Making (Air)Waves

, Julia A. Seymour, Leave a comment

Penn State University’s Lion Radio is home to Radio Free Penn State, and while it may not be the Rush Limbaugh show, the student talk show with its host Andy Nagypal is both entertaining and insightful.

On April 12, the show hosted students, alumni and featured a phone interview with state Representative Gibson C. Armstrong as part of Academic Freedom Week on Radio Free Penn State.

Rep. Armstrong reiterated the purpose of his committee and explained what has transpired with the hearings so far. He also encouraged students experiencing political harassment to stand up.

“You may get a bad grade or have to take the class again, but you need to stand up,” said Armstrong.

Rep. Armstrong also criticized the denial of an academic freedom problem by some of his fellow committee members, some of whom have participated in teach-ins at universities in Pennsylvania against what the committee is doing.

Kelly Keelan, a junior in history, spoke of her experiences in an Introduction to Women’s Studies course at Penn State.

Students were offered extra credit for attending a pro-choice rally, but, said Keelan, when I asked the professor if participating in a pro-life event could earn the extra credit the answer was no.

Another time a guest speaker was brought into the class from an abortion group and she initiated a chant of “Abortion! Abortion” in order to destigmatize them said Keelan.

Joshua Troxel, a Penn State Alumnus and former student member of the faculty senate, recounted an attempt to include an amendment to a resolution that would have required professors to include a sentence explaining students’ rights and telling them how to file a grievance in their syllabi. “The whole measure failed simply because we wanted to inform the students,” said Troxel, “They refused to discuss the bill entirely.”

Nagypal, said he thinks the professors are “circling the wagons” and “All these issues are coming up because the schools haven’t addressed it—we have no shortage of people advancing tolerance and soliciting examples through but suddenly the burden of proof is higher for students who complain of political harassment.”

Another student who was on the show said he has had a professor dislike him for his political views and when that happens speaking up is like “playing Russian roulette with your grade.” I wouldn’t talk to the professor because there is such a huge power imbalance, he said.

Troxel replied, suggesting the need for third party mediators. “People [students] told me they were afraid to talk to their professors about problems. When I approached them [professors] they were usually very receptive. Except when it was about bias, every single time the professor would say it is their right to teach how they want to,” said Troxel.

Penn State film student, Derek Bledsoe said that he doesn’t think a person’s political bias can be separated from what they do because teaching is like media. “It’s a transfer of information” and because time and space are limited, material is selected and bias plays a role in the selection, said Bledsoe.

Unlike most of the others on the show, Bledsoe said he doesn’t think that bias is a problem if grades are unaffected, open discourse and dissent is encouraged and fact is separate from opinion.

Someone on the panel then spoke about a kinesiology professor who referred to a crushed skull as IED boy, explaining that little jabs like that show bias and are unnecessary.

Nagypal broke into the conversation adding that “those wanting to be an authority figure would strive for balance and present expert views.”

“That would be ideal,” said Bledsoe.

“But most don’t even aspire,” responded Nagypal.

“Especially with tenure,” chimed Troxel who then told about a student who brought a complaint to him while he was on the faculty senate.

A student told me about an electrical engineering exam that had the question, “Should we be fighting the war in Iraq and why?” said Troxel. If the students answered yes, they were downgraded because they answered incorrectly he said.

Then Professor Sam Richards, who had argued with David Horowitz on Radio Free Penn State the day before, called in to the show with a few comments.

“I don’t think you have to present two views on every topic. You can’t. For example this week I asked, ‘what do you think of undocumented immigration?’,” Richards said.

“You mean illegal aliens?” asked someone.

Richards chuckled, “Well, I asked everyone to defend their position.”

“Well, they are illegal and they are aliens in a country that does not belong to them,” the person responded.

“It is a simplistic way to look at it,” replied Richards.

Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.