We are frequently asked if we would treat any right-wing bias in academia in the way we do discrimination from the left. Actually, in the past three and a half years we have pursued the trio of leads on this alleged conservative tilt in the Ivory Tower we received wherever the evidence would carry us, which wasn’t very far.
Because we approach every story with an open mind, we are following the latest trail of such allegations in whatever direction it will take us. Thus far, though, what we have seen only fleshes out what we already learned about the politically and socially liberal tilt of most campuses.
“However, many stories have emerged lately about younger, nontenured faculty being hounded from their jobs by conservative attacks on them and of administrators caving in to those attacks—stories that are of course suppressed from conservative accounts of how it is always leftist teachers who intimidate conservative students,” University of Tennessee professor Donald Lazere writes in the latest issue of the magazine Radical Teacher.
When I pressed Dr. Lazere for details on these incidents, he graciously forwarded to me a quartet of e-mails, so far. We will examine those in a future installment.
First, we want to look at the case of a professor who contacted us at Dr. Lazere’s urging. “Everything Dr. Lazere mentions above happened to me last semester,” Austin Jackson, a writing instructor at Michigan State University writes. “An older, non-traditional ‘conservative’ student and local right-wing activist contacted fundamentalist Christian news media, claiming his first-year writing class was being taught by an ‘anti-Christian’ Communist Sunni Muslim.”
“The allegation, without my knowing it, had an ‘echo chamber’ effect, circulating widely on right-wing Christian websites,” Dr. Jackson claims. “My former university (Olivet College, Olivet, MI) knew about this ‘story’ but never contacted me.” Olivet was where Dr. Jackson taught when the incident took place.
“I did not know about it until two weeks later, after a religious reporter from a major educational publication called asking for an interview,” Dr. Jackson remembers. “He called a day after my wife gave birth to our first child.”
“As a result of the student’s allegations and the university’s inaction, I received anonymous calls for my termination, resignation, and even threats against my life.”
“The university never investigated the student’s claims, but also did nothing to address the situation,” Dr. Jackson alleges. “When university officials finally confronted the student about the allegations, they disciplined the student with a letter telling him to stop the smear campaign and personal attacks in the media.”
“This was a slap on the wrist, considering the fact that I was forced to seek legal counsel and police protection because of the threats on my life,” Dr. Jackson argues. “My case is much more detailed, but just wanted to assure you that Dr. Lazere is correct in his claim that many young, untenured professors face incredible harassment—and in my case, low-level terrorism—for incorporating principles of critical literacy and pedagogy into our teaching practices.”
Indeed, it turns out that Dr. Jackson did not lose his job due to his political beliefs at all. “The Writing & Rhetoric program invited me to teach the second half of the first-year mandatory writing sequence,” he wrote. “I declined, instead teaching at MSU full-time.”
Dr. Jackson left Olivet to pursue a Master’s in African-American studies at MSU and work as a composition instructor there. Olivet itself, which Dr. Jackson implies gave in to conservative pressure, is a nominally religious school but an avowedly progressive one as well.
For example, the Olivet web site proudly announces the impending arrival of gay rights activists and feminists. “There is nothing ‘progressive’ about Olivet College, despite whatever claims are made on its web site,” Dr. Jackson insists. “One of Olivet’s campus organizations is under investigation as a possible hate group (Young Americans for Freedom), and the college is also the site of a 1991 race riot that made international headlines.”
It should also be pointed out that, buttressing Dr. Jackson’s charges, the story on the professor that appeared in the Agape Press had one source— the aforementioned student. Moreover, Dr. Jackson’s ratemyprofessor.com ratings at Olivet were scornful, but two in number. Since one of these anonymous reviews linked to the story that featured the pedagogue’s antagonist, it does not require much conjecture to figure out where half of the professor’s ratemyprofessor.com negatives came from while he was at Olivet.
But Dr. Jackson has racked up four times as many ratemyprofessor.com pans since moving on to MSU. Dr. Jackson maintains that “Olivet did nothing to stop or even address the fact that my religion (Islam) and my alleged political philosophy (labeling me a ‘communist,’ which is a lie)” became a source of controversy.
As to the impact that Dr. Jackson’s politics has on his teaching, the MSU promotional web site is quite up front about that as well. It should be noted, though, that the professor’s MSU page also shows him to be a demonstratively compassionate man outside of the classroom.
“Austin has served as writing-center coordinator for the Michigan State University athletic program, and is currently Graduate Student Coordinator of the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Program for at-risk Black males,” according to the site. “He is co-author of several published articles on the use of Hip Hop and African-American Rhetoric to enhance student literacy and stimulate transformative social action.”
“His dissertation, ‘Maroon Literacy, Guerilla Rhetoric: A Black Cultural Studies Approach to College Composition,’ is a critical ethnographic study exploring the pedagogical and political impact of using Rap/Hip Hop and Marxist literary theory to develop academic and critical literacy among college-level writers.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.