FrontPageMag: Indoctrination at Colorado's Afroamerican Studies Program

Roundup: Talking About History

Thomas Ryan and Steven Vincent, at frontpagemag.com (3-9-05):

[Thomas Ryan is a FrontPage Magazine contributor. (E-mail him.) Journalist Steven Vincent is a regular contributor to FrontPage Magazine.]

The Afroamerican Studies program at the University of Colorado – Boulder (CU) purports to examine African-American culture in a number of ways, including—as its website declares—through the study of: “diasporas, history, fine arts, the fight for racial equality, and other cultural aspects.” Established in 1969 as CU’s first race-based educational program, it eventually formed the foundation of the university’s Ethnic Studies department, recently made infamous by the antics of its former chair Ward Churchill. It objectives, explains professor William M. King, who helped shaped the curriculum, include the use of the “historical experiences and folk wisdom of black people” to present a “series of concrete examples and reference points students might then use to illuminate the times in which they live.” In truth, however, the program betrays even this anodyne mission in favor of pushing a politicized agenda propagated by a clique of academics seeking to advance a social agenda of questionable academic and practical value.

Take, for example, the program’s offerings. Along with valid courses such as studies of “Black Religious Life” and “African-American Literature,” we find “Regional Cultures of Africa”—a class that purports to study the “social and aesthetic experiences” of four areas in West Africa. Not content to teach the facts of African life, the course ventures into social activism by “arguing that the social experience of many African-Americans has closer affinities to that of West Africans than the more individualistic cultural orientation of Euro-American society.” Share that insight with an interviewer at a law firm or a Wall Street brokerage house and see what happens. And when you consider that the “experiences” of West Africans include such barbarities as female genital mutilation, perhaps the affinities to students’ lives are not as close as their professors maintain.

Another interesting course is “Introduction to Afroamerican Studies.” This class utilizes an “Afro-centric perspective rather than the usual Euro-centric approach to historical analysis.” So much for objectivity. Worse is the course’s insistence that students are “expected to attempt to interpret Black history, literature, and culture through that non-Western perspective.” Since CU students are Western, jettisoning their critical faculties in favor of a professor’s subjective interpretation of “Afro-centricism” (whatever that is) leaves them prey to whatever screwy notions the guru—sorry, scholar-- wishes to instill in their minds. There’s another word for this sort of environment: cult.

Along with these narcissistic, feel-good, it’s-okay-to-be-you type teachings are the usual courses that pass for education these days: one on “Blacks in Film,” and not one but two classes in “African American Dance,” “designed to provide additional experiences in traditional and contemporary African and American rhythms.” And then we have “Contemporary Black Protest Movements,” which focuses on the “continuing Black struggle for social/democratic rights.” Rest assured that the course curriculum will not prominently feature Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Michael Jordan, Denzel Washington, Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas and millions of African-Americans in the burgeoning black middle-class. Boulder’s Ethnic Studies department did feature former Black Panther supporter Angela Davis, who spoke on March 1st in support of Ward Churchill.

Davis’ appearance is in keeping with CU’s relentless focus on minority victimization and general oppression in racist America. In 1998, CU professor Joy James organized an on-campus conference entitled “Unfinished Liberation: Policing, Detention & Prisons.” The event featured such luminaries as Ramona Africa, who served 7 years in prison for her involvement with the Philadelphia-based black radical group MOVE; Geronimo Pratt, Deputy Defense Minister for the Black Panther Party, who in 1970 was arrested for the murder of a teacher; Davis and Churchill.

James, who now teaches at Brown University, is also a supporter of the Black Radical Congress, whose mission statement declares that “America's capitalist economy has completely failed us…The moment for a new militancy and a new commitment to the liberation of all Black people, at home and abroad, has arrived.”

Another alumnist of CU’s Afroamerican studies program is Jualynne Dodson. An acknowledged expert on African religions in the New World, she taught the university’s “Contemporary Black Protest Movement” course. Her efforts also included that Shangri-la of all proper-thinking Leftist academics, Cuba. She led the so-called “Afro-Atlantic Research Team,” a group composed of American students and faculty, on regular “research” trips to the Communist dictatorship. In 2000, she attended a conference of Cuban and North American academics held in Havana, where, according to a fellow scholar, she opined that Cuba can “provide an alternative to capitalism.” The country, she added, “is fighting…to eradicate racism,” noting, “There are very few nations that are fighting to eliminate capitalism and racism.” Given the political prisoners rotting in Castro’s jails and the iron lung currently encasing the island’s economy, Dodson—who currently teaches religious studies at Michigan State University-- might want to add freedom and prosperity to that list as well.

Nowadays, the burden of speaking truth to power at CU’s Afroamerican Studies program falls mostly on the shoulders of William M. King. To prepare students for his course, The Sixties: Critical Black Views,” King’s website helpfully describes the course as addressing

The ideas, events, people, organizations, and processes of the decade as specifics intended to illustrate the extent to which truth is in the eye of the beholder; that it is very much a function of the belief systems we embrace and not some abstract entity that can be analyzed separate and distinct from what give it life and meaning.

Whatever. King also explains his theory of grading which is, in essence, “purposely political: to limit access to smaller and more elite groups as a means of preserving the status quo.” Somewhere in reams of this self-conscious, oh-so-hip po-mo claptrap is the actual description of the class, which has something to do with

lost-prevention character inherent in the realization of these values by the several constituencies that comprise the American People, by that I mean those on the periphery of the society who have had to overcome all manner of obstacles and barriers to engage the scavenger hunt called the American Dream.

As a tenured academic in a prestigious college in a beautiful region of the free republic of America, one could say that the “scavenger hunt” paid off well for Professor King. (When contacted by Frontpage, King declined to comment for this story)

And so it goes. As its hiring of such professors as Dodson, James, and Churchill might suggest, CU has evidently downplayed academics in order to present a collection of pampered, job-protected scholars platforms to express their political views. Not every critique or radical take on America is wrong, of course. But in presenting such a one-sided perspective about the manifold opportunities America gives to peoples of all races and ethnicities—more than any other nation in the history of the world—the college is shirking its educational responsibilities in favor of treacherous partisan indoctrination.

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Ilia Nielsen - 4/5/2005

I am just curious...have you "contributors" actually taken a class by Dodson, King or Churchill? From the sound of your judgemental, out-of-context analysis of these professors, I'd guess no. I'm assuming, then, that you're getting most of your "information" off the websites of the professors or critiques of them, or in some other second-hand manner. Which isn't inherently wrong except that it also looks like you haven't actually taken the time to read the professor's statements very carefully or with much thought. As you said about King's class description, "whatever." But did you say that after actually looking at what it said? Not long ago after taking one of King's classes and reflecting on it, I realized gratefully that I'd taken a course from someone who I still did not agree with on every issue but who'd taught me to think and learn in a whole new way. I am a middle-class,white, born-again Christian, with views that lean somewhere in the middle of the "right" and "left," depending upon the issue. Some of my views do differ greatly from those of Dr. King's. But regardless of whether I agreed with him or not, I can honestly say that many of King's ideas were some of the most brilliantly articulated thoughts I've heard thus far in all my four years at CU(which, by the way, was spent learning under both liberal and conservative professors). The ideas presented by King and others, which you casually dismiss as "cult"ish, are markedly honest attempts at teaching students to see things from a perspective other than the one they're used to, not "indoctrinating" them. To me, in order to be "indoctrinated" in the first place, one would have to be fairly insecure in his or her own beliefs. I am aware that brainwashing can take place(from both sides of the right and left), and I know college students are vulnerable on some level. But part of the point of higher (or any) education is to learn to think critically for oneself. Just because a professor states an opinion on something does not mean that the student has to agree with it, and as far as I'm concerned, hearing things from another perspective can often serve to strengthen one's understanding of his or her own beliefs. I know that there are cases where professors genuinely bully and manipulate students, sometimes in an illegal and immoral way, and I would never advocate that. But I honestly do not feel that this applies to King or Dodson, both of whom I've taken classes from. I can say for both of these professors(especially King) that the lectures and assignments of the class were some of the most engaging, educational experiences I've ever had the privledge of being involved with. I would like to end with one example of this. Dr. King gave our class an assignment in which students were to consider both the positive and negative aspects of the history of the school system, and using this, to design what we would consider to be the ideal educational system that would offer the most educational opportunities for all people. Dr. King offered many insights for this assignment, and it turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking, interesting, introspective assignments I have ever had to do at CU or any other school, and I will always be grateful for this and the other insights I experienced while in Dr. King's class(and also appreciate many of my experiences with the respectable Dr. Dodson).
Sorry to go on so long, but one more thing...I know its only from my scant experience, but as far as I can tell, even the most conservative professor would not likely assert that many people of color spend their lives in "Wall Street brokerage houses," but it sounds like you may not be that interested in the reasons why.