A Conservative Threat on Campus?

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.

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10 comments… add one
  • Sean S. Dec 21, 2008 @ 10:32

    It doesn’t surprise me. He is a founding member of the William Gilmore Simm’s society, which, amongst other things, produces threadbare works (equivalent to Simm’s own stuff) arguing about the treachery of the Union. They had Simm’s jaundiced version of history of the burning of Columbia printed with little to no context to show that Simm’s was mostly making stuff up.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 21, 2008 @ 10:59

      Sean, — Thanks for the comment. You can read the Simms account on Google books. You are absolutely right, Aiken provides absolutely no context for understanding Sherman’s march through South Carolina nor does he seem to be aware of the vast amount of secondary sources that focus on this subject. When discussing Lincoln and civil liberties he refers back to a history written in the 1930s.

  • James F. Epperson Dec 19, 2008 @ 10:12

    OK, *William* Gillmore Simms… ๐Ÿ™

  • James F. Epperson Dec 19, 2008 @ 6:39

    You weren’t very explicit, so I am assuming this professor is from the “DiLorenzo school”?

    • Greg Rowe Dec 19, 2008 @ 8:18

      I’m just saying his conservative leanings could be explained by his divinity degree. Perhaps he went to a liberal seminary, but since his resume is very vague, I can only be vague in describing why he might be right-leaning. Not that all theologians are conservatives, but it could explain his thought process.

      Kevin raises the best point. What sources is he using to support his ideas? Kevin lists his personal sources for teaching and shares them often on this site. Looking at Professor Aiken’s webpage he is neither qualified as a historiasn nor does he quote any reasonable sources as a basis for his historical opinions. That could be because he is an English instructor, not a history instructor. It could also be he doesn’t want historians to question his credibility, nor does he want students to come into his classroom with any clue as to the focus of his instruction. Intellectually blindsiding students is, perhaps, worse than being narrow in one’s views.

      • James F. Epperson Dec 19, 2008 @ 9:39

        I was just trying to find out what sorts of things he was saying. From his vita he is greatly interested in James Gilmore Simms, which obviously indicates certain predispositions ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • Greg Rowe Dec 19, 2008 @ 10:07

          Not being a student of South Carolina Low Country literature, I had to look up this author, but I believe your estimations are accurate based on an examination of Willam (?) Gilmore Simms biographical entry on UNC’s “Documenting the American South” website: http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/simms1/bio.html

  • Greg Rowe Dec 19, 2008 @ 6:19

    Not that all people with this degree are the same way, but the first thing I noticed is “M.Div.” in his credentials. The godless North strikes again? Probably in Professor Aiken’s opinion.

  • John Hennessy Dec 18, 2008 @ 14:33

    Kevin: I wonder if he’s related to David Wyatt Aiken, colonel of the 7th SC and a postwar Congressman from SC. Is his approach history or defense of the family legacy–the memory?

    • Kevin Levin Dec 18, 2008 @ 14:49

      Great question John. I don’t know too much about D.W. Aiken’s postwar career other than that he was a strong supporter of the Farmers’ Alliance and Grange Movement. A positive answer to the question would definitely help to explain David Aiken’s partisan stance; unfortunately, it doesn’t say much for his worth as a teacher.

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