Indoctrinate U (On the Fence Films, 2007)

Indoctrinate U has been on my "watch list" for a while, but I hadn't been able to make myself take the time. It's not available from Netflix, but I found it on YouTube, in nine parts of about 10 minutes each.  Today it came up on my "get this done today" list, so I thought I'd watch one or two of the segments. But they don't end in good places, and anyway I got hooked, so I watched the whole thing.

This documentary on discrimination, intolerance, and anti-diversity in American higher education is obviously not a high-budget film, though I'm sure it's better in the original format.  I agree with Janet's comment that "it only pointed out the problems and didn't discuss any causes or better yet, idea for fixing the problems," and fear she may be right that it might be more divisive than helpful.  Nonetheless, it's an important film to watch for anyone attending, planning to attend, or sending money to a college or university.  I am not advocating staying away from college; but do be aware of the larger picture.

Although the film looks with some nostalgia on university life in the 1960's, there was plenty of intolerance for diversity of thought even then, though it was not, as now, enshrined in the bureaucracy, and the hard sciences (where I was) were mostly free of that, at least as far as the students were concerned.  Our professors had a hard enough time teaching us math and physics, and didn't feel that taking time for political discussion would help us understand differential equations any better.  I'm told by math professor friends that that has now changed.  One, who has taught both in the United States and in Africa, expressed frustration that her American university required her to teach her not only calculus, but also the importance of African mathematics.  I'm not sure what "African mathematics" might be that is important for a university math major to learn (I missed it in my classes), but I wouldn't be surprised if in the future the important mathematicians are African—because her African students are eager to learn the content, not the politics, of math.

The investigator for Indoctrinate U has been criticized for his confrontational approach, but while I do think one cannot expect to see a university president without an appointment, as journalists go, he was about as mild and polite as you can get.

Yes, the film is one-sided, and not only because they couldn't get anyone from the university side to talk seriously with them.  It presents, however, a side that is not usually heard—indeed, is often censored, mocked, threatened, and attacked—and can be forgiven for being a little strident.

Here is the first segment; from there YouTube will provide links to the remaining eight.  Be patient with the first couple, as at least I found the emphasis on affirmative action less interesting than the general topic of free speech on campus, which is more clearly presented in later parts.  (There is a small number of profanities—quoting from a threat to a student and from the title of a play—that are bleeped out if you get the "clean" version, but the download versions are unaltered.)

I wish they had made more of a distinction between public and private colleges.  To me, there's a huge difference between what a private school chooses to allow or forbid, and what a taxpayer-funded school does.  But in either case, if the school is presenting itself as a bastion of diversity, tolerance, and academic freedom, evidence to the contrary needs to be heard.  Caveat emptor.

Is there a solution?  Confronting the universities with their own stated diversity policies is a start:  Janet had some success at her school that way.  In the long run, I think the biggest difference will be made by India and the Internet.  American universities have long enjoyed near-monopolistic dominance in their field.  However, as it did for their manufacturing and information technology counterparts, that privilege is coming to an end.  When people have choices, change happens.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 11:11 am | Edit
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