Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:49 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:49 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: More on academic bias


Sam Roggeveen


9 December 2008 08:29

Two more responses on our academic bias thread. Here's John Shipp:

I thought I would relate my experiences studying international studies in year 11 and 12, and from my first two years at Melbourne University.

There isn't much to be said for studying international studies in VCE. The only clear areas of ideological bias were the anti-globalist slant of much of the course content, and the larger than warranted focus on the UN and Kyoto Protocol. The various theoretical schools of international relations played no part in the subject, meaning students lacked a theoretical basis to frame their understanding of key issues or historical events. The content had a tyranny of relevance, with long term strategic issues like changes in the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific taking a back seat to third order issues like carbon mitigation and human trafficking (as important as these are). 

All of this was compounded by a very poor teacher, whose training was in English Literature, and who had no ethical dilemma with handing out student politics literature from Socialist Alternative and was prone to kick me out of class for challenging her ideological prejudices. Once I suggested that the scientific consensus around the theory of catastrophic-anthropogenic global warming was not as strong as the course content assumed it to be, and I was booted from class.

At Melbourne Uni, I have studied global politics, American politics and Chinese politics. All three were fantastic subjects. The heavy focus on theory was extremely refreshing. The only criticism I would have, once again, was the inability to acknowledge the existence of global warming scepticism.

To select your universtity subjects well, you need a good bullsh!t detector. A conservative student can avoid bad subjects by looking for post-structuralist sign-post words like 'the Other', 'race, gender and class' and an overuse of the prefix 'socio-' in a subject's description. Unfortunately, this leaves your choices scant, but it is a worthwhile exercise if the moderate or right-of-centre student wants to keep his or her sanity.

You might have read the results of the Senate Inquiry into academic bias. I was present as an observer for parts of the Melbourne hearing. The inquiry's chair, Senator Gavin Marshall, has criticised the evidence put before him as 'mostly anecdotal'. The problem with academic bias is that it is difficult to quantify, meaning anecdotal evidence is really the only evidence available. Everyone knows it exists; just as everyone knows the ABC has a left-wing bias, that Fox News has a right-wing bias, etc. If Labor Senators fail to acknowledge that there is academic bias and belittle the complaints made by conservative student groups, it will just motivate those students to continue their list-building McCarthyism.

And Patrick Schneider writes:

I could not agree more with the comment that complaints about bias in universities are likely fuelled more by annoyance at a seemingly losing battle than any real concern for balance. In my experience as a Politics/Economics student at UNSW, conservative view points will get as much air time as their logical bases merit, regardless of the leanings of the academic in charge; and in the better courses, ill-founded left wing view points will be cut down just as readily as conservative ones. It’s true that in general, left wing ideas will be the most vocally supported but that just makes it more challenging for those of us who like swimming against the current. If there is a problem, it is that too many people stay quiet in tutorials – I don’t know where the feelings of intimidation come from that Devine likes to support; it’s ironic that conservatives should feel oppressed by The Man.