Video Seems to Catch Professor in a Liberal Rant, but There's More to the Story

November 17, 2010

A Louisiana State University professor, accused in a video circulating on the Internet of "mocking" conservative students during his class, says the video tells only half the story: He was actually challenging all of his students, both liberal and conservative, he says, and not chastising any of them for their beliefs. An unedited version of the video gives some support to his claims, though it still troubles his department chair.

The video was taken secretly in the class by a representative of the group Campus Reform, a project of the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based group that trains conservative activists. An edited version was posted this week on the group's Web site and on YouTube, and was soon burning up the conservative blogosphere.

The video of Bradley E. Schaefer, a professor of physics and astronomy, begins with him telling students to seat themselves according to their political beliefs on global warming, with liberals on one side of the room and conservatives on the other.

He compares the number of deaths from recent European heat waves to the deaths of Americans in the terrorist attacks of September 11 and tells those who would take no action against global warming that "blood will be on your hands."

Mr. Schaefer said, in an interview Wednesday, that the video was heavily edited to make it look like he had an agenda that he insists he doesn't have.

"I was very intentionally going off and challenging all sides. That's my job," he said. "If they wanted to, the Young Democrats of Louisiana could have edited it to make me look conservative."

A copy of the unedited video also shows Mr. Schaefer challenging liberal students. That version was posted on the Internet at The Chronicle's request by the Leadership Institute. In the unedited version, Mr. Schaefer shouts at liberals for wanting to do away with the internal-combustion engine. "How are you going to feed the people in the cities?" he yells, suggesting that people could die without technologies that can transport food and supplies.

"I wasn't trying to push anything here," Mr. Schaefer told The Chronicle. "Almost the whole class was about the science of global warming. I put forth no opinions on how humanity should respond to global warming." He said his most provocative statements were meant to reflect what others might say and to challenge students to defend their positions.

"The question here is, Can we allow splinter groups to come in and heavily edit things to put pressure on teachers so they have to teach only what the splinter group wants?" he told The Chronicle.

Michael L. Cherry, chairman of the department of physics and astronomy, said Mr. Schaefer "is an extremely exuberant and enthusiastic teacher who consistently gets very strong student evaluations." Still, he noted that the video did show some problems: "I will confess that while this film was heavily edited, it looks pretty embarrassing. I think it's probably fair to say he was not sufficiently sensitive and was overly enthusiastic."

Mr. Cherry said he did not expect the university to take any action against Mr. Schaefer. He has not received any complaints from students, he said, "but if there were complaints, I'd take them very seriously."

Bryan Bernys, national field director for the Leadership Institute, sent out a news release linking to the edited video.

"I don't see how he can say he wasn't trying to bring politics into the lecture when he asks students to sit based on their political beliefs," he said Wednesday. "When conservative students get up to speak, he basically shuts them down."

Mr. Bernys said the person who filmed the class was not a Louisiana State student but was invited by students from the university. "We encourage students to come in and record liberal bias by professors," he said. "It's an eye-opener to see what's actually being taught on college campuses."