SPECIAL FORCES: Brain Wash
By now, the evidence of the left-wing dominance of academia is so overwhelming that academics themselves are starting to admit to it. “Perhaps college professors are more likely to identify with the Democratic Party because its values are consistent with the traditional values of the academy,” Christopher C. Morphew of the University of Georgia (UGA) writes. “I am referring here to things like the pursuit of knowledge via scientific methods. Isn’t this the most likely reason that professors are liberals today?”
Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not.
One way to test academia’s devotion to “the pursuit of scientific methods” is to look at the way that college and university administrators and other professors treat actual scientists. Carey Stronach and M. Scott Armel-Funkhouser are accomplished men of science persecuted at the colleges and universities at which they labor for exercising their First Amendment rights of free expression on their own free time.
The Stronach story is particularly distressing and contains many ironies. The 65-year-old physicist has spent four decades teaching at a historically black college: Virginia State University (VSU). He is one of the few white professors on the Petersburg campus.
Stronach has befriended a political dissident on campus, Dr. Jean Cobbs, and vocally and aggressively championed her cause in speeches and articles. Cobbs was fired from VSU after a decade of harassment by the administration there. In three and a half decades at VSU, the black sociologist created the Department of Social Work, got it accredited, and successfully worked to maintain that accreditation for 20 years.
But when Lt. Gov. Doug Wilder became the first black candidate for governor, Dr. Cobbs would not endorse him. Once elected governor, Wilder named a crony, Eddie N. Moore, as head of VSU. For the next ten years, Cobbs lost out on a string of promotions and bonuses. She also lost the chair of the department that she created. Her successor in that post lost the department’s accreditation. To this day, he has not been disciplined for his incompetence.
What precipitated Dr. Cobbs’s loss of the control of her department was an act that university administrators viewed as a major transgression. She rode on the Republican float in the homecoming parade. But the ultimate insult was yet to come. She received her first negative review in 30 years for the unavoidable absences she racked up in taking unpaid leave to care for her dying husband. On the basis of that review, VSU fired Dr. Cobbs on April 15, 2005.
“I never tried to influence the way my students voted,” the sweet, soft-spoken lady says. “I never even tried to influence the way my husband voted.” So far this year, she has had five flat tires on her car while parked on the street she has lived on since the 1970s. That makes five times as many flats on her car in 2005 as she had experienced in the prior 40 years. But then, the wheel tubing does have a tendency to deflate when a nail is hammered into it. Why isn’t this considered a hate crime?
“The provost gave Jean’s job to the woman with whom he is living,” Dr. Stronach reported at the annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Scholars (VAS). “I didn’t say his wife; I said the woman with whom he is living.”
The various attorneys Dr. Cobbs has engaged in her conflicts with VSU have urged her to refrain from commenting on the case publicly. That’s where Dr. Stronach came in, pleading his colleague’s case in the court of public opinion. “I made myself a target,” Dr. Stronach admits.
Consequently, the university he has served for 40 years is now trying to force him into early retirement. Normally, what free time the courtly scientist has is spent on actual science: He has worked in the labs at the US National Institutes of Health, separating magnesium. “I brought three million dollars in research grants to VSU,” Dr. Stronach recounted at the VAS meeting in Charlottesville. “I’ve had 120 publications.” Most colleges and universities with more demanding standards than VSU only insist that tenured professors have three or four articles published in their field.
With two other professors at VSU, Dr. Stronach won a multimillion-dollar research grant from the Air Force. “VSU fired the two tenured professors,” Dr. Stronach said. “The Air Force pulled the grant because VSU did not live up to the contract.” Thanks to the university’s inane acts, Dr. Stronach is without research funding for the first time in 40 years.
The university played a more direct role in some of Dr. Stronach’s other losses. Also for the first time in 40 years, he is not teaching advanced courses but, rather, introductory ones, usually assigned to junior professors. University administrators have even complained of his handling of these classes. “I was accused of using the same transparency for more than one class,” Dr. Stronach says dryly.
The university did show Dr. Stronach that it could take away what it gave him, no matter how meager the original assistance was. Thus did the powers that be at VSU decree that he should have no lab assistants. “Ironically, his last lab assistant is married to one of my students, so they get to see it from both sides,” Dr. Cobbs offers.
For his part, Dr. Stronach is expected to teach 18 hours of classes a week and build and tear down 200 sets of labs—one per student. He also runs six labs a week.
The ratings he has received over the years have usually been “outstanding; some noteworthy,” he recounts. Over the past year, as L’Affaire Cobbs has headed towards its denouement, Dr. Stronach’s ratings have gone down.
“I have arthritis and heart trouble,” Dr. Stronach admits. “My cardiologist tells me that the heart trouble is due to stress.” Dr. Cobbs is now pursuing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Maybe Dr. Stronach will want to bring such an action as well.
Dr. Stronach is not the only scientist being dissed at VSU. Computer scientist Fabio Guerinoni made the mistake of failing students who did not pass their tests. His ratings then took a nosedive from their previous superlatives. One reviewer rated him “the worst teacher ever.”
Life does not get much easier for free-thinking scientists with a change in geography. Just ask physicist Michael Scott Armel-Funkhauser, a professor at the Claremont Colleges in California. “I find it strange, Scott, that you should champion ‘ideological diversity’ as you do,” one of Dr. Armel-Funkhouser’s colleagues at Occidental College wrote in an email. “To imply that something is amiss in the DWA [Diplomacy and World Affairs] department because 100% of its members registered to vote Democrat is akin to insisting that the Physics department should seek faculty who believe the earth is flat.”
The professor who composed that missive blasted it out to the entire student body. Dr. Armel-Funkhouser, though he has relocated to another college in the Claremont web, is pursuing legal action against Occidental.
But he is finding that the grass isn’t always greener on another campus; only the environmental groups are. “The problem at Pitzer springs from an email announcement sent to the entire faculty encouraging students to skip class to attend an anti-war protest,” Dr. Armel-Funkhouser explained. “The email contained allegations that the president told ‘outrageous lies’ to take us to war. I responded to this same audience, challenging the students to provide an example of a lie.”
While studying for his master’s degree at Yale, Dr. Armel-Funkhouser was a co-founder of the alternative publication Light and Truth. In that capacity, he helped to expose the diversion of a grant from Yale alumnus Lee Bass that was designed to fund a Western Civilization curriculum that none of the faculty at Yale wanted.
Of his undergraduate tormenters at Pitzer, Dr. Armel-Funkhouser says, “They piled on me with every name in the book and every insult, and the dean did nothing.”
“I got so sick of the hateful, insulting e-mails that I myself skipped class,” Dr. Armel-Funkhouser recalls. “I was really sick of it.”
“The dean never responded to my complaints to address the insults; he only reared his head to threaten me when he heard I had skipped class.” •
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