Political opposites attracted when the Duke's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the group Students For Academic Freedom co-sponsored a discussion about political bias in the classroom Friday evening in Von Canon B.
The debate featured two main viewpoints. Michael Hardt, professor in the Department of Literature, and John Wilson, founder of collegefreedom.org, argued that political viewpoints in the classroom should not be regulated.
They squared off against Joey Stansbury, a representative from the conservative John Williams Pope Center for Higher Education, and junior Stephen Miller, president of the Duke Chapter of Students for Academic Freedom and a Chronicle columnist. Stansbury and Miller supported enacting policies to ensure professors would not force their political views on their students.
The approximately 40 students in attendance were actively involved in the discussion. They offered vocal criticism and questions, making the event run past its scheduled 9 p.m. conclusion.
Miller opened the discussion by stating that liberals "greatly outnumber conservatives in every academic department here at Duke."
Miller also voiced support for the SAF Academic Freedom Pledge, which he will ask Trinity College of Arts and Sciences professors to sign, promising they will be politically neutral in the classroom.
"The pledge will ensure a diversity of viewpoints in the classroom," he said.
But Wilson said the pledge is an attempt to force ideology and patriotic correctness onto professors.
"My objection is that it will remove the freedom for professors to choose book lists or course topics and punish professors for their views," he said.
Hardt also criticized the goals of the Academic Freedom Pledge. "I'm concerned that [Miller's] 'diversity of viewpoints' simply means those that he supports," he said. "I don't believe that the diversity of thought should be enforced."
"If professors like Hardt valued the richness of education over their monopoly on ideas, they would never oppose a non-partisan document encouraging... diversity and tolerance," Miller said.
The atmosphere became tense at times. At one point, Hardt criticized Miller for answering a question before an audience member finished speaking.
"For someone who is concerned about professors that cut off students who disagree with them, you certainly do it a lot," he said.
Most dissenting opinions and comments from the audience were directed at Miller as well. "It is ironic that you want to police the classroom, when you are called Students for Academic Freedom," said senior Emily Ladue. "It would become academic homogeneity, not academic freedom, if professors were forced to balance everything."
But Miller said the academic climate is one-sided and professors ignore viewpoints diverging from their own.
Jimmy Richardson, an English graduate student, criticized Miller for "trying to turn the campus into a version of Crossfire"-a now-canceled CNN program-and for dividing all aspects of campus into liberal or conservative.
Freshman Robert Dodson said he enjoyed the disintegration of organization in the discussion because he thought it allowed the panelists' real opinions to come out.
"I liked Miller's arguments and felt that he was very passionate and made good points, but he didn't make friends with the audience," Dodson said.
Miller said he felt the debate went well but noted that most people came already disagreeing with SAF's positions. He said this was evident when several members of the audience cheered and laughed at Hardt's remarks against him.
Hardt said that even though it is not a good idea to enforce policies about the diversity of political perspectives, the discussion itself was useful. "All discussions about pedagogy and the learning environment are beneficial with respect to student involvement," he said.
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