Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who Should Sponsor the Pro-Life Club?

My colleague Bob Martin wrote in our local paper about the lack of ideological diversity in the faculty. He was approached by a student who wanted to start a pro-life student group, and was looking for a faculty advisor. Bob, a moderate libertarian on this issue, declined. But he was also struck by the realization that he was not sure any member of the faculty would be willing to advise such a club. In part, he was not certain what most colleagues' views on the issue were. In larger part, though, he knew that the overwhelming majority would not agree with the students – and suspected that our handful of pro-life faculty members would feel uneasy about sponsoring such a group in public.

Centre College is the most collegial college I know. We do have a range of views, and yet are quite civil to one another about our differences. As anyone who knows academia can testify, this friendly state of affairs is unusual. Still, like nearly every secular faculty we are heavily tilted to the left, though we teach a much more centrist student body.

Last year we were hiring a new dean of the faculty (called a provost some places), which is always a momentous event for a college. In the public Q & A with the candidates, several of us came to ask some particular question of each prospective dean. Some of the questions were clearly quite familiar to the candidates, such as "what would you do to promote racial diversity in the faculty?" All of them were for it, and promised vigorous efforts, which I applaud and have long participated in. My question, though, seemed to catch all of them off guard: "What would you do to promote ideological diversity in the faculty?" All of them said some variety of "I wouldn't," though I am happy to say that our current dean gave the most thoughtful version of "no."

Well, now that abstract issue is having a real consequence for our pro-life students. We have never used abortion as a litmus test for faculty selection, of course, nor even asked about it. Yet it is clear that there is almost no ideological diversity on this crucial issue. Worse, the few professors who do stand out against the consensus have qualms that they might be made to suffer if they buck the trend. An untenured faculty member who considered taking on the students' request said "this is one of the few positions that might actually threaten getting tenure."

The real point of seeking "diversity" is to get people who think differently to work together. All the other kinds of diversity are really just proxies for that goal. Students would be better taught by an ideologically diverse faculty.

25 comments:

Brett said...

Do you think there's something to the fact that people with terminal degrees are generally not pro-life?

I'd say that something more than a lack of ideological diversity is going on here. Just from the surface, it would appear that higher levels of education lead to a general consensus on the issue of a woman's right to choose.

Gruntled said...

Sure, more educated people tend to be more liberal. Likewise, professional women tend to be pro-choice, and are sometimes touchy about it. Still it is simply not the case that there are NO pro-life Ph.D.s. Even if they get selected against (that is, a prospective professor who put a pro-life organization on his or her c.v. would be less likely to get hired), there are still a few, both at Centre and elsewhere. What is at issue here, I think, is a pervasive sense that there is a consensus on some issues that it is simply impermissable to breach.

Brett said...

Fair enough. We all have our shibboleths, and they're not always very helpful.

Anonymous said...

More importantly, why should it matter whether a literature or math professor is pro-life or pro-choice as long as they can teach students those subjects? We should be more concerned with hiring excellent scholars and teachers than whether they support abortion rights.

ceemac said...

Why would the Sponsor have to be Pro-Life.

I could ask the same thing about a sponsor of a Rugby Club. Does that person have to like Rugby?

Is not the roll of a sponsor to help the students navigate the schools policies and procedures regarding events, funding etc.

I would think that the same person could Sponsor both the Studetn Planned Parenthood Club and the Pro-life Club.

Becky J said...

While this is a bit of a tangent, I think it would be helpful if there was a mentor-type, faculty or staff, who would be willing to talk with this student and others about the pro-life position. It seems like it would be helpful to have a dialogue before a club of sorts was formed. I've come to wonder how helpful clubs like these are if there are no points of dialogue between those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice. If there were more helpful ways of dealing with these issues than sequestering ourselves off into various camps, perhaps we could come to some understanding of each other.

While I am pro-choice in terms of legislation, I am also pro-life in terms of my religious beliefs (but I don't think we can legislate those and I don't think we'd even be having this discussion if we were talking about male bodies).

In any case, I do think whether a student is pro-choice or pro-life, he/she should be challenged by his/her education to think more deeply and critically about his/her position, so I would hope there would be someone to follow up with this individual to not only explore this more but to be quite honest about where the faculty is on this and explain his/her position while opening the way for further dialogue.

I know I am continually thankful for the mentors I had at Centre who challenged me on positions I had at the time and who helped me to think more critically and with more compassion.

Gruntled said...

I agree that a sponsor/advisor need not be in full agreement with the position of the organization, though I can say from experience that it sure helps.

I agree, too, that dialogue is good on contested issues, both before and after clubs are created. Still, I think it is legit to have College Democrats and College Republicans, without requiring that the college put them in a Political Dialogue Club. One of the ways that a college promotes critical thinking is by supporting opposing organizations.

ceemac said...

Gruntled,

Is your campus (or any other campus) clear on the educational purpose/objective of the various clubs?

I'd argue that "political position" of the clubs should pretty much irrelevant to the educational purpose.

The purpose of having clubs should be for studetns to be able to develop their leadership/followership skills. This involves doing things like running and participating in meetings, desigining and evaluating programs, producing and following budgets etc.

Anonymous said...

I would question how "diverse" Centre's faculty really is. I've yet to meet an impassioned conservative who proclaims himself or herself so.

Ampersand said...

I think there's a real problem if pro-life faculty don't feel they can sponsor such a club without fear of reprisals. However, it's unclear if the cause of the problem is left-wing censorship or right-wing paranoia (or a combination).

In right-wing literature, it's an article of faith that PC thought police are running campuses and ruining careers. But just because a lot of right-wingers believe that to be commonplace, doesn't establish that it is.

There have been a handful of such cases (and the victims have been both right-wing and left-wing), out of tens of thousands of professors nationwide. But is this really a serious reason not to sponsor a club, any more than the extremely remote chance of being hit by a car is reason not to go for walks? Is there even a single documented case of a faculty member losing their job because they sponsored a right-wing club?

* * *

Gruntled, why not sponsor the club yourself? As others have commented, you don't have to be pro-life to sign the form. And at the colleges I've attended, the duties of faculty sponsorship seemed pretty light; many were in effect absentee advisers, who didn't do anything more than sign a piece of paper once a semester.

Also, although you're a centrist, you take some right-wing positions, such as your opposition to equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. If you don't mind my asking, what repercussions, other than criticism, have you personally suffered because of this?

Gruntled said...

Ampersand, you are right that there is no way to tell whether the feared consequences here would really happen. I have heard of cases of professors being fired for pro-life advocacy, and of several biologists who were not hired when their involvement in creationist groups was brought out. Still, a club sponsor here would probably not lose his or her job. But I could not in good faith tell a junior professor that they would not be looked at askance when tenure decisions came if they were identified with the pro-life cause. I brought speakers on both sides of the "what does the Bible say about homosexual practice?" issue to campus, and have been snubbed as a homophobe ever since.

I haven't agreed to sponsor this group because no one has asked me. I have blogged several times in favor of the centrist position on abortion -- safe, legal, and abhorent -- and support the "95-10" plan to reduce abortions by 95% in ten years (http://gruntledcenter.blogspot.com/2005/12/95-10-is-good-centrist-plan-to-reduce.html). I would if the students asked me, though I think they might prefer a dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifer.

I have not actually opposed homosexual civil unions, and in general have supported the position of the Presbyterian Church on this issue - but that is a post for another day.

Ampersand said...

I have heard of cases of professors being fired for pro-life advocacy, and of several biologists who were not hired when their involvement in creationist groups was brought out.

Do you know of any professors who were fired for being pro-life, whose cases were documented in the media?

As for hiring a creationist to teach biology, that's like hiring a flat-earther to teach geology. Should diversity require universities to hire someone whose beliefs indicate that they're not intellectually competent within their field?

I have not actually opposed homosexual civil unions...

My impression is you oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage. But you're right, that is a topic for a different post.

I just clicked through and read Bob Martin's article. I think the opening two paragraphs contain a significant intellectual dishonesty. Professor Martin makes it sound as if the primary objection to the Boy Scouts and the ROTC is that they are (allegedly) conservative. In fact, both of them are targeted by activists because they actively discriminate against gays and lesbians. If they held conservative views but did not throw out homosexual (and atheist, in the Boy Scout's case) members, I doubt they'd be targeted by activists to any significant degree.

There's an important distinction between activists targeting a group because the group is conservative, and activists targeting a group because of its public acts against other people.

Gruntled said...

Michael Jones says in Degenerate Moderns that he was fired from a Catholic college for his pro-life activism.

Believing that God created the world and that it evolves by natural processes are not incompatible.

Having one level of government (city schools) exclude another level of government (federal military) because the former objects to the official, democratically created policy of the latter seems to me at least questionable. It would seem perfectly reasonable, for example, if the federal government withheld all federal funds from the city schools as a result.

The Boy Scouts are a private organization with which government has long cooperated, but a government could conclude that it no longer wished to cooperate. Still, a government with the motto "In God We Trust" might reasonably accommodate a private moral development organization which insists that its moral developers believe in God.

Becky J said...

One more comment, do you think students would be better taught by an ideological diverse faculty or an intellectually diverse faculty?

Gruntled said...

I think an intellectually diverse faculty will reach a variety of ideological conclusions. Talking about them, and "showing their work" of how they reached their disparate conclusions, is among the very best learning situations for students.

Anonymous said...

Believing that God created the world and that it evolves by natural processes are not incompatible.

That one flies pretty readily on the campus where I teach, even though I'm aware it wouldn't on some (or many?).

What is striking is that there is an automatic disgust and such a strong stigma against believing that God could have created the world in a mature state just as the Biblical text claims he created a mature human from the beginning.

I consider it to be it's own brand of snobbery, though polite... perhaps we could call it "intellectual sanctimony."

No big deal to me personally. My own convictions and persuasions are not assaulted, as I've been exposed to, and have been wrestling with the arguments going back even to my freshman year in high school.

But I illuminate this point because, if there is a genuine interest in attaining such ideological diversity at Centre, my employer, or any other college campus, this issue would seem to challenge terminal-degree types' ability to respect a colleague with a differing point of view even more so than the abortion issue could.

Wouldn't it?

Edith OSB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Edith OSB said...

Thank you for opening an interesting discussion.

Becky J's point about the nature of the club is an important one. While pro-life often means anti-abortion, the growing consistent ethic of life position usually ends up challenging both the left and the right. If the group had - or was open - to such a position, it might be an interesting addition on campus.

When poverty, environmental degradation, war and violence, capital punishment, and care of the elderly and disabled are seen as life issues - and the reduction and adequate provision for crisis pregnancies is emphasized, as in Gruntled's position - the discussion in more nuanced.

We had a speaker on campus this evening on the consistent ethic of life position. Students who attended seemed to be hearing of the concept for the first time. Notably absent were students in our active pro-life student organization. I wish their mentor had sent them.

Re: junior faculty. I was asked to sponsor a club whose (far left) position was beyond both my views and those of the Catholic church - and I was snubbed for not doing it. The lay member of the faculty who did sponsor the group - and took many in-your-face positions against administration - was denied tenure last year.

A site for good consistent ethic of life scholarship is Consistent Life

Ampersand said...

Michael Jones says in Degenerate Moderns that he was fired from a Catholic college for his pro-life activism.

Jones himself seems to vary his story a bit; in this article he says "I was fired for being a whistleblower on sexual issues." Regardless, I can't find anyone but Jones himself substantiating his story.

Believing that God created the world and that it evolves by natural processes are not incompatible.

You've shifted your argument. Earlier, you seemed to object to colleges not hiring creationists to teach biology. Now you've changed the subject from "creationists" to "people who believe in God the creator," but they're not interchangeable terms. Many good biologists believe in God; no good biologists believe in creationism.

Having one level of government (city schools) exclude another level of government (federal military) because the former objects to the official, democratically created policy of the latter seems to me at least questionable. It would seem perfectly reasonable, for example, if the federal government withheld all federal funds from the city schools as a result.

School boards are also elected democratically (or, if not, the people who appoint them are). Why doesn't local democracy also deserve respect?

If the Federal government forced city schools to allow pro-gay organizations to give presentations to students, whether or not the schools wanted such presentations, would you still argue that the Federal government's views must take precedence, out of respect for democracy?

That aside, I agree that when universities defy the federal government, they risk a response to their actions. But I also believe that when the Scouts or the ROTC decide to kick out gays, lesbians and/or atheists, they risk a response to their actions. Is there any logical reason the ROTC or the Scouts should be exempt from the rule that actions have consequences?

The Boy Scouts are a private organization with which government has long cooperated, but a government could conclude that it no longer wished to cooperate. Still, a government with the motto "In God We Trust" might reasonably accommodate a private moral development organization which insists that its moral developers believe in God.

I'm not sure what you mean by "moral developers." That makes it sound as if you mistakenly believe the atheists-only restriction applies only to the leadership positions, when in fact it applies to all Boy Scouts, even the cub scouts.

The Scouts have the right to free speech - but not freedom from consequences.

By the way, courts have ruled that putting "In God We Trust" on money isn't an unconstitutional establishment of religion because the phrase is symbolic and has no policy consequences.

If your argument were true - that "in god we trust" implies government should make particular pro-religion policy decisions - then putting "in god we trust" on money would therefore be unconstitutional.

Anonymous said...

...no good biologists believe in creationism.

(It appears my point is well taken... LOL)

halifax said...

In the particular circumstance under consideration, it is quite possible that the junior faculty member turned down the sponsorship for other reasons (e.g. he/she feels uncomfortable accepting sponsorship of politically partisan organizations whether they are anti-life or anti-choice, flat taxers or 'soak-the-rich' progressives, etc.).

However, the difficulty for 'conservative' faculty actually does arise because it is plain that many at mainstream secular colleges and universities believe that certain issues (abortion, recognition of homosexuals as a distinct group, school prayer, the Iraq war, supporting any Republicans) have already been resolved and, thus, discussion is not only unnecessary but is, in fact, the equivalent of debating the merits of slavery. Calling 'Roe' a confused and incoherent argument justifying the personal opinions of usurping judges, for example, is likely to get one called a sexist. Denying that engaging in homosexual activities gives one a special identity is likely to result in being named a homophobe (sic).

Thus, though not likely to get immediately dismissed, any academic who holds and voices views contrary to the consensus runs the risk of alienating his/her colleagues and jeopardizing his/her chances for tenure by doing so. This doesn't mean that a tenure committee is going to set itself up for a lawsuit by saying, 'we reject this person because of his/her political opinions'. Most professors are given subtle and not-so-subtle hints along the way that they will or will not get tenure, and, thus, it doesn't often even come to an outright denial of tenure.

Gruntled said...

"many at mainstream secular colleges and universities believe that certain issues ... have already been resolved"
- I think that puts it nicely. Few would come out and say that some issues should never be discussed, but it is common to find it taken for granted that some issues have been settled.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. A few years ago one of the students at the overall-extremely-conservative high school where I teach asked me if I would be an advisor to a Young Republicans Club. Much laughter on both sides as we both knew that I would have little sympathy for their positions, but I said that of course, in support of the values of free speech and open debate, I would be happy to be their advisor.

Nothing came of it and I heard months later that the principal had said no to the club on the grounds that it would be "too controversial."

Gruntled said...

Do you think high school should have a lower tolerance for controversy than college?

I admire your spirit of supporting true diversity.

Anonymous said...

I think there has been a lot of confusion as to what this club would really be about...would it be about chastising women who have had abortions, having rallies and holding signs? Definitely NOT. The purpose of having a "pro-life" club (at least in my point of view), would be to:

1. Raise awareness about the many benefits of adoption

AND

2. Provide as much accurate information on both abortion (from both points of view) AND adoption as possible to people who actually want it (no "in-your-face" approach)

As much as I take a "pro-life" stance based on religion, it's really about women. Clinics like Planned Parenthood don't always give women all of the facts about abortion. I recommend that people visit http://www.feministsforlife.org , which has clubs on college campuses across the country: "Feminisits for Life is a nonsectarian, nonpartisan, grassroots organization that seeks real solutions to the challenges women face. Our efforts are shaped by the core feminist values of justice, nondiscrimination, and nonviolence." They are "...dedicated to eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion - primarily lack of practical resources and support - through holistic, woman-centered solutions."