Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Major Australian media outlet supports Leftist thought control

SINISTER (adj) 1. Suggestive of evil; looking malignant or villainous. 2. Wicked or criminal. 3.An evil omen.

"Sinister" was the word chosen by The Sydney Morning Herald to describe the campaign launched by the Young Liberals at university campuses under the slogan "Education, not indoctrination". Remove the SMH filter and here's the story: a group of Young Liberals is concerned that students are sometimes forced to endure indoctrination by university academics. Their aim is to encourage freedom of thought and intellectual pluralism on campus. Some may say their goal is naive. Universities have always been bastions of left-wing thought. But sinister?

The problem, says the Herald, is that the campaign "is a sinister echo to one waged by conservatives on the other side of the world". Now we get to the heart of it. The other side of the world is, of course, the US. Ergo, any US export - save Al Gore propaganda - is inherently suspect. It is a shame the Herald did not provide more facts. The pursuit of academic freedom in the US over the past four years makes for riveting, not sinister, reading. And it's not a peculiarly American problem.

In the spring of 2003 David Horowitz, a prominent conservative writer, founded Students for Academic Freedom, a group committed to the simple idea that "academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech". He proposed an academic bill of rights to promote intellectual diversity at universities. As The Wall Street Journal said, Horowitz was asking campus hierarchies to foster "something it is already supposed to believe in: academic freedom".

Hundreds of chapters of the group sprang up on campuses across the US as thousands of students began to rebel against the ideological monoculture they confronted at universities. Examples of bias poured in: course lists comprised solely of radical left texts; essay assignments asking students to explain why "President Bush is a war criminal"; a history professor at Duke University professing "I don't have a bias against anyone ... except Republicans"; another professor informing a Kuwaiti Muslim immigrant that he would need "regular psychotherapy" for writing an essay that defended America's founding fathers and the US Constitution; another student whose economics professor demanded he drop out of his introduction to micro-economics class or face harassment charges for praising Milton Friedman and free market ideals.

Horowitz blindsided the critics by also supporting Michael Weisner, a former student at a California university who complained about a conservative professor. This was no purge of left-wing academics. As Horowitz wrote in 2006, the campaign was "about intellectual diversity, about respect for students who dissent and about protecting their right to draw their own conclusions on controversial matters".

Back in Australia, on a much smaller scale, the Young Liberals and their "Education, not indoctrination" campaign is under way. And it's not hard to find examples of the latter occurring at universities and in schools. Laura (not her real name) is a 50-year-old academic who has spent 15 years teaching trainee primary school teachers at a university in Sydney. She told The Australian she worked side by side in a classroom with an academic who tried to indoctrinate first-year students. She won't name names for fear of recriminations. She says that her colleague, who teaches social science in the education faculty, is intent on changing his students' attitudes to society. He encouraged them to go on demonstrations. Each week, his office door would feature a new anti-Howard cartoon. He voiced anti-government views in the classroom, all the while ignoring the content of the syllabus.

"Some students came to me complaining about exams because they were concerned that if they didn't answer the question with this person's viewpoint, they would be penalised," Laura says. Whereas Laura was teaching her young charges to keep their political views out of the classroom, her colleague believed it was his role "to change their views and promote politics in the classroom".

Jamie, an 18-year-old student at the University of Sydney, saw teachers doing precisely that last year during her HSC. She told The Australian her legal studies teacher at her school in northern Sydney "found it very difficult to give an unbiased perspective, especially when we were studying Work Choices. And I was told if I didn't write an essay that was anti-WC, it would not do very well. One day (the teacher) walked into the classroom saying: "I love Kevin Rudd." I said to her a couple of times: "But, Miss, you shouldn't be putting so much of your opinion into this." Her teacher told her it was impossible to keep opinion out of legal studies. Says Jamie: "I don't think that's correct. Whatever (the teacher's) opinion, it should not be brought intoteaching."

The same thing happened in her HSC English class. At election time last year, when her HSC class studied George Orwell's 1984, Jamie says her teacher "would frequently compare John Howard to Big Brother and say liberal policies were aimed at mind control". Jamie (she won't reveal her surname because she maintains close ties with her former school) is now a Young Liberal. She says: "I understand the bias my teachers had for their own reasons. And it doesn't offend me. But I think education should be about giving students the skills to come to their own conclusions."

If the US is any guide, such examples of intellectual bias are not uncommon. They deserve to be aired. Unless you are a Green, in which case you kind of like the cushy status quo. Perhaps that is why John Kaye, the NSW Greens education spokesman, described the Young Liberals campaign for an academic bill of rights as akin to McCarthyism. Notice how the same fellows who are vocal supporters a wide-ranging bill of rights for the rest of the community are horrified at the notion of an academic bill of rights on campus. What are they afraid of?

By all means, let's push for an academic bill of rights. The results in the US speak for themselves. Legislative inquiries in state after state exposed the lack of intellectual pluralism on campus. But the aim should be, as it was in the US, to get university administrators to take this issue seriously. Horowitz says that legislation was never the real aim. His purpose was "to wake up" university administrators so that they would "promote respect for intellectual diversity in the same way they now promote respect for other kinds of diversity". It has happened in the US. It should be happening here. Hardly sinister stuff.


Government attack on whistleblowing newspaper

The West Australian needed to replace its editor and senior management as well as change the newspaper's editorial culture, Premier Alan Carpenter said yesterday. In his most critical remarks yet against the daily, Mr Carpenter joined a growing list of prominent West Australians in attacking the monopoly newspaper.

Seven Network owner Kerry Stokes has ignited a firestorm of indignation in his bid for two seats on the West Australian Newspapers Holdings board. Seven owns 19.4 per cent of WAN, and Mr Stokes is seeking the board seats at an extraordinary meeting next Wednesday in an attempt to turn around the financial and editorial performance of his hometown paper.

Attorney-General Jim McGinty has labelled the newspaper's journalists unethical and effectively black-banned them from press conferences. Asked yesterday about Mr McGinty's attitude towards journalists, particularly those from The West Australian, Mr Carpenter said he understood the Attorney-General's position. "It is undesirable to have a standoff between a senior minister and the major morning newspaper of the state ... but I understand why Jim McGinty has come to the position he has come to," Mr Carpenter said. "I think most West Australians would understand it and understand why the readership of The West Australian has tailed off under the current regime. The West Australian newspaper, I think, needs to change its culture, the editorial culture; it needs to change the editor; it needs to change the senior management."

Citing two incorrect front-page stories last year, Mr Carpenter said the newspaper needed to take a more honest approach to journalism. He described the story about a woman in a hospital waiting room as "completely fictional rubbish", and last year's supposed finding of HMAS Sydney as the worst abuse of journalistic power he had seen. "I have never seen a worse abuse of journalistic power than the one we saw when The West Australian newspaper claimed on its front page that the Sydney had been found, regardless of how that might impact on the emotions of the families of the people who died in that (disaster). "It's no wonder that The West Australian newspaper really has such low credibility rating in the community of this state, and there's a general view that a change is needed - I agree with that."


Qld. says no to plastic bag panic

QUEENSLAND will oppose a levy on plastic bags at tomorrow's meeting of federal and state environment ministers. Premier Anna Bligh today told State Parliament the levy would be another impost on families already struggling to meet rising household costs. "Queensland does remain committed to completely phasing out non-biodegradable plastic bags," Ms Bligh said. "In this government's ongoing fight to protect our environment, Queensland will push for a total ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, and call for urgent work to be done to identify an environmentally friendly alternative."

Ms Bligh said alternatives to plastic bags were not yet in sufficient supply to immediately ban conventional bags. She said it was an opportunity for a new environment-based industry. "Urgent work with industry needs to be done, to identify how quickly an alternative could be delivered to meet demand," she said. "Australian business are incredible innovators, and if a national standard is set to phase out and ban non-biodegradable plastic bags, I'm confident that industry will rise to the challenge." Queensland Environment Minister Andrew McNamara will attend tomorrow's meeting in Melbourne.


No Rudd rescue of unions

The Rudd Government has refused to rescue Australia's union movement in the face of new figures showing its declining membership has reached crisis levels. Despite record union campaign support for Labor's election victory, the Government warned yesterday that unions would have to survive on their own as membership in the majority private sector workforce fell to a historic low of 13.7 per cent. With figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicating a bleak future, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard made it clear the Government would not "artificially" prop up unions.

In Labor's industrial relations policy released before the election, Ms Gillard said Labor believed unions played an important part in ensuring workplaces were fair. She also said collective agreements, which are backed by unions, would be at the "heart" of Labor's proposed industrial relations system. However, Ms Gillard's position yesterday indicated Labor had no intention of offering special aid to unions through a revival of government grants or funding for union training, as was provided by the Hawke and Keating governments.

Unions are unclear about what access they will have to worksites for recruitment purposes under Labor's proposed laws, with Ms Gillard indicating strict entry permits for union officials would apply.

According to the ABS survey, union membership in the year to August last year fell by 89,000, despite a successful campaign by the ACTU to rally public support against John Howard's Work Choices laws. The overall proportion of the workforce belonging to a union fell 1 per cent to 19 per cent. But the critical decline occurred in the private sector where the bulk of employees work, with membership sliding to levels of just 13.7 per cent. The proportion of the workforce in unions was held up only by relatively high membership in the public service at 41 per cent.

Ms Gillard offered one concession yesterday to the unions in the commonwealth public service, confirming Labor had decided to restore automatic payroll deductions of membership fees for government employees. The previous government's decision after it won office in 1996 to end payroll deductions led to a significant fall in numbers.

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said that the latest union figures reflected a long-term trend of decline broadly consistent with international experience. The Government supported fair and balanced workplaces with employees having a choice on union membership, she said. "While it is not for government to denigrate unions and the role they play, it is also not for government to artificially prop up union membership," she said.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said unions would like to see more government support, but accepted reality. "Of course we would like to see more support, but the era of the old Trade Union Training Authority has gone," Ms Burrow said.


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