University programs draw controversy

UNC students will be expected to read "Evil Defined: Conservative Christianity in America."

The University of Northern Connecticut, a small public liberal arts college, is causing an uproar over an array of new academic courses and its selection for its 2011 summer reading program.

The Campus Freedom Organization, a conservative watchdog group, announced Sunday a campaign to pressure UNC to revise its programs.  Rick Porter, president of CFO, led a protest Sunday on the UNC campus.

“Any reasonable assessment of the UNC curriculum reveals a strong opposition to Christian, conservative, and libertarian beliefs,” he said.  “This college has a clear agenda, not to educate, but to indoctrinate.  And it’s being done on the taxpayer’s dime.”

Particularly troublesome, said Porter, are such courses as “Why Everyone Should Be Gay” and “The Death Penalty: Murderous Revenge or Simply Wrong?”  He alleges that such classes have no educational value and are politically motivated.  Porter also points out that the classes are taught, respectively, by an openly homosexual professor and a former death row inmate whose sentence was commuted.

“There is no way, given both the nature of these courses and the people who are teaching them, that there can be any objectivity in the material being taught,” he said.  “Professors are supposed to check their own viewpoints at the door, but that is clearly impossible with these courses.”

Several textbooks have also drawn the ire of conservatives.  In a press conference following Sunday’s protest, Porter distributed a list of what he called overtly leftist textbooks.  The list included American History: A Story of Oppression; The Glory of Abortion Rights; and How Big Business Ruins Everyone.

Porter said the books are so one-sided that they make no attempt to conceal their bias.

The Glory of Abortion Rights refers to opponents of abortion as ‘chauvinistic women-hating religious zealots’ while pro-choice advocates are called ‘courageous crusaders for privacy rights and the spirit of American liberty.’  How is anyone supposed to gain a fair, accurate view of this complex issue with this kind of rhetoric?”

Lauren Dennison, a professor of women’s studies at UNC, accused Porter of wanting to control women.

“He is afraid of this book because it speaks the truth instead of his anti-women rightwing fanatical agenda,” she said.  Dennison argues that because Porter is an admitted pro-life activist, the real bias rests on his shoulders.

The UNC Summer Book Series, a reading program for all entering freshman, is also under fire.  Each year, a committee of professors at the college selects a book and asks incoming first-year students to read and write a paper on it.  UNC has gained notoriety in the past for selecting such titles as Everyone Wins with High Taxes and Communism: The History of a Great Idea.

This year’s selection, Evil Defined: Conservative Christianity in America, has angered conservative and evangelical Christian groups.  The book is authored by Bert Gustafson, four-time presidential candidate for the Karl Marx Unity League, a small third party.

“If this is not a blatantly one-sided book, then I don’t know what is,” said Olivia Spartan of the Christian Liberty Association.  “Professors at UNC are endorsing a hostile piece of anti-Christian propaganda while promoting anti-Christian attitudes among their students.  This is beyond inappropriate.”

UNC officials adamantly denied bias and accused the university’s detractors of opposing the virtues of education.

“We believe in the classical liberal arts education,” said UNC Chancellor John Morton.  “The people who oppose what we are trying to teach here clearly hate education, intelligence, and open-mindedness.”

Spartan counters that she and her group are only trying to maintain equal and fair treatment of Christianity on campus.

“If the subject of the book had been why Islam is evil or atheism is evil, then we’d never hear the end of how intolerant and prejudiced the college would be for using it,” she said.  “Evangelical Christians are the last group of people that can be still be ridiculed and maligned by our nation’s institutions of higher education; it’s a double standard.”

Chancellor Morton promised to continue the reading program.

“UNC remains committed to intellectual liberty and the free expression of all,” he said.  “America has had to overcome those who stubbornly fought against blacks, women, the poor, and homosexuals; now we will lead the way in overcoming those who stand against academic freedom, knowledge, and understanding.”

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