The young woman, a senior at Georgetown University, was being interviewed recently on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition." She is a volunteer for Accuracy in Academia, which is dedicated to rescuing students from one-sided professors.
Along with other volunteers on some 150 campuses, she monitors her professors for ideological bias, distortion and misinformation. She then reports her findings to this new Ministry of Truth that is the ceaselessly alert child of Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media.
If Irvine and his colleagues agree with the student, the accused professor is confronted with the indictment. If he refuses to assist in his own hanging and declines to answer, Accuracy in Academia will tell all about him in campus newspapers and in its own newsletter. These monitors -- or "reporters," as Reed Irvine calls them -- are not likely to have pictures of Eugene Debs or Michael Harrington on their walls. Their heroes come from another direction.
The young woman from Georgetown University was asked on the radio for an example of the kind of professorial malpractice she reports to headquarters.
"My sociology professor," she said, "taught Marx but never mentioned the man's name. He taught us the dialectical theory but he never mentioned the fact that it was Marxist doctrine."
Scott Simon, the courtly host of "Weekend Edition," asked, "What did the professor actually say that was unlabeled Marxist analysis?"
"The idea," she said, "that part of man's being goes into what he makes . . . into one of his products."
Simon gently asked the volunteer for the Ministry of Truth whether she had read Pope John Paul's encyclical on human work.
She had not.
"He says the same thing, you know," Simon said. "So is Pope John Paul a Marxist?"
The young woman did not see the point of the question.
What would other AIA monitors make of a professor who emphasizes that "one cannot exclude the socialization, in suitable conditions, of certain means of production." That professor is also Pope John Paul ("Laborem Exercens," 1981).
I once asked Reed Irvine whether he had thought of the possibility that one of his "reporters" in a geography class might believe the Earth is flat. He laughed at the improbability.
Irvine does not require that members of his corps of balance-detectors identify themselves as AIA scouts while they take notes and record lectures. He doesn't mind if they do, but he understands, he told me, why many will prefer to stay undercover. They may be concerned that a targeted professor would punish them by lowering their grades. There is also the possibility, however, that a student, bitter at what he or she considers an unfair grade, may covertly punish the professor by turning him in to Accuracy in Academia.
Reed Irvine is an astute man of genuine wit who is performing a useful service with Accuracy in Media. Even when his ideological premises are wrongheaded, which is not seldom, his identification of factual inaccuracies by the press is often precise enough to be therapeutically cauterizing. But in his new venture, Irvine may wind up discrediting Accuracy in Media by its association with the creepy Accuracy in Academia.
Irvine believes the roots of what he considers press bias are in the academy. If he can frighten professors into curbing their voracious leftism so that they will present at least some balance in the classroom, future generations of journalists will not fall for such leftist notions as there being a good chance we may be incinerated in a nuclear holocaust.
Well, in my undergraduate years at Northeastern University I took several courses with a brilliant, acerbic economics professor who taught that labor is entitled to the wages the man with the capital wants to give. It is the boss who is taking the risk. I also studied with an amiable and challenging political science professor who was a socialist. His course wasn't very "balanced" either.
I have always figured that in a free society, the model of a university was a place like that. There, as the Supreme Court once said, truth is discovered "out of a multitude of tongues (rather) than through any kind of authoritative selection. . . ."
Reed Irvine will say his "reporters" have nothing to do with "authoritative selection." They just want balance and accuracy in the classroom. After all, as Irvine himself has said, "Liberal arts colleges . . . turn out little liberals who go knee-jerking their way through life."
That is how admirably balanced Professor Irvine himself is.