Is There A Bias in Higher Education?
William S. Abruzzi
"A concern with knowing the world, rather than advocating a view of the world because it confirms some political, ideological, or religious project, has always been fundamental to scientific philosophy."
--Lawrence Kuznar (1997)
Students frequently hear about the bias that exists in conservative religious colleges, where topics such as evolution and anthropology are either not taught or are taught with a strong religious orientation. The following four examples illustrate the kind of bias that exists in many religious colleges.
Bob Jones University
Biology is the study of living things. Because of the tremendous diversity of life forms, biology is perhaps the broadest of all the scientific disciplines. Individual living things can be studied on various levels ranging from their molecules through their cells, tissues, and organ systems. Populations of living things and their interactions with one another and with their environment represent another level of study. The biology major aims to provide training which properly captures the breadth of biology while maintaining the necessary depth of preparation needed by graduates who will pursue further specialized training in graduate or professional schools. While most secular biologists are committed to evolution as the basic principle of biology, Bob Jones University trains Christian biologists who see the living world indelibly marked with the fingerprints of a God of limitless wisdom and power. (emphasis added)
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Missionary Institute London
This module focuses on the human person in the light of faith within the perspectives of creation, salvation history and eschatology. Hence the three parts of the module:
Regnum Naturae: the initial Creation - human person in the cosmos - viewed as an open system;
Regnum Gratiae: a theological reflection on the benevolence of God and the receptivity of the human person whose openness is the presupposition for divine Grace;
Regnum Gloriae: the human person’s destiny for Glory. This part includes the topic of Eschatology centred on the promise of Resurrection.
Rationale including Aims
To introduce the student to the practical interpretation of human existence in the light of faith, within Catholic tradition, to the relationship between the human act and moral imputability, taking into account objective criteria in Scripture, Tradition and the moral law.
Core Learning Materials
Duffy S The Graced Horizon (Collegeville Mn 1991)
Moltmann J The Coming of God (London 1996)
Pannenberg W Anthropology in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh 1985)
Polkinghorne J Science and Creation (London 1988)
Sachs J The Christian Vision of Humanity (Collegeville Mn 1991)
Schnelle U The Human Condition (Edinburgh 1996)
SOURCE: Missionary Institute London
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Fuller Theological Seminary
Cultural Anthropology from a Christian Perspective
This course seeks to integrate anthropological principles and Christian witness. The course focuses on the culture concept, models of culture, cultural systems, and the process of culture change. These principles are then applied to the transmission of the Christian message and the growth of Christian communities in any cultural context including urban settings. Course objectives include: develop greater understanding of patterns and processes of culture; develop a Christian perspective of anthropology and an anthropological perspective of Christianity; prepare Christian leaders to consciously employ cultural patterns and processes for Christian mission in any socio-cultural context; and provide a basis for the development of a relevant cultural presentation of the gospel.
Class will meet once a week. Lecture, videos, and small group discussion will provide a positive atmosphere for applying anthropological principles to the students’ cross cultural experiences.
J. Peoples and G. Bailey. Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Thomson/Wadsworth, 6th Edition, 2003.
Shaw, R. D. From Longhouse to Village. Harcourt Brace, 1995. (Cultural ethnography). Now Distributed by Thomson/Wadsworth.
Shaw, R.D. A Christian Perspective of Anthropology: A Reader. Pasadena: FTS Bookstore, 2004.
A cultural ethnography of student’s choice from the library. Choose from the more than 150 titles in the GN4 C37 section of the library.
Shaw, R.D. Transculturation. William Carey Library, 1988 (Some assignments made)
Kraft, Charles, Anthropology for Christian Witness. Orbis, 1996.
Pieterse, Jan N., Globalization & Culture. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.
Other Anthropology texts by Christian anthropologists:
Nida, Customs and Cultures, 1953
Grunlan & Mayers, Cultural Anthropology, 1988
Lingenfelter, Transforming Culture, 1998.
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However, while it is not normally acknowledged, most mainstream institutions of higher education also display a bias in many of the courses and programs they offer. Below are five examples: two from Vassar College, a prestigious liberal arts college in New York State; one from New Mexico State University in southern New Mexico; and two from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. The essential issue here is whether the courses and programs described below adhere to Kuznar’s statement regarding the importance of objectivity in science and scholarship any better than the four examples presented above.
Vassar College Sociology Courses
Sociology 280b. Domestic Violence: Intimate Betrayal, Social
This course provides a general overview of the prevalence and dynamics of domestic violence in the United States and its effects on battered women. We examine the role of the Battered Women's movement in both the development of societal awareness about domestic violence and in the initiation of legal sanctions against it. We also explore and discuss, both from a historical and present day perspective, ways in which our culture covertly and overtly condones the abuse of women by their intimate partners. (emphasis added)
Does the description of the above course indicate that the issue of domestic violence is going to be examined from an unbiased perspective, or has this faculty member already determined that abuse is unidirectional: by men against women? To what extent do terms such as "battered women", "abuse of women" and "Battered Women's Movement" represent Weasel Words (see Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection) demonstrating the faculty member's preconceived bias with regard to gender relations and the issue of domestic violence? What about the research which shows that domestic violence is perpetrated by both men and women and is present in both heterosexual and homosexual partnerships? The National Violence Against Women Survey (1998) reported that the annual rate of intimate partner assaults was 44.2 per 1,000 women and 31.5 per 1,000 men. Similarly, from 1976 to 1996, 31,260 women and 20,311 men were murdered by an intimate partner. This means that domestic violence is perpetrated by both men and women, not just men against women. Furthermore, one study of domestic violence in six American cities discovered that 30% of the women who killed men had previous arrest records for assault, battery and weapons charges. At the same time, research has shown that between 22% and 46% of lesbians have existed in physically violent, same-sex relationships. This is comparable to the rate of violence in male-female partnerships. How likely is it that the teacher in the above course is going to present this type of data. Does the course description suggest that she/he will approach the data objectively, or is she/he more likely going to promote and defend a particular view of domestic violence: one which almost exclusively presents men as perpetrators and women as victims? Is this social science, or is sociology being used in this case to promote a specific ideological agenda? Does this faculty member's approach to the study of domestic violence meet the criteria laid out by Kuznar any better than the previous examples given?
Sociology 384b. Black Marxism
The growth of global racism suggests the symmetry of the expansion of capitalism and the globalization of racial hierarchy. In this context, global racism works to shatter possibilities for solidarity, distort the meaning of justice, alter the context of wrong, and makes it possible for people to claim ignorance of past and present racial atrocities, discrimination, exclusion, oppression, and genocide. By concentrating on the works of Black Marxist intellectuals, this course will examine the discourse of confrontation, and the impact of Black Marxist thought in contributing to anti-racist knowledge, theory, and action.
How does the above course Assume the Consequent (see Sagan)? In what ways does the course description indicate the preconceived biases of the teacher and the limited perspective that will likely be adopted? Do the terms "global racism", and "oppression" represent objective, operationally defined social science concepts, or do they more likely represent Weasel Words which reflect the bias inherent in the way the course has been constructed? Are competing theories about international development likely to be presented and compared objectively in order to determine which theories best explain the data associated with international economic and political development, or is one view likely to be presented to the exclusion of all others? Is Black-on-Black genocide, warfare and colonialism in Africa likely to be discussed using the same theoretical perspective as comparable actions undertaken by Europeans? The course is listed as a "Sociology" course, making it a social science course. How likely is it that this course will meet the minimum standards of science? To the extent that courses in sociology, anthropology and the other social sciences don't meet the minimum standards of science, is it legitimate to consider them social science courses, or should they be considered social studies courses instead?
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New Mexico State University Anthropology Course
Women, Gender, and Culture
Anthropology 433 & Women’s Studies 433
As part of the course description, the faculty member states (emphasis added):
During this semester we will study gender and women’s lives in small villages and large urban neighborhoods, in the past and present, and from the viewpoints of anthropologists who study these societies as well as the people who live in them. Although we will read accounts by men, we will focus on those by and about women. This is because until quite recently women's experiences and perspectives have been absent from or marginalized in scholarly writings.
Our goal will be to work together to empower each other in the following ways:
(1) to apply feminist methods in our research and life.
(2) to integrate feminist pedagogical methods into our teaching.
(3) to gain a foundation in the history of feminist anthropology and in understanding many kinds of feminisms
(4) to write in ways that are personally, professionally, and politically liberating.
(5) to develop a feminist practice that brings the university into greater dialogue with diverse kinds of communities.
(6) to develop a support network of like-minded scholars to assist us to confront the challenges of combining scholarship and activism.
(7) to build self-reflection into your scholarship and life.
I hope that by talking together about gender differences (and their intersection with differences of class, race, and ethnicity) we may make some strides toward a world where “difference don’t matter no more.”
In their weekly assignments, students are instructed to write:
1. An entry about your personal history, incorporating any “click experiences” that you have had that have led you to examine how gender roles, relations and ideologies have shaped your life. . .
2. An entry comparing and/or contrasting ways in which you and a woman covered in one of the assigned books (Nisa or a woman from Chiapas) have been constrained from expressing yourself and your humanity by beliefs and practices surrounding gender. . .
Please note: Feel free to make the journal your own, for example by adding poetry, attaching newspaper articles, making sketches, etc. The creative expression you will make in response to the life story you will write this semester can also go in your journal if it is written or a drawing. Also, please take advantage of the journal to write your reflections on the process of recording and writing the life story.
Is this an anthropology course, or a feel-good support group? Is this even social science? Is it likely that this course is going to approach gender-related issues from an objective scientific perspective and evaluate competing claims about gender-related behavior using rigorous scientific methods? Or does the course begin with its conclusions already made, use biased readings, and consist largely of validation testimonials similar to those used at Evangelical Christian gatherings where people become personally “empowered” by expressing their faith in Jesus?
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Muhlenberg College Environmental Studies Program
In the above statement, the Environmental Studies Program assumes that an environmental crisis exists. Indeed, the word "crisis" is mentioned twice in the program's description. However, it is reasonable to ask whether an environmental "crisis" really does exist. How is "crisis" defined, and what tests have been conducted to determine whether an environmental crisis does, in fact, exist at the present time? To what extent does the Environmental Studies Program at Muhlenberg Assume the Consequent by accepting that an environmental crisis does exists and by operating as if its unproven assumption is true? How might this bias influence the way in which issues are addressed in courses taught within the Environmental Studies Program? Haven't "crises" been claimed in the past? Just 30 years ago, Environmental Studies Programs were teaching that other crises existed: (1) that we would be inundated with our own garbage as the U.S. was quickly running out of space to build landfills; and (2) that due to population growth the planet would become overrun and depleted of resources and that most of the people on the planet would be faced with increased poverty and starvation by the end of the 20th century. Neither of these dire predictions has come true. Today, Environmental Studies Programs teach that a mass extinction of species is currently underway and that human-induced global warming is taking place. Do environmental studies programs approach these current issues any more cautiously or critically than they did previous issues?
For example, when the issue of population is discussed, are students introduced to different models of population growth and are the predictions of these models tested against the available demographic, environmental and economic data to determine which models provide the best explanations, or is a rather naive Malthusian model of population growth presented as the only valid approach to the study of population growth? One need only look at the web page accompanying Introduction to Environmental Studies to answer this question. Practically every source provided on the web pages linked to this course is a political rather than a scholarly source. For example, the only source provided on the subject of population is Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth) a political organization advocating population control. No link is provided, for example, to the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, the United Nations Population Fund or to such major population journals as Demography, Population or Population and Development Review, despite the fact that the catalogue description of the course states that "attention will be given to understanding and evaluating the scientific nature of local, national and global environmental issues." The thrust of this course is clearly activist rather than scholarly.
Is it reasonable to assume that Environmental Studies Programs approach environmental issues objectively? Are these scholarly programs, which exist to explore issues related to the environment, or are they advocacy programs designed to get students involved in environmental activism? For example, when "global warming" is discussed, are the following data presented: (1) data which show that the polar ice caps on Mars are also melting; (2) data which show that North American glaciers previously extended to below Allentown and have been receding for nearly 25,000 years; (3) data which show that global temperatures have varied widely over the past several billion years; (4) data which show that the polar ice caps have come and gone many times during the past millions of years and have at times even disappeared completely; or (5) data which show that global temperatures and CO2 concentrations have varied independently of one another in the past? Is there any consideration that what is happening at the present might simply be a continuation of past trends? For example, the Bering land bridge that connected Asia with the North American continent was at one time 1,000 miles wide. It is now buried 400' under water as a result of rising sea levels due to 23,000 years of increasing global temperatures and melting polar ice known as the Holocene Maximum. Is this fact presented when current increasing global temperatures are discussed? Is there any discussion of the fact that global temperatures are estimated to have been 13°C warmer and CO2 (the principal greenhouse gas) concentrations five times higher during the Jurassic Period (when the dinosaurs lived) than they are today or that, according to NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association) during the Younger Dryas event (about 11,500 years ago) temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere changed as much as 10°C (18°F) over a single decade? Is the research of Sallie Baliunus, and her colleagues at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics discussed, which argues that variation in solar cycles explain between 70-90% of the changes in the earth’s temperature over the past 250 years? Do Environmental Studies Programs discuss the implications of the fact that just 30 years ago many researchers were warning of “global cooling" because of declining global temperatures between 1940 and 1980? Finally, when "global warming" is discussed in Environmental Studies courses, is there a critical scrutiny of these claims in terms of the available data, or is the claimed link between climate change and hurricanes presented uncritically? (e.g., see Of Hurricanes and Evangelicals). Or is global warming presented as a given towards which public policy must be addressed?
How are the arguments of those who disagree with the thesis of global warming and the other "crises" taught in Environmental Studies Programs (including such issues as overpopulation, global species extinction and deforestation) presented? Are they discussed as part of the normal scientific debate over complex issues, or are the critics denigrated in such ad hominem terms (see Sagan) as "industry stooges," "right-wing ideologues" and "anti-environmentalists," and their arguments dismissed as not worth considering?
Equally important, are Environmental Studies Programs as critical of the erroneous arguments put forth by those who are deemed to be pro-environment as they are of those they denigrate as anti-environment? For example, when Environmental Studies programs were promoting Y6B and the need to control population growth, were students in those programs given readings in non-Malthusian population ecology, or were they primarily assigned readings which only presented a Malthusian perspective, such as the highly exaggerated claims presented in Paul Ehrlich's book, The Population Bomb? Paul Ehrlich, a professor of biology at Stanford University, is the most widely published and read author on the topic of population growth. However, most of Ehrlich’s claims are outrageous, absurd and false. Not one of his predictions has come true. He claimed, for example, that hundreds of millions would starve to death as a result of population growth. He also stated that "by 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth's population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people." In 1969, he predicted: (1) that 200,000 people would die by 1973 as a result of "smog disasters" in New York and Los Angeles; (2) that the oceans would be devoid of fish by 1979 due to DDT poisoning; (3) that U.S. life expectancy would drop to 42 years by 1980 as a result of pesticide-induced cancers; and (4) that the U.S. population would consequently decline to 22.6 million by 1999. In 1981, Ehrlich even stated that 250,000 species were becoming extinct every year (without providing any data to support such a claim); predicted that half the species on earth would become extinct by the year 2000; and that no species would be left by the year 2025! Despite the absurdity of Ehrlich's claims and the lack of empirical data to support his outrageous claims (no one even knows how many species there are, let alone how many disappear each year), his claims were accepted uncritically and his writings were (and are) required reading in Environmental Studies Programs throughout the country. In addition, colleges and universities have paid thousands of dollars to have him speak on their campuses.
It is insightful to compare the environmental community’s uncritical acceptance of Ehrlich’s sloppy scholarship (see On Overpopulation) with the near hysterical reaction to Bjorn Lomborg, whose book The Skeptical Environmentalist, presents a detailed, statistical critique of many environmental claims, documented by 2,930 detailed footnotes and over 1,800 bibliographic references. Most of the criticisms of Lomborg’s work amounted to little more than ad hominem attacks on his character, and he has been systematically vilified by environmentalists and in Environmental Studies Programs. Whole seminars have been organized in order to attack his book. The environmental community’s concerted attack on Lomborg is comparable to the organized attacks that creationists direct against evolutionists. It can be argued that both groups are protecting their beliefs by impugning the character of anyone who challenges those beliefs. It is reasonable to ask: given the choice, who would most Environmental Studies Programs likely choose to bring to campus –Ehrlich or Borg? And why –because of their scholarship or their politics?
Today is not the first time that humans have encountered environmental problems. Problems arise constantly, and both "crises" and global catastrophes have been claimed in the past (Even Jesus preached that the end of the world was at hand (Matthew 10:23; Luke 21:32; see The Jesus Movement: #10). What are the implications of assuming that a crisis exists, rather than examining contemporary environmental issues from a less emotionally charged historical and evolutionary perspective? How many of the crises of the past were real and, how did previous human populations adapt when problems did arise? What can we learn from a cross-cultural examination of human responses to environmental problems, and how can this knowledge be applied to current issues? From an evolutionary perspective, current environmental problems would be viewed not as a crisis, but as adaptations to which human populations will likely adapt as they have repeatedly adapted in the past. While population growth may represent a “crisis” from a Malthusian perspective, it does not represent a crisis from a non-Malthusian perspective, which is the perspective that predominates in evolutionary anthropology. Indeed, the evolution of more complex human societies (including the past "civilizations") has been a fundamental consequence of human population growth. Social evolution has repeatedly occurred among those populations whose growth has stimulated technological and organizational innovation, not among those whose population size has remained constant. Do environmental studies programs apply and test the predictions of both Malthusian and non-Malthusian theoretical models to see which models best explain current developments, or do they largely uncritically apply outdated Malthusian models?
Also, are Environmental Studies Programs sufficiently skeptical of models which purport to predict future developments? No data exists on the future; consequently scientists must rely on models whose "predictions" are dependent upon the assumptions programmed into them. One need only change the assumptions built into a model (such as fertility rates, mortality rates, migration, etc. in a model predicting future population growth), and the outcome of the model changes. This makes many models inherently unreliable. There is nothing sacred about models or about the predictions they generate. Science functions by proposing and testing a variety of models --and ultimately rejecting those models that do not explain the data as accurately as other models. However, while we have no data on the future, we have considerable data on the past that can be used as a basis for proposing testable predictions about the future. What theoretical models best explain what happened in the past, and how can these models be applied to examine the present situation? How is our knowledge of environmental issues limited by an approach which assumes that the present ecological situation is unique --a crisis-- and that the models which successfully apply to the past cannot be used? Such a position would not be acceptable in physics, biology or anthropology or, for that matter, in any other science.
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Muhlenberg College Women's Studies Program
The Women's Studies Program at Muhlenberg states explicitly that it adopts a feminist approach to the study of women's issues. By adopting one specific ideological approach to the analysis of all issues related to women, do Women's Studies Programs inherently bias the way in which those issues will be examined in the same way that studying the history and teachings of Christianity from an exclusively Roman Catholic point of view would bias the way in which religious issues would be discussed? Does the application (and defense) of a single ideological perspective constitute an example of assuming the consequent, and is it likely to lead to observational selection (see Sagan) in its use and presentation of data? Are Women's Studies programs likely to present non-feminist explanations in an objective and unbiased way? Are they likely to examine and test feminist explanations against other competing explanations, or are they more likely to defend feminism in the face of competing theories of gender relations? How does this accord with Kuznar's quote presented above? Also, are Women's Studies Programs open to rejecting feminism in the face of better explanations, or are they more likely to defend feminism against competing theories which explain the data better than feminist theories in the same way that Catholic theologians defend Catholicism and would oppose superior explanations that contradict Catholic teaching? Furthermore, is it realistic to discuss gender issues from the perspective of one sex, or is it better to examine gender-related issues from a broader systemic perspective that does not focus on just one sex? How might an approach which focuses on the interests of just one sex --male or female-- more likely lead to the selective use of data and a restricted consideration of alternative hypotheses and explanations? Finally, what is the likelihood that any "Studies" program that focuses on one specific social group --sex, race, ethnic, religious-- is going to become an advocacy program, promoting and defending the interests and self-serving ideology of that particular social group, as opposed to a program objectively analyzing social behavior and issues?
Women’s Studies, in its mission statement, states explicitly that its program promotes “participatory feminist pedagogy" meaning that it explicitly promotes feminism as an exclusive approach to the study of issues related to women. Women’s Studies at Muhlenberg sponsored a workshop a few years ago that dealt with student “resistance” to what was being taught in Women’s Studies courses. The goal of the workshop was to develop “the best strategies for dealing with students’ resistance.” What are the implications for a liberal arts education of approaching independent thinking as "resistance" that needs to be overcome? Does such an approach represent liberal education or proselytizing? Would it be considered objective and unbiased for the Religion Department to teach exclusively Roman Catholicism and to include in its mission statement that it’s goal was to promote “participatory Roman Catholic pedagogy” and to hold workshops that deal with student “resistors”? (I attended such a program; it was called Catholic school!) Similarly, would it be as acceptable on campus for, say, the Religion Department to promote “pro-life” activities as it is for the Women’s Studies program to promote “pro-choice activities”? At the encouragement of the Women's Studies Program, several FYS classes have recently been offered which dealt specifically with women's issues. The primary purpose for doing this was to promote feminism and to recruit students into the Women's Studies Program.. Does this constitute liberal arts pedagogy or evangelism?
Recently, while conducting a Google search for “Gender Studies Programs”, I reviewed five pages, listing all of the academic programs titled as either “Gender Studies Program”, “Women and Gender Studies Program” or “Men and Gender Studies Program”. The results were as follows: 12 “Gender Studies Programs; 27 “Women and Gender Studies Programs;” and (of course) zero “Men and Gender Studies Programs.” Furthermore, in at least half the “Gender Studies Programs”, the overwhelming majority of courses focused specifically on women. Given this skewed orientation, is it likely that Gender Studies in higher education is approached objectively, especially when the majority of the programs are listed as "Women and Gender Studies", most courses focus on women and women's issues, and most faculty are female? Is "Gender Studies" just euphemism for "Women's Studies"?
The same sexist bias exists in the social sciences. Examining the American Sociological Association (ASA) web page on Sex and Gender illustrates the sexist bias that exists in the sociological examination of gender. Links exist to such sites as the Center for the American Woman and Politics, the Feminist Theory Website and The Guerrilla Girls. However, not one link exist to sites which address male issues. (Indeed, the words "men" and "male" don't appear once on the entire web page!) Furthermore, feminist sociology is one of the established sub-fields of sociology, just as feminist anthropology is a sub-field of anthropology. Does feminist sociology or anthropology represent any less biased an approach to the examination of social issues than Christian sociology or anthropology? Is either sub-field more or less likely to question its fundamental assumptions than the other? Given the relevant course descriptions presented above, are courses in Christian sociology and anthropology likely to be any more biased in their use of data and in their approach to specific topics than feminist sociology and anthropology? What intellectual (as opposed to political) justification exists for teaching a feminist sociology or anthropology course, but not a Christian sociology or anthropology course? Many feminist positions on social issues are not universally shared, not even among women. Can any conclusions be drawn about the intellectual bias associated with the disciplines of sociology and anthropology from the fact that feminist sociology and anthropology are taught at many colleges and universities, while Christian sociology and anthropology are not? Don't courses promoting feminist sociology and anthropology violate Kuznar's injunction that scientific research should not be undertaken to advocate or promote a specific ideology just as much as Christian anthropology courses that attempt to promote a Christian interpretation of anthropological data?
Many sociologists and anthropologists use the term "Gender Inequality" and examine the issue of gender inequality in their research and teaching. Does research and teaching in these two disciplines focus on gender inequality as it impacts both males and females, or does it primarily focus on its impact on females? For example, over 97% of the soldiers who have died in the Iraq war are male. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, over 58,000 men were killed in Vietnam, compared to only 8 women. The comparable figure for the Korean war was 50,000 U.S. soldiers killed. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers died in both WW I and WWII, and nearly 600,000 soldiers were killed during the Civil War. In all of these combats, only men were expected to participate and sacrifice their lives for their country. No female has ever been forced against her will to participate in such a deadly undertaking and considered a coward or a traitor for refusing to defend --and even die for-- their country. In addition to the deaths that were involved, tens of thousands (in some cases millions) of men in each of these conflicts men have had to suffer devastating physical, mental and emotional casualties that scarred them for the rest of their lives. In each of these conflicts, save WWII, massive demonstrations protested U.S. involvement in the conflict in question, but men were still expected to participate in combat and were subject to significant social, economic and legal problems if they refused. This is clearly an example of massive gender inequality with grave, life-threatening consequences. Is the discussion of this gender inequity and its implications for understanding the factors underlying gender inequality included in sociology, anthropology and gender studies courses?
Similarly, while life expectancy in the U.S. has increased over the past century, it has increased more for females than for males. Male and female life expectancies were the same in 1900. However, by 1990, life expectancy for females was nearly 6 years longer for women than it was for men. Indeed, the difference between male and female life expectancies in the U.S. in 1990 was comparable to that between blacks and whites for that same year. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that males have been expected to be the primary breadwinners in the family. Stress levels are much higher on males than on females, as reflected in the sharply divergent suicide rates among men and women. The male suicide rate in the U.S. is four times that of females. For those in the 20-24 age group, six times as many men kill themselves as do females, and for those over 65 it is nearly ten times as high. Men are also more heavily involved in dangerous occupations; over 90% of the victims of occupation-related deaths are male. Since 1870, for example, Pennsylvania's Annual Report on Mining Activities has recorded 51,483 deaths from mining accidents -- almost entirely males. Similarly, daily social expectations put men at greater risk than women. Due to expectations of "chivalry", for example, 80% of the men on the Titanic died when it sunk, compared to only 26% of the women.
Significantly, as women have entered the work force in greater numbers, their medical profiles have become more like those of males, and the life expectancy difference between men and women has begun to decline. The stresses of work and the workplace are now impacting women in the same way that they have affected men for many years. Until very recently, almost all research on heart attacks was done exclusively on males, because heart attacks were not a major cause of female mortality. This is no longer true. The incidence of lung cancer has also increased sharply in recent years, largely as a result of more women smoking. Several researchers have attributed this increase to the change in women's lifestyle caused by work and career. Can we reasonably expect to get an accurate understanding of these and other health issues from Women's Studies programs, which focus only on one sex, or from social science disciplines that approach gender issues from equally biased perspectives? When discussing gender inequality, do gender courses discuss health issues as they relate to both males and females, or do they only focus on those issues in which women appear disadvantaged? For example, are issues related to prostate cancer given equal treatment as those related to breast cancer? Approximately the same number of men die from prostate cancer as do women from breast cancer. However, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), nearly four times as much money is spent on breast cancer research as is spent on prostate cancer research.
If the life expectancy difference between whites and blacks is seen as a consequence of racial inequality in the U.S., then to be consistent the shorter life expectancy of males should also be seen as a consequence of gender inequality in which men are disadvantaged. However, inasmuch as gender studies programs focus almost exclusively on women's issues, view gender inequality as applying only to females, and apply a largely feminist theoretical perspective, this is clearly unlikely to occur. If the above social circumstances were reversed --that is, warfare disproportionately resulted in female casualties, life expectancy was lower for females and more money were spent on prostate cancer than on breast cancer-- it is safe to say that these issues would almost certainly be included as significant issues to be discussed in gender studies programs. Indeed, when bombings and massacres occur, reporters and other analysts frequently refer to the fact that "women and children" are killed, suggesting that the innocent male deaths are more acceptable (see Adam Jones, Effacing the Male: Gender, Misrepresentation, and Exclusion in the Kosovo War).
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While I have focused here on Environmental Studies Programs and Women's Studies Programs, bias in higher education is not limited to these programs. In reality, many studies programs are, by definition, biased, whether they are Creation Studies, Bible Studies, Catholic Studies, Jewish Studies, Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies, African-American Studies, Native American Studies, or Latino Studies. They are all programs that not only promote one particular perspective, but also advocate and promote specific types of political action which advance the interests of the specific group in question. More often than not, hiring in such programs is restricted to those who belong to the targeted group and/or who share the central philosophy/ideology of the program. Just as it is highly unlikely that an evolutionary biologist would be hired in a Creation Studies Program or that an atheist would be hired in a Catholic Studies Program, it is also unlikely that a man (or non-feminist woman) would be hired in a Women’s Studies program, that a white person would be hired in an African-American Studies program; or that a non-Latino would be hired in a Latino Studies Program. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that anyone who does not identify as an environmentalist would be hired by an Environmental Studies Program. In other words, few Studies Programs embrace intellectual diversity. It stands to reason, then, that such programs would present a restricted and biased approach to the topics they discuss. And in the competition for funding and jobs, each of the various studies programs promotes the (political) correctness of its mission and ideology and is prepared to vigorously defend its position against all those who threaten its interests. As Alston Chase has noted, "When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power." I am sure Kuznar would agree.
Part of the problem stems from the notion that the goal of higher education is to create “socially responsible citizens” rather than critical thinkers uncommitted to any belief or ideology and prepared to examine all belief systems objectively and scientifically. Part of the problem stems from how “socially responsible” is defined and who does the defining. Can the definition ever be non-political, or is it inherently a function of an individual, group or institution's social and political interests and bias? Liberal vs. conservative academic programs might define "socially responsible" behavior in quite different ways. In the registration room at the American Sociological Association conference in August 2002, there was a poster promoting “Activist Sociology” (also observed by Seligman, The Science of Self-Preservation). Do sociology and sociologists equally promote pro-life and pro-choice, pro-affirmative action and anti-affirmative action, and pro-welfare and anti-welfare activism and policies, or is the discipline biased towards specific intellectual positions and social policies? Is one type of activism considered “socially responsible", but the other not? When discussing social issues, does sociology equally address the interests of upper and lower social classes and of business institutions and environmental organizations, or has the discipline shown a bias in the groups whose interests and concerns it addresses? For example, how do sociologists approach the issues of "environmental justice" or "gender inequality"? In other words, is sociology an objective social science examining the behavior of various social groups in order to test sociological theories, or do sociologists approach the study of society as advocates for particular social groups and specific public policies?
Similarly, the American Anthropological Association has recently taken a public stand on several national and international issues. Many of those issues relate directly to areas of research conducted by anthropologists. When the AAA takes a position on political issues, is it's behavior any different from that of the AMA, the American Petroleum Institute or the Tobacco Institute when they take positions on public issues that are of interest to their members? What does it say about the possible political bias of the members of AAA and, by extension, of anthropological research? Would it not be reasonable to question whether anthropology courses which deal with sensitive political issues, such as globalization or circumcision might display a bias in discussing those issues (see Circumcision)? (One of the widely used readers in cultural anthropology contains articles on both male and female circumcision. However, the female circumcision article is followed by a statement expressing concerns over this practice. No such statement follows the article on male circumcision.) Several years ago, one of the panel sessions at the AAA meetings sponsored by the Committee on Anthropology and the Environment requested that everyone come prepared to discuss how “globalization” has affected their people. Weren’t the organizers of this session already biasing (assuming the consequent) how issues would be discussed at that panel?
The world is not divided into "good guys" and "bad guys" (anymore than it is divided into "those who love freedom" and "evildoers"). Rather than viewing some groups as promoting the social good, while others pursue their self-interests, it is necessary to understand that, from the perspective of social science, all groups have interests and biases which influence their perspectives and shape both their actions and their research. This includes environmentalists, social scientists, feminists, clergy and doctors, as well as lawyers, accountants, politicians and oil and tobacco industry executives. Failure to recognize this represents a failure to fully grasp the concept of social science: that is, that the concepts used to explain human social behavior apply equally to all groups; there cannot be one set of principles used to explain the behavior of some groups and a different set of principles used to explain the behavior of other groups. This is the concept of Uniformitarianism, which necessarily underlies all scientific explanation.
To the extent that sociology and anthropology claim to be objective social sciences attempting to develop better theories and explanations of human social behavior, and that liberal arts colleges claim to promote critical thinking among their students, college students, especially those majoring in sociology and anthropology, need to approach all social issues from a social science perspective, employing rigorous social science methods. They also need to evaluate courses and academic programs by how well they: (1) provide an objective discussion and evaluation of competing theories of human behavior, and (2) determine the relative validity of various theories in terms of their ability to explain the available data rather than in terms of how well they promote the social good as defined by either the College or society.
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