Cynthia McClintock, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, requires students in her two courses on Latin American politics to read more than a dozen books and watch five films, including one film that is critical of the U.S.-backed contras in Nicaragua.
Although her course syllabus includes U.S. government papers and a textbook published by the conservative Hoover Institution, McClintock's name is now on file with a newly formed university watchdog group, Accuracy in Academia Inc.
AIA, founded by Reed Irvine, recruited students who began monitoring college classes in September and last week published its first monthly newsletter, focusing primarily on a political science professor at Arizona State University who devotes much of a political survey course to the nuclear freeze issue.
Irvine, who founded Accuracy in Media 14 years ago to counter what he considered a liberal bias in the national news media, said he decided to form AIA because college students are being saturated with one point of view.
"It seems to be pretty well established that liberal arts colleges are hotbeds of liberalism and turn out little liberals who go knee-jerking their way through life," Irvine said. "Any professor is going to teach his point of view, and it would be unreasonable to expect that they won't. But they have a responsibility to present other points of view."
The group says it has enlisted students on 150 college campuses, mostly through college Republican clubs, to "monitor" faculty members such as McClintock and to report back if their classes fail to include diverse ideological points of view. AIA officials said they have students reporting on Washington area professors at George Washington, Georgetown, American and Catholic universities as well as the University of Maryland.
Academics and college presidents nationwide say the group is politically motivated and threatens the traditional concept of academic freedom. The American Association of University Professors recently denounced the group.
Some educators said they are concerned that untenured faculty members will be less willing to risk new ideas with their students if they are being monitored.
"Students will be discouraged from testing their ideas," AAUP officials wrote in a recent issue of Academe. "Professors will hesitate before presenting new or unpopular theories that would stimulate robust intellectual discussion."
But AIA officials said their intention is simply to ensure that liberal professors include conservative viewpoints in their course materials.
"We were founded to promote greater accuracy and balance in the nation's universities," said Les Csorba III, the 22-year-old executive director of AIA. "We want to get students to challenge professors, especially where they are being one-sided and not respecting students' viewpoints. We're concerned that some professors are using their positions to propagandize."
The idea behind AIA, according to Csorba and Irvine, is to draw attention to professors whose courses are ideologically biased by writing about them in newsletters to AIA subscribers and student representatives. Newsletters will be issued only after professors have been contacted and given an opportunity to respond to students' complaints, they said.
AIA's president, Malcolm Lawrence, who will be replaced next month by former Republican New York congressman John LeBoutillier, has estimated that there are 10,000 Marxists teaching on college campuses. Csorba and Irvine said most of the complaints they have received have been about liberal professors, but said they will investigate criticisms of professors who present only conservative views.
A special assistant to U.S. Education Secretary William J. Bennett said last week that "it would be awkward" for Bennett to comment on AIA until he knows more about it. But the assistant, William Kristol, on leave from the faculty at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said he opposes the group's tactics.
"Of course there is a bias on campus, but this kind of scrutiny by an external group isn't the way to attack it," he said. Kristol, who teaches political philosophy and described himself as a conservative, said his colleagues at Harvard are "predominantly liberal, but very tolerant. On the whole, professors try not to indoctrinate students."
Local university administrators have said that AIA's criticisms will not affect their faculty members' standings. But the organization's presence has already had some subtle effects: Last week for the first time, McClintock said, she used a tape recorder while delivering a lecture on Cuba in case she is challenged.
McClintock, who has traveled to Cuba as part of her academic research, said she found it "unbelievable" that her course had been attacked as politically one-sided in an independent student newspaper, The Sequent, whose editors provided her name to AIA.
"We try to present alternative views and to stimulate critical thinking," said McClintock, a tenured professor who received her degrees from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I would never consider myself a Marxist or pro-Cuba as they allege. They said I had visited Cuba and make it sound like I get my orders straight from Castro."
George Washington University President Lloyd H. Elliott defended McClintock and said there have been "absolutely no problems with her."
Richard Berendzen, president of American University, where members of the campus Republican club have reported several economics professors to AIA, said the group is "obviously ideologically motivated." Berendzen said professors should be responsible for their comments in class, but he was critical of AIA's attempts to monitor them.
"They say they are measuring accuracy, but who is checking their accuracy?" he said. "It's a form of McCarthyism, of guilt by association. I stand by my faculty all the way, left wing or right wing."
At American University, the campus Republican club will decide soon whether to become officially allied with AIA, according to club president Vince Farhat. Already, John Weeks, an economics professor who teaches courses on Latin American economic development, is on AIA's list. Weeks is on sabbatical in England and could not be reached there. But AU economics department chairman Nancy Barrett said, "The people behind [AIA] may misunderstand what a university is all about. It's a place to test ideas and air different points of view."
Barrett said Weeks went to Nicaragua last year to serve as an observer in the election and had written on Marxist topics, sometimes sympathetically. "He's not a revolutionary in any sense," she said. "He is quite a theoretical scholar."
John Slaughter, the chancellor at the University of Maryland's College Park campus, said he had "no idea of the particular political or substantive bent" of professors being monitored by AIA on his campus. "Nevertheless," Slaughter said, "the approach being taken by Irvine's organization deeply troubles me because it directly threatens the academic freedom of our faculty. Academic freedom is premised on the notion that there must be a free exchange of ideas for a university to create new knowledge."
Irvine, meanwhile, said he expects success to come slowly to AIA. The group has raised $50,000 so far, he said, and it will begin offering subscriptions to the newsletter for about $15 a year. "I'll be frank with you," he said. "We haven't been overwhelmed with reports [from students]. I think it's going to take a little time."