics offer specialties in "Communist Studies"? If, during a class discussion, a business teacher engages in an interchange with a student with socialist political leanings and questions her belief in the prospect of government ownership of the means of production, should that student be allowed to sue the university because her views were criticized? Should schools with church affiliations give equal time to atheism as they do to religious belief?

For that matter, why stop at higher education? There are any number of other institutions that have a larger affect on the day to day lives of Americans than colleges and universities. If ideological diversity is truly important, why not apply that standard to places where it might have a more dramatic effect? Perhaps the Pentagon should be required to have a certain number of pacifists on its staff. How about some anarchists at the IRS and the Justice Department--that would certainly shake things up. Should we require the executive boards of all Fortune 500 companies to be equally divided between liberals and conservatives? For that matter, how about government itself? Instead of elections, let's just split all legislative bodies right down the middle and appoint each political party an equal number of seats?

And what about the media? Hyman complains about the power of professors to "indoctrinate" students (by the way, if I'm having trouble "indoctrinating" my students into writing coherent 5-paragraph essays, I doubt I, or anyone else, would have much success in indoctrinating students in the subtleties of any given political ideology, even if we wanted to). But the media reaches a far wider range of people. Yet, thanks to Republican dismantling of longstanding FCC guidelines, there is no fairness doctrine left--or ownership restrictions. That allows companies like Sinclair to buy up multiple stations in given markets and allow Hyman to use his own "bully pulpit" to indoctrinate viewers. If Hyman believes so strongly in the dangers of allowing members of an institution to foist off their personal political views on the general public, perhaps he should put his money where his mouth is by offering an honest interchange of ideas on his editorial segment.

I won't hold my breath waiting for Hyman to give me a call, though.

And that's The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.19

PS. For a more thoughtful and articulate response about the specifics of the “Academic Bill of Rights” than I could ever muster, see this essay by Dr. Graham Larkin of the American Association of University Professors. You might also find this interchange between a supporter and opponent of the Academic Bill of Rights interesting, if for no other reason than it’s surprisingly civil.


At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for your wise words. Yes, we once had a viewer's Bill of Rights, but it was done away with.

I don't understand the New Rabid Right. They complain about morals, the need for the Ten Commandments, and an Amendment to the Constitutions (yep!) against flag burning and other assorted ways to inculcate certain values and control individual behavior... while loudly stating how evil the Fairness Doctrine was.

Let's see, what's more important to this crowd:

- Chonically pushing for a Constitutional Amendment to protect our fragile nation from the hordes of flag-burners out there?


- Fighting against restoring the regulation of our airwaves that helped the electorate hear a balance and spectrum of views?


flag burning amendment?
letting the Very Rich do whatever they damn well please with the public's airwaves?

Again, in their world, I buy a flag and burn it, and I could be prosecuted by federal law.

But its just dandy for the Very Rich to burn off our ears with the kind vile, divisive, and self-serving lies that Mark Hyman regularly spews out on "his" station and airwaves.

God save us from our crappy political system.

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, it seems to me that the best way to fight the right's 'control' of the airwaves is to put a better product out there that actually competes with the Conservative views that dominate. Air America simply doesn't cut it. You need better. The market readily accepts quality and you just don't have it.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's one big problem with the market: people don't always choose good things.

I might actually watch 1.2 minutes of Fear Factor out of adolescent intrigue. I might eat several brownies because they taste really good. I might like to watch breasts jiggle, but know that watching a Girls Gone Wild "info"mercial is not good use of my time.

Back in the golden years of TV, one could actually watch Arturo Toscanini conduct a Beethoven symphony. That was back when there were only three networks. Now, with hundreds of station, I bet you'd find it more difficult to hear Beethoven.

So TV shows what people want. Now, I'm going to sound a little elist here... I'm sorry. But once upon a time, I think that our society had a more strongly formed "conscience". We would do more things because we thought they were good.

And our government used to act, to a greater extent, as a means of amplifying our better tendencies. Thus, the Fairness Doctrine.

But now, in this Post Reagan world of "Outta My Way, I Can Make A Buck Off That", our society values materialism over most anything. So Dick Cheney sees nothing wrong with secret meeting with Enron, Bush tells a traumatized nation (after Sept 11, 01) to go to the mall, etc. etc.

I can understand why the Left doesn't like regulations on personal behavior... that's been their tilt for a long time.

But the New Mean Right, that's another story. They are so inconsistent. As I noted above, they are all "hands off" when it comes to regulating industries (broadcast or cable TV) that have a HUGE impact on personal behavior. Yet this same crowd wants a flag-burning amendment to our Constitution.

And then there's the fallacy of the "free market", trotted out to defend any rapacious use of public resources - such as the airwaves.

I used to think Dems were a little weak in the logic department, arguing too much from the heart and making some pretty large errors (in my opinion). But the New Right is worse. Like the Dems, they are inconsistent. But unlike the Dems, they are more closely allied with the CEO's and powerful. And there's this whole meanness thing (example: O'Reilly wishing destruction on San Francisco or man-of-the-cloth Robertson wishing the same on whole cities he doesn't like.

Good God.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Sickofspin said...

What a load of crap by Anonymous. Face facts, if the liberals would put out a quality show, it would stick. Period. For whatever reason, the listening audience doesn't like what you've tried to shovel over the airwaves. Yes, it IS that simple.

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, SOS seems to either miss the point or ignore it.

Then, missing the point, he cleverly labels a reasonably thought-provoking post as "a load of crap". O'Reilly-like, yes, but not exactly Churchillian.

SOS, absolutely nothing in my previous blog entry suggested that liberals produce better TV. I'll grant you that I doubt that they do.

So, unhappy with my point, SOS takes cultural observations that I made (that go way beyond left vs. right nonsense) and then twists them into some boring and unproductive "us versus them" argument. That goes nowhere, as is clear from his cogent "load of crap" analysis.

Again, NOTHING in my previous post was directed toward a liberal vs. right frame of view. (Sorry I'm repeating, but what else can one do when faced with a blogger like SOS?)

I guess SOS can engage other people like that (as this blog shows), but he sure won't convince anybody of anything if he ignores and twists other people's points of views. He's cutting short any real arguments he might have by constantly putting every photon in this world through his Extreme Partisanship Filter.

Sort of like Mark Hyman, Bill (looking for tail) O'Reilly, Rush (Oxy) Limbaugh, and other stars in the Right Wing Media


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