I am writing this letter in response to Matt Richman’s egregiously misleading op-ed, “Academic Freedom stifles free exchange of ideas.” I respect Richman’s right to voice his concerns about the Academic Freedom movement – but I would suggest that if he does so again in the future, he should incorporate more facts and less fiction into his argument so that those he is criticizing and those who read his piece may begin to take his form of commentary seriously.
For starters, I would like to address Richman’s assertion that SAF uses “shoddily researched surveys” to meet the aims of our alleged neo-conservative agenda. While the word “shoddily” is a wonderful word to throw around when one is trying to baselessly smear an organization, it is empty rhetoric that hardly conveys the truth about SAF’s research methods. U.S. News and World Report had an article in its March 7 issue entitled “Professors and Politics” by Justin Evans. The article reported that “49 percent of students at the top 50 schools said professors frequently comment on politics in class. More that one in five complained about instructors who create a classroom environment hostile to certain political views,” and that in a survey of 1,000 college professors, “Democrats outnumbered their Republican counterparts at least eight to one in the humanities and social sciences.” So maybe if SAF’S research is not acceptable for Richman, U.S. News and World Report’s research will be.
Secondly, on the issue of an Academic Bill of Rights, I found Richman’s statements personally offensive. As SAF’s Director of Research and Policy, I am currently drafting an Academic Bill of Rights that SAF is hoping will be adopted by the College. I can personally attest that the Bill will guarantee the rights of all students and professors to hold whatever views they desire without the fear of reprisals from anyone within the institution.
SAF does not believe that political affiliation is “a barometer for professional suitability.” We believe that professors have the right to hold and express whatever political belief they find to be acceptable. But they do not have the right to force personal agendas upon their students and they certainly do not have the right to create a hostile learning environment for any student. It is na?ve to say that a hostile learning environment does not exist when one in five students is professing that it does. If any other minority on campus was complaining about a hostile “liberal learning environment,” the community would be up in arms, as it should be. But when an intellectual minority complains, they find nothing but criticism and ostracism; such an environment is not “liberal learning,” but intellectual fascism.
A third point that I would like to touch upon is the presumption that SAF is seeking to create “an antiseptic atmosphere” for learning. SAF strives to promote diversity within the liberal learning community with the acceptance of all views – a “bland” learning environment is a result of one perspective being forced upon students continually, without an open discourse including a broad range of ideas.
I think Richman’s incorporation of Russell Jacoby’s quote about conservatives controlling many aspects of government, shows Richman’s true reason for writing his expose on SAF. He is clearly disillusioned that conservatives control many areas of public life, and as a result feels that liberals are entitled to do as they please in the realm of higher education. Bitterness does not permit entitlement, in either government or education. I would like to imagine that we are all better than to believe in that, especially as intellectuals at an institution of higher learning.
SAF is concerned that the beliefs many hold dear are being made a mockery of by many faculty members at the College. And while not all faculty members are guilty, we believe that there are those who abuse their position. SAF respects and values the various views of faculty at the College, but we are asking that the faculty becomes more tolerant of alternative views.
My final comment responds to Richman’s question, “Where is my academic freedom to demand Marxist instruction from a heterodox capitalist economist?” My response is that it may not exist, yet. Bust SAF believes that it should exist, and is fighting to ensure that it will in the future. If Richman feels he is being treated unfairly by a faculty member, I encourage him to come to one of our public meetings and discuss it with SAF. I will personally make sure that SAF will take his claim seriously and look into the matter. SAF believes all students have the right to a full education and will fight to make certain that right is guaranteed.
The bottom line is that SAF is not out to get anyone. The organization was founded at the College to ensure that the “liberal learning environment” of the College is just that – a rich, diverse community that values the beliefs of all its students and is committed to open intellectualism.
God cannot be tested scientifically
In his recent column, Matt Esposito suggests that he knows more about biology than biologists do, and more about good Christian beliefs than the Catholic church. These are strong claims. Has Mr. Esposito really thought more deeply than the Pope about how to reconcile Christian beliefs with scientific facts? Does he think he is better informed? Smarter? A better Christian? I will not try to assess Mr. Esposito’s religious credentials, but as a biology professor, I must respond to some of his false allegations. Many technical errors were addressed by the letter in last week’s Signal, but there are broader points.
First, science is not a collection of facts to which scientists swear allegiance. Science is a process: we refine our understanding of the world by challenging its assumptions and implications, continuously ruling out wrong answers. Esposito’s belief that our life’s works depend on any theory being true is simply ludicrous. Any scientist who can topple a dominant theory achieves great acclaim (as Darwin did), so biologists have no interest in supporting false theories.
Second, the reason biologists don’t address theological questions is not that we are stupid, uninformed or dogmatic. Instead, it is because you can’t test God scientifically. All scientific explanations must be testable, or we would have no way of determining if they are correct. Scientists explain the patterns of the world based on processes we can measure and specific predictions we derive from them. There is no logical prediction “if God exists, then we would expect to find X” because by definition God would surpass human understanding.
In contrast, evolutionary theory makes many testable predictions that you couldn’t make just from faith. For example, if different species evolved from a common ancestor, we would predict that: 1) different species are found at different times, 2) diversity of species increases through time, 3) species that are similar genetically tend to be found close geographically and 4) similar species have similar genomes, even in non-functional DNA.
All these predictions have been borne out. We accept evolution because the process we observe successfully predicts larger patterns.
Mr. Esposito asks “if evolution is true… where is God in that equation?” Well, evolution IS true, and perhaps that makes his question even more profound (read Annie Dillard’s /Pilgrim at Tinker Creek /for one exploration). Regardless of how you answer that question, I encourage all readers to learn more about the biological world – it truly is fascinating stuff.
Esposito’s evolution assertions incorrect
The “Macroevolution” article by Mr. Esposito demonstrates that its author is unencumbered by facts. Mr. Pennisi did an excellent job of illuminating many of the errors and half-truths in that article, but I wish to make a few additional points. Mr. Esposito rants against macroevolution, but is unable to define it correctly. Macroevolution is not the origin of life from “rocks or floating particles of hydrogen” (sic) and other atoms. Indeed, extrapolations made using evolutionary theory include a number of hypotheses on how life may have arisen. The theory of evolution itself says nothing about the origin of life.
Many who reject evolution out of hand equate evolution with rejection of the existence of God. They also claim that there is no evidence that evolution has occurred and that evolution is not testable. Both of these assertions are incorrect. Perhaps these people do not understand that science cannot address the influence (or existence) of God because this is not testable-not that science rejects it. The existence of God is within the realm of religion and can never be addressed (rejected or affirmed) by science.
Finally, I do not understand why Mr. Esposito would make sweeping condemnations of science and scientists. Does he not use plastics, computers and cell phones? Does he not rely on vaccinations, antibiotics or even over-the-counter medications to maintain his health? I can think of only one scientist whose job depends on evolution being “true.” That would be Michael Behe, the most public proponent of Intelligent Design (a pseudoscientific “alternative” to evolution).
P.S. I will begin the unit on evolution in my freshman class starting April 8. Mr. Esposito is welcome to join my class if he is interested in learning about evolution.
Students believe in purpose of VP of Equity & Diversity
Last week, The Signal printed an article that purported to document my efforts to shift the Senate discussions about the new position of Vice-President of Equity and Diversity to an open campus debate. I feel the article failed to acknowledge the importance of the matter at hand. Although it is in fact true that most students did not attend the information session on the bill for the creation of the new position of Vice-President of Equity and Diversity, it is certainly erroneous to conclude from this fact that only a small minority of students believes in the purpose of this new position. Indeed, I find this spurious assertion to be quite offensive.
The Vice-President of Equity and Diversity is a new position that will create balance within the SGA. The person occupying it will identify and enhance processes that create an inclusive community. They will foster an environment where diverse opinions and backgrounds are valued and treated with respect and dignity. I challenge you to find a single student who fails to recognize the worth of these objectives.
Our great nation was founded on the principle of respecting differences. And ever since the days of the founding fathers, the entire world has come to America for precious opportunities. When they arrive here they bring their culture and beliefs, which gradually become part of America and the American culture. They do not necessarily become assimilated, but rather accepted. I am merely attempting to insure that our campus becomes a microcosm of America as a whole. We must embrace diversity as our nation does, not spurn it.
Pedro D. Khoury
Woodward’s statistics not worth citing
In a March 23 letter, I challenged two factual claims asserted by Gary Woodward in a previous letter. The first claim was about the United Nations’ “knowledge” of Saddam Hussein’s deception regarding WMD. The second was about the number of Iraqi casualties.
In his March 30 response, Professor Woodward ignores the first issue as though he had never made an assertion on the subject, and as though I had never challenged it. That isn’t quite a concession, but I’ll take it as one.
On the second issue, he offers a grudging concession. Khawaja “may well be right,” he tells us. “The number of Iraqi dead in this war have been difficult to estimate, because the Pentagon does not count Iraqi casualties…” I accept the concession. I would simply add that when numbers are avowedly “difficult to estimate,” it makes no sense to cite them.
Professor Woodward ends by telling us that he disavows cost-benefit analyses about Iraq, asserting in the next breath that “any single death in the conflict is one too many.” In that case, of course, 100,000 “difficult-to-estimate” deaths are 99,999 too many to cite. The message here seems to be that a factoid can be worth citing even when it isn’t worth defending. Professor Woodward may think that message defensible. I don’t.
Pillar misunderstands need for partition
Last week an opinion article was published regarding the wall Israel put up several years ago in an attempt to decrease suicide bombings by Palestinians. Apparently, the author believes that taking this type of action to prevent innocent civilians from dying is a brilliant example of Israeli brutality. As an Israeli who lived in Israel for sixteen years I am offended and disgusted by the ignorance and harshness of Jeff Pillar’s words.
First of all, Pillar stated that Israel receives more foreign aid from the United States than any other country. But he failed to mention that Israel, the only democratic country in the region, is also the United States’ greatest ally, if not in the world then certainly in the Middle East. In many ways Israel is an anchor for U.S. interests in that part of the world, so it makes perfect sense that it receives such aid. Since Israel is continually fighting for its existence surrounded by hostile neighbors, the U.S. aid given to Israel is used among other things to help strengthen the Israeli Defense Forces, and is not a “bastardization of well-intended U.S. aid” as Pillar claims.
While the West Bank wall may have impinged on Palestinian landowners, it was the violent actions of their people that brought this about. Even before Israel was declared a state, Palestinians had been using guerilla warfare to try and exhaust the organized Israeli Defense Forces. In fact, the night Israel declared statehood (following a unanimous vote by the United Nations in which the land was to be divided between Israelis and Palestinians in a partition plan), Palestinians attacked Israel.
Israel fought back, and ended up pushing back the Israeli-Palestinian border leaving the Palestinians with less land than they started with. Palestinians want their own state, but lacking an economic infrastructure of their own, they largely depend on Israel. Israel and the Palestinians have an economic relationship in which Israel gets Palestinian labor, and the Palestinians acquire jobs and money that they sadly otherwise would not have. Also, Pillar mentioned the checkpoints that Israel has at the wall, but failed to include their purpose which is to allow Palestinians into the country to work, but keep out those who are on their way to commit a suicide bombing. The West Bank wall is an attempt by Israel to reduce violence on both sides. Not only does it prevent suicide bombers from entering the county and murdering civilians, but in so doing it also prevents the Israeli retaliation that may follow a bombing.
In his article Pillar repeatedly referred to the wall as an “apartheid wall” so I would like to elucidate: although there are Arab-Israelis who are Israeli citizens in every way and have the same rights afforded to all Israelis, the Palestinian people are not residents or citizens of Israel nor do they want to be. Indeed, Palestinians do not at present have a nationality as they lack a state. Therefore, the allegation that borders between Israeli and Palestinian territories are based on racial segregation is an absurd notion. Pillar also stated that the wall is not necessary. Aside from Israel’s basic right to defensible borders, I suppose that Pillar cannot see the necessity for a country to protect the lives of its citizens. If keeping terrorists from blowing up buses filled with children on their way to school, and cafes filled with families isn’t a necessity, then I don’t know what is.
Pillar states that Israeli helicopters shoot up buildings in which suspected terrorists are hiding “killing not only the suspected terrorist, but every attending man, woman and child as well.” Pillar did not mention that when the IDF surrounds a building in which a terrorist is hiding, they announce numerous times that they are about to shoot, explicitly telling all who wish to remained unharmed, including the terrorists, to evacuate the building. This right to life “courtesy” has never been afforded Israelis by Palestinian terrorists.
Israel has been at war since it was declared a state. A tiny democratic island in a sea of dictatorships, it needs all the support it can get. With so much of the Middle East supporting the Palestinian cause, not one of these countries has ever offered to take in the poverty plagued Palestinian population neglected by its so-called leaders and officials. Israel, a country in which so many parents bury their children, is exhausted by war and wants only for it to end. Any peace agreement ever made between Israel and the Palestinians has been ruined by Palestinian terrorists. Criticizing Israel’s ways of dealing with never-ending terrorism is a narrow-minded and petty thing to do. Anyone who has not lived in Israel cannot possibly understand the constant dread of a terrorist attack, along with the strong desire for peace and an end to the violence.