October 21, 2008
Have a different opinion? Think again. The debate is over. A highly politicised ideological bias exists in academia - one harmful to students, damaging to standards and which threatens intellectual diversity - according to the majority of submissions to the Senate's academic freedom inquiry.
In nearly all cases, this bias comes from one direction - the left. A prominent academic, Mervyn Bendle, in his submission says it "dominates research programs, publications and textbooks at all levels and therefore influences every aspect of education in Australia".
Pick any controversial issue today - Work Choices, anti-terror laws, Israel-Palestine, or climate change - and in academia these issues have been decided. There is only one accepted view on each - no debate is allowed.
Ask the Cardinal Newman Society at the University of Queensland. Earlier this year it had stalls outlining pregnancy-support options for women - a move that contradicted the student union's policy of safe, free abortion on demand. The Catholic student group was reprimanded, threatened with disaffiliation and faced formal disciplinary proceedings.
Heaven help anyone on campus, academic or student, who dares to question what Dr Bendle calls a "radical orthodoxy", characterised by "theories associated with neo-Marxism, postmodernism, feminism, radical environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Christianity, and related ideologies".
Bendle argues this entrenched left-wing culture has its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. Yesterday's radicals are today's establishment, and now they will tolerate no dissent. Resistance is futile. You will be indoctrinated.
No recent research has been conducted into the ideological leanings of Australian educators, but in the US a 1999 study found more than 70 per cent of academics identified as left wing, compared to only 15 per cent as conservative. In some humanities departments, conservatives are outnumbered by up to 30 to one. The situation is so bad the University of Colorado recently debated creating a "chair of conservative thought" in a desperate attempt to restore some balance.
The scarcity of conservative intellectuals explains the barrage of attacks that emanated from academia during almost the entire term of the former government. These criticisms were on a wide range of different issues, from immigration to industrial relations. Some were justified, yet were almost always from a critical left-wing perspective.
This lack of balance demonstrates the much-touted commitment to "diversity" mouthed by all academic institutions is only skin deep. Gender, ethnic and sexual diversity are all the rage, but intellectual diversity is ignored.
Many Australian educators are activists masquerading as academics, agitating for radical far-left causes well outside, and profoundly hostile to, the values of mainstream Australia.
One example is Damien Riggs, of the University of Adelaide, who heads an association of academics that seek to "expose and challenge white-race privilege in Australia and elsewhere". His area of interest is "what it means to speak as a white queer person in a colonial nation".
Academics, like any other citizens, are perfectly entitled to their political opinions, however bizarre. The problem arises when these political views influence the content of their teaching.
Take the former education union president Pat Byrne who in 2005 boasted that so-called progressive educators "had succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities".
Then there are the hundreds of subjects in the humanities, most of which reflect the Marxist obsessions of their lecturers. One subject on tourism "explores travel through themes such as gender, class, race, imperialism, war and … sexuality". Another on design considers "how architecture perpetuates the social order of gender".
One former trainee teacher, Beccy Merzi, told the inquiry: "I became so fed up and disgusted by the continual barrage of criticism of mainstream values, the lack of focus on practical ways of teaching, and the continual focus on minority groups, postmodernism, gender, queer and other studies that I abandoned my teaching degree. "
But it's not only the course content that is biased - it's lecturers' conduct. Submission after submission documented educators using their classrooms to promote their political views and belittling or marking down students who disagreed.
"I have been abused and mocked by a lecturer in front of others for refusing to acknowledge the 'genocide occurring in Lebanon' during the Israeli-Lebanese war," one student, Joshua Koonin, told the inquiry.
It's high time that educators learnt that the principles of academic freedom apply equally to students as they do to their lecturers.
Nigel Freitas is a Young Liberal and the director of the Make Education Fair Campaign.
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