Some residents said questions on an American Federal Government course’s exam at Illinois Valley Community College were biased against conservative viewpoints.
A crowd of about 50 people gathered at Thursday night’s board meeting and spoke on the topic for about 80 minutes, with viewpoints from both sides of the issue.
Several attendees were protesting the use of three questions on the exam. Those questions involved the Electoral College, right-wing media and the 2020 Presidential election and were shared via a Facebook post.
The questions are as follows: “Explain why it is time to get rid of the electoral college,” “explain how far right-wing media is negatively impacting American democracy,” and “provide evidence that the 2020 election was legitimate. Do not do the opposite. Information supporting conspiracies about the election shared here will result in a 0.”
IVCC President Jerry Corcoran said the board takes community feedback seriously, and the assessment these exam questions pose free speech issues for students with conservative viewpoints, but he also directed the community members to IVCC board policy that allows for freedom of speech and freedom of curriculum for staff, as well as freedom of research.
“This freedom includes the advocacy of the faculty member’s point of view, as well as the presentation of representative views within the discipline,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran said he stands behind the collective bargaining agreement between the board and faculty union and said he “fully understands the union’s position that a faculty member’s test questions are considered ‘intellectual property.’ ”
Corcoran said the curriculum is developed by content experts consistent with requirements for content set by the Illinois Articulation Initiative, which sets transfer requirements between community colleges and universities.
“The questions are worded in a way to deny rights to the students,” said Martin Rue in reference to the student’s rights to education in an atmosphere free of bias and prejudice. “They lead the student to choices. A: Believe that the information provided by the instructor is indisputable and ignore any contradictory evidence or B: Answer what the student believes to be true and can support with evidence, even if it’s contrary to the instructor’s premise and risk a penalty for exercising free speech.”
La Salle County Republicans Chairman Larry Smith said the college belongs to the community, not just to the staff, and it’s up to the college to provide service to the community.
Smith said the goal is diminished when a teacher teaches based on their own biased political philosophy, whether it be conservative or liberal.
“Students have tolerated the bias to get through the class like we all have,” Smith said. “We all went to college and we all had teachers that it was like pulling fingernails getting through a class, but you endure. Some of these students have tolerated that bias to get through a class that they desperately needed to move on.”
Desiree Martin, who lives in Idaho but is familiar with the teacher in question and previously practiced law for six years in La Salle County, said critical thinking is something this teacher tries to push in their class: It’s not about her political beliefs, but about making her students understand an opposing viewpoint.
“I can honestly say that my education prior to going to law school, being primarily educated in Idaho and Utah, my education was lacking in learning to look at issues and try to see and identify arguments on both sides of the issue,” Martin said. “I was raised primarily in a conservative household with a conservative perspective, and that was all I had for the better part of my life.”
Martin said she learned the law as she went through law school and started to recognize there would be times when she needed to argue against her own opinion or her own position on something to be able to properly represent clients or a situation.
“Critical thinking is an essential skill for me as an attorney, but I know that it’s an essential skill for people in all aspects of life professionally and personally, and it’s important for all of us to have those skills in order to not only navigate through today’s complex world but also to be able to try and see things from other people’s perspective, for us to be able to engage in a productive political conversation.”
Martin said part of critical thinking is learning to discern between facts and non-facts, non-evidence, truth and fiction.
“I find it interesting that we have three questions that are brought forth as an example of the teacher’s entire curriculum,” Martin said. “I would be interested to see the other exam questions, and I really want to encourage those who are against this to understand that just because you’re asked to argue a position, doesn’t mean that you have to hold that independent belief. It’s giving you the education and growth opportunity to look at an issue or a question from multiple sides and, identify the facts that support those positions and opinions.”
Smith also commented about wanting to see the other questions on the exam before passing full judgment.
Max Halm, a former IVCC student, said the professor in question welcomes disagreement in her course and they’re always respectful.
“It breaks my heart to see and hear from somebody who never actually sat in her class say disparaging things,” Halm said. “She’s a phenomenal instructor who deserves to be celebrated and honored and awarded, and not disparaged by the people who’ve done so tonight.”
Tracy Lee, with IVCC’s teacher’s union, said the union would like to thank the administration for their consistent support on the issue, and it’s been handled in a way that has prioritized the needs of the students and the faculty it serves.
Smith said the exam questions were “inappropriate” and “politically biased.” He suggested “tasks and tactics” be employed “to stop this kind of bias” such as a “community-based ongoing review process” of transfer program curriculum – “Not to intervene but to keep you closer to your community.” Smith complimented the professionalism he was met with at IVCC.
Regarding the demand for a community review of transfer course content, Corcoran said the college would “explore such a process” in the fall but noted he is unaware of any other Illinois community college with an external advising body for transfer curriculum.