Saturday, November 04, 2006

"Accuracy in Academia" Group Slams Antioch's Advocacy Program

During a recent round of web-surfing, I found an interesting piece written by Malcolm Kline, the executive director of Accuracy in Academia --a well-funded rightwing organization based in DC that regularly attacks academics it deems as “biased” (ie. academics that the AIA perceives as liberal, progressive, green, populist, feminist, multiculturalist--or even committed to the theory of evolution and the growing international consensus among scientists on global climate change.)

The piece, entitled “Environmentally Correct Again,” was part of a series of op-eds by Kline that challenges what AIA sees as the US Left’s overwhelming “exploitation of the classroom or university resources to indoctrinate students; discrimination against students, faculty or administrators based on political or academic beliefs; and campus violations of free speech.”

I found his piece particularly interesting because Kline opened the article by naming me as a prime example of a teacher guilty of violating academic freedom because I force my students to become unwilling "foot soldiers in environmental campaigns." As he put it:
Steve Chase of the Antioch New England Graduate School, for example, led some of his lucky students on an "Environment Justice in the Mississippi Delta” junket last spring. Chase described it as a “10-day field studies trip to Louisiana’s Cancer Alley—the 90-mile strip of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that houses more than 150 oil refineries and petrochemical plants.
He went on to add that this is just one of many examples where “students have been used as pawns of environmental activists when they should be in class.”

Kline, however, fails to mention a few important things to his readers. First, he neglects to mention the fact that the graduate students who participated in this field studies trip had voluntarily signed up for this elective course and even paid extra money to take it. Second, he neglects to mention that during the trip these students engaged in conversations with a wide variety of stakeholders, including elected officials, journalists, petrochemical industry executives, union leaders, scientists, EPA officials, environmental activists, and members of polluted communities--and then debated the validity of each of these people’s perspectives with each other.

Even more interesting, Kline neglects to mention Exxon Mobil's effort to suppress these students’ legal right to do research on pollution and public health issues in Louisiana, or that employees of Exxon Mobil pressured the Attorney General of Louisiana to force a staff member in the Attorney General’s Office out of his job after 26 years of distinguished public service—all because this staff member stood up for our students’ legal right to engage in research when they were being detained by Exxon Mobil employees.

Now, Kline knows all this, because he quoted me from an email I sent out in 2005, along with the press release that Antioch University immediately issued about this situation. It therefore appears that Kline and the AIA are actually against graduate students having the option to: 1) take field studies courses focused on environmental justice issues, or 2) explore a wide variety of perspectives about the issue, if it includes the viewpoints of people who are critical of corporate power and industrial pollution. For Kline, all of this is a serious attack against academic freedom.

Yet, Kline apparently has no problem with a giant corporation having off-duty police officers in its employ detain students for over an hour, lie about the law, and threaten students with being added to Homeland Security's "terrorist list" for engaging in the completely legal act of photographing an industrial facility from a public side walk. He also doesn’t seem to believe it is a violation of free speech for a giant corporation to pressure the Attorney General of Louisiana to force a courageous civil servant out of his job for defending the legal rights of students to do their academic research.

I’m glad Kline and Accuracy in Academia are not “biased” in any way--and that they are such ardent defenders of “free speech” and “academic freedom.”


At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Steve - I originally planned to reply to this joker to let him know that we "students" weren't being duped into advocating for the environment. But, after reading his entire article, I realized it just wasn't worth it. The guy is an idiot. He thinks thermometers are still made with mercury! It's insulting to the academy that he calls his organization "Accuracy in Academia."
But just in case, I want to let you know that I registered for and took that trip under my own free will, and I learned a hell of a lot. Thanks again! - Dave (who drove the van...does that make me an accomplice??)


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