Northwestern classrooms teaching certain topics could be modified and research efforts curtailed with the re-election of President George W. Bush, some professors fear.
The Bush administration’s conservative stances on social and scientific issues could become an obstacle for stem cell research and certain courses on issues such as evolution and sexuality, som professors said, but NU administrators said they do not think it will affect the curriculum taught in the classrooms.
“We will operate as we always operate,” said Mary Finn, an assistant dean for curriculum in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “There is complete freedom for professors to teach what they want, and we will protect that.”
Finn said undergraduate professors negotiate their curriculum with department heads. Courses on topics such as sexuality may be controversial, but NU will not restrict them because the university strives to stay top in the field.
Most faculty members agree the Bush administration’s right-leaning agenda is not likely to make policies affecting curriculum in the classrooms right away, but some professors fear government intervention.
“The classroom is a sacred place,” said English Lecturer Jillana Enteen, director of the gender studies program. “It’s clear that Bush is not concerned with the separation of church and state.”
Enteen said the Bush administration could make restrictions on teaching sexuality in universities whether it is through reduced funding for research or new laws. Enteen cited a number of resolutions passed by Congressional Republicans limiting funding for certain studies.
“Gender used to be outside the realm of the executive branch,” Enteen said. “But now I’m not sure anything is outside of the executive branch.”
Biological Sciences Lecturer Gary Galbreath, who teaches evolutionary biology, said Bush’s re-election probably will not impact the topics in his classroom, but he is worried about what effect Bush’s second term will have on K-12 education.
“This administration doesn’t want evolution taught in the classrooms and they’re not sympathetic to the idea of evolution,” he said.
Some students come to his class with little exposure to evolution, he said. Galbreath said more students entering college in Europe know about evolutionary theory than students in the United States.
Curriculum changes directly implemented as a result of the Bush Administration are unlikely, but research is one area where the government is having a direct impact.
Under Bush’s 2005 budget proposal, research funds will grow only a couple of percentage points as the administration tries to reduce its deficit. In his first term, however, Bush continued trends of strong increases for scientific research.
Of particular importance is stem cell research, especially for a world-renowned research institution like NU. Scientists largely view stem cells as a promising path toward curing diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, but federal funding has been strictly limited because some believe the embryos used in research constitute human life.
Researchers grew concerned in February when Bush did not reappoint two members of his bioethics advisory council who opposed bans on cloning for stem cell research. The majority of the council in 2002 recommended a four-year moratorium on such work for further debate.
The White House said the two members left as their terms expired, but all the other members were asked back when their time was up.
“I see nothing to tell me that federal policy will change,” said John Kessler, chief of neurology at Feinberg School of Medicine. “I think we’re all concerned right now about whether we will be allowed to advance our research.”
The Daily’s Amy Hamblin contributed to this report.
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