Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He is also a contributor to the crazy right-wing website Town Hall, which does not bode well for anything he writes.
Let’s have a look at his latest offering:
Recently, I received a rare student complaint over an e-mail I had sent to all my classes. In the e-mail, which welcomed all of my students back for a new semester, I characterized myself as an “outspoken Christian professor.” I admitted that I had been critical of some aspects of Darwinism and that I saw my students as more than mere “random mutations.” Finally, I said my Christian views would cause me to treat them differently – namely, by holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.
Gosh! Hard to believe a student would complain about that.
That’s about as unprofessional as it gets. Let us leave aside the idiocy of attributing to Darwinism the idea that people are mere “random mutations.” (whatever that means). Placing your religious views front and center in a welcome e-mail to your class, and then stating bluntly that your religion will affect the way you treat the students is inappropriate, to put it kindly. It’s also bizarre. Who thinks to mention his views on evolution as part of welcoming a class of criminology students? Why would anyone think his religion is the most important thing to mention in such an e-mail?
There is a special irony here in that right-wing professors (not to be confused with conservative professors, who are a different lot altogether) routinely whine and moan about left-wing academics preaching their political philosophies to captive audiences. As you no doubt suspected, it was not the preaching part to which they objected.
The remarks in this e-mail were all couched within the context of the story of a former student of mine. He had often come to class late and talked throughout my lectures — at least until he received a poor grade on his first exam. Afterwards, I castigated him for his conduct and told him he would never become anything until he learned to act like an adult and to fulfill his God-given potential.
Having read many of Adams’ columns I’d say it reflects well on the student that he knew better than to pay too much attention in class.
Let’s get to the good part.
In his letter to the department chair, the student claimed that it was inappropriate and offensive for a professor to reveal his religious affiliation in class. He said he was also offended by what he perceived as an inappropriate put-down of Darwinism. Finally, he expressed his concern that he would become a victim of religious discrimination because he did not share my religious views.
Good for that student. He was entirely right to fear religious discrimination.
I would disagree with one thing, however. Context counts for a lot in these sorts of situations. Adams’ conduct was improper not simply because he revealed his religious affiliation, but because of the context in which he did it, and because of the aggressiveness with which he did it.
When I go into class on Mondays I typically begin by asking something like, “Anyone do anything interesting this weekend?” Usually a few people have amusing stories to tell, and the whole thing provides a light-hearted way of easing into the week’s activities. Inevitably someone asks me what I did that weekend. On one particular Monday during this past term I mentioned that I had visited my parents in New Jersey to participate in their Passover seder. Looks like I just let slip that I was Jewish, but in context there was nothing remotely threatening about it.
There is a big difference between having something related to religion or politics arise in the course of a light-hearted conversation with the class, and making your religion the first thing you want people to know about you.
If he’d bothered to approach me directly, I could have told this student a little of what I know about inappropriate and offensive religious expression in the classroom. In fifth grade I had a teacher named Barbara O’Gara. Mrs. O’Gara was my favorite teacher despite the fact that I was then a Baptist and she was an atheist. Mrs. O’Gara made no secret of this fact. She mentioned it on the first day of class, and she mentioned it throughout the year.
During the course of the year, though, it never occurred to me to report Mrs. O’Gara for simply stating her religious affiliation. If it offended me, I simply dealt with it. Even as a fifth-grader, I sensed that this was how mature people handled things. She had a right to her feelings, and I had a right to mine.
Anyone believe a word of that? Ten year old Adams going through a sober process of ratiocination about how mature people deal with teachers who discuss religion? Or do you think maybe ten year olds have other things on their minds, and don’t really pay much attention to what their teachers think about God?
At any rate, here on Planet Earth the mature way of dealing with gross professional misconduct and borderline threatening behavior is to report it to the proper authorities, which is exactly what the student did.
That basic courtesy eluded this student, though. (It eluded my department chairwoman, too — she notified the Dean’s Office) Whether out of his fear that I wouldn’t tolerate his views (though nowhere in my e-mail did I say I would single anyone out for disparate treatment), or out of his zeal to suppress mine, he entirely missed the point that I was making — a point not unlike the one made in the Declaration of Independence. I simply added the concept of “purpose” to the list of gifts (like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) bestowed upon us by our Creator … and said that everyone in my class would be held to a high standard — the same high standard — to encourage their progress toward that purpose.
For pure, unadulterated crazy, that’s hard to top. Adams didn’t seem to worry too much about basic courtesy when he was browbeating his students about science and religion. It was his e-mail that was discourteous, not the student’s reaction. But that’s the least of it. Has Adams never head of an implied threat? Does he honestly think that so long as he doesn’t come out and say explicitly that he will discriminate against students with different religious views it is unreasonable for a student to infer that that is the case?
And how on Earth did the Declaration of Independence get dragged into this? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were inalienable rights granted to us by our Creator; the Declaration says nothing about gifts. It makes no sense to talk about having a right to purpose.
Adams was assuming the mantle of Thomas Jefferson by sending an e-mail to his students containing a declaration of faith and a crass scientific error? Really? It is often said that a sure sign of a scientific crank is when someone likens his accomplishments to those of Galileo or Einstein. I think gratuitously invoking Jefferson or the Declaration is the humanities equivalent of that.
Now, clearly, discovering his higher purpose is less interesting to this student than reveling in his heightened sense of victim-hood. But while it is tempting to get angry at young people who assert a “right to be un-offended,” the fault is not really with this generation of students. It is with this generation of college administrators.
The crazy just keeps on coming. The student wasn’t asserting any right to be unoffended. He was asserting his right not to be intimidated by a religious fanatic professor who never learned the basic canons of proper professional behavior. And I suspect this student is plenty interested in learning about his higher purpose in life, he just doesn’t think Adams will show him The Way. I would also remind Adams that directing students towards their higher purposes is not his responsibility.
Adams blathers on for a few more paragraphs. Read them if you must. Contrary to popular belief, conservative professors, especially of the libertarian variety, are a dime a dozen. What is rare are fanatical right-wing professors. Holding such views requires an utter blindness to your own arrogance and hypocrisy and ignorance. Most of us had those tendencies beaten out of us in graduate school. Occasionally, alas, someone like Adams slips through.