The student-run independent The Wake Report has published a story that has gone national about a psychology professor who taught her students that conservatives are “guilty, anxious, and unable to handle stress well as children.” Conversely, liberals are generally “resourceful, independent, self-reliant, and confident as children.” Assistant professor S. Mason Garrison expressed surprise that students “interpreted” the description as “negative” and caused “discomfort.” Apparently, many would take being called “guilty” and “unable to handle stress” as comforting and positive.
What is most striking about the controversy is the astonishment that Professor Garrison expresses about the reaction of conservatives to her online Personality course description as “guilty, anxious, and unable to handle stress well as children.” After changing the language, Garrison told the student reporters:
“I apologize if my statements were interpreted as negatively characterizing conservative students. I was unaware that my comments had caused any feelings of marginalization, and I sincerely regret any harm or discomfort they may have caused.”
It strains credulity to suggest that the disparaging terms were just a matter of interpretation as “negatively characterizing conservative students.”
The response of Department of Psychology Chair Christy Buchanan to The Report was little better. Buchanan stated
“[s]ometimes misunderstandings occur in the course of human interactions, including those that occur in the classroom. I trust that both the department’s and Dr. Garrison’s responsiveness to the concerns brought forth in the current situation demonstrates the department values of and commitment to creating a safe and inclusive experience for all students.”
Buchanan also ignores the obvious bias, and false characterization of conservatives, including many students at Wake Forest. Rather than deal with such political prejudice, Buchanan adopts the same implausible suggestion that this was a “misunderstanding” and matter of interpretation.
It is a common pattern. When faculty on the left say controversial statements they tend to be ignored or rationalized. When conservative faculty make such statements, there is often a very different response from investigations to suspensions to even terminations.
I do not believe that Garrison should be terminated or sanctioned. However, it would be helpful if she or someone at the school would acknowledge the obvious rather than insult not just the sensibilities but the intelligence of conservative students and faculty.
It is also worth noting that the student reporters identified the source that Garrison cited for this clearly dubious claim as an article in the American Journal of Political Science titled Correlation not causation: the relationship between personality traits and political ideologies. However, the study appears to refute the very point made by Professor Garrison. The authors find that “personality traits do not cause people to develop political attitudes.” Indeed, the summary of their paper states:
“These findings cast doubt on the assumed causal relationship between personality and politics. Here we test the causal relationship between personality traits and political attitudes using a direction of causation structural model on a genetically informative sample. The results suggest that personality traits do not cause people to develop political attitudes; rather, the correlation between the two is a function of an innate common underlying genetic factor.”
Thus, not only does Garrison show obvious prejudice in describing conservatives on her slides, but she appeared to distort the actual findings of the report due to a possible confirmation bias confirming her own preconceptions.