[Marxism] McCarthyite students

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 7 09:28:26 MST 2005

Inside Higher Education, March 7, 2005
A New Red Scare

Members of the College Republicans group at Santa Rosa Junior College had 
had enough. They were fed up, they said, with talking among themselves 
about various professors who, by expressing unvarnished liberal views as 
fact, made the students feel uncomfortable expressing their opposing views 
in class.

"What are you supposed to think when your teacher stands in front of the 
class and talks about "what idiots all the people are who voted in the 
current administration?" says Molly McPherson, a second-year politics major 
and president of the Republican club. "That kind of thing doesn't lead to 
the exploration of ideas, and it doesn't make you think that your views are 
welcome or would be worth an A grade."

So when one of the students came across language in California's Education 
Code prohibiting instructors from teaching communism "with the intent to 
indoctrinate or to inculcate" students with that doctrine, the students got 
an idea.

"Why inculcate us with any political ideology? Do I pay them to teach me 
what to think?" McPherson says. "I don't think so. I want them to teach me 
how to think and the facts to think with. They can teach whatever they 
want, but I as student have a right to hear both sides of an issue."

To try to make their point, the students put the language from the 
education code on a flyer and affixed a red star to the top, signing it 
from "Anonymous Students." A week ago Friday, they taped the flyers to the 
office doors of about 10 professors about whom McPherson says students had 
complained about imposing their political views in the classroom.

The fallout was swift and powerful. The professors who received the flyers 
objected that they were being personally attacked and threatened by the 
reference to the McCarthy-era remnant of the state code, which aimed to 
prevent the teaching of Communism aimed at "undermining patriotism for, and 
the belief in, the government of the United States and of this state."

At a news conference hastily arranged by some of the professors, McPherson 
and another member of the College Republicans showed up to acknowledge 
having posted the flyers. On Monday, Santa Rosa administrators circulated 
an e-mail that defended academic freedom but also said professors were 
responsible for "acknowledging the existence of, and showing respect for, 
opposing opinions" and "making clear what is personal opinion and what is 
considered general knowledge." McPherson and other students responsible for 
the postings faced a barrage of criticism at a raucous meeting of the 
college's Academic Senate on Wednesday.

In an interview, McPherson acknowledged that her use of the red stars and 
the "anonymous" nature of the document were "over the top," and that she 
underestimated the extent to which the faculty members, many of whom were 
"in the McCarthy generation," would be "afraid that they would come under 
criticism for their views."

Rather than implying a threat, she says, "the goal was to promote a 
discussion. We weren't trying to say they were communists. We were trying 
to get them to think about what this code says about" the climate in their 

But professors were not quick to forgive the students' use of McCarthy-era 
imagery. "Unnamed students and unspecified complaints -- what does this 
sound like to you?" says Marco Giordano, an English professor who was not 
on the receiving end of a red star. "This was an attack and an innuendo and 
a slander on them, not the opening of a discussion. If you want to open a 
dialogue, you go to the professor's office, or the department chairman or 
the dean. Not one of these professors has a student complaint standing 
against them." (Administrators at the college could not be reached over the 
weekend to confirm that fact or to comment generally on the controversy.)

Giordano says that when he teaches, he provides facts and inferences of the 
facts in the classroom, and keeps his political opinions to himself. But 
academic freedom gives his colleagues the right to do that if they want, he 

"It isn't a question of just balancing ideas in the classroom," he says. 
Academic freedom applies institution-wide. Consider the books in our 
library. We should have one by the monarchist and one by the Communist, but 
the monarchist doesn't have to give equal time to the Communist, and vice 
versa. I don't believe students should feel intimidated out of expressing 
their political opinions, but neither should professors."

McPherson says she hopes the faculty will agree to an open forum to discuss 
these issues in the coming weeks.

It also seems clear, though, that the discussion will move beyond the 
campus. She said she plans to try to build student support for 
legislation  introduced in the California legislature -- modeled on David 
Horowitz's Student Bill of Rights -- that would mandate, among other 
things, that colleges ensure that their faculty members present all 
viewpoints in their courses.

— Doug Lederman



More information about the Marxism mailing list