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NAS debate reveals faculty divisions on curriculum, ideology

Faculty members deny charges that an academic association they have agreed to join is racist, sexists and homophobic.

Instead, the charter members of the university chapter of the National Association of Scholars, say the group is a mechanism to openly discuss critical university issues. James Barber, James B. Duke professor of political science, recruited 46 faculty members to found a University chapter of the group.

English Professor Stanley Fish touched off the NAS controversy when he described the group as an association “widely known to be racist, sexist and homophobic” in a letter to The Chronicle.

In addition, three faculty members are circulating a petition in protest of the group. Annabel Wharton, associate professor of art history, William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin professor of history, and Elizabeth Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo professor of religion collaborated on a petition which they have posted on bulletin boards in various departments.

Chafe said the NAS is hostile to many curriculum changes, including increased emphasis on women’s studies and non-western disciplines. The protest petition cites the “rich diversity of our society in the curriculum of our university” and praises the “cultural heterogeneity which is our heritage,” he said.

The majority of the faculty holds views contrary to those of the association, Clark said. Few professors who signed up from the association teach subjects which would be directly affected by any curriculum changes the association favors, she added.

She is also concerned some of the people asked to join were not given adequate information about the association.

The national association is not right-wing, said Stephen Balch, national president of NAS. It is “mainstream,” having no ideological program.

The local members determine the agenda of a university chapter or state affiliate, Balch said.

The chapters must, however, remain within the boundaries of the principles of the national association, Balch said.

The John M. Olin and Sarah Scaife foundations are two large contributors to the national association, Balch said.

The foundations also fund politically conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Freedom House, the Committee on the Present Danger, and Accuracy in Media, according to an article in The Polemicist, a student magazine at the University of Texas-Austin.

Individual faculty members listed a variety of campus issues that led them to join the University chapter.

Victor Strandberg, professor of English, joined the national NAS in response to what he terms a disturbing national trend toward restricting free speech.

Strandberg joined the University chapter in part out of concern of a proposal he says is unconstitutional. The proposal, an addendum to the Undergraduate Judicial Code, “would prohibit actions, speech, or conduct that is demeaning or offensive to women, minorities and other groups.”

Clark Cahow, professor of history, said he is interested more in the chapter’s role on campus than the national’s agenda. No literature from the national association was given to him before he joined the University chapter, he said.

Cahow will make the “appropriate decision” if at the first meeting, chapter members decide to take on an agenda more national and less local in scope, he said.

NAS critic Fish doesn’t understand the goal of the association, said George Christie, James B. Duke professor of law.

Christie described Fish’s remark as a creation of guilt by association and intimidation. The association does not make Western European civilization the “be all end all” of curriculum, Christie said.

Not all the founding members of the University agree on every issue with the national chapter, said Lawrence Evans, professor and chair of the physics department. Although he doesn’t subscribe to every view the national chapter holds, Evans, a registered Democrat, decided to join anyway.

Evans might prefer another organization, but right now, the NAS is “the only game in town,” he said.

Those who disagree with some of the national chapter’s views could organize another group on their own, but it is more difficult, he said.

The University needs a forum in which the whole faculty can openly discuss the curriculum, without involving outside groups such as the Academic Council and the academic deans, Evans said.

Currently, faculty members in one department do not decide on course curriculum in another, unless the course relates to two departments, or the faculty member is on an Undergraduate Faculty Council of Arts and Sciences course committee, said Richard White, dean of Trinity College. The course curriculum is discussed within the department and sent for approval to the UFCAS course committee.

If the course relates to one in another department, the faculty members in the related department can discuss the course, White said.

Like Evans, Timothy Lomperis, assistant professor of political science and founder of the University chapter, does not subscribe to the whole national association’s agenda. He does not hold all of the “right-wing” views that some of the other chapter members may.

The national’s views on women’s and minority studies are more extreme than his, he said.

Lomperis joined the chapter mainly to discuss faculty hiring. He observes with “great alarm” the current trend of the administration luring professors with extremely high salaries.

Henry “Skip” Gates, an English professor, was paid a larger-than-usual amount of money to teach at the University, according to national news reports, The administration will not say how much they paid him.

The amount of funding given by the national organization to the local is determined by the local members, Balch said. The national association gives local chapter money if they ask for it, he said. The money from the national usually goes toward a general operating fund that is used for purposes that fall within the national NAS agenda.

Chapter members will decide if and how much money they will receive from the national association, Barber said.

Barber said members will decide the University chapter’s agenda at the first meeting, which will be in the middle of this month.


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