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A philosophy professor at Clark University has written the English Department chairperson complaining that her son's paper was reviewed on the basis of political ideology and not strength of argument. But English Department officials said this week that they will take no action in the case. Christina Sommers wrote to Chairperson John Richetti earlier this month stating that her son, College junior Tamler Sommers, had his final paper in English Lecturer Ellen McWhirter's Contemporary British Cinema class unfairly reviewed. In the letter, Sommers said McWhirter unfairly focused her comments on Tamler's paper on a side issue of women's rights while neglecting grammar and spelling mistakes. Sommers said in the letter and in a telephone interview yesterday that she feels Tamler was criticized because he "didn't have the right view" on various issues. Tamler, who is studying in London this semester, could not be reached for comment. The paper, written about the film "Tin Men," contained a discussion of different jobs held by a husband and wife. The paper said that while the husband, who is a salesman, has an uncertain and unpredictable income, the wife has a safe, but unsatisfying job. When Tamler wrote that the wife's job "is just as trying" as her husband's but does "not have the element of uncertainty," McWhirter wrote in the margin that Tamler is dismissing the wife's job as "inconsequential." "How would this rationalize women earning 49 percent of men's salaries in all fields?" the comments read. In her final conclusions, McWhirter also takes issue with Tamler's claim that the salesmen in the movie are self-centered. McWhirter complains that Tamler unfairly focused on the character flaws of the working class. "When are wealthy men not self-centered?" McWhirter asked. "How many investment bankers are philanthropists? Do you think Donald Trump worries about the ozone layer?" "Tamler, you've spoken about the working class as if they were a breed unlike any you are familiar with. Can't you see these men as operating within a larger system?" Sommers said she has no complaints with her son's grade, just how the paper was critiqued. "The thing that I found astonishing was that his politics were corrected quite diligently . . . while many lapses in grammar and spelling were ignored," Sommers said. "As a parent who is paying a fortune for this education I couldn't understand that." Sommers also said she feels this is indicative of a recent trend in education to get students to "feed back to the professor what the professor wants to hear" rather than for a professor to get students to see many sides of an issue and give them the skills to evaluate it for themselves. "When I was in college I didn't know whether my teachers were Democrats or Republicans," Sommers said. "Now often you know more than you want to know." Richetti said that he sent a letter to Sommers this week, saying the department would take no action in the case. "If the allegations of improper teaching were true, we abhor that type of behavior," Richetti said. But Richetti said handling complaints like this is complicated and emphasized that his job as department chair is not to tell professors what they can and cannot teach or to "act as the head of the secret police." "I don't believe there are a lot of people indoctrinating their students," he said. McWhirter said she spoke with Sommers recently over the phone and felt that there was no antagonism between them and thought the matter was basically settled. She said the comments she made on Tamler's paper must be taken within the context of the course and in light of the cultural and artistic background she gave the students about the films. And McWhirter said she thinks her social analysis of the films in her class was necessary and that Sommer's complaints go beyond her class to things she cannot address -- like trends in academia and the validity of teaching film in the English department. "I feel like I have been taken to task for teaching film," McWhirter said. McWhirter explained that trends in academics are changing and said that "people feel at a loss -- especially people who went to college at another time." She also explained that in upper level English classes like this, she looks at "the logic of [a student's] arguments before grammar," because she said grammar and spelling mistakes often resolve themselves when a student is confident about their thesis. McWhirter also said some students in the class had complained that she was too objective and didn't take enough of a political position on some of the films.

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