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Petition launched to support embattled Villanova whistleblowers

A petition has been launched to support two Villanova University professors who alerted the nation that their institution has implemented a new method to keep tabs on scholars and their political correctness levels inside the classroom.

The National Association of Scholars put forth the petition not only to support Professors Colleen Sheehan and James Matthew Wilson, but also to call on the school to drop the new tactic.

At issue is Villanova University’s recent decision to add to students’ teaching and course evaluations questions about professors’ “sensitivity” and commitment to “diversity and inclusion.” The two professors discussed this development in a Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined “A Mole Hunt for Diversity ‘Bias’ at Villanova.”

“In short, students are being asked to rate professors according to their perceived agreement with progressive political opinion on bias and identity. Students are also invited to ‘comment on the instructor’s sensitivity to the diversity of the students in the class,'” the professors wrote.

“… However well-intentioned, the new assessment of faculty ‘sensitivity’ and ‘bias’ will harm Villanova’s mission to provide a liberal education. Professors will now have a powerful incentive to avoid discussion of anything that might be deemed offensive or insensitive to the various social identities and political viewpoints listed,” they continued.

“A biology professor may avoid teaching about sexual dimorphism for fear of being labeled ‘insensitive’ to ‘gender identity.’ Professors of political philosophy, history or literature may avoid introducing the texts of John C. Calhoun, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass or Flannery O’Connor, for fear their sometimes racially charged language may be interpreted as ‘insensitivity.'”

Shortly after the op-ed was published, Villanova University leaders threw these two educators under the bus, calling the piece “untrue.”

“The opinion piece portrays this survey as part of a political litmus test, as an aggressive attempt to target faculty with particular views and as an effort opposed to Villanova’s historic Catholic identity and mission. This is untrue. While for some this polarization may be tempting, it fails to offer the kind of perspective that is, and has always been, characteristic of a Villanova education, and the Villanova community as a whole,” wrote Villanova President Peter Donohue and Provost Patrick Maggitti in a statement.

Now the National Association of Scholars has come to the the professors’ defense:

We write in the hope of convincing Villanova to rescind this new rule. We write also to bring to broad attention the attacks on Sheehan and Wilson that followed publication of their newspaper op-ed. It is growing ever more difficult for faculty members to stand up for academic and intellectual integrity, not just at Villanova but at colleges and universities across the country where progressive administrators in league with progressive faculty members misuse their authority in attempts to silence the expression of opinions they dislike.

Genuine academic freedom is under siege in American higher education. The public sees this when prominent individuals are shouted down, mobbed, or disinvited. But the problem is much deeper than those highly visible events. Like an iceberg, most of it is invisible because it is below the waterline. What Sheehan and Wilson did was show the public how political correctness is enforced in ways that usually are visible only to the victims. Adding leading questions as a litmus test to course evaluations is an especially underhanded way to make faculty members conform to illiberal rules. The “community” that Villanova’s administrators would foster is a community of fear.

Click here to access the petition to support Sheehan and Wilson.

MORE: Recent bias complaint filed at U. Florida cites a grumpy professor

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix. She previously worked as a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for a decade in Southern California, and prior to that held editorial positions at The Weekly Standard, Washington Times and FrontPageMagazine. She is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship recipient and has contributed to National Review.

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