SRJC uproar over Republican protest

Several instructors targeted by student's posting of red stars, state code on teaching of communism

By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

 

Santa Rosa Junior College's oak-studded campus is aflame with controversy triggered by the anonymous posting of red stars and a reference to communist indoctrination on 10 faculty office doors.

Instructors quickly saw the action as a threat to academic freedom, but the student who claimed credit for the protest said it was about left-leaning bias in the lecture hall.

The stars, which unnerved some instructors, were accompanied by a copy of a state Education Code section prohibiting the teaching of communism with the "intent to indoctrinate" students.

"It makes me a little anxious," philosophy instructor Michael Aparicio said.

Ed Buckley, the college's vice president of academic affairs, weighed in with a defense of academic freedom, saying in an e-mail to SRJC faculty that it includes teaching "difficult and controversial material."

But political science major Molly McPherson of Rohnert Park said she had only intended to start a discussion about the personal politics of SRJC humanities instructors by posting the stars.

"It's a big issue," said McPherson, president of the SRJC Republicans, a campus club. "The opinion of the far left is presented as fact, with no alternative."

Some students fear their grades will suffer if they express a contrary view, she said.

The red stars were not intended as a personal attack on individual instructors, she said. "I regret that it was taken that way."

German instructor Sylvia Wasson, said her colleagues were "overreacting" in a flurry of e-mails exchanged on campus since the stars and code citation were discovered on the doors in Emeritus Hall on Friday morning.

Wasson, who had McPherson in four German classes, described her as an A student, a "very bright woman" and a "critical thinker who happens to belong to the wrong party on campus."

Aparicio and others said they found McPherson's tactics "sensationalist," intended to get media attention.

When faculty members called a news conference to discuss the stars, McPherson came forward to acknowledge her action on behalf of the SRJC Republicans, a 75-member chapter of the California College Republicans, a statewide group.

SRJC's Academic Senate is scheduled to discuss the matter at 3:15 p.m. today in the Dyle Student Center and may start a move to repeal the Education Code section cited by the student Republicans, said George Freund, a philosophy instructor.

Faculty members were outraged by the stealthy posting and surprised to find the code prohibition on the advocacy of communism, he said.

The code's first sentence says: "No teacher giving instruction in any school ... shall advocate or teach communism with the intent to indoctrinate or to inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference for communism."

"You can't teach social theory without teaching Marxism," Freund said. In all his lectures, Freund said he covers "the best argument for and against" any philosophy.

Marco Giordano, an English instructor, called the code section "antithetical to academic freedom."

"The accusation of teaching communism in the classroom is laughable," Giordano said, noting communism is not illegal and the U.S. Constitution is "indifferent" to both communism and capitalism.

Still, he said, the student Republican's actions were "a little creepy" and a "revival of McCarthyist tactics."

Buckley called the protest "an unhelpful way to express their dissatisfaction" with instructors.

McPherson said the Republicans hope to hold a public forum on the issue. "One-sided education is indoctrination," she said.

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Copyright 2005 The Press Democrat