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article imageWLU college professor banned Fox News citations

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 15, 2013 in Politics
After she came under criticism, Stephanie Wolfe, a political science professor at West Liberty University in West Virginia, has rescinded a ban she imposed on citing Fox News as a news source for school assignments.
According to InsideHigerEd, she gave her political science students at West Liberty University (WLU) an assignment to keep a "political journal" in which they would record their views about news articles they had read.
The instructor, however, suggested a list of news sources her students could use, which included: The Economist, BBC, CNN and The Huffington Post. But she also gave a list of banned sources for the purpose of her course. According to Fox News, she instructed her students:
DO NOT use
1) The Onion -- this is not news this is literally a parody
2) Fox News -- The tagline "Fox News" makes me cringe. Please do not subject me to this biased news station. I would almost rather you print off an article from the Onion
According to WTOV9, some of her students who were upset about the instructors ban on Fox News told their parents, who called the University and local media, including Dave Bloomquist at WWVA-AM. Bloomquist said after he received complaints from parents, he contacted the instructor who insisted it was only a suggestion not to use Fox News.
The parents, however, thought it was unfair that the instructor would require students not to cite Fox News while allowing them to cite other news sources with a different political leaning.
The president of WLU, Robin Capehart, reacted: "If students have concerns about these types of issues, they can approach their department chair, they can approach the dean." His comment suggests he may have felt that the students who took the matter to the local media rather than to University authorities unduly politicized a matter that should have been of inquiry within the academic community.
However, the WLU president said banning Fox News was inappropriate. He said that Wolfe has rescinded her decision after she realized she had made a mistake.
According to InsideHigherEd, Capehart said that the university encourages students to "conduct research and come to their own conclusions and be challenged." He said that the instructor's decision to ban Fox News "dampened inquiry." He added that it would have been equally offensive if students were told not to cite MSNBC. He said: "Isn't the idea that you use what sources you can and then you have to defend the facts? To me that's what college is all about -- being able to conduct your research and conduct your own conclusions, and the professor needs to be able to challenge it."
WTRF reports Capeheart added: "This is a case where we obviously have a concern, because as much as we will protect the academic freedom of the professor, we'll also protect the academic freedom of our students to go out and find as many sources as possible. So obviously we were concerned."
InsideHihgerEd reports that some experts on academic freedom said the issue goes beyond the instructor's personal dislike of Fox News and borders on a purely academic rather than political question of Fox's reliability as a news source.
Gregory F. Scholtz, associate secretary of the American Association of University Professors and director of the AAUP's Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, said: "a professor has the right to say that certain news sources are unreliable," provided the opinion expressed is "subject to disciplinary standards."
In fact, college professors issue such instructions to their students routinely. Wolfe's instruction was therefore not unusual in an academic environment concerned with academic studies citing reliable and reputable sources. The reaction, especially of students referring their professor's instructions to the local media rather than to the school's academic authorities only reflects the politicization of the matter.
Scholtz commented that "as a professor of British literature, I frequently told my students that certain sources were unreliable. I doubt that anyone would have suggested that I shouldn't have done so." He suggested that "If there are concerns about an instructor unfairly declaring some source off-limits, matters should be reviewed by faculty members, not administrators."
However, Robert O'Neil, professor of law emeritus at the University of Virginia and former director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said the case raised "genuinely perplexing" issues. He said: "It seems to me that any scholar/teacher must scrupulously avoid intruding into the classroom political or religious views that might be seen as biased or partisan." He added that if "the teacher wishes to urge students simply to avoid possibly biased or unreliable sources in the interest of accuracy, and does so on a content-neutral basis, that's likely to be a different matter."
According to InsideHigherED, O'Neil cited the case of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in which the school successfully defended itself against a lawsuit that challenged a list of "unreliable websites" drawn up by its genocide research center.
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