What do the higher ed media do when a professor is caught blustering and biased—on camera? They scramble to defend him, of course.
A few weeks ago after getting a tip from a student at Louisiana State University, Campus Reform, a web-based organization that fights political correctness in higher education, sent a cameraman into class. The course, intended for freshmen, was Astronomy 1101 “The Solar System,” and the class was devoted entirely to the discussion of global warming.
Nothing in the terse description in LSU’s course catalog indicated that the professor would focus on terrestrial politics. The course description simply says that “The Solar System” will deal with “fundamental principles of the solar system.”
This week, Campus Reform released three video excerpts from that class (part 1, part 2, part 3). The videos show the professor, Bradley E. Schaefer, denouncing students for their views on global warming. He asks the class to sit according to actions they think the government should take, ranging from “U.S. should do nothing” to “Mandatory birth control” and “Eliminate all engines.”
To students who take their seats on the right side of the room (the “U.S. should do nothing” side), Professor Schaefer scoffs: “Oh boy, that’s really good for you, at least for the next decade or two. And then you will remember having sat on that corner, because you will not want to tell your children, if they live, why you’re sitting on that corner, that you were part of the trouble, right? Do you realize that?”
He goes on, “The more you’re sitting over here, the more you’re wanting to keep your hedonistic luxury at the cost of your children.”
To one student he says, “Too little, too late. Blood will be on your hands.”
Campus Reform’s videos are short, 1-3 minute clips that highlight Schaefer’s most vigorous statements. When the organization published the first installment of the series, it wrote that this “shows what happens when a professor brings his politics into the classroom.”
Campus Reform has provided one of the clearest examples ever documented of liberal bias in academe. Defenders of the status quo saw its potential for serious damage and immediately set out to discredit it.
Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed published articles that essentially say: Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes? It’s not what it looks like. It was taken out of context. He yelled at liberal students too. The Chronicle article, “Video Seems to Catch Professor in a Liberal Rant, But There’s More to the Story,” paraphrases Schaefer: “He was actually challenging all of his students, both liberal and conservative, he says, and not chastising any of them for their beliefs.”
Indeed, Professor Schaefer did mock the “Eliminate all engines” segment of the class as well. He said, “The other side – they’re just as bad also.” When students asked him where he would sit, he said he didn’t know but that “I would not sit on either of the two edges. I think those are insane.”
What Schaefer doesn’t realize is that he shouldn’t be jeering at students on either side of a debate he has staged with an invitation to take positions that he believes to be extreme. When he asks students to sit according to their beliefs, then ridicules them for doing so—no matter what their politics are, he is in the wrong. As a professor, his job is not to belittle both sides equally but to instruct impartially.
At the request of the Chronicle, Campus Reform published the full, unedited, 40-minute long video of the class. It doesn’t help Schaeffer’s case. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle probably bet that most people would read their headlines, accept the notion that Campus Reform deviously and “selectively edited,” and not take the time to watch the longer version.
Those who do watch the full video will see that there’s nothing in it to exonerate Schaefer or prove that he was unfairly treated by Campus Reform. After his first round of deriding students for their views, he gives a melodramatic lecture on global warming, comprised mostly of his avowals that global warming exists and will cause untold deaths. He declares, “Global warming is real; it’s caused by humanity,” and repeatedly says, “It’s only going to get worse.”
Schaefer says “About fifteen years ago Exxon suddenly decided, ‘Oh geez, this is going to be bad for our bottom line,’ and they started pouring vast sums of money into saying, ‘Oh, global warming doesn’t exist.’ That’s completely false.”
“There is universal agreement among scientists,” he proclaims, echoing Al Gore’s “The debate is over.”
Professor Schaefer fails to mention the many respected scientists who have made public their skepticism of anthropogenic global warming. Among them is Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and finds evidence that global warming alarmism has been greatly exaggerated for political purposes. Another is Australian geologist Ian Plimer, who writes in his book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming - The Missing Science, “Climate has always changed. It always has and always will [...] If we humans, in a fit of ego, think we can change these normal planetary processes, then we need stronger medication.” Saying “there is universal agreement among scientists” is an outright lie.
Another lie is recorded in the Chronicle, where Schaefer is quoted defending himself, “I put forth no opinions on how humanity should respond to global warming.”
No opinions on how we should respond? Try:
The solution has to come with some combination of not having as many people and not being as luxurious. So you can have a smaller population of high luxury or, you know, take your choice. If we go on as we are, you’ll have deaths in the billions, and that will solve the problem for you. That is not a good solution.
Later, a student asks about volcanoes, and Schaefer replies, “There are all sorts of natural catastrophes. This is one we made ourselves, and this is one we can control.”
At the end of the class he has the students do a group exercise and gives each section different questions for which they must present an answer to the class. The group on the right side of the room is given a piece of paper that says:
Your professed policies have a substantial likelihood of leading to the death of a billion people or more. (A) Estimate the probability that you personally will be killed in an ugly way because of your decision? (B) What is the probability that any children of yours will die in ugly ways due to your current decision.
Die in ugly ways? This professor has decided to try to weed out anyone who disagrees with him by using scare and guilt tactics. He sustains the violent imagery through the entire class, telling students, “Blood will be on your hands,” and pooh-poohing deaths from September 11th (“3,000? Whatever.”) in light of the toll global warming would take. Toward the end of his lecture he indicts the students who prefer no new legislation on climate change:
So, you see, the trouble here is the people on that corner [points at right side of room]. They’re wanting to do nothing. They’re wanting to let global warming take its toll. People decades from now will have deaths in the billions if we do nothing, and that will solve the problem.
Campus Reform’s video #2 points out that when the spokesman from that side stands up to share his group’s answers to the “die in ugly ways” questions, Schaefer repeatedly interrupts him. Several students ask the professor to let the spokesman talk, which Schaefer does, collapsing into a theatrical fit of laughter, holding his sides, bobbing his head, and gesturing to imply that he thinks the student is spouting idiocy.
The mockery, of course, does far more to discredit the integrity of the teacher than the opinions of the students. But the most chilling moment in the class wasn’t included in the shorter Campus Reform videos. It’s what the group on the other side of the room has to say.
The young woman speaking for her section reads the question, “Would you personally aim to have no more than 2 children?” Out of about 50 students, 45 said yes, she reports. “So I think that’s a pretty good number, and if, I mean, if the whole country decided to do that it would make a big impact.”
Forty-five students make a verbal pledge not to have more than two children. And they hope the whole country will do the same. If these students are in earnest, they have drunk the Kool-Aid. If they are bluffing, Schaefer was successful in his intimidation tactics. He is so bold as to guide students to limit the size of their future families—and they readily go along in the direction he nudges them.
As for the students over on the right side of the room, Schaefer continues to denounce them as unethical and foolish: “Screwing with the science is WRONG. You’re an ostrich putting your head in the sand.” After the spokesman says, “We personally don’t believe that we will be killed due to our current position because—” Schaefer cuts him off, shouting, “Remember that you gave that answer, okay? You’re going to be accountable for this!”
What about Professor Schaefer? Will he be held accountable? Not likely. The LSU department chair told the Chronicle he did not think any action would be taken to punish or even reprimand Schaeffer. He did say that he would take seriously any student complaints if he hears any.
But why wait to hear from students, who may not complain if they want to preserve their grades, when all the evidence is in? The footage from this class is a smoking gun, and LSU is too deeply invested in maintaining the politically correct system to take responsibility and do the right thing.
Cary Nelson, of course, defended Professor Schaefer. The president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Nelson believes that academic freedom is essentially a professor’s ability to say whatever he wants in the classroom. He told Inside Higher Ed that:
academic freedom and completely honest communication in the classroom requires a certain degree of privacy for all the people there, that they need to be able to be frank, that they need to express their emotions honestly, that the classroom is not a stage, that it’s not designed to be a public performance.
Perhaps Nelson should communicate this directly with Schaefer, who used his authority to put on what amounted to a big performance.
What is truly amazing about this story is the ease with which Schaefer’s defenders can turn a blind eye to his totally unprofessional behavior and point the blame at the messengers. In this way, it resembles the episode at Wesleyan University in which students and faculty were enraged by an affirmative action bake sale because it was “offensive,” but they failed to see the inherent offensiveness of racial preferences portrayed by the bake sale. Once again, blame is shifted to those holding up the mirror.
A year ago “Climategate” exposed the secret steps researchers at East Anglia University had taken to suppress views that did not support climate change orthodoxy. Hundreds of emails came to the surface, undeniable evidence of a conspiracy propping up the supposed “scientific consensus.” Then, as now, the guilty party exonerated itself simply by playing the martyr and repeating declarations of its own innocence.
So what, ideally, should LSU do to assure students, their parents, and the public that Astronomy 1101 isn’t just an occasion for Professor Schaefer to rant about global warming and attempt to humiliate students who disagree with him? How can this be handled without violating the principle of academic freedom? Well, first of all, the University needs to recognize that students have academic freedom too – freedom to be taught by scholars who do not engage in propagandistic bombast, but instead provide a conscientious account of the relevant facts – in this case, about “The Solar System.” The AAUP laid this out definitively in its 1915 Declaration of Principles:
The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit; that is to say, they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language.
Professor Schaefer appears to have violated these principles as vividly as it might be possible to do. He deserves, at the least, a suspension from teaching until such time as he shows himself ready to teach in a manner appropriate to his position.