- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

This spring the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis (CSRA) conducted a poll of 1,341 Connecticut State University professors on the use of preferences based on race, gender and ethnicity. The poll was commissioned by the Connecticut Association of Scholars and co-sponsored by the National Association of Scholars, the American Civil Rights Institute and the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Its questions were clear: "Do you feel that [name of institution] should or should not grant preference to one applicant over another in faculty employment decisions on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity?" A second question, phrased the same way, concerned student admissions.

The results of the poll, which were widely reported in newspapers and on television around the state, revealed overwhelming opposition to these preferences. In faculty hiring, professors in the Connecticut State University system rejected preferences by 61 percent to 18 percent (with the remainder undecided or not responding), University of Connecticut faculty did so by 52 percent to 29 percent, and community college faculty by 75 percent to 15 percent. In student admissions, CSU faculty rejected preferences by 58 percent to 23 percent, University of Connecticut faculty by 47 percent to 35 percent, and community college faculty by 73 percent to 9 percent.

Even before the poll was completed, several professors at the University of Connecticut, fearful of the results, angrily denounced it, claiming its methodology was flawed that the questions were misleading and ambiguous and deliberately designed to advance the conservative agenda of the organizations that commissioned the poll and co-sponsored it. One protesting professor, Kenneth Neubeck of the Sociology Department, said the questions were "loaded." Another, Murphy Sowell of the School of Business Administration, declared that "as a social scientist and a professional, I don't believe this study should be acceptable for academic standards and research."

Yet another, Diana Rios of the Department of Communication Sciences, condemned the poll for "forcing a choice and not allowing for an alternative response." On the day the results were announced, approximately 30 University of Connecticut faculty assembled outside the office of the president of the university, Philip Austin, and demanded that he join them in repudiating the poll. In the press release they issued, they complained that the poll "left many faculty feeling they were duped." Several professors affiliated with the university's Puerto Rican/Latino Cultural Center even demanded that CSRA itself be investigated.

That these professors disliked the results of the poll, rather than the way in which the poll was conducted, is obvious. Can anyone seriously believe they would have been so agitated if the poll had revealed support for preferences? CSRA has done polls for liberal organizations in the past, such as the Media Studies Center and the First Amendment Center. One searches in vain for any protests against those polls by the professors so offended by this most recent one. What these advocates of preferences evidently believe is that faculty opinion on preferences should not be sampled by a duly constituted agency of the university. Their real objective, as their actions reveal, is to silence those who disagree with them.

When the poll results were announced, Mr. Austin issued a statement reaffirming the right of CSRA to conduct polls for whomever it wished. But he also repeated an earlier statement of his that the university's commitment to inclusion and fairness "will not be tailored to fit this or any year's political fashion," thus implying that the faculty at his university who oppose racial preferences are somehow opposed as well to inclusion and fairness which is really just a small step from saying they are bigots. Indeed, the interim chancellor of the university, Fred Maryanski, effectively nullified the president's statement supporting CSRA by agreeing to the professors' demand and creating a task force to examine how CSRA conducts research for external organizations.

The mere existence of the task force is a threat to academic freedom. Regardless of its ultimate recommendations, it cannot help but exert a chilling effect on what professors and students believe can be freely and openly discussed at the University of Connecticut. What is worse, it sends a message to polling organizations everywhere in America, not just those affiliated with universities, that no matter how sound and unbiased their polling methods may be, they can expect to be investigated, their integrity questioned and their professionalism impugned, if persons displeased with the results of their polls decide to vent their spleens publicly.

Polling is an integral aspect of American politics. It is also helpful in the formulation of public policy. For this reason, everyone who values democracy and free speech in America should hope that the University of Connecticut comes to its senses and disbands this task force immediately. For too long, university administrators have capitulated to the demands of a small minority of faculty so infatuated with their own imagined moral virtue and victimization that they seek a market place of ideas in academia in which only their own ideas are presented. It is time that such petulance end.

Jay Bergman is professor of history at Central Connecticut State University and president of the Connecticut Association of Scholars.

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