Wednesday, April 27, 2005

SIUC Controversy

Sometimes I'm amazed how unconnected I am with happenings back in my home region.

The guys at Powerline posted about a controversy brewing at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in regards to a professor giving out "racist" reading assignments.

Below are two articles. One reports on the controversy, the other is the controversial reading assignment:

Academic Witch-Hunt

Remembering the Zebra Killings

I haven't had time yet to read the article in question, but according to the first, the so called "racism" that is being decried by certain members of SIU's history department is nothing more than calling attention to a series of black serial killings in the 1970s. How that is racist is beyond me. What is further beyond me is how simply assigning the article as optional reading is itself racist.

Even if it was racist, isn't it worth it to understand history sometimes? If you took a class on 1930's Germany, would it be so unreasonable for a professor to ask you to read Mein Kampf? As long as he's not asking you to believe every word in it, where is the harm? The angry professors say that there are "reasonable" ways to introduce sensitive topics. Well, this was optional reading. What makes this unreasonable, and how much more reasonable does it have to get?


I took the time to actually read some material from SIUC's student paper, The Daily Egyptian. Here is a letter the professors wrote at the start of the controversy, and here is a recent article.

In the article, the professors say that this is really about "the use of improper sourcing." Balderdash. If you actually read the letter they sent out, they do mention that, but their own words confirm what they really were upset about:
We strongly believe in the rights of academic freedom and in a professor's right to choose course material. Academic responsibility, however, demands that professors promote the free exchange of ideas without creating a hostile environment, running the risk of nurturing racist attitudes among their students, and putting their teaching assistants in an untenable position. Moreover, it is our academic responsibility as history professors to disassociate ourselves from this irresponsible use of objectionable and inflammatory material. We call on the University community to open a dialogue about the issues raised by this incident.

Open dialogue indeed. The bolding was mine. Objectionable and inflammatory to whom? How so?

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