Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:39 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:39 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Academic bias


Sam Roggeveen


5 December 2008 14:00

Below, three responses to my post yesterday, prompted by this Miranda Devine column, asking for impressions of academic bias in Australian university courses relating to international politics and economics. Thanks also to the reader who sent me this link to a NY Times piece that suggests this debate might be irrelevant, since students tend not to take up their professors' biases anyway.

The first reader riposte is from Julie Rayner:

Firstly I am surprised The Interpreter (a fantastic intellectual blog) is wasting any time on discussing the merits or otherwise of Ms Devine's views. But since you asked I thought I would respond — any distraction will do. I did a Bachelor of International Studies (Hons) at Flinders majoring in IR and Development Studies, and am now enrolled in PhD. I was not surprised on entering Uni as a mature age student, with personal politics slightly left of centre, at the number of students who held significantly different views than me. After all, university, especially a suburban institution like Flinders, attracts students from all walks of life. 

I never felt my marks were dependant on agreeing with a lecturer or tutor. In fact I had to write a paper for Honours in 2002 regarding whether military action in Afghanistan at that time met just war principles. My lecturer specifically wrote in his comments that he disagreed with my position but my argument was so forceful that I received a HD for the paper.

I think Ms Devine misses the most salient point. Students who are time poor and responsibility loaded (jobs, family etc) just want to know the best way to secure good marks. As we know from recently universally adopted plagiarism software, sometimes even in ways that are not morally or ethically right, let alone ways that may not be adding to their broader educational experience. I suggest its more to do with these pressures than ideology. Just because Ms Devine only sees the world through an ideological prism, doesn't mean complex behaviour can always be distilled back to right and left.

Next is Thomas Harrison:

In my experiences studying international politics thus far, I have read assigned articles from the conservative Heritage Foundation, the non-partisan International Crisis Group, numerous foreign policy magazines, and leading Asian analysts, that all present different views.
While academics are sometimes critical of the Bush foreign policy or the Howard Government's approach to terrorism and refugees, students are not forced to agree with these opinions, and there is not an inherent bias in the marking process towards similar viewpoints. Bond also has a large concentration of overseas students, particularly in the International Relations and Business areas, and so curriculum is tailored to contribute a broader range of input than solely the domestic progressive ideas that Miranda Devine suggests are rampant in our universities. 
One major development that has equipped students to make up our own minds on international issues is the internet, as we can freely access a range of sources and our learning about international affairs isn't shaped by academics alone. If a student believes that socialism is being pushed upon them, as the Young Liberals suggested, then they can turn to the internet for more centrist sources for their information, and become engaged in the debate that takes place with experts every week in major media outlets and every day on the range of blogs like The Interpreter that track international issues.

And last, an academic's perspective, from Andrew Davies:

I teach Intelligence and Security at ANU each year, which requires covering the trade-off between civil liberties and the need for secrecy in the gathering of intelligence and security-related material. In trying to provide a balanced and apolitical view of a subject that in recent years has required dissecting the Australian and other government’s policies, I have a very simple rule: the students should not be able to infer from my teaching how I would vote. If they can, I have failed. The interested reader might like to apply this test to Miranda Devine’s columns.