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May 9, 2017

Students Defend Fox-Proclaimed Liberal Biased Course

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After Neetu Chandak ’18 condemned a government course offering as an example of Cornell’s apparent “liberal bias” displayed in a fall course offering on a Fox news segment Friday, students have pushed back in defense of the professor.

Chandak, a reporter for Campus Reform and a member of The Sun’s multimedia team, said Fox reached out to Campus Reform in search of a Cornell student perspective. The Cornell Review first published an article about a course — Government 2817: America Confronts the World — that was later republished by the Campus Reform.

Chandak noted that her incentive to appear on the show was to illuminate the experience of conservative and moderate students in the classroom at Cornell where she said “sometimes they feel like they can’t speak up in class with their points of views without getting shut down, without getting ostracized or without having the fear that their grade could be negatively affected.”

Though she admitted that she had not reached out to Prof. Peter Katzenstein, government, who is offering the class, Chandak said that from reading the course description, “there was absolutely bias.”

Chandak added that attaching the phrase “xenophobic nationalism” and “pragmatic cosmopolitanism” to Trump and Obama, respectively, immediately established a parallel that imposed positive and negative connotations.

“It’s only showing Donald Trump in a negative way and Barack Obama in a positive way when they both have their positives and negatives,” Chandak said.

“I think that could have been better worded, but the way it was worded on the course description, it’s absolutely showing bias,” Chandak told The Sun. “I don’t think the professor is very interested in having a fair and open conversation. It just seems to be more about bashing the current president.”

While agreeing that the description’s wording conveyed a sense of liberal bias, several conservative student leaders pushed back against her claims. Like Chandak, Austin McLaughlin ’18, president of Cornell Republicans, said that this was “not the first course description I have encountered that I believe exhibits liberal bias.”

In reaction to the Fox news clip, McLaughlin said that he “believe[s] [Chandak] made good points in drawing attention to the existence of this bias.”

For McLaughlin, in choosing courses from their descriptions, “it is fair for conservative students to keep course and professor reputations in mind when enrolling,” he said. Consideration of the professor for this particular course prompted McLaughlin to be more confident in the course.

“I have full faith that Professor Peter Katzenstein has the ability to fairly display both sides of the argument, regardless of an individual student’s politics,” he said. “While I have not taken a class from him, in reading his publications and hearing reviews of his pedagogy, I am confident he can articulate either argument equitably.”

A former student of Katzenstein, Michael Johns ’20 said the claim that this course is anti-Trump is “probably not true.” Johns describes himself as a conservative student and serves on the executive board of the Cornell Republicans.

“[Katzenstein] made a lot of efforts throughout the semester to try to include conservative students, specifically imploring them to speak up in class, really never making anyone feel excluded or like their views were illegitimate,” Johns said. “He’s a liberal professor, he’s given substantially to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in their presidential campaigns. … And I don’t think that he really denies that in his courses. He does provide some things from his perspective, but he is certainly open to being challenged and invites that during lecture.“

Another self-described conservative student, Sam Romero ’18, said she understands why some students may be hesitant to take the class given its course description that “did seem a little bit biased in the diction of it.”

“If I hadn’t taken courses with Professor Katzenstein, I could see how perhaps if you don’t know the professor at all or don’t know the background, then it could put you off,” she said. Romero, who has already taken two courses taught by Katzenstein, enrolled in Government 2817 and says it is “the one class that I’m most excited about this year.”

“When it comes to the particular words like ‘xenophobic nationalism’ and ‘pragmatic cosmopolitanism’ in itself, words have meaning and those connotations are there,” Romero said. “[Katzenstein] is a professor who is very well-known as a constructivist and a big part of that is language and the impact of language. So I don’t think that it was accidental. I think it was intentional choice of wording.”

Katzenstein could not be reached for a comment. According to Prof. Mary Katzenstein, government, he is currently “on the road,” away from Ithaca for the week.

  • Jake

    It is very clear from this article that the author is biased. I watched the video and she seemed reasonable to me. I don’t think you have to read a thousand of the professor’s papers to know that “xenophode nationalist” is biased language.

    Also, even if this professor allows conservatives to speak, that isn’t some great achievement. That is part of freedom of speech so it concerns me that conservatives particularly are “allowed” or “not allowed” to speak. We know that he donates to democratic campaigns and the entire point of her interview was to talk about liberal bias.

    Seems like your article just proved her point…

    • Grad Student 6060842

      Well, Jake, I would suspect that you are also biased. The subject of the article based her complaint on the course description, not based on actually taking the course or even, for all we know, encountering the professor. One hopes that the average Cornell undergraduate (I’m a grad student) knows to look beyond the surface claim or advertisement in order to find out what the substance behind it is. I’m not seeing that here, and you seem okay with that…perhaps because you are biased. For instance, you might consider that Professor Katzenstein is a professional, and capable of both having personal political views and delivering apolitical analysis in the classroom.

      I’ve been in the same room with Professor Katzenstein and he is an equal-opportunity critic. He does not suffer fools gladly on either the right or the left. Instead of rushing off to vlog, Ms. Chandak might have investigated a little further. As many of the other people quoted in the article note, Professor Katzenstein will show you many points of view, and he will make you think…critically.

  • Peter Clark

    First I call attention to the distinction between bias and prejudice. Freedom of speech is vital, but it does not mean that any voice may be heard in any setting at any time. A college course should be much more than a recitation of facts. Opinions are needed. A powerhouse course once offered at Trinity College called for each student to reach a position on abortion, assisted suicide, distribution of wealth and similar issues. The goal was not to have students accept the professor’s position; it was for each student to establish a position with the understanding that it could be changed over time. A college course should be about growing, not about being heard.

  • alum ’16

    Y’all apologists can take a break. The course description shows a liberal bias; this is crystal clear. If the professor were actually impartial, he would have written a more objective course description.

  • alum ’16

    Oh you don’t understand, he’s just a “constructivist” and that is just “language” and “impact of language”. Romero, what the hell do you even know what you’re talking about? Empty words from a “conservative” defending biased liberals… “It was intentional choice of wording”… damn right he intentionally wanted to have a obama-worshiping hate session on trump… glad to know this’s where my donation is going…

  • Grad Worker at Cornell

    Trump campaigned on xenophobic nationalism … I cannot see in the least how describing him as such is biased! It isn’t flattering, but for many others on the left (and the right), Obama’s/DNC’s pragmatism (read: technocrat) and cosmopolitanism (read: global capitalist) isn’t all that great either.

    Conservatives should just own the fact that their takeover of government is thanks to Trump having appealed to the worst instincts of a politics-exhausted electorate. And gerrymandering.

    • Keep blaming your problems on everything but yourself

      Yep, gerrymandering is the only reason the GOP won the House. It’s not as if they won a plurality of votes cast for House candidates.

      • Tired of all of this

        Can you not read? The person you replied to didn’t say gerrymandering was the only reason the GOP won. Hence the word “and” before it…

  • Christopher Vann

    Facts are impartial. Reality has a liberal bias. It is academically dishonest to claim that because Obama and Trump both have “positives and negatives” that they are somehow equal. One is objectively worse than the other. America has an obsession with balance that the facts don’t support. Trump is a xenophobic nationalist, that just a fact.

    • Hillary Rodham Clinton

      “Reality has a liberal bias” LMFAO. So gender and race are social constructs and we all gonna win together with socialism! Ever heard of biology or economics? The fact is Obama has been a disaster. Liberalism has failed.

      • Christopher Vann

        Yes, no, but democratic socialism works better than our system. Biology and economics don’t support conservative positions in any way. Tax cuts and deregulation don’t increase growth, they just cause recessions like ’08. If you can provide any “evidence” to show Obama or liberalism are failures I’d love to see what you dig up. We’ve had 7 years of sustained growth and a consistently decreasing unemployment rate under Obama. International opinion of America went up. That’s not failure. Oh, and if liberalism is a failure please give me some examples of conservative successes because here are some liberal ones: the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the abolition of slavery, trust busting, ending the Great Depression, desegregation, legalizing interracial and gay marriage, I can go on. What have conservatives got, nothing.

        • Commie Bernie

          Lol the liberalism nowadays is nothing like the classical liberalism you seem to confuse with. In fact today’s conservatives conserve the classical liberalism with believes of free market, free trade, etc. The founding fathers and the abolitionists embrace the same values today’s conservatives do.

          Obama didn’t fail? Libya, Benghazi, Syria, Iraq, ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood, Iran deal, NSA mass surveillance scandal, using IRS to harass Tea Party members, racial division, “you can keep your doctor”, North Korean nuclear program, explosive national debts… The list goes on. Obama failed domestically and internationally. You really have some next level of doublethink skills don’t you.

          • Christopher Vann

            The founding fathers were on the far left in 1776. That’s not a question, just a fact. Lincoln was far left in the 1860s, neither Roosevelt was conservative in their time nor would they be now. The people who passed the CRA and VRA were liberal and would be now. Those were and continue to be policies opposed to the conservative agenda.

            As to you list of Obamas failures let’s look at those fairly. Libya: we didn’t start that, were obligated to help by NATO. Bengazhi: republicans in congress refused to fund the increased embassy security requested by Obama and HRC. Syria, no good options. Iraq, unless you want the US to go back in without the protection of the status of forces agreement, that’s on Bush, Obama followed his schedule. ISIS, just as much Bush’s fault as Obama’s, and Obama kicked their asses. What about the Muslim brotherhood? Iran deal: great success despite the lies told by the right. NSA mass surveillance, not a liberal or a obama problem, that’s just a us government problem. IRS did not specifically target conservative groups, that’s just right wing propaganda. Yes, the racial division because conservatives got mad we had a black president. Republicans sabotaged the Medicaid expansion. NKs nuclear program has gotten nowhere. He inherited a huge deficit from Bush, and he shrank it every year.
            So nice list of unsourced conservative propaganda. America is much better off than it was 8 years ago, much better off than it would have been if obama hadn’t won, and you can thank Obama for it.

          • Comrade Washington

            Wait were you sarcastic? Hahaha almost got me there.

            Yes yes, the founding fathers were the original Communists. Americans started the world revolution. Proletariat, unite!

          • Christopher Vann

            Representatives democracy was a far left posistion in 1776, are you trying to deny that?

  • Amos

    Brahmin looking for a job?

  • Alum ’13

    Since when was it such a crime to be biased? Of course an expert in any subject is going to have opinions related to that subject. Discussing, debating, and forming opinions is an integral part of higher education. As long as this professor is open to the first two, I don’t see any problem here whatsoever.

    For as much as conservatives like to pillory liberal sensitivities, it seems like they do plenty of whining themselves.

    • James

      Liberals: we want men to be able to use women’s bathrooms!
      Conservatives: we want objective professors who refrain from personal bias and promote impartial discussion.

      Don’t compare us to you.

  • A liberal student in a conservative environment

    This is classic. A complaint based on a course description? I’ve heard Cornell profs slam Obama and generally hate on any government attempt to regulate business. Should I be complaining that Cornell isn’t open to liberal points of view? Or try to get on Rachel Maddow claiming that our future is at risk because young, impressionable students are hearing these things and believing them as Ms. Chandak claims in her video? I would say, probably not.

    • James

      But…but what about…

      Don’t try to deflect. We’re talking about this professor in this article, and the reality is that the course description is outright biased. If Prof. PK truly cares about bipartisan dialogue he should have taken care and have written a more objective description.

      • Christopher Vann

        Calling trump a xenophobic nationalist is objective. People are complaining that Professor Katzenstein states that trump is worse than obama, which is simply true.

      • A liberal student in a conservative environment

        No, you are talking about the professor in this article. I am talking about making claims of bias based on a very small pieces of evidence and whether they should be used as a cudgel to beat on the university.

        P.S. If President Trump didn’t want to be called a xenophobic nationalist than, as you say, “he should have taken care” and run “a more objective” campaign, one that didn’t appeal to people’s xenophobia and one that wasn’t so “America First.”

        P.P.S. Here are some stands of Trump’s that could reasonably be classified as xenophobic by someone on the right or the left: anti-immigration; anti-NATO; insulting Mexican immigrants; anti-foreign made steel (which is also economic nationalism). I’m happy to have you explain why they are not.

        • James

          Nice try with the straw man.

          Xenophobia = intense hatred for foreigners

          America First means self-preservation. Trying to protect yourself isn’t hating. If Trump were really xenophobic he would be sending every non-white to concentration camps.

          • Foreign born American

            The Muslim ban shows an intense hatred for foreigners.
            Saying most Mexicans are rapists shows an intense hatred for foreigners.
            You can’t deny Trump’s campaign was rooted in the “Us vs Them” rhetoric. The “America First” Trump talked about was not everyone’s America.

          • PaxEtLux

            He is one 3am Tweet away from doing just that!

          • Christopher Vann

            You’ve just admitted to considering every non-white a foreigner and therefore non-American. That’s pretty damn racist.

  • Lopa Mudra

    One doesn’t have to take the course to see the bias in the language. Words like “xenophobe” & “pragmatic” definitely show the bias in the course description. It just seems like the professor wants the students to form their opinions even before they discuss or debate during the course. It is also not going to be fair to “study” these two presidents as one has completed 2 terms, while the other one has completed 100+ days.

  • Will

    Suppose a professor wrote a course description indicating that the class would focus on the criminal inclinations of minorities. How long would that course description survive? About 2 minutes. BLM and La Raza would be picketing the professor’s office and he or she would probably be put on leave. Whether or not the professor was actually biased would be completely immaterial. Liberals are such freaking hypocrites.

    • Grad Student 6060842

      Let’s take your comments line-by-line:
      1. ‘Suppose a professor wrote a course description indicating that the class would focus on the criminal inclinations of minorities.’
      –This is a false comparison with what Katzenstein did. He took two specific people and their policies and linked them. What you are proposing (not unlike some of President’s comments) is to paint a whole group of people with a trait, as if all the people in the group were like that. Sorry, that won’t do. Don’t they teach you to think critically here?

      2. ‘How long would that course description survive? About 2 minutes.’
      –Well, perhaps because it wouldn’t be fact-based, unless you know of evidence that proves that every member of that class of people has criminal inclinations.

      3. ‘BLM and La Raza would be picketing the professor’s office and he or she would probably be put on leave.’
      –Do you attend Cornell? If so, why not come up with a local group instead of a national one? How much do you know about the people on campus that you believe disagree with you? Ever seek out members of those groups to learn who they are, and range of their ideas and beliefs?

      4. ‘Whether or not the professor was actually biased would be completely immaterial.’
      –Given that this is precisely the case with Neetu Chandak, are you critical of her speaking out?

      5. ‘Liberals are such freaking hypocrites.’
      -It’s not clear to me that the liberals are the hypocrites here.

      • Tom

        Are you really a grad student? Your arguments suck.

  • Will

    Christopher Vann: you claim the founders were far left? That is impossible. They demonstrated courage and integrity, two qualities no one has ever associated with the left.

    • Pocahontas

      Hush! Chris fancies himself a revolutionary. Please don’t destry his bubble.