Thursday, March 31, 2005

Picking the “Wrong Topic” in English

In response to a post on ideological conformity in the Marquette English Department, we received three e-mails in short order.

One, a response from a left-leaning student activist, will be posted shortly.

Another came from an alumnus, who observed:
As a double graduate at Marquette, I appreciate your views on what is going on in the world and what is going on at MU. I experienced expressing the wrong views in my freshman english comp class back in the fall of 1983. I imagine it has only gotten worse over time.
This correspondent then explained in a later e-mail:
When the subject of euphemisms came up and the term “pro-choice” was not considered an appropriate term for an example of a euphemism. In fact the suggestion that pro-life was a better example was offered. There clearly was an environment that made me steer clear of “controversial” subjects as the class went on.
Another e-mail was from a current Marquette student:
Thought I would share this bit of information with you.

In English 002, we are currently working on a personal essay (one which requires no thesis statement but rather a style reflective of the “My Turn” pieces in Newsweek) on social justice issues we had a connection or view on and our professor this afternoon . . . asked if any us were working on something related to the Terri Schiavo case. Disappointedly I was the only one in the class of about 20-30 students who raised his hand. After that he said he wanted to see me after class to discuss something. When class was over with I went to his desk and spoke with him. Apparently his brother is in a vegetative state or something to that effect (he didn’t go too much into detail and I didn’t bother to ask believing it to be a personal issue that shouldn’t be open to discussion outside immediate family) and questioned what position I was going to take in the issue. I said I would be taking the side of Terri’s parents and the belief that no one is given the decision as to when and where they want to die. I saw the Schiavo case as, at best (if that could be said), assisted suicide (which goes not only goes against Catholic teaching but the constitution of the US as well) or, at worst, cold-blooded murder. He then advised me to not write on the issue and to select another topic. At first I was willing to do this - the Schiavo choice was a last minute decision made over Spring Break and I was originally planning to write on the views of the Iraq War - but I am never one to be censored on what I can and can not write about, so I questioned why I had to choose another topic. I could see that this was a personal issue for him but it was for me as well. My father is a pharmacist and my mother is a nurse, so when this debate was going on I received a lot information about her condition and the difference between a vegetative and non-vegetative state, etc.

Furthermore, my grandmother died when I was five or six years old from lung cancer (she smoked a lot during her life) and she was in a lot of pain for a good portion of the end of her life . . . but not once during that time did either my mother or my grandfather decide that it was too much for her to suffer through that they had to pull the plug or feeding tube or whatever. We talked it over a bit and he said that he would talk with the head of the English Department (or another professor) . . . to see if he/she could grade my essay instead of him because he believed he would have a biased view on the subject and it would hurt my grade. I agreed to this. I understand and agree with what he is doing but I wanted to let you know about this and see what you thought.
It’s hard to know whether this was an example of ideological bias, or simply one of personal sensitivity. The fact that the professor wanted to know which side the student was going to take argues for the former. So does the fact that “Social Justice” is usually a euphemism for a leftist political agenda.

On the other hand, the professor made a robust effort to be fair when challenged. But the student shouldn’t have needed to challenge the professor.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that students should challenge faculty and insist on their right to take conservative positions if they want to. That is far less dangerous than some of the more timid might believe.

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