Four Washington Post columnists have written critically about Accuracy in Academia. All exercised the columnist's prerogative of going long on opinion and short on facts. None of the columns showed any evidence that the authors had seen either of the two reports published by Accuracy in Academia. Readers of The Washington Post would be better served if they were informed about what the organization is doing instead of about the fantasies of the organization's critics.
The first report issued by Accuracy in Academia discussed a political science professor at Arizona State University whose conduct of a course on political ideologies was exposing the university to a possible charge of consumer fraud and misleading advertising. This professor has an obsessive fear of all things nuclear, and he wants to see the curtain on the nuclear age rung down by halting the mining of uranium. Time that he was supposed to spend teaching freshmen students about political ideologies -- democracy, Marxism, liberalism, conservatism -- was spent, to a large extent, talking about the evils of nuclear power, weapons and waste.
This has apparently been going on for some time. It was exposed in the campus newspaper last year, but neither the administration nor the political science department had taken action to get the professor to teach the course advertised in the college catalogue or to alter the catalogue description of the course to fit what was actually being taught.
The AIA report on this case not only told how the professor was failing to teach what the students were promised, but it also analyzed some of the books he had assigned as texts, including one that the professor himself had helped compile. It was a collection of antinuclear polemics, many of which were factually incorrect or misleading. AIA discussed some of these errors. Copies of the report were distributed on the ASU campus.
Displaying a total lack of interest in exposing students to views that differ from his own, the professor rejected all invitations to debate me in meetings or on radio talk shows. He or students not to tell anyone, including reporters, what he said in his classroom lectures. However, students informed us that he cut down the time devoted to antinuclear polemics and started to devote more time to political ideologies.
Our second report, an eight-page tabloid, discussed a variety of subjects. One that might be of particular interest to AIA critic Rev. Timothy Healy ("Violating the Academic Contract," op-ed, Dec. 17) is an account of a suit filed against Fordham University by Phyllis Zagano, who claims that her contract was not renewed by Fordham partly because she was too involved in Catholic activities.
Zagano charges that she was discriminated against both because of her sex and her beliefs. She upholds traditional Catholic values, which she says didn't sit well with her department chairman, George Gordon, who has contributed articles to a hard-core pornographic magazine, Screw. For some reason, Zagano's case has not attracted the attention of those publications that usually are quick to publicize allegations of discrimination on grounds of sex or creed.
There was also a report on a student at Arizona State who had complained to the board of regents about a professor who amuses his students in a class on human sexuality by showing them explicit slides of fellatio while making witty comments, such as "That's a little toothy for me," and "Imagine if she got a cramp in her jaw now." The student's efforts to get the regents to view the slides were unsuccessful, and he was subsequently dismissed as a columnist for the student newspaper. Administration pressure is suspected, and that will be a lesn to other students who are tempted to complain openly about their professors.
But the story in this report that ought to be read by all critics is the one telling of the reaction to Accuracy in Academia by John Silber, president of Boston University. Silber said he considered classroom lectures to be "oral publication." Rejecting the visions of a reign of terror on the campuses as a result of Accuracy in Academia's reporting, Silber said: "I don't think anything serious is going to happen to the professors beyond the fact that it may become a matter of broad public knowledge that they don't know what they're talking about. Now, if a professor cannot stand the simple exposure of his ignorance to the general public, he should get into a different field."
Healy, the president of Georgetown University, thinks students break the contract between themselves and their teachers when they help expose a professor's ignorance. But the students pay a lot of money for their courses, and in this age of consumerism it isn't surprising that some of them think they have a right to complain about professors who waste their time and abuse their trust.