Tennessee State Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, was the focus of some unwanted national media attention this week after he said on his weekly radio program that the country abolish higher education because it’s a “liberal breeding ground.”
In a press release, Roberts said Wednesday that his comments were “clearly hyperbole.” But he also said he stands behind his general critique of liberal arts education in America.
In an interview with The Tennessee Star, Roberts said the mainstream media that jumped all over this story had a confirmation bias to attack conservatives without gathering all the facts first. He also said it’s time for people of influence to start demanding college campuses offer a more level playing field for students of all political persuasions, especially conservatives.
TENNESSEE STAR: You said in your press release that your comment was hyperbole. Have you seen any indication that these mainstream media outlets and other left-wing trolls on social media will accept your explanation?
KERRY ROBERTS: No. The only media outlet thus far that has gotten it right and, even then I disagree with it, is NBC, whose headline was “It was a joke.” I never said colleges should be banned. It wasn’t a joke. It was hyperbole. To make this perfectly clear, this took place a week ago on Monday. Nobody complained about it. Nobody said anything except for one guy who is constantly trying to get under my skin. One outlet picked it up. The Associated Press got a hold of it. The AP reporter contacted my office at 3:14 p.m. yesterday and gets told I am home recovering from surgery and I am not available. She wants comments on higher education. At 3:19 p.m. she sends an email over our website with questions. Then, one hour later, knowing I am not going to respond, drops the story that says I favor eliminating higher education. Why would you have such urgency to report on a story that is a week old. Why drop a story when you find out the very person you need to clarify the comment is unavailable because he is recovering from surgery? And why would you not call the (state) Senate press secretary when you already have their contact information?
TENNESSEE STAR: So, are they or are they not interested in the truth?
KERRY ROBERTS: These media outlets picked it up because they trusted the AP Wire. They all just drank the Kool-Aid, one after another. If you Google “Kerry Roberts Higher Education” you will see these news stories based on the same AP story written by a news reporter who chose to print words I said that any reasonable person would have clearly perceived as hyperbole. How could they not be perceived as hyperbole? If you are going to make a big deal out of me being a senator then wouldn’t you say ‘Well, here is a guy with a six-year, seven-year track record. Let’s look and see how he voted on higher education.’ Well, lo and behold he voted to fund it. He voted to expand it. You really think the intent of his statement was literal? All these people who jump on the AP Wire don’t do any critical thinking or original investigation themselves. They simply play the telephone game. What they do is re-write the story according to what fits their word count. The reporter says they have issued another story that corrects this information. But I haven’t seen it yet. Everybody has jumped on the bandwagon because of their confirmation bias. A Republican senator did something controversial. Let’s try to make him look like an idiot.
TENNESSEE STAR: Do you have a tell when you’re being hyperbolic versus when you are being serious, whether it’s a tone of voice or certain body language?
KERRY ROBERTS: Generally, when I start shouting. It is a talk radio show for entertainment. This is not a policy show. This is a one-hour local radio show that I do for fun. Talk radio is its own genre of entertainment. Informational entertainment. Educational entertainment. Whatever you want to call it. This is a show for me to sit there and give people an insider’s look as to what is going on. The people who listen regularly, not even one of them said “Wait, what did you just say? Are you serious?” Nobody thought I was serious — except for this one guy who made the YouTube clip. He knows I’m not serious. He’s just trying to stir the pot. Communication is more than just words. It’s tone. It’s inflection. To me, it is as plain as day it was hyperbole.
TENNESSEE STAR: In your press release you say “Many higher education institutions have unquestionably become liberal breeding grounds where radical values and hatred for America are fomented.” Can you site concrete examples of that? If so, what are they and where are they?
KERRY ROBERTS: We get examples of this in a variety of methods, from the anecdotal to the documented. I have five counties, 200,000 people, and I hear what the young people say. This is a very conservative district. They go to universities. I speak to a lot of groups. I ask them “What is your experience? What are your professors like?” I get the anecdotal stories. I have no way of verifying if they are true or not, I just hear what people say. At the other end of the spectrum is the research feedback you get from stories on this lack of conservative professors in higher education. The work of Turning Point USA. They have documented quite a bit with video. Prager University. We’re starting to see the use of social media to document these incidents and to hold these professors accountable for the things they do. Now you have an opportunity to search for liberal bias on college campuses and do a video search. Conservatives are getting pushed into the corner. The problem is this is not being monitored by campus authorities. One of the things campus authorities must take seriously is a level playing field. They are not going to work to create a level playing field if they don’t want one in the first place. What we as legislators must do is we have to get our Board of Trustees, our leadership teams on university campuses to say “We are committed to a level playing field. We are committed to intellectually honest debate over our very ideologies in a way that is respectful, and no one gets punished for our beliefs. As conservatives, we must accept that on the left. Right now, we are trying to get the left to accept that on the right. A level playing field where suddenly we can have intellectually honest conversations without a professor threatening to flunk someone because you won’t become an acolyte of their ideology, if we can eliminate that from campus to where a professor is really a moderator of these discussions. The results will speak for themselves.
TENNESSEE STAR: You are a person in a position of power and influence. Will you go about doing what you just described?
KERRY ROBERTS: How we go about doing it is something I struggle with. We have some realities we have to work around. Let’s say, for example, you have this tenured liberal professor. You enter this professor’s class and you must pretend to be someone you are not. You have to hide your conservative views or he will flunk you. Let’s also say this professor is a subject matter expert. The goal here is to get this professor to rethink what the role of a classroom is. The role is to make the students in the class subject matter experts. The goal is not to grow in them this liberal ideology of the professor’s. If the professor will reorient his or her thinking and abide by those terms then let him or her carry on. But if they can’t do that then we must have a magnanimous decision that you don’t belong on this campus. How we get there is the million-dollar question.
TENNESSEE STAR: Can you get other legislators and people of influence onboard and, if so, how?
KERRY ROBERTS: There are legislators in government operations chomping at the bit to open can of whoopass on the outposts of liberalism within Tennessee’s institutions of higher education. They can’t wait. They tried to do it before. Sex Week at UT. The tolerance of the Government Operations Committee for this kind of stuff is dwindling to an all-time low. So, you have to target this to where the problem is. You have a university that might have dozen departments and 10 of them are doing a great job. But then you have two that are problematic. We need to drill into those two departments. How do we do that, because then we are micro-managing money or budgets or operational responsibilities, and we don’t have tendencies in the General Assembly to try to do that. We tend to give them their money and let them spend it as they see fit. Maybe that needs to be rethought. We also need to figure out within the leadership of our universities who is on board and who is not on board? I think for the most part the presidents at these universities want to see a level playing field. I suspect if you spoke to them privately you would hear a lot of frustration in their voices as to how they get there too. Because the culture of liberalism is so deeply rooted in these campuses now that it’s hard. These are hard things to unpack. It’s a very daunting challenge, but it’s one that has to start now. We don’t need to lose another generation. We don’t need to go through another four-year cycle of this. It needs to be dealt with now. The goal of what we are trying to do, again, is not a purge of liberal ideology on our campus. It is creation of a level playing field. Let the best ideology win. As far as I’m concerned it would be conservatism.
TENNESSEE STAR: What are the long-term ramifications for Tennessee and the rest of the nation if this liberal bias in academia is not addressed or dealt with?
KERRY ROBERTS: The one advantage that is obvious to me is this. If our schools focus on their academic mission and try to steer clear of the political correctness of the moment then they will continue to be recognized for their academic achievement. This is not a problem in Tennessee. This is a problem in America. There are going to be kids in other states and parents doing research on campus who are conservative. Because, again, we look at that great map of America by county, and we see just how red America is. But a lot of these universities are blue. So, when these parents and these kids see it as a university that respects a conservative point of view then maybe we have just found a student that would have gone someplace else.
TENNESSEE STAR: Have you learned anything from this experience, and, if so, what?
KERRY ROBERTS: Yes. With what I think is very obviously hyperbole there’s a group of people that don’t get the joke. The second thing is the vitriol of the left. I have email after email of rude and crude stuff. It makes me wonder, when a liberal does something that conservatives don’t like, what do conservatives do? Do we go crazy on these people? The trolls have descended on Senator Kerry Roberts’ Facebook page, and it’s ugly. It’s not that it bothers me. What bothers me is what it says about them. These are people in America. These are Americans who are wanting bad things to happen to me or my family because they don’t like a comment I made. How did we get to this point?
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