Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bias Against Evangelicals in the Classroom --
The Washington post leads off the story with the tale of Missouri State social work major Emily Brooker, who was charged with discrimination for refusing to sign a class assignment consisting of a letter to state legislators supporting adoption by same-sex couples. Her lawsuit was settled, with the discrimination charge stricken from her record and her graduate school studies paid for.

The university president also called for an independent investigation by two outside scholars, the deans of social work at Indiana University and the University of Tennessee.

In a scathing report in March, they wrote that many students and faculty members at Missouri State's School of Social Work "stated a fear of voicing differing opinions," particularly about spiritual matters. They found such a "toxic" climate of intellectual "bullying" that they suggested shutting down the social work school and restarting it with a new faculty.

This doesn't surprise me. Being outside of the mainstream or being outside of the majority is inherently frightening. I don't believe that it is possible to make any minority group completely comfortable with being the minority.

The article also points to a possible measure of bias.

The other survey, by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research, confirmed those findings but also found what the institute's director and chief pollster, Gary A. Tobin, called an "explosive" statistic: 53 percent of its sample of 1,200 college and university faculty members said they have "unfavorable" feelings toward evangelical Christians.

Tobin asked professors at all kinds of colleges -- public and private, secular and religious, two-year and four-year -- to rate their feelings toward various religious groups, from very warm or favorable to very cool or unfavorable. He said he designed the question primarily to gauge anti-Semitism but found that professors expressed positive feelings toward Jews, Buddhists, Roman Catholics and most other religious groups.

The only groups that elicited highly negative responses were evangelical Christians and Mormons.

"When we ask questions like this, we're asking the respondent to say how they feel about an entire group of people, and whatever image they have of that entire group comes through," Tobin said. "There is no question this is revealing bias and prejudice."

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, disagreed. What the poll reflects, he said, is "a political and cultural resistance, not a form of religious bias."

Nelson, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the unfavorable feelings toward evangelical Christians probably have two causes: "the particular kind of Republican Party activism that some evangelicals have engaged in over the years, as well as what faculty perceive as the opposition to scientific objectivity among some evangelicals."

William B. Harvey, vice president for diversity and equity at the University of Virginia, said that even if the survey has correctly identified a "latent sentiment" among professors, "I don't know that it is fair to make the leap . . . that this is manifested in some bias in the classroom."


Tobin, the pollster, acknowledged that his survey did not measure how professors act, only how they feel. But he said the levels of disapproval are high enough to raise questions about how evangelical Christians are treated.

"If a majority of faculty said they did not feel warmly about Muslims or Jews or Latinos or African Americans, there would be an outcry. No one would attempt to justify or explain those feelings. No one would say, 'The reason they feel this way is because they don't like the politics of blacks or the politics of Jews.' That would be unthinkable," Tobin said.

Tobin's point is very accurate. What would be the reaction if someone stated that distate for homosexuality was "cultural resistance" and not "a form of religious bias". As quoted, Nelson and Harvey seem defensive and unwilling to consider further study into the topic. Shouldn't they have the intellectual curiosity to see if there is actual bias in the classroom?
(2:06 AM)


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