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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

More academic stupidities

Another academic scandal is taking place at Southern Illinois University Carbondale where history professor Jonathan Bean, recently named College Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year, has become the victim of an academic witch hunt for assigned the reading of an article about the "Zebra Killings" in one of his classes along with readings from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The Zebra Killings dealt with a series of murders of in 1972-1974 San Francisco involving the racially motivated murders of whites by blacks.

Six of Professor's Beans colleagues in the history department have accused him of distributing "racist propaganda" not only because of the content of the article but because in the web version of the article their was a link to a racist and anti-Semetic website. In the version of the article distributed to the students, that link was edited out.

Now, I teach courses in Russian history and will have students read materials by Stalin and Lenin does that make me a distributer of "Communist propaganda"? In my Western Civlization courses, it is impossible to present a realistic portrayal of the treatment of women in history involving primary sources without presenting something that today would rightly be condemned as sexist - does this mean that I should avoid having my students read that material? Should I no longer talk about the Crusades or the Inquisition at a Catholic institution? Of course not, if I as a teacher disagree with a particular perspective or article it is my job to show why.

I was particularly disappointed with the words of History professor Robbie Lieberman of SIUC who has been one of the main critics of Bean. Professor Lieberman has said that the attacks on Bean are not a case of academic McCarthyism. Because, "I know what McCarthyism is," Lieberman said. "I teach McCarthyism. It's absurd; there are no elements of it in this." This is because only conservatives can be guilty of McCarthyism, not liberals.

According to an article from The Southern Illinoisan, "Lieberman said no one is attacking Bean's views or even his right to discuss controversial topics in class. The main problem, she said, with Bean's handout is it came from an Internet source that had questionable ties. Using the Internet as a source of material in the history department is generally frowned upon, Lieberman said, because its validity is not always certain. 'I don't personally let students with research papers get things off the Internet,"'she said."

Now, isn't it her responsibility to help her student's separate the good from the bad on the Internet? What does she think her students are going to do when they graduate - just ignore the Internet? Presumably she teaches her students how to make qualitative judgments about the reliability of print resources in her courses, treating the Internet should not be any different.

What a disservice to the historical profession.


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