Women’s Studies in danger?

As a Women’s Studies baby, this is absolutely terrifying to me:

“Academic freedom” may not sound like an expression to strike fear in the hearts of women’s studies departments.
But as more and more schools and states pass legislation based on a document called the Academic Bill of Rights–Pennsylvania most recently joined the list in July–and support builds for it in Congress, many women’s studies departments can expect increased intrusion this September.
One national organization is truly alarmed. “If one student believes that only one side of a topic was presented,” a grievance could be filed, followed by a lawsuit, warned Ruth Flower, director of the department of public policy and communications at the Washington-based American Association of University Professors. “Women’s studies would have to try to litigate or close down,” she added, noting that the legal battles could deplete the already meager funding for many women’s studies programs and departments.

Women’s eNews intern/writer Rachel Corbett goes on to point out that women’s studies isn’t the only discipline in danger:

In a handbook published by Students For Academic Freedom, a Washington group driving the legislative push to restrain what they see as liberal bias on campus, National Campus Director Sara Dogan singles out women’s studies–along with cultural studies and English literature–as primary foes of intellectual diversity.

So I guess my BA in English and MA in Women’s Studies makes me like a minion of the intellectual devil…
According to Corbett, 16 states have already introduced “academic freedom” legislation in the past two years, and that the Academic Bill of Rights Resolution is gaining increasing support. She also makes the very good point that proponents of this type of legislation are co-opting progressive language (i.e. diversity, equality) to push a super right-wing agenda.

“There are already mechanisms in place that protect this principle, and they work well,” reads a rejoinder from the American Association of University Professors. “Not only is the Academic Bill of Rights redundant, but, ironically, it also infringes on academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it.”

What I find hysterical: The people who support this legislation because they think Women’s Studies is “dangerous” are the same folks who argue that it’s obsolete. If feminism is dead then why do they need to kill it?

Join the Conversation

  • jmcchesney

    I’ll admit… I never took a woman’s study course. However, I took several classes from professors with VERY different views on life than I have. And yes, their courses were taught very differently than I would have taught them. However, they were the ones with the PhD, not me. I thought the classes were great because it really made me think things through on a different level and question where I stood on things. As long as the professor is not grading you on how well you agree with them (that I think is wrong) teachers should have the right to teach their classes how they see fit. Period. To make a law saying otherwise is a huge intrusion into not only academic freedom, but personal freedom as well. If you have a huge problem with the course, drop it. No one says you have to take it.

  • togolosh

    Kinda makes me want to go to business school so I can bitch about the lack of coverage of Maoist economics.

  • JesusJonesSuperstar

    I don’t get it. Who gets to make the decision as to what is a balanced coverage of a topic?
    On the other hand, what is wrong with looking at multiple viewpoints? One viewpoint can lead to dogmatism rather than enlightened thinking.
    ON the other hand, If students choose a class that presents, by its very nature ONE viewpoint, why is that wrong?
    I can see them doing this for classes students are REQUIRED to take, but for other classes?
    Just does not smell right to me.

  • gueuze

    I shudder to think about what will happen to science courses if this sort of “academic freedom” hogwash is permitted. “Intelligent design,” anyone?
    As an English major (and someone who will soon be a HS English teacher), I don’t wanna think about conservatives challenging texts like _Lysistrata_. “It’s sexy AND anti-war? It’s impinging on my academic freedom!”
    Also, what about crackpots who think the Holocaust is a hoax? Does that mean their view of history will be presented alongside “traditional” views of history?
    Jeez. The lengths that these people are doing to “change the degenerate culture,” even if they don’t know anything about the actual subject.

  • http://www.roarmeow.com puckalish

    another point is that, within the larger ideological bracket that presumes gender relations are unequal (not an outlanding presumption by any means), there are many different perspectives…
    just to focus on feminism… there’s liberal feminism, marxist feminism, radical feminism, post-modern feminism, french psychoanalytic feminism, etc. etc.
    each of these perspectives take a different approach to different problems and, often, come in direct conflict with one another.
    further, there is an even greater ontological fallout if this gets put through than simple denying of facts (as in the holocaust hoax thing, etc.) the capacity of professors and teachers to challenge their students will be severely limited. and, as a result, students will be more easily swayed by those who do have the power to challenge… this is on some thought police shit. dang.
    i remember when i was in school, i had an amazing, revolutionary professor (anna agathangelou) who felt her hands were tied in overt support student political activities already because she was untenured. what will this proposed bill do to these already tenuous dynamics?

  • tfreridge

    Mike Adams at NCU and David Horowitz are good examples of former university liberals who have seen how the university tenure system tends to lean to the very, very left.
    Their arguments are very strong.

  • stephen

    So academics are in a flurry that they might have to present a range of viewpoints and opinions on their courses. Their anxiety makes me wonder what they’ve been doing up till now. I’d have thought they would just shrug and say – well, if someone can find a viewpoint we don’t cover, then by all means bring a case. Their reaction seems to imply that they do indeed limit the viewpoints up for discussion in their classes, in the way described in the article. How shameful, and what a pity that a law may be needed to challenge such an abuse of freedom and power by academics.
    “American Association of University Professors: Not only is the Academic Bill of Rights redundant, but, ironically, it also infringes on academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it.” They have to say the Bill is redundant, because otherwise they would be confessing to failing to teach a range of viewpoints. But if it were really redundant, then they wouldn’t be upset about it. Quite a problem for them, there!
    OK, thin end of the wedge argument. Will we have holocaust deniers in history lessons and creationists in biology? My answer is, yes, we should cover those viewpoints, because you can cover both of them in five minutes, since they are obviously false and can be shown to be so by quick and easy methods. You don’t need whole lectures on it, you just need to pinpoint the fallacies and move on. If you keep students away from holocaust denial and creationism, then they are not going to have the counter-arguments when they encounter such rubbish in their future lives. So you are doing them a disservice.
    “..it’s very simplistic to suggest that the entire field of women’s studies represents one particular ideological position.” Nobody’s suggested that, as far as I can see. What they have suggested is that if academics present limited viewpoints on their course then they are doing wrong and if they don’t change their ways voluntarily they should be made to do so. No suggestion of monolithic ideology there. Just a suggestion that academics should teach a range of viewpoints. That defensive reaction does make wonder, however, whether there may actually be monolithic ideology, since no-one brought the subject up in the context of the Bill and yet the academics are concerned to rebut the suggestion that no-one has made.

  • http://www.jenniferinc.com/blog Jennifer Warwick

    I shudder to think what you’d have to say about David Allen – a man! – now running the women’s studies department at the University of Washington. FWIW, he says, “Men ought to be committed to supporting feminism, just like whites should be committed to supporting anti-racism.”
    Priti Ramamurthy, an associate professor of women studies, said Allen has an excellent rapport with students and faculty and is ideal for the job.
    “It marks changes in the field of women studies. The idea that women studies is only for and about women is no longer the case,” she said. “It’s moved to a focus on social construction, not just of women but also of masculinity, and the changing relationships between men and women, women and women, and men and men.”
    He’s the first man to run the 35 year old program. The only thing that would have pleased me more is if his gender, race and sexual preference had not been mentioned the press coverage at all, with the media focusing exclusively on his qualifications…but that may need to wait another 35 years.

  • Jessica

    Jennifer, maybe you should do a site search before you start shuddering:
    We agreed with Priti Ramamurthy assesment of Allen–a man! Just because you think of feminists as man-hating, don’t assume that’s what this site is about.

  • bear

    People are worried about being given balanced points of view. What about the point of view that Womens Studies is the balance to the white, male, Christian (of which I am all three) point of view that has been dominant throughout history?
    Rush Limbaugh used to say his conservative commentary was “equal time” in contrast to the dominant liberal media. Couldn’t the same be said about Womens Studies, which I’m sure is something that Rush would love to do away with? It is looking at society through a different viewpoint.
    No one talked about needing a balanced point of view when I was taking history in junior high and high school.

  • http://www.jenniferinc.com/blog Jennifer Warwick

    I don’t think of feminists as man-hating – far from it! But that’s a limitation of e-mail and blogging, isn’t it? It’s human nature to fill in the blanks in a story. We all do it. Unfortunately, we usually fill them in wrong.
    My post was not a response to you, Jessica – it was a response to the tone of several comments on this post, and to many, many other posts on this blog. The ‘shuddering’ was also a riff on an earlier post in this particular thread.
    You know, I’m not perfect, but I do try very hard to not be deliberately unkind. I read recently that one of the challenges we are facing as a society (particularly within the Democratic party) is that the left is just becoming more snarky and sarcastic, while the right is becoming more stubborn and violent. My personal experience with this blog unfortunately supports the snark theory…
    At the same time, it’s also very true that this blog has an extremely loyal and devoted readership, far outnumbering me, party of one, with a totally different take on things than I have, and a thriving culture of its own… So I’ll leave you kids to it.
    I wish you the best, because I do believe that it is your intention to make a stand for something much bigger by initiating these conversations! I look forward to checking back in the future and seeing a powerful body of work you’ve created by the time you are…well, whatever comes after “young feminists.” :-)

  • Zaij

    Don’t leave Jennifer. You were one of the few rational people on this blog.