Monday, March 26, 2007

Ideological Bias in Marquette’s Philosophy Department

Stu Ditsler is the Philosophy graduate student who had an “offensive” quote on the door of his office last fall. On September 5th, it was torn down by Department Chair James South, who claimed that several people had objected.

What terribly offensive thing did Ditsler post? Here it is:
“As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”
It appears that this particular act of ideological bias was just the tip of the iceberg.

Ditsler had earlier been chastised for his libertarian views. In an e-mail he sent us yesterday, he explained.
I’ve been holding onto this for a while, but I feel compelled to write about it now in light of the events of last semester and my impending graduation. Some background first. At the end of every semester the faculty members in the Philosophy Department have a meeting to discuss the performance of the graduate students in their classes that semester. Each graduate student subsequently receives an individual evaluation from an advisor based on the comments made at the meeting. Here are some of the comments reported about me in my review following the Fall 2005 semester.
“The general impression of the Department is that you are a good student who has the potential to do good philosophical work. It was also mentioned that you are for the most part a strong writer. There are some ways, however, in which you could improve your abilities as a philosopher. First, it was mentioned that it is sometimes the case that you interpret a view you do not like in a terribly unsympathetic manner. This is not a virtue, in philosophy, because we want to get at what is being said for or against the strongest arguments an author presents. Starting from an unsympathetic position short-circuits this sort of discussion. On a related note, it was also suggested that you think about setting your philosophical and ideological commitments to the side while assessing the views of others, and be a bit more flexible about what is valuable and what is not.”
First of all, this is a completely inappropriate review that amounts to a blatant attempt at intimidation. Were other graduate students in the department with different views than my own asked to set aside their “philosophical and ideological commitments” or “to be a bit more flexible about what is valuable and what is not?” My hunch is no. Regardless, it is not the prerogative of anyone in the philosophy department to suggest that. Period.

Secondly, as if that weren’t enough, this review could only have been prompted by remarks I made outside of class that semester, specifically the time I made some critical comments about Marx at the public defense of another graduate student’s dissertation. In the classes that I took within the Philosophy Department that semester (Descartes and History and Theory of Ethics) my views never arose within the context of a class discussion with the sole exception of some positive comments I made about Nietzsche’s moral philosophy.

Lesson learned: express my undesirable and reactionary views outside of class, and be rebuked for it.

Marquette’s Philosophy Department is truly in a sorry state.
In some places in academia, it is appropriate to keep one’s ideological views out of one’s scholarship. If one is studying, for example, the idea that blacks in Wisconsin are more likely to be thrown in prison than are whites, facts are facts, and it shouldn’t matter what one wants to believe.

But philosophy is necessarily about normative notions. It can’t even pretend to be “value free.”

We can’t imagine any feminist philosophy student being told to keep her “philosophical and ideological commitments to the side.” Indeed, what politically correct humanities departments are about is viewing everything through the lens of race, class, gender and sexual orientation.

But somehow, at Marquette, viewing philosophy through the lens of respect for individual liberty and respect for property should be set “to the side.”

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