How often do we hear from certain quarters about the overwhelming bias among so-called liberal academics who stifle free-thinking and use their classrooms as bully pulpits? Most of these claims are made by folks who have little or no experience in academia and do so as a way to reinforce what can only be described as an overly simplistic view of the world and/or a need to filter everything through a naive personal morality play. I have to say that I usually get a kick out of these little rants.
Today I was treated to a visit by a student who graduated last year and is currently enrolled at the College of Charleston. Last year this student took my elective course on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and did quite well. As if one course on Lincoln isn’t enough, this student just completed a course in the English Department with Professor David Aiken, who apparently spends much of his time discussing Lincoln and the war. Apparently, Aiken offers a very different view of Lincoln compared with what this student read last year in my course. [Readings included a book by William Gienapp as well as articles by Burlingame, Holzer, Boritt, Guelzo, and Donald, etc.] The student did quite well in my course so I asked what the class discussions were like. Unfortunately, it turns out that this professor rarely allows other viewpoints from being introduced into the classroom that differ from his own. Of course, the opinion of one student counts for very little, but if you check out Aiken’s Rate My Professors page it seems that there is sufficient confirmation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem whatsoever with introducing an alternative view of Lincoln, but I do have a problem with the professor preventing his students from challenging his interpretation for no good reason. I would love to know what sources an English professor uses to teach about Lincoln.
Don’t worry, I am not going to issue any overarching condemnations of all conservative professors. I’m sure there are plenty out there that are offering their students a first-rate education.