Politicized Academia? A Professor Unsuccessfully Lobbies for a Class in Political Correctness

Article excerpt

After an opinion survey found that many Bowling Green State University (BGSU) students felt classes were highly politicized by faculty members on the far left, a sociology professor, Richard Zeller, decided to launch a course that would examine the phenomenon.

His proposed course title is "Political Correctness." Authors on his book list include such prominent neoconservatives as Dinesh D'Souza ("Illiberal Education"), Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray ("The Bell Curve"), and Christina Hoff Summers ("Who Stole Feminism").

The professor was turned down flat - first by his own sociology department, then by the American studies, ethnic studies, and psychology departments.

No matter that Mr. Zeller doesn't happen to agree with everything these authors propose - or, more important, that he is committed to teaching about political correctness in an even-handed way - his colleagues would have none of it.

When Zeller took the controversy beyond the ivory tower to the local Ohio press, some on campus did not appreciate his whistle- blowing efforts. Others, however, wondered what the fuss was all about. The Zeller affair arrives in an era when it seems no sociology course would ever be turned down. In another department, BGSU once offered a course in the roller-coaster - complete with field trips. But Zeller's antagonists argue that his proposed course has no sociological content, and that he intends to use it as a forum to express his right-wing political philosophy.

Gary Lee, chairman of the university's sociology department, likens Zeller's proposed course to an "infomercial," one that would end up with taxpayers footing the bill for advocacy rather than education. He also says that Zeller would grade students on the basis of how much they agreed with his politics. "This is clearly wrong," Mr. Lee insists, "and it doesn't matter whether the indoctrination comes from the left or the right." However, nothing in Zeller's file - he's taught at Bowling Green since 1976 - justifies such fears: No student or administrator has ever complained about him rigging the political deck in classrooms.

At the heart of the dispute separating Zeller and Lee is how much politicization regularly goes on at BGSU and whether a double standard is now being applied to a professor out to teach what many regard as politically incorrect books. If Zeller's course proposal contained the requisite amount of "sociological content," Lee says, "it would have been approved without problem. …