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Walter Williams: Dirty college secrets

| Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, 8:57 p.m.

A frequent point I have made in past columns has been about the educational travesties happening on many college campuses. Some people have labeled my observations and concerns as trivial, unimportant and cherry-picking. With the spring semester underway, let's ask ourselves whether we'd like to see repeats of last year's antics.

An excellent source for college news is Campus Reform, a conservative website operated by the Leadership Institute. Its reporters are college students. Here is a sample of last year's bizarre stories.

Donna Riley, a professor at Purdue University's School of Engineering Education, published an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Engineering Education, positing that academic rigor is a “dirty deed” that upholds “white male heterosexual privilege.” Riley added that “scientific knowledge itself is gendered, raced and colonizing.” Would you hire an engineering education graduate who has little mastery of the rigor of engineering?

Sympathizing with Riley's vision is Rochelle Gutierrez, a math education professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In her recent book, she says the ability to solve algebra and geometry problems perpetuates “unearned privilege” among whites. Educators must be aware of the “politics that mathematics brings” in society. She thinks that “on many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness.”

In December, the presidents of 13 San Antonio colleges declared in an op-ed written by Ric Baser, president of the Higher Education Council of San Antonio, that “hate speech” and “inappropriate messages” should not be treated as free speech on college campuses. Their vision should be seen as tyranny. The true test of commitment to free speech doesn't come when one permits people to be free to make statements that one does not find offensive. The true test comes when one permits people to make statements one does deem offensive.

Last year, University of Georgia professor Rick Watson adopted a policy allowing his students to select their own grade if they “feel unduly stressed” by their actual grade. Benjamin Ayers, dean of the university's Terry College of Business, released a statement condemning Watson's pick-your-own-grade policy: “Rest assured that this ill-advised proposal will not be implemented in any Terry classroom. The University of Georgia upholds strict guidelines and academic policies to promote a culture of academic rigor, integrity, and honesty.”

Ayers' response gives us hope that not all is lost in terms of academic honesty.

Other campus good news includes a report on the resignation of George Ciccariello-Maher, a white Drexel University professor who tweeted last winter, “All I Want For Christmas is White Genocide.” He said that he resigned from his tenured position because threats against him and his family had become “unsustainable.” If conservative students made such threats, they, too, could benefit from learning the principles of free speech.

Walter Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

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