Education Reporter
NUMBER 140 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS SEPTEMBER 1997
 
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Professor Tells What
He Learned in the Ivy League

WASHINGTON, DC -- "At the Ivy League and the prestige schools generally, there is a hidden commitment to a certain conformist mentality that they dont tell you about up front, but that many people end up paying for in the long run," Professor Graham Walker said to the college students and interns attending the Fourth Annual Eagle Forum Collegians Summit on June 27 in the Russell Senate Caucus Room.

Dr. Walker offered many insights based on experiences throughout his eight years as an Ivy League professor at the University of Pennsylvania and two years as a fellow at Princeton University. His address was entitled, "What I Learned in the Ivy League."

Walker faced many struggles in his search for a teaching position at an Ivy League school. Of the 47 resumes Walker submitted after graduating from college, he received only three interviews and one job offer.

Initially, Princeton indicated interest in hiring him as an assistant professor, but a review of his resume revealed that his degree was from Notre Dame University and that he had worked for Republican Congressman David Stockman. Walker later learned that a Princeton faculty member wrote a letter encouraging other professors to oppose Walker because there were already a number of Catholics at Princeton. "I wasnt Catholic; Im actually Wesleyan Methodist, but they didnt know that and they didnt really care," Walker said. "They had tagged me."

Two weeks later, an interview with the University of Pennsylvania began a chain of similarly disturbing events. In February, Penn assured Walker a job, but in April he received notification that the job offer had fallen through. Walker had been approved by the search committee and the political science department, but the next higher level did not want to hire a professor whose resume indicated he was religious. "Penn, being a school committed to secularism and diversity, couldnt hire unsecular, undiverse people," Walker commented.

The situation proved embarrassing for Penn, and it was eventually arranged for Walker to teach there for one year -- without approval from the committee that opposed him. With the promise that university officials would work to ensure Walker of a permanent position at the end of the first year, he accepted the job as an assistant professor at an Ivy League university.

"My teaching experience there was very revealing, although not entirely in a good way," said Walker, who was warned, "You have to watch out. Youre a religious person and this is a secular school."

Soon after joining the Penn faculty, Walker volunteered to help with freshman orientation and found that he disagreed with statements in the official orientation material. He was expected to discuss case studies with freshmen, but he immediately recognized that the scenarios were designed to produce predetermined responses from the students.

In a scenario involving a conservative, rural, Bible-belt Pennsylvania student who arrived at the university and learned that his roommate was gay, Walker said the student was expected to respond, "In my community we regard this behavior as wrong, but those are just our values. I embrace my roommates values equally with embracing my own values, and therefore I am becoming tolerant and setting aside the dogmatic intolerant view with which I arrived here in Philadelphia."

Instead of promoting this profession of "tolerance," Walker read some of the orientation materal to his freshman discussion group and proceeded to de-construct policies presented by the school. "I thought the freshmen needed some ability to resist the indoctrination that was going on," Walker said.

Expressing views that were unpopular with his colleagues jeopardized Walkers job when he underwent the tenure review process. "My years at Penn were culminated by a very rancorous year of controversy about my tenure," Walker said. "In the academic world, your colleagues sit down around a table, with you absent, and they vote on whether or not you keep your job."

During Walkers years at Penn, many new faculty members with modern or postmodern views joined his department. About a year prior to the official tenure review process, Walker expressed a difference of opinion about homosexuality to a colleague who was reportedly gay. After that conversation, the colleague, whom he had previously considered to be his friend, avoided talking with Walker and became an opponent of his approval for tenure.

Walker was denied tenure by a single vote. Walker said, "Five tenured colleagues came to me afterwards during the subsequent months, closed the door behind them in my office, and said, You know, as one man put it, it was really prejudicial attitudes toward your religiosity which did you in."

"When I went to Penn, I was ready to give the prestige, progressive, liberal Ivy League a fair shake," Walker said, but Penn proved unable to accept Walkers open-minded approach. Walker later learned that he was not the only professor who had been penalized for expressing unpopular views. Since the 1970s, five other political science professors who, like Walker, taught moral philosophy had left the University of Pennsylvania because they were denied tenure or expected tenure to be denied.

The circumstances of Walkers tenure denial were difficult to accept, but only two weeks later he received a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton through the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John M. Olin Foundation. After two years there, Walker has now joined the faculty of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he will begin teaching this fall.

"These prestige universities -- the Ivy League and those that aspire to be like them -- are really increasingly muddled about their own reason for existence," Walker said. "They are unable to come to terms with the requirements of being in an academic community. Every community requires some forms of concerted action and some constitutive purposes and convictions that hold the thing together.

"The Ivy League university, and those that aspire to be like them, think themselves philosophically opposed to having any defining purposes or values or convictions which draw boundaries to include some and exclude others," Walker said. "Theyre very reluctant about that because that violates the thing called tolerance, when in fact, because they are a community, they do have boundaries, they do include and exclude, they do favor some orientations and disfavor others."

Walker found that prestige schools "disdain colleges that have an explicit commitment as to the purpose of the school" and that they waiver between being open-minded and being "virtual totalitarians" in their efforts to enforce their doctrine, which they refer to as diversity, tolerance, or multiculturalism.

Walker said that the unwillingness of prestige schools to commit to a defined purpose limits the ability of these institutions to educate any student who does not enter college with specific goals and carefully select courses that will help him acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.

"By contrast, the schools that have maintained an explicit religious identity are doing much better with regard to fostering scholarship and learning," Walker said. In his experience, students at Christian colleges "have been exposed to a wide variety of views, but not indiscriminately. There is a kind of backbone to it, but it is an overt backbone that they tell you up front," he sai.

-- by Denise M. DeLancey