A newly formed political organization at SF State is helping combat the fear some students have of expressing their political views in the classroom.
Last fall, the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) was formed with the main goal of informing students that they can officially protest professors who lecture personal and/or liberal viewpoints in non-political or historical classes.
“We want to get more of a conservative push on campus,” said Derek Wray, president of the SAF. “There is," he added, "a general liberal bias in academia."
However, members of the SAF are not the only ones attempting to help students fight the alleged liberal bias.
Last spring, SF State saw the resurrection of the College Republicans. This comeback was partly due to the deafening roar of liberal groups, such as the Campus Greens, and partly due to the lack of a viable conservative voice on campus.
Both groups, the SAF and the College Republicans, share some of the same members and tell stories of bias remarks in classes ranging from Holistic Health to Theories in Personality.
“Republicans eat too many starches -- that’s why they can’t think straight,” was one comment College Republican President Maria Trapalis heard in her segment III Holistic Health class.
“I would never complain,” Trapalis said, “but that kind of comment makes me feel less of a part of the campus community.”
Other members of the College Republicans take a more direct stance.
“My name is Carlos and I’m a Republican,” said political science junior Carlos Zepeda, in reference to his announcement during some class introductions. "Be the loud minority,” he said at a recent club meeting. "Don’t let them (professors) scare you just because they have a Ph.D.”
The fears that Zepeda fights are fears some students learn to live with.
“The notion that there is no remedy for students is not true,” said Loretta Stec, associate professor of English. “If a student has a problem with a professor’s fairness, he or she should use established procedures to lodge a complaint,” Stec wrote in an e-mail.
There are a couple of different ways to combat faculty bias, whether it is liberal or conservative, at SF State. According to the “Guidelines for Academic Freedom and Responsibility” set forth by the Academic Senate more than 30 years ago, “Academic freedom includes the right of both faculty and students to seek censure of faculty members by complaint, petition, or seeking discipline for incompetence or unprofessional behavior.”
Among the types of censure are formal written student grievances against faculty.
Although the process is long and formal, students should at all cost try to reconcile the disagreement with either the professor or an intermediary, states the report.
However, conservative-minded students, fearing academic retribution, are hesitant to stake their college career on a disagreemen, said Trapalis.
“Most professors would be shocked to find out that students are afraid to speak out,” said Chris Mays, chairman of the Academic Freedom Committee. “Students have a right to speak out and disagree with a professor’s conduct.”
Juan Valladares, a master’s student in structural technology agrees and disagrees. “Students have a right to speak out," he said, "but it doesn’t make it easy."
When he was tabling for Bush/Cheney 2000, Valladares had a run in with one of his structural technology professors. He was asked, “’Why are you tabling for that schmuck’?”
Though Valladares brushed the comment off, he felt alienated in class for the rest of the semester. He also felt that the clashing of ideologies led to the professor’s refusal to assign him an "incomplete" even though Valladares completed 75 percent of the work.
“He insisted on giving me an F thereby intentionally sabotaging my transcripts,” he said.
Valladares is still working his G.P.A. back to a 2.0 in order to be taken off academic probation in the master’s program. He did not report the incident out of concern for the department but groups like the SAF are trying to change that.
Wray explained that most students do not think about filing a grievance but that SAF will put the power of a national organization behind them if they want to file.
“It’s easier with us, because then it's not you against the world,” Wray said.
Wray also explained that although many conservative students are attracted to SAF, political ideology takes a back seat to academic freedom. “We (SAF) don’t want to be seen as conservative,” said Wray. “We just want the ability for students to hear both viewpoints.”
Wanted or not, SAF is backed by the Center for Study of Popular Culture, a nonprofit headed by David Horowitz, a key figure of the conservative political arena. Both Horowitz, a conservative pundit, and Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia’s First District, support academic freedom and the “Academic Bill of Rights."
Similar to the “Student Bill of Rights” being handed out by SAF members on campus, the “Academic Bill of Rights” calls for campuses to promote intellectual diversity.
Associate Professor Stec agrees to disagree on the language in the bill. “The bill is contradictory,” said Stec, explaining that the bill called for professors to maintain neutrality in all substantive disagreements inside or outside their field of inquiry.
“We as professors are hired to have a point of view, but only after years of experience,” she said.
Stec stated that in order for the education process to work, there must be a free flow of ideas from both sides of the political arena. “Everything cannot be a consensus,” Stec said.
Erik Peper, director for the Institute of Holistic Health, sees Stec's view a little differently, saying: "Professors are hired to do scholarship."
Peper added that as a result of that scholarship research, certain political relations could be drawn, like that of the environment as it relates to political legislation.
“Academic freedom is critical to inquiry, but only when put into the context of the subject,” he said. “Instructors should always be clear that they state all comments as their perspective.”