Christians, conservatives targeted for academic blacklists these days

“Blacklisting.” A senior in the journalism history course I teach at the University of Texas did not know who U.S. Grant was, but she knew all about the dreaded “McCarthy era,” that time in those dismal 1950s when sweet, kind Hollywood screenwriters on the left had trouble getting jobs.

That's typical. Many of the students graduating in several days will have a distorted view of the past. Many will have sat through lectures emphasizing minor episodes designed to teach students about the nastiness of the right or the virtues of the left. Many will have no understanding of little things like the role of Christianity in American history.

Even when it comes to “blacklisting,” few students will learn about Hollywood's discrimination against Christians and conservatives during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. They also won't know of the Hollywood Stalinist tyranny of the mid-1940s, even though Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan got his political start standing up against it.

One reason few students learn what actually happened is because of the academic blacklisting of Christians and conservatives that occurs today. I was reminded of this recently by a telephone call from David Snodgrass, chairman of the Mass Communication Department at Florida Southern University. He was calling because I had supervised the doctoral dissertation of a candidate for a faculty position there, and he wanted my opinion of that gentleman's capabilities.

And then, hesitantly, Professor Snodgrass asked for something more: “There's, uh, one question that arose concerning (the candidate's) background ... just a hunch, something that came out of my going through his vita ... 1977-79, assistant managing editor, Good News Magazine.”

When I asked what the hunch was about a job from two decades before, Snodgrass noted the horrible possibility: Is the candidate a “fundamentalist?” The concern, he hastened to say, was not with religious belief as such, but “We would not want a person who held beliefs that would interfere with his ability to do mainstream scholarship. ... We are so very, very eager to have someone doing mainstream research and publication. We want someone who will be nationally recognized, who will have stature in the field.”

Snodgrass' caution is logical. Given the bigotry of leading academics and their journals, a fundamentalist (unless he stays in the closet) will be frozen out, and a university's national reputation will not grow. But is such discrimination right? How many universities have informal blacklists against Bible-believing Christians or political conservatives?

I have some personal experience with academic bigotry. When I entered graduate school as an atheist and a communist, professors at the University of Michigan called me a genius; they were wrong. When I left as a Christian and a conservative, one professor believed I had become a moron; he also was wrong, but he tried to keep me from receiving a Ph.D., and probably would have succeeded but for the intervention of the one outspokenly conservative professor on campus.

Ever since then, I have been very sensitive to ideological bias in grading: I have been teaching at the University of Texas since 1983, and in all that time no student, to my knowledge, has ever accused me of such unfairness.

But, from what students have told me and shown me concerning other courses, it does appear that such bias occurs elsewhere. This is not to say that I'm a more virtuous grader than others; since I work in hostile territory and know that everything I say or do is examined critically, I would have to play it straight with grades even if my preferences were to push me in a different direction. Such restraints may not exist elsewhere.

We do not know what informal blacklisting does to the academic prospects of Christians and conservatives. I have been blessed with good health, a tough skin, a supportive family and church, and the ability to write fairly quickly. But lots of others who refuse to ignore God in their work never get through the ideological pounding of graduate school, never get a university job, never get tenure.

There is, after all, a culture war going on throughout the United States, and it threatens to become more vicious at UT and other academic hothouses.

That's why the upcoming decisions on a new president and provost for the university are so crucial. Will the university subsidized by Texas taxpayers, including many conservative Christians, have a policy, “No fundamentalists allowed?” Or will this be a university where professors who have seen the nakedness of the left are able to say that the emperor has no clothes?

Olasky is a journalism professor at the University of Texas.

Copyright © 1997, The Austin American-Statesman
Marvin Olasky, Christians, conservatives targeted for academic blacklists these days., 05-14-1997.