College Courses Lack Balance, Conservative Group Charges

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - Conservative ideas are being shunned in college courses in favor of classes like "How to Be Gay" and "Black Marxism," according to the conservative Young America's Foundation, which reviewed more than 50,000 courses from universities across the country.

This year marks the ninth anniversary of the foundation's study - a compilation of some of the most "eccentric, bizarre and politically correct courses." Ten of the 12 courses that make up the "Dirty Dozen" are at taxpayer-supported state-run universities.

After spending much of the summer reviewing college catalogs, foundation spokesman Rick Parsons said courses rarely show contemporary conservative ideas and authors in a positive light. He said conservative perspectives are missing on many campuses.

"Liberal professors are pushing their ideas on their students," said Parsons, who worked on the project with foundation intern Roger Custer, an Ithaca College senior. "They are the ones who create these courses. Many schools give professors a free reign on what they would like to teach with very little oversight."

A University of Michigan course, "How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation," topped the list as one of the most egregious offerings. Others include "Elvis as Anthology" at the University of Iowa, "Black Marxism" at the University of California at Santa Barbara and "Feminist Biblical Criticism" at the University of Florida.

The "How to Be Gay" course description states: "Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn't mean that you don't have to learn how to become one. Gay men do some of that learning on their own, but often, we learn how to be gay from others."

Professor David M. Halperin said it's not the first time his course has angered conservatives. This summer, the president of the Michigan affiliate of the conservative American Family Association renewed a campaign he has been waging since 2000 to cut off funding for the class.

Halperin downplayed the criticism and defended the course as a legitimate subject to study. It's not offered every semester, he said, but about 25 students are currently enrolled, a majority of who are females.

"The class isn't about how people become gay," Halperin said. "It's about how people who already are gay come into a sense of themselves as participating in a shared culture or shared identity through having a common set of cultural references."

But his course aside, Halperin said he disagrees with the conclusion of the study that not enough courses are being taught that focus on conservative ideas or center on conservative authors.

"Conservative advocacy is not a scholarly field," Halperin said. "You could give a sermon on why it's a good thing to be married, but you can't teach a course on that topic any more than I could teach a course on a topic advocating some position I hold."

Halperin also dismissed the foundation's concern that courses like American history and Western civilization - bedrocks of a liberal arts education - were being replaced in some curriculums. Halperin noted, in fact, that he teaches a Western civilization course.

Accuracy in Academia, a watchdog group for political correctness on college campuses, has done its own studies on course offerings, said Mal Kline, the group's director. Most troubling, he said, is the rise in multicultural studies and the decline of courses on American history and culture.

Kline also noted that when he has talked to students about liberal arts courses they have taken, a course's description might not reflect what actually takes place in the classroom.

"You not only have to look at the courses, but also who's teaching them and what materials are being used," Kline said.

Kline said he is working on a project that would highlight colleges offering a balanced selection and feature professors who grade on the quality of students' work, not the viewpoints they express.

Parsons said the Young America's Foundation has heard some feedback in years past about colleges and universities that have reviewed the courses featured in its survey. He said the foundation in no way wants the courses eliminated; Parsons said he prefers balance instead.

While the survey drew praise from some, others questioned whether it presented an accurate picture. Jonathan Knight, associate secretary of the American Association of University Professors, noted that "conservative" could be defined in many ways. What about courses on Socrates, he asked, or other ancient figures who might be looked at as conservatives?

"There will always be courses that one can poke fun at," Knight said. "I just don't know what is being suggested about what's happening to the universities generally. If you had done this survey 50 years ago, you would get different kinds of courses being listed and different groups in the country expressing worry about what's happening to the academic community."

In Knight's view, the survey suggests that the college curriculum isn't static, and he said it should constantly evolve. He also isn't concerned about students being deprived of options.

"The least quiescent group on a campus is the students," Knight said. "They vote with their feet. They don't go to classes they don't like. They'll speak out loudly about what they would like to see."

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