Pennsylvania Observer

A blog for progressive people in Pennsylvania. Greens, Democrats and others who want to comment on current news items in the Keystone State.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Gib Armstrong Grandstanding Without Facts?

Gib Armstrong Grandstanding Without Facts? Rep. Gib Armstrong (R, 100, Lancaster County) has been getting a lot of mileage in conservative circles charging that Pennsylvania’s institutes of higher education are crawling with liberals. He has made this claim in numerous press releases and speeches in the last month. He has also harangued university leaders in public hearings before the House Appropriations Committee. The sum of his complaint is that professors and administrators are making a concerted effort to stifle the speech of conservative students.

To bolster his argument, he misquotes and mischaracterizes studies that show there are more Democrats than Republicans teaching in the humanities and social sciences by a ratio of seven to one. (Big surprise, there. And what is the D/R ratio in business schools?)

Armstrong’s solution to this problem is passing his Students’ Academic Bill of Rights, similar to bills being considered throughout the nation. The purpose of these bills is to give students legal standing to sue. In Florida, the prime sponsor of his state’s bill, Rep. Dennis Baxley, brazenly said that it would allow students to sue when professors refuse to teach creationism in biology classes.

Opponents fear that other suits will include Holocaust deniers wanting their position taught in history classes, racial superiority proponents and even people who believe the moon landings were hoaxes.

Armstrong’s bill is a serious threat to academic freedom. But like much of the right’s agenda, they have twisted reality that would make Orwell proud. Armstrong has made audacious claims, supported by apocryphal anecdotes that support his proposition. Among Armstrong’s accusations are the following:

"Yesterday I was in my Women Studies class where one group of students decided to give presentations on abortions. The next thing I know, we were spending the whole period learning about how abortion should be completely legal, that it is a good thing for society to abort babies, and that people need to learn how to positively say the word 'abortion' because women should be proud of the fact that they had one. The professor made us start chanting 'abortion, abortion' and to be honest I started to cry because there seemed to be no room for my pro-life opinion.”

"My professor interrupted his lecture…following the presidential election to read a [radio talk show] hoax that made the false accusation that the average intelligence of ‘blue’ states was higher than that of ‘red’ states. After passing this list off as factual and making jokes about ‘rednecks’ and ‘uneducated hicks,’ he got profane and concluded by saying ‘Thanks for messing [expletive deleted] up my country.’"

"I had to watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11 in science class. What does that have to do with science?"

If true, these accusations are troubling, but not unexpected. After all, there are 80,000 students in the Penn State system alone. It wouldn’t be difficult to find a handful of incidents like those cited by Armstrong.

The real problem with the accusations is that only Armstrong has heard about them. The Observer randomly checked with administrators, students and professors at Penn State and no one has any knowledge of these incidents. No other legislators that we talked to have had similar reports come to them.

We wrote to Armstrong immediately after his accusations first became public, on March 3. This is the text of our letter:

Dear Rep. Armstrong:

We were at the Appropriations Committee hearing when you raised your allegations about academic freedom. We have since received your press release which expands on those allegations. We were shocked by the allegations and would like to expose the lack of diversity of thought on campus at PSU if these allegations are true. In order to determine the level of thought control we would like the following information:

1) Names of the instructors in whose classes the alleged incidents took place;
2) Titles of the classes;
3) Dates and locations of the incidents;
4) Copies of any correspondence which documents the alleged incidents; and
5) Names of any witnesses of the alleged incidents.

Thank you for raising this matter in public. We also thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

We followed with a phone call requesting the same. To date we have not heard from Armstrong or his staff. Nor do we ever expect an answer. This appears to be the right’s updated McCarthyite accusation, “I have in possession the names of…” It’s easy to make accusations when no one challenged them. The corporate media and legislators on both sides of the aisle have let Armstrong make these accusations unchecked.

Contact Armstrong and ask him to tell the whole truth about his claims. 717-783-6424 or

Then again, maybe Armstrong is right about academia being dominated by liberals. After all, philosopher John Stuart Mill observed in the 19th century that “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people… it is true that most stupid people are conservative.”


  • At 4:14 PM, Blogger asha143 said…

    Contacted Armstrong and he said he has proof (students names, etc) but isn't willing to share details...not even the schools! I can understand protecting student from retaliation but by providing no details, he is at a loss for credibility.

    Also, he was inappropriate, asking me who I voted for in the last election - as if it had relevance to his argument of liberal bias.

    Folks, we're dealing with a person who can't substantiate claims and who lacks understanding of how to support his accusations.

  • At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Perhaps you're not familiar with the way PA politics work, but it's an incredibly personal affair. I've been asked by Sen. O'Pake "who I voted for". Don't act as if this is something new.

    And further, from someone who has spent 10 years in post-HS academia, I think the academe is CRAWLING with inappropriate political rhetoric and marginalzation of conservative viewpoints. In Armstrong's own district there was a furor in 2003 at a small liberal arts college when a conservative professor was denied full professorship status after 20 years of service to the college (while associate professors with far less experience and academic pedigree were promoted) for excoriating a problem student. Sure it was based on academic performance, but the provost was more than willing to believe the student's accusations of conservative bias and cited it in the committee's decision to deny the promotion. Meanwhile, in other classrooms, conservative students were routinely dismissed and even insulted by members of the wannabe anarcho-syndicalist professors in the humanities/socialwork/poli-sci departments. Another professor was denied a position in the history department for 20 years due to his conservative bent (which was in opposition to the views of the department head). These events occurred at a small school in a conservative county. My experiences are the same. I'm amazed that progressives have the audacity to claim THIS will hurt academic freedom. When you are asked to leave a classroom for representing an unpopular socialist viewpoint, you are "marginalized" and should be outraged! When you are asked to leave for representing an anti-semetic viewpoint you are a "racist" and should be excused from the school. The hypocrisy makes me sick.

    I apologize that this article comes from an agendist website, but it wasn't exactly picked up by the progressive media machine...


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