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Back to January Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 300 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JANUARY 2011

Professor Tells Conservative Students in Class: 'Blood Will Be On Your Hands'
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Conservatives have long told anecdotes about the outrageous behavior of some liberal university professors, but now there is video to prove it. After getting a tip from a Louisiana State University student, a web-based organization called Campus Reform sent a cameraman into Professor Bradley E. Schaefer's freshman Astronomy 1101 class.

The course description says the class is about "fundamental principles of the solar system," but on this particular day the topic was U.S. policy on global warming. Students were asked to sit in sections according to what they think the U.S. should do about global warming, with choices including do nothing, follow Kyoto accords, mandate birth control or eliminate all engines, among others.

The video shows Schaefer berating students who chose the "do nothing" option, saying "Oh boy, that's really good for you, at least for the next decade or two. And then you will remember having sat on that corner, because you will not want to tell your children, if they live . . . that you were part of the trouble, right? Do you realize that?"

The professor continued with a highly ideological rant on global warming. "There is universal agreement among scientists. . . . Global warming is real; it's caused by humanity." He repeatedly asserted, "It's only going to get worse," but failed to mention the many respected scientists who have publicly expressed skepticism about anthropogenic global warming.

Near the end of the class, Schaefer asked students to discuss questions he prepared for each group and to report their answers to the class. The paper given to the "do nothing" policy group read:

Your professed policies have a substantial likelihood of leading to the death of a billion people or more.

  1. Estimate the probability that you personally will be killed in an ugly way because of your decision.
  2. What is the probability that any children of yours will die in ugly ways due to your current decision?

When this group's spokesman was called upon to give the group's response, Schaefer continually interrupted him, making comments like, "Screwing the science is wrong. You're an ostrich putting your head in the sand." When the student tried to continue, Schaefer scoffed, "What about the 40,000 people in Europe already killed because of your decision?"

Finally, a student from another group yelled, "Let him answer." Schaefer stopped interrupting, but resorted to juvenile theatrics, mocking the student with gestures and facial expressions that implied he thought the student's remarks were ridiculous. Addressing the group as a whole, the professor intoned, "You are going to be accountable for this!" At one point during the class he said, "Too little, too late. Blood will be on your hands."

Perhaps more troubling than one professor's abuse of his position is the way the higher ed media and university officials responded to the incriminating video. When Campus Reform initially released three short excerpts from the recording, both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Higher Ed rushed to defend Schaefer by claiming the videos were taken out of context and didn't give the whole picture.

The Chronicle article reports that Schaefer "was actually challenging all of his students, both liberal and conservative, he says, and not chastising any of them for their beliefs." The writer furthermore abets Schaefer's defense that he "put forth no opinions on how humanity should respond to global warming" — an assertion revealed as a blatant lie in the complete 40-minute version of the tape Campus Reform released at the request of the Chronicle. Likewise, Higher Ed portrays the Campus Reform video as a "setup" complete with selective editing to portray Schaefer's noble teaching methodologies as abusive and biased.

In fairness, Schaefer did also mock the "eliminate all engines" group. "How are you going to feed the people in the cities?" he yelled, suggesting that engines are still needed to transport the food and supplies people need to survive. Nonetheless, asserts Ashley Thorne of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a professor's job is "not to belittle" but to "instruct impartially." Thorne wrote on the NAS website that Schaefer "shouldn't be jeering at students on either side of a debate he has staged with an invitation to take positions he believes are extreme. When he asks students to sit according to their beliefs, then ridicules them for doing so — no matter what their politics are, he is in the wrong."

LSU physics and astronomy department chairman Michael L. Cherry defended Schaefer as "an extremely exuberant and enthusiastic teacher who consistently gets very strong student evaluations." Mr. Cherry told the Chronicle he did not expect any action to be taken to against Professor Schaefer, though he would take any student complaints "very seriously."

Unidentified LSU administrators adopted the media arguments in their "Setting the Record Straight" statement released several weeks after the incident. They attempted to discredit the messenger by accusing Campus Reform of misrepresenting Schaefer "in order to advance a political agenda" and claimed the group edited out more than 20 minutes of class time to suit their purposes. (Campus Reform explained their cameraman turned off the tape during the group discussion time when Schaefer was not lecturing.)

In another attempt to whitewash the situation, LSU Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor John Maxwell Hamilton told Thorne in an email that "Not one student who was in the lecture has complained to the university," when in fact at least one student says he did complain.

A student identified as Matthew said he did complain to Dr. Cherry about Schaefer and asked to drop the course. "Even though he [Dr. Cherry] said he doesn't approve of what he [Professor Schaefer] did, he [Cherry] said he wouldn't do anything about it. He won't even let me drop the class." Matthew also said he didn't realize the class had been recorded, but later learned the cameraman started recording after Schaefer called Matthew "stupid" for sitting with the "do nothing" policy group.

Despite 40 minutes of video proving otherwise, Provost Hamilton assured Thorne, "this is not a case of irresponsible teaching. It is a case of very bad journalism, obviously by someone without standards." (Chronicle of Higher Education, 11-17-10; InsideHigherEd.com, 11-18-10; nas.org, 12-1-10 and 11-22-10)


 
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