I am one of the professors who recently came face-to-face with the “bias response” process at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC).
This happened in the Fall 2015 term, and although I was angry and upset about how I was treated, I had no intention of coming forward. I was concerned about reprisals and backlash, and the simple fact is, I’m not a “torch and pitchfork” type of person. I prefer to focus on my students and avoid campus politics.
But I felt I had to come forward after my case was made public by Heat Street, the FIRE, the Greeley Tribune, and other media outlets. And once I learned some of the broader-reaching — and more frightening — aspects of UNC’s attitude towards free speech and academic freedom, I felt that I needed to make my voice heard.
Each semester, I tell my students that the purpose of education is not just to help them get a better job, but to help them gain a broad and deep understanding of the world so that they can more effectively contribute to society.
To that end, I always encourage students to both recognize and respect diverse views, attitudes, and opinions; and to see their ultimate goal in the academic world as an ongoing search for TRUTH rather than a desire to push a personal agenda.
Unfortunately, there are many in academia today who do not share my view. They see the academic world as a place to both further an agenda and to recruit new advocates for that agenda.
These are not educators; they are educational activists. They don’t want to teach students, they want to train them.
Not only is this dangerous, but it’s anti-academic. In order for these educational activists to achieve their goals, they must stifle debate rather than encourage it. They must curtail academic freedom rather than expand it. They must make the educational environment exclusive rather than inclusive.
In my case, after leading a discussion about recognizing and respecting diverse views on controversial topics including transgender issues, I was informed that a student had reported me to the university for bias, and I was expected to meet with a representative of the administration.
At that meeting I was told that, although it was my choice, if I wanted to avoid further investigation and legal ramifications, I should avoid this topic in the future.
I understand that a university administration has to deal with competing interests. I recognize that it can be difficult to promote academic freedom while also protecting the academic community from discrimination and biased behavior.
But the path that UNC and other universities are following is both dangerous and itself biased. In fact, UNC has taken positions that show clear bias against free speech and academic freedom.
For example, as Heat Street reported, last year the university hung posters around campus that discussed acceptable and unacceptable language. These posters included instructions such as using the phrase, “person who is undocumented” rather than “illegal alien… because ‘illegal’ is a racist slur.”
Another poster instructed students to avoid the phrase “all lives matter,” because it, “[dismisses] the Black Lives Matter movement.” When someone wrote, “all lives do matter” and “free speech matters” on the poster, it was removed and replaced with one that read, “This was the site of bias related behavior.”
So at UNC, it’s perfectly acceptable to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but biased to claim that all lives matter and free speech matters.
UNC has also fully embraced the Cultural Marxist-inspired “social justice warrior” movement, an extreme left-wing, totalitarian movement aimed at stamping out all discussion that does not meet its narrow definitions of appropriateness or does not exalt the “oppressed” over the “privileged.”
The UNC bias response website includes a “Get Engaged” page that encourages students to consider the following: “What are my privileged identities? Learn how you may consciously and/or subconsciously impact others due to your privileged identities.” There is even a link on the page to a Buzzfeed site where students can determine their privilege by checking off statements that apply to the student, such as the following:
- I am white
- I am heterosexual
- I am a man
- I work in a salaried job
- I don’t have any student loans
- I graduated high school
- I graduated college
Remember, “privilege” is defined by Cultural Marxists as a benefit you receive without having done anything to earn it. And we all know that having graduated from high school and college, working at a salaried job, and avoiding student loans is something that just “happens” to people.
UNC President Kay Norton recently attempted to address concerns about hte Bias Response Team’s recent behavior. Unfortunately, although she acknowledged shortcomings in the college’s processes, she put greater emphasis on how “those at the extremes of the political spectrum attempt to portray civil interaction and community building as the enemies of free speech.”
What UNC is doing is not civil interaction and community building. It is dangerous, anti-academic, educational activism, and it has no place in higher education. According to The FIRE, there are at least 100 bias response teams in place at universities nationwide. For a good explanation of the fear professors have of facing these response teams, I suggest reading “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
I do not expect colleges and universities to turn a blind eye to cases of real discrimination or bias on their campuses, but there needs to be fundamental change in the educational environment. First, educational activism must be stamped out.
Additionally, processes must be tempered with common sense. In my case, it would have been far more effective for the dean of students to sit the student down, reinforce the purpose of higher education, and explain to her that it was time to grow up and face the world like a grown up, or withdraw from school and re-apply when she was ready to do so.
Mike Jensen is a former Adjunct Professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado.