Lumberjacks in Northern Arizona sure are touchy these days

James Gottry
Alliance Defending Freedom

  • A series of incidents at Northern Arizona University--as well as others around the country--demonstrate academia's hostility to Christianity and conservative beliefs.
  • I attended Northern Arizona University from 1995-1999, and earned a degree in public relations. My college memories are probably about what you would expect, particularly if you take into account that I’m a conservative Christian who doesn’t drink and didn’t join a fraternity: Frisbee, basketball, guitar, videogames, skiing, card games, Baskin Robbins, and discovery of the wonder of dial-up internet. I also visited the library on numerous occasions, but usually just to see if I could lure a friend outside to play Frisbee.

    Here’s what I don’t remember from my time at NAU: being harassed for my Christian faith or conservative beliefs.

    However, it seems that the land of Louie the Lumberjack — NAU’s beloved mascot — is becoming increasingly hostile to conservatives, Christians, and common sense on campus. Two recent events highlight this unfortunate reality.

    First, earlier this spring, reports emerged that Cailin Jeffers, an English major at NAU, was docked on a paper for “problems with diction (word choice).” The problem: Jeffers used the word “mankind” as a synonym for “humanity.” Professor Dr. Anne Scott found this choice inappropriate and representative of a failure to “respect the need for gender-neutral language.”

    Despite the fact that Merriam Webster defines “mankind” as “the human race . . . the totality of human beings,” Dr. Scott informed Jeffers that the word “mankind” is “sexist,” and urged her to “look[] beneath your assumptions and understand[] that ‘mankind’ does not mean ‘all people’ to all people.”

    Thank goodness Dr. Scott didn’t have the ear of Neil Armstrong prior to his moonwalk; “That’s one small step for a human, one giant leap for humankind” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. On the other hand, Dr. Anne Scott’s suggestion that “mankind” refers only to men may be heartening to women when considering these words from John F. Kennedy: “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

    The second incident also occurred earlier this semester when Mark Holden, a history major at NAU, was accosted on multiple occasions by Professor Heather Martel. Holden alleges that Martel accused him of being a racist during a class discussion about assimilation, when Holden “suggested there are positive and negative aspects to assimilation” and “referenced a report about two Muslim men in California who reportedly said the Koran justified doing terrible things to women.”

    "The college campus is a giant unsafe space for independent thinkers[.]"   

    Holden says Martel told the class, “Welcome to Trump’s new America – where straight white males can say prejudicial things without being reprimanded for it” (which is ironic considering this occurred immediately after she publicly branded him as a racist).

    Following this exchange, Martel sent an email to Holden, warning him of “disruptive behavior” and instructing him to “move to one of the desks along the wall by the door.” Rather than heeding Martel’s directive to move to the back of the (proverbial) bus, Holden returned to his seat at the front, where he continued his custom of reading his Bible before class.

    Martel, reportedly upset that Holden was reading his Bible in front of her – even though class had not yet begun – and that he had not moved to the back, summoned department chairman (or perhaps I should say “chairperson”) Dr. Derek Heng.

    After he arrived, Dr.Heng asked Holden “why do you have your Bible out anyway?”, and explained that Martel didn’t want Holden sitting in front of her with his Bible out (Incidentally, I took a New Testament class when I attended NAU — I can only imagine the outrage Martel would feel upon witnessing students reading a Bible during class).

    But don’t worry, the American Association of University Professors at NAU sprang into action, apparently in response to these events.

    Unfortunately, rather than condemning the suppression of religious freedom and expressing a renewed commitment to protecting academic freedom, the AAUP lamented that “NAU FACULTY ARE UNDER ATTACK!” because “[s]tudents record, report, and tweet lectures to right-wing social media” (It brings to mind the response of Planned Parenthood when undercover recordings exposed the abortion giant’s practice of selling baby parts . . . they sued the source instead of agreeing to end the barbaric behavior).

    Professors Scott and Martel — and the AAUP — should be protectors of academic freedom and dialogue on campus, not active impediments to it. Professor Martel should be well aware of the benefits of such freedom, which affords her the opportunity to work on essays such as “The Gender Amazon: Indigenous Female Masculinity in Early Modern European Representations of Contact,” and to teach classes on Global Queer History and Feminist Theory. But increasingly, only one viewpoint is welcome on campus.

    I spoke to a former NAU professor who said the insidious, institutionalized hostility to non-leftist ideas made it increasingly impossible to deliver an educational experience that was relevant and valuable in the “real world.”

    “The college campus is a giant unsafe space for independent thinkers, whether students or faculty,” said the professor, who asked not to be identified due to fears of continued harassment. “Change is difficult because the university system is driven largely by a faculty-controlled tenure system that thrives on adherence to leftist dogma, resulting in an anti-intellectual inbreeding that is naturally opposed to academic freedom. Conformity is rewarded. Innovation is punished.

    Fighting the system, even in small, mundane ways, comes at a great price,” explained the professor, who, despite success as a teacher and an academic, left the university for the private sector.

    NAU is not an outlier. Recent events at BerkeleyCalifornia State University-Los AngelesGeorgia Gwinnett CollegeQueens College, and elsewhere confirm the unfortunate present reality. The suppression of free speech has gotten so bad that, absent any apparent willingness of professors, school administrators, or Congress to offer anything more than a token defense of free speech, a group of students from approximately 20 universities recently gathered at the University of Chicago, hoping to launch a movement of students to defend free speech on campus.

    Only time will tell whether the sentiment will spread across the country, or be stifled by protestors and administrators who deem it antithetical to the atmosphere of “tolerance and inclusivity” they aim to foster.

    The university offers an ideal setting for its students and faculty to be challenged and enriched by a variety of perspectives, as students prepare to enter a society that is composed of diverse individuals with diverse views. It’s time to restore the university to a marketplace of ideas, not orthodoxy.

    If not now . . . when?

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    James Gottry

    Alliance Defending Freedom

    Alliance Defending Freedom
    Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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