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Academic Echo Chamber: Arizona State and UHouston Edition

I was originally following the story of the Arizona State “Native Americans-only” course at FIRE’s website. Essentially, an English Prof there has been offering a composition course that he advertised was available only to Native American students. And he’d been doing this for some time.

Naturally, FIRE wrote to ASU demanding an end to racially segregated classrooms:

“This is not a close call,? noted FIRE’s (President David) French. “ASU needs to remove these obviously immoral and unconstitutional racial restrictions on enrollment. Does anyone really think that the classes ASU students can take should depend on their ancestry??

It’s not clear to me whether the registration system would have prevented non-Native Americans from registering, or whether they were simply discouraged by virtue of advertisement on flyers and the instructor’s website. Not that it matters.

Looks like the situation has been or is being resolved, for the most part, but what has caught my attention now is a story on the controversy over at Inside HigherEd. There are some choice quotes that are worth sharing and commenting on.

First, we have some remarks by the instructor himself, Professor G. Lynn Nelson:

Even if other students had been barred from the sections, Nelson said that would not have been discriminatory because there are so many other sections of the course. “It’s not like anybody is being denied access,? he said.

Asked how he would feel if another professor created a section for wealthy white students, Nelson said “that’s all right with me.?

Well, the professor is playing pretty loosey-goosey with the term “discriminatory.” It’s not clear how this is in any way not discriminatory. And is anyone else believing that he’d have no problems with a “whites-only” section?

Then we have a spokeswoman for the university:

Terri Shafer, a spokeswoman for Arizona State, said that the university would not defend the course because it violated Arizona State’s policies. “All of our classes are open to all students,? she said. “That was a mistake by a faculty member. That was not the university’s position.?

Blame it on the faculty member. Interestingly, FIRE notes that this isn’t the first occurrence of this sort of thing at ASU, and that Nelson has been offering this restrictive course since 1997! Is it really possible that this was happening off the university’s radar?

But the choice quotes belong to one Michael A. Olivas, who teaches law at University of Houston, and who is “a strong supporter of affirmative action.”

He said that professors creating such classes may mean well, but they end up playing into the hands of groups like FIRE, “which is looking for these kinds of transgressions rather than concentrating on ways that all students can be helped.?

Pesky FIRE intruders! Sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong. Thinking that the violation of a single student’s Constitutional rights is worth fighting against.

Wait. It gets better!

He also said that these disputes distract people from other inequities in academe, such as “set asides at universities that are for rich white kids — they are called honors programs.?

That’s right. Those Honors programs are chock full of nothin’ but “rich white kids.” In the comments section, I invited Professor Olivas to “come to Cullowhee sometime and meet some really terrific young people in our program here who don’t fit his stereotype.”

But the best response in the comments section was this one:

someone who thinks that only white people are capable of qualifying for honors programs is probably beyond reasoning with.

Agreed.

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