Villanova University is attempting to monitor its faculty members on how well they do in the realm of "diversity and inclusion" — through evaluations students fill out — and a pair of professors from the private Catholic college outside Philadelphia don't like it one bit.
Colleen A. Sheehan — a professor of politics and former member of the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives — teamed up with James Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of religion and literature, to pen a Wall Street Journal op-ed saying the new evaluation questions undercut their ability to provide students a "liberal education."
"Students are now being asked heavily politicized questions such as whether the instructor has demonstrated 'cultural awareness' or created an 'environment free of bias based on individual differences or social identities,'" the professors wrote in Friday's piece, "A Mole Hunt for Diversity 'Bias' at Villanova."
'Perceived agreement with progressive political opinion'
More from the op-ed:
In short, students are being asked to rate professors according to their perceived agreement with progressive political opinion on bias and identity. Students are also invited to "comment on the instructor's sensitivity to the diversity of the students in the class." Professors are rated on their "sensitivity" to a student's "biological sex, disability, gender identity, national origin, political viewpoint, race/ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc." The "etc." in particular seems like an ominous catchall, as if the sole principle of sound teaching has become "that no student shall be offended."
Sheehan and Wilson argued in their piece that such a setup gives professors a "powerful incentive to avoid discussion of anything that might be deemed offensive or insensitive to the various social identities and political viewpoints listed (or not listed, by grace of that 'etc.')."
More from the op-ed:
A biology professor may avoid teaching about sexual dimorphism for fear of being labeled "insensitive" to "gender identity." Professors of political philosophy, history or literature may avoid introducing the texts of John C. Calhoun, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass or Flannery O'Connor, for fear their sometimes racially charged language may be interpreted as "insensitivity." Catholic teaching prizes philosophical reasoning, but one cannot reason with others if the mere posing of an argument could be deemed an act of "bias."
'Designed to stifle Catholic moral teaching'
Sheehan and Wilson added that courses on Catholic theology will be hampered due to the "diversity" focus on student-submitted evaluations.
"Those who teach courses about Catholic doctrine on marriage and the family may now live in fear that their own university will treat such views, and those who teach about them, as insensitive or worse," they noted. "In fact, the 'sensitivity' questions appear almost perfectly designed to stifle Catholic moral teaching in the classroom."
Furthermore — and at a minimum — accusations of "insensitivity, injustice and bigotry will become part of the faculty's permanent record. How long will it be before professors cease to challenge their students for fear of losing their careers and livelihoods?" the piece asked.
"We urge our own university as well as other liberal-arts institutions to reject such ideological policing and recommit themselves to the principles of liberal education," Sheehan and Wilson wrote, adding that "this cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of fear-imposed silence. We professors — and our students — must be free to think and question and debate. Surely respecting diversity must also allow for diversity of thought."
What did Villanova have to say?
Villanova on Monday offered the following statement to TheBlaze about the professors' op-ed:
At Villanova, we strive to create a community that fosters an open and respectful environment so that our students and our faculty get the best from each other in the pursuit of higher learning.
A recently published Wall Street Journal op-ed by two Villanova professors incorrectly portrayed questions from a course survey as a political litmus test. The aim of these questions is to allow faculty to better understand their role in creating an environment where all students can learn and share their perspectives — a core responsibility of any educator. These survey questions are not used for evaluating faculty.
As an Augustinian Catholic University, community is at the center of who we are and what we do at Villanova. It is important for our faculty to challenge students, teaching and examining a variety of subjects and viewpoints — some that students may agree with and others they may not. We firmly believe that the Catholic Intellectual tradition is best accomplished through and by a diverse community of scholars and students with a wide variety of viewpoints.
What did readers have to say?
A cursory glance at some of the 600-plus responses to the op-ed appeared to show a decided agreement with the thrust of the piece:
- "As a tenured full professor at CUNY, I immediately suspected Villanova might want to use these student evaluations to retire more conservative tenured professors, and this does not sound fair or right. I sincerely hope that I am mistaken."
- "Wonder how long Ms. Sheehan and Mr. Wilson will remain on staff. Sounds like they need to go to the re-education center."
- "It appears that Villanova has happily acceded the demands of the secular culture, much as Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, and so many others have done. Scholarship and in particular the teaching of Catholic faith and philosophy will continue to suffer."
- "They say Liberal Education but the reality is may schools push Progressive Left agendas which are not liberal."
- "Here is the biggest threat to freedom our country has EVER faced, the progressives' takeover of the education of our youth from K to grad school. They are being brainwashed, indoctrinated, and cleansed of their common sense, logic, and individuality, and are taught that any deviation from the prescribed agenda is not only wrong, but evil. Education? Hah."
This story has been updated with a response from Villanova University.
(H/T: The College Fix)