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USC Student Spreads Liberal Indoctrination Myth

Nathaniel Haas |
April 16, 2013 | 10:46 a.m. PDT

Guest Contributor


I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

- Voltaire

Mr. Talgo, how stupid do you think American college students are? (Brion Vibber, Wikimedia Commons)
Mr. Talgo, how stupid do you think American college students are? (Brion Vibber, Wikimedia Commons)
An important conversation at the University of Southern California has gained national attention. This conversation is largely symbolic of the problems in this country’s political sphere. This article is a contribution to that conversation. This article will question the logic and sincerity of a student’s reaction to statements made by Professor Darry Sragow.

Tyler Talgo is a junior at the University of Southern California. He is a B.A. candidate in the department of political science and a member of the USC College Republicans. His Facebook page lists “Atlas Shrugged” among his favorite books, and people and organizations he follows include Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, “Rand Paul 2016,” The Cato Institute and the National Rifle Association.

During the 2012 fall semester, Talgo took “Political Science 315: Regulation of Ethics and Political Finance,” a course taught at USC by Professor Sragow. Over the course of the semester, Talgo filmed an unknown number of Sragow’s lectures and compiled select clips into a sixteen-minute video, which he published online.



In the video, Professor Sragow repeatedly disparages the Republican Party, describing them as “losers,” “racists” and “stupid.” The video gained the attention of several online news outlets and eventually of Fox News. On April 11, Talgo was invited to appear as a guest on Fox’s “America Live,” hosted by Megyn Kelly, where he referred to Sragow as a “democratic operative” and expressed concern that “these professors are indoctrinating students.”

While Sragow’s comments may seem malicious and abrasive, Talgo’s statements, both on television and on social media sites like Facebook, are illogical and not based in fact. Moreover, they are rooted in the same vein of political harm as the remarks made by Sragow.

“About to to [sic] on America Live with Megyn Kelly to talk about LIBERAL BIAS at USC and in universities across America,” read Talgo’s Facebook page on the day of the interview. As is often the case, theories of conspiracies like “liberal bias,” recently popularized by former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, disregard all evidence to the contrary.


Other than the occasional ramblings of Talgo’s political science professor, where does one find “liberal bias” at USC? Does one find it at USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute, led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the only Republican elected to California governorship in the last fourteen years? Did one find it when Governor Schwarzenegger presumably indoctrinated a crowd of graduates when he spoke at commencement in 2009? Does one find it at USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, led by Professor Dan Schnur, the former communications chair for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000? The answer to all of these questions is no. Particularly in the political science department, USC has created an environment with a broad range of views, vital to the discussion about political change in America.

Until now, this article has operated under the premise that Sragow actually attempted to “indoctrinate” his students into a liberal fold. But surely, calling the Republican Party “racist” and “stupid” is not such “indoctrination.” What is? According to an online article that features Talgo’s video, Sragow also made the following outlandish accusation: “Republicans are trying to prevent people of color and people of lower income from voting by requiring voter I.D.”

Unfortunately, statements like these are not indoctrination, they are true. Republican controlled legislatures in Virginia, Texas and Arkansas have passed laws requiring a government issued ID to vote, despite multiple studies showing that such identification is disproportionately lacked by minority populations.

“Honored to have helped promote academic freedom today,” Talgo told the Internet community after his appearance on Fox.

(Screenshot by Nathaniel Haas)
(Screenshot by Nathaniel Haas)


If Talgo knew the meaning and history of the term “academic freedom,” he would have spoken differently. Encyclopedia Britannica defines the term as the “freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure.” The entry continues to explain that academic freedom gained popularity in America in response to state legislatures that “sometimes required teachers to take ‘loyalty’ oaths in order to prevent them from engaging in left-wing (and particularly communist) political activities.”

Not only is Talgo’s understanding of academic freedom backwards, it is dangerous. In fact, academic freedom protects Sragow’s right to voice his opinions, not Mr. Talgo’s right to have those opinions suppressed. Fortunately, USC Provost Elizabeth Garret understands the history and meaning of academic freedom.

“Statements made by our faculty members are not endorsed by the University; indeed we sometimes profoundly disagree with the statements. Nevertheless, we firmly protect their right to express those views,” Garret said in a statement.

But Talgo continued. Following the interview, Talgo explained on Facebook that “students everywhere are waking up and we're not taking the indoctrination anymore.”

Beyond the absurd notion that Talgo now speaks for “students everywhere” (he certainly does not speak for me), his statement is insulting.

Mr. Talgo, how stupid do you think American college students are? Do the words of our professors turn us into mindless zombies, marching in lockstep with their view of the world? Do we not possess the ability to think critically about the words of another and to form an opinion about those words? You certainly do, yet in 16 minutes of video, you choose to say nothing in disagreement with Sragow. There were undoubtedly other students who also did not agree with Sragow’s ramblings, who were too shy to express themselves but look to vocal students like yourself to represent them—much like those without a voice in this country elect representatives to speak on their behalf. Perhaps turning off the camera and standing up for your beliefs and those of others would have been a more effective course of action. Instead, you chose to film your professor and preach to the Fox News choir about liberal indoctrination.

Speaking of the choir, additionally problematic is the assumption that Fox News, the self-described “fair and balanced” news network that has featured Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Anne Coulter, is the knight in shining armor, the bold journalistic institution that can surely call out bias from its position of credibility and neutrality. Unfortunately, Fox News and neutrality are words that belong no closer together than Giants and Dodgers fans. Fox News has a resume of bigotry that makes Sragow’s remarks tame by comparison. Geraldo Rivera asserted last year that Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been shot if he hadn’t been wearing a hoodie. Bill O’Reilly suggested on his television show earlier this year that certain cultures are more prone to laziness. In both instances, these comments were broadcast to millions of people. Sragow’s comments were not. If anything, examples like these validate portions of Sragow’s criticism.

Another post from Talgo reads, “This is a serious issue that negatively affects the education system in America and jeopardizes the safety of our generation and future leaders.”

(Screenshot by Nathaniel Haas)
(Screenshot by Nathaniel Haas)


There are more serious issues facing the education system in America than the myth of liberal indoctrination. Our education system is not ranked eighteenth in the world because of liberal indoctrination. Our education system is ranked eighteenth in the world due to a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, declining resources, standardized test scores and our failure to promote teaching as a career necessary to our nation’s success. With regards to Talgo’s concern with the higher education system in particular, California budget cuts that threaten to eliminate entire schools and programs are undoubtedly a greater danger to “our generation and future leaders” than the myth of “liberal indoctrination.”

Unfortunately, a quick Google search reveals pages of conservative blogs dedicated to the “liberal bias” conspiracy. Every year, a new accusation at another university across the country surfaces with “incontrovertible evidence” of a grand scheme by the left wing to bring America’s children into the fold. Talgo’s idea is not new or unique. But surely such a stunt, one that has gained national attention, will make for a nice resume booster and could prove quite useful to Talgo in future years. Should Talgo, who wagered $500 through the Iowa Electronic Markets that the Republican Party would win control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 2012 election, ever apply for a position at a place like Fox News, he will undoubtedly champion his 15 minutes in the sun and most likely be a more attractive candidate as a result.

What is saddest about Talgo’s conspiracy mongering is that it represents a serious distraction from issues of actual importance. Instead of holding a conversation about the incredible challenges facing America in the form of budget deficits, rogue nuclear states, gun violence and rights for marginalized populations, Talgo believes it is more important to confront a phenomenon that is, by and large, a figment of his imagination.

Were Sragow’s comments unprofessional? Yes. They represented a style of political engagement that has moved this country nowhere, contributing to gridlock in the face of serious challenge. But Mr. Talgo, you are no better. Your comments reveal a hypocrisy and extremism that leave you just as responsible for the current state of politics in the United States as Sragow. There is no liberal indoctrination. There is no conspiracy against the Republican Party. There are, however, millions of people who are unemployed, homeless and suffering.

You may find selfish satisfaction in Fox News’ coverage of your exposure of “liberal indoctrination,” but I find more gratification knowing that a group of USC students raised one thousand dollars for a national student campaign against hunger and homelessness and spent their Saturday volunteering to feed the hungry at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Fox News will not cover that, possibly because they care more about your conspiracy theory, but you can bet your secret video camera that the hungry folks at the food bank could not care less about your wacky political science professor.

That is because those folks have real problems—real problems that deserve attention, not conspiracies made up for publicity.


Reach Guest Contributor Nathaniel Haas here; follow him here.



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