Changing the course of American Universities is no easy task, concluded a panel “Liberal Bias on Campus: The Challenge To Restore Balance to Our Universities” organized by the Manhattan Institute at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference. David Horowitz observed that “ever major university has been taken over by a chiliastic religious sect.” Samatha Harris, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, identified, in the higher education system, a “fundamental disrespect for students and faculty who don’t toe the line.” John Leo noted that it would take “decades to clean the PC indoctrinators out of the universities.” The panelists identified above, along with Joe Lindsley of the Collegiate Network, and moderator Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner offered a stark, but not unhopeful portrait of the state of politicization of the American academy to a full audience consisting mainly of students, who from, the tenor of conversation and questions, seemed amply familiar with the problems outlined.
Many of the difficulties detailed were age-old. The power of politicized “departmental fiefdoms”, particularly in recent, highly politicized subject areas, was widely deplored. Joe Lindsley lamented the continuing fracturing of a core curriculum, with its replacement by an “over-abundant super-value menu” of courses. Samantha Harris spoke of the continuing threats to freedom of expression and association that universities pose, in a climate where “anything that offends anyone is fair game for censorship.” It’s an unequal game, however; as David Horowitz pointed out; rarely are left causes threatened; “there is absolutely no goodwill on the part of administrators to enforce their own rules.”
More importantly, the panel identified several emergent threats and challenges. David Horowitz pointed out the dangerous precedent of the Lawrence Summers case; “the first university President to be censured by his own faculty, and in effect fired by them.” John Leo pointed out the disconcerting rise of “transformative” programs on campuses, such as the Delaware residential life program; “their goal is not just to teach PC principles; the goal is to get students to emotionally commit to them.” Samantha Harris echoed this point, noting that the University of Delaware program explicitly referred to the “treatment” of students; it’s no longer enough to simply teach students; they must be changed, indeed, “required to advocate for progressive causes.” The model of dispositions requirements in Ed Schools where “students are basically required to show a commitment to certain values in order to graduate” has now penetrated even residence halls.
What to do about these threats? The essential response is to fight back. It’s not an easy process; Horowitz pointed out that universities will “blacken your reputations, shun you, and put you in sensitivity classes.” Samantha Harris exhorted students to fully inform themselves of their rights; that “there is no exception to freedom of expression for ‘hate speech” and that concessions to unconstitutional threats to speech will only breed additional dangers. Several panelists recommended contacting FIRE in the face of free speech threats. All called for attracting attention to university censorship in any forums available – FIRE, FrontPage, and, especially, we’d urge, Minding The Campus. Of repressive speech policies, Harris observed; “once these are exposed to the public, universities cannot defend them” – the University of Delaware residential life program crumbled in two days. Joe Lindsley pointed to the university purse-strings as well – “if you can’t entice fellow students and professors to join you in discussion, let the alumni know.” Threats to speech wither under attention.
The condition of the university cannot be altered with purely reactive efforts, however. Bolder steps are required. John Leo outlined the Manhattan Institute Center for the American University’s VERITAS Fund project, an effort to “establish beachheads” for the study of “western values, western history and western literature” on the model of Princeton’s Madison program. John Leo extolled the example of Robert George; “Robbie does not pound the table”, yet has succeeded in changing the tenor of the Princeton campus, and expanding the range of thought under consideration there, in a constructive and civil fashion. David Horowitz praised the VERITAS effort, “what the Manhattan Institute is doing is great” and stressed the importance of the creation of new autonomous institutions “you need to create new departments; you need to create new fiefdoms.” The independence of departments, which has been a source of great power to politicized left disciplines, can be an aid to the re-balancing of the university, with a foundation to influence hiring and the content of course offerings; “if you build the department then you are in a position to expand thought in the university.”
The Manhattan Institute’s VERITAS Fund has sought to provide exactly this, furnishing start-up support for ten programs, which now offer lectures, symposia, fellowships, and, in some cases, classes and concentrations. The fund has earmarked some $2.5 million to support programs over the next several years at colleges ranging from Brown to the University of Texas. If you’re interested in donation, or in learning more about the centers’ activities, you can find out here.
There is some hope in the struggle for a new university. Even the “ACLU woke up from its long slumber” over the recent “wetback” case at Brandeis, John Leo observed. He continued that the Lawrence Summers case made clear to many that it wasn’t merely conservatives who were under threat from the university’s political climate. Most essentially, all panelists agreed that students must speak strongly and forthrightly whenever threats to freedom of expression or association, or demands for compelled behavior arise.
Minding The Campus would encourage any reader stories of this nature; whenever campus politicization or dangers to free speech emerge on your campus, we’d like to hear about them. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.