Classroom controls stir hot debate

Should lawmakers have a say in college curriculum and staffing? Andrea Sarvady, a left-leaning columnist, writes the commentary this week, and Shaunti Feldhahn, a right-leaning columnist, responds.

Andea Sarvady
Feel like a college education will soon be beyond your family’s budget? Good news! It’s not a safe place to spend four years, anyway.
At least that’s what I’ve gathered, watching lawmakers urge the public to storm the campus gates and protest courses and professors that look like a waste of taxpayers’ money. Their mantra? Censor now; ask questions later.
Such lack of research recently put egg on the faces of two legislators in Georgia, who railed against governmental spending for courses in oral sex and male prostitution. Rail against anything you like, folks, but do your homework first. They soon discovered that these are actually not courses at all, but areas of scholarly expertise that have provided crucial understanding of both teenage sexual habits and the AIDS crisis.
One of the crusading representatives, Calvin Hill, claimed his campaign had been “taken sideways by people who like the titillating words.” Yet Hill’s embarrassing lack of investigation into the very work he was concerned about fully demonstrates just who was “taken sideways” by provocative subject matter.
There’s an art to putting together a rich educational environment, involving an extensive hiring and development process. What qualifies politicians for the job? Nothing, especially when their sole focus is to appease a constituency flooded with selective, sensationalistic tales of “Professors Gone Wild.”
“Colleges and universities operate for the good of society as a whole,” I was reminded by John Curtis, director of public policy for the American Association of University Professors. “That’s why taxpayers, legislators, students and families invest in them – not only when they already agree with each lesson that is being taught.”
Makes sense, right? Nonetheless, certain groups keep touting insidiously named “academic freedom” and “academic diversity” bills, designed to push intelligent-design theory into the science curriculum, force professors to tailor their lectures to appeal to pre-held views, even give students permission to reject an assignment with which they don’t agree.
Does that sound like freedom and diversity to you? It sounds like coercion to me, and now the same manipulative crew who used the “balance” argument to silence professors is trotting out a “budget” argument to try to achieve the same thing.
Governmental control of our intellectuals? That’s never been my view of America. Do you want it to be yours?
Shaunti Feldhahn
Censorship and accountability are two completely different things. Georgia is facing at least a $2.2 billion dollar deficit, and universities have to cut costs like everyone else. Of course schools should be prioritizing the relative value of classes in each discipline – how else are they going to decide what to cut? Pick it with a pin?
States don’t spend taxpayer dollars on higher education out of the goodness of their hearts. They are paying for more productive workers who will grow the economy and be less likely to need state support. In tough times it is self-indulgent and foolish to cry “Academic freedom!” to protect courses or programs that have the least likelihood of advancing those goals, since cuts are going to have to be made somewhere. No student at Georgia State University should get less financial aid so that the university can continue to offer students health programs like “Vagina Monologues and Penis Chronicles,” which was “designed to encourage discussion among females and males about their genitals.”
Georgia State is a fine school, but it is irresponsible not to question their use of taxpayer money in offering so many niche “sexualities” courses, such as “Feminism and Queer Theory” or “African-American Lesbian and Gay Activism.” By contrast, another nearby Georgia school, Kennesaw State, offers just a few such classes, including “Queering the South,” in which “students will be encouraged to re-construct the South as a place generative of non-normative subjectivities and sexualities.” Other state schools offered none at all.
In a phone interview, Georgia state Reps. Calvin Hill and Charlice Byrd explained that since the controversy hit, they’ve been flooded with examples of wasteful public university spending. And their research showed that many state schools around the country are being much better managed than others in these tight times. As Byrd put it, “In this economy, we should be talking primarily about job training, not the superfluous courses and programs.”
This isn’t Andrea’s straw man of “government control.” Hill’s bottom line is:
“We do not want to tell the Georgia Board of Regents what classes to offer or what professors to have. But they have been refusing to take cuts, and yet there are only so many dollars they can spend. We just want them to be accountable for what they offer at taxpayers’ expense.”

Andrea Sarvady (ASarvad@gmail.com) is a writer and educator specializing in counseling, and a married mother of three. Shaunti Feldhahn (scfeldhahn@yahoo.com) is a conservative Christian author and speaker, and married mother of two children. Contact both at Universal Press, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo.

Joe Rutherford