Many students complain about ideological bias at their colleges and universities, but few have taken their grievances all the way to their state legislators. Ruth Malhotra is one of those brave souls.
Below is a transcript of the testimony Malhotra gave on February 23 before the Georgia Senate’s Higher Education Committee, which was at that time considering the adoption of the Academic Bill of Rights. Due in no small part to her passionate appeals, the bill passed the Georgia Senate last month by a vote of 41 to 5.
My name is Ruth Malhotra and I am currently a sophomore at the Georgia
Institute of Technology, studying International Affairs and Public Policy. I
appreciate this opportunity to speak to you today regarding issues of academic
freedom and share some examples of what we face on campus and concerns related
to this issue.
I am very loyal to my school, Georgia Tech, and I’m grateful for the
opportunity to study in such a fine academic institution. However, I have been
confronted with some difficult challenges, which I believe so many conservative
students face on a daily basis in the classroom.
I have definitely experienced situations where I believe professors have abused
their positions in the classroom, particularly when faced with students who do
not agree with their specific point of view or line up with their political
affiliation. Whether teaching personal opinion as fact, treating students in a
disrespectful manner, or threatening to lower grades based on their personal
beliefs, I know that this type of discrimination definitely exists on campus
and something must be done about it.
I believe that students should be given an opportunity to express themselves in
a reasonable manner and that professors should encourage educated discussion on
the subject matter among students from different points of view when
appropriate. Even when professors have strong and well-defined political
views, in dealing with controversial issues they must allow the students to
openly share their views based on personal political ideologies, and be willing
to incorporate the whole spectrum of political debate in the class.
In the liberal arts this is a growing area of concern, where failure to comply with
the professor’s views can be punitive, and the discussions must be conducted in
a very objective manner. In one of my classes, when a student expresses a
point of view different from that of the professor, the response is most often
one of dismissal, telling students, “You are ignorant or you don’t know
I value the chance in class for lively discussion and educated
debate when relevant, and realize that students and professors alike must
commit to a level of professionalism in order to ensure a meaningful academic
experience. Without giving any credence to our comments, [the] professor
said, “You are making your decisions irrationally,” and continued to say
that “much of this is silliness.” A student expressed frustration, saying that
he didn’t appreciate the professor constantly laughing at some in the class
after they would make a comment. Her response was, “I don’t laugh at you. I
may ignore you and I may snicker, but that’s only because you don’t know
However, there are professors that do not impose their political
bias in a punitive way. Professors should seek to demonstrate sensitivity to
students and efforts to foster dialogue with different points of view, and must
not let their personal views inhibit them from conducting the class in a
balanced manner and judging students impartially.
Students should be graded solely on the basis of their merit and conforming to
the class instructions, without being in fear of lower academic grades simply
for expressing their convictions on an issue. Some students are so fearful and
really shocked at the manner in which class is conducted on a regular basis,
that one even brings a tape recorder to class.
In my own experiences recently, I have numerous personal examples of specific
instances where this has been the case. When I told a professor that I would be
leaving that week to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in
Washington, D.C., she replied, “Well, you’re just going to fail my class.” After
noticing the confusion in my face, she laughed it off, which led me to believe that
she wasn’t serious. However, I think that such a comment was inappropriate,
regardless of how it was intended. I know that my experience on campus has not
been an isolated occurrence, but that unfortunately such situations are prevalent.
Due to its subjective nature, this problem surfaces with greater frequency and
intensity in the liberal arts and social science classes. These college
courses often have a profound impact on the lives of students, significantly
defining our worldview. At this critical time in America’s history and its
predominant role in international politics, it is obvious that there are many
divergent views regarding America’s leadership and its role in the world. It
is impossible for students to derive balanced conclusions from biased
foundations. For example, there is often a skewed selection of textbooks; I
have taken classes where all required reading is so biased towards the liberal
viewpoint and presents only one side of the issue.
Often professors will bring up issues in the classroom not pertinent to the
subject matter at hand. I believe that the continued focus on divisive and
irrelevant topics is a deliberate intrusion meant to indoctrinate the student
body. A professor repeatedly says, “You will learn,” in a condescending manner,
as if her mission is to indoctrinate us with liberalism before the end of the
I am bothered by the double standards I believe exist in the educational
system. From my personal experiences and core beliefs, I greatly value
diversity as well as individuality, whether it is that of thought and ideas or
race and background. While great strides are being made to promote diversity
of different types – ethnic, social and economic diversity – intellectual
diversity is not only severely lacking, it is being stifled.
When discussing issues of education and socialism, I made a comment that I
thought was relevant to the discussion. “You are not an individual,” the professor
told me, “you did not make it here on your own, but because of society.” In
discussions on society, a professor constantly referred to “rich white kids that
grew up in privilege” and inferred that people from the South were ignorant and
When a student asked a question during class, the professor didn’t
appreciate it and asked the student if he was from Vidalia [a city in southeastern Georgia]. She even went on to say that she had asked this question to many
students and she loved using Vidalia as her city. Another student was highly
offended, being born in Vidalia and having family from there. She apparently
was inferring that people from Vidalia, or the South, were uninformed and slow.
Of course this stereotyping of the “stupid southerner” brought on much laughter
from the class.
I believe this mentality perpetuates conflict – by using class warfare,
group stereotypes such as race, gender, and class. When the issue of religion
comes up, as is often the case, professors have dismissed our beliefs
as “fundamentalist” and constantly refer to the “religious right” in a negative
manner – statements that I find highly offensive.
After being challenged by a student, one day in closing class a professor
defended her teaching by saying, “This class is unique because it has [my]
liberal ideas in it… and I am not a white male Republican.” Well, in my
experience that is not unique at all; I have yet to have an openly conservative
professor in the classroom.
It is very frustrating to be in such a position and to be forced to deal with
this on a regular basis, but it is very encouraging to see a growing awareness
that this problem exists and a commitment to do something about it. It is
obvious that we need a definitive course of action, and we are faced with
perplexing questions. How do you balance deference to authority while still
holding professors accountable for the way they conduct their classes? As
students, should we be forced to choose between expressing the courage of our
convictions and risking lower grades? Is the academic system intrinsically
biased towards one side of the political spectrum, and if so, how can we move
towards objectivity? Ultimately the issue is one of promoting scholarship, not
partisanship; education, not indoctrination.