All posts by Robert Maranto

Robert Maranto, the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, has written widely on these issues and co-edited The Politically Correct University.

Can America Survive Its Elites?

In his posthumously published The End of the Experiment, the great social scientist Stanley Rothman makes a pessimistic– and cogent– argument that our recent history is building up to the end of the American experiment in self-government. Rothman sees our national nadir as reflecting long-term, likely terminal elite dysfunction stemming from the impact of the New Left in the 1960s. For Rothman, based on surveys and his analysis, the thinking of the new left has replaced classical liberalism among America’s young, including Herbert Marcuse’s dictum that the silencing of the opposition is necessary for the triumph of progressive ideas.

A Nation Based on Values

American greatness came out of a set of ideas from the Founders and 19th-century intellectuals building a national identity, ideas not based on the static ethnic European loyalties America broke free of, but rather on shared principles celebrating an individual rather than a collective agency. As Ben Wattenberg put it in 1991, the Founders’ vision eventually created the first universal nation, one based on values rather than blood.

Our ultimately successful battles against slavery at home and fascism and communism abroad depended on shared American values and identity rather than the subnational tribal loyalties of Europe, or for that matter the Old South. Those shared values enabled individual Americans to take risks for our nation, including standing up to fascist and Communist adversaries.

The Founders understood the fragility of the American republic, based as it was on values. America’s legitimacy rests on elite and mass acceptance of Calvinist values, success through work, love of God more than self, American nationalism trumping tribalism, integrity in public and private interactions, and restraining individual passions. These accorded with institutions the Founders fashioned, chief among them a limited, constitutional government accountable to citizens.

Teaching the Constitution

Those institutions, in turn, depend on secondary institutions like schools and universities. As Frederick M. Hess documents in The Same Thing Over and Over, after the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and others pushed for widespread schooling to teach national heritage and support for the Constitution, a unique document restraining government. Though early American “public” schools were often associated with and located in churches, they taught support for the Republic in ways transcending sectarian boundaries. This mission was also supported by our colleges and universities, which had deep religious and patriotic roots emphasizing self-sacrifice at the service of God and nation, as shown by such works as C. John Sommerville’s The Decline of the Secular University, and James Piereson’s “The American University: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” within my co-edited book, The Politically Correct University.

Relatedly, in The End of Equality neoliberal Mickey Kaus points out that for men, compulsory military service in the first half of the 20th century privileged national over ethnic, regional, and class loyalties. Elitists such as Prescott Bush and Joseph P. Kennedy pulled strings to get their sons in combat. Elite universities had a substantial military presence. No matter one’s station, military service created an American identity.

Support for Founding Values Faded

Transcending tribal boundaries is essential to good governance in electoral democracies, forcing politicians to base appeals on their achievements for all citizens rather than narrow group affinities as “one of us.” This narrative fits the political model of influential political scientist V.O. Key. In The Responsible Electorate, published posthumously in 1966, Key declared “voters are not fools”: significant numbers of “switchers” change their votes from election to election to hold incumbent politicians accountable for their performance in office.

Sadly, as Rothman shows, through the 20th century, support for the founding values fell away, first among university intellectuals. Progressive intellectuals embraced “expressive individualism and collectivist liberalism,” having suffered “a loss of faith in the efficacy and legitimacy of the political system, as well as…in the values of Western culture.” They sought to replace the American Republic with rule by unelected and unaccountable technocrats of their tribe. Intellectuals embraced values antithetical to personal responsibility, privileging identities based not on achievement, but on ethnicity and eventually gender identity.

America–Hollywood’s Villain

Initially, these ideological and cultural movements remained largely within the confines of the Ivory Tower. By the late 1960s, however, New Left elites began to work their way from academia through cultural, media, and educational institutions, seeking and gradually attaining power. As Rothman shows, these “these radical adults had a greater need for power and a greater fear of power. They were also more narcissistic.”  Accordingly, they sought and obtained power, over the long term taking over the leading educational, media, and cultural institutions.

As Rothman shows systematically, by the late 20th Century both high-school civics texts and Hollywood films moved from (perhaps overly) positive views of American institutions, to accentuate the negative, with ever more disparaging views on the military, patriotism, the traditional family, organized religion and America’s performance on the world stage. From 1975 on, America and its leaders were the conventional villains in movies and on TV. The colleges and universities led the way on these cultural and ideological changes. While the campus furor of the 1960s faded, a cultural anti-Americanism is now hardwired into the ivory tower and subsidiary institutions.

Evasive Academics

Over time, journalists, entertainers and educators took their cues from intellectuals in a thousand ways great and small, from skewering conservative institutions like the military, marriage, and organized religion to avoiding mention of the horrendous failures of central planning during the entire 2016 election involving a prominent socialist. Also, leading professional academic organizations continue to conduct conferences on income inequality without including a single presentation exploring the greatest statistical correlate of income inequality– the rise in single-parent families. Indeed, anyone making such a presentation would have difficulty earning tenure, as the experience of Daniel Patrick Moynihan indicates.

Expressive individualism and an end of patriotism meant that post-1960s elites did not see the American republic as worthy of individual sacrifice. Over the past half century, American elites have avoided military service, with its dangers and distasteful contact across class lines. As Frank Bruni writes in The New York Times, only four veterans now attend Yale: One studies at Princeton, and Harvard refused to provide data. Along with Ivy League pedigrees and a penchant for crony capitalism, a key Clinton/Trump commonality is having no family in the military. In the various wars on terror, American elites have no skin in the game nor empathy for those they send to fight, and thus no penchant for success rather than the appearance of success.

Generally, American politics now models itself on university politics. Elites fail to address obvious causal relationships. Instead, they stress group identity, judging others by whether they belong to our tribes, not whether they do their jobs. Nor do they embrace American exceptionalism in any way shape or form; thus when President Trump, like President Obama before him, fails to find a difference between traditional American foreign policy and the murderous records of Vladimir Putin and his more openly Soviet predecessors, America’s media and academia are unable to point out the silliness. This is indeed a post-truth word.

The demise of truth, and with it accountability, may well mark the end of the American experiment, leading us to ponder what comes next.

What I’d Add to College Rankings

Americans are competitive people and therefore obsessed with rankings, even geeky ones. Higher ranked colleges attract better students and more grants. Rankings might even push administrators to focus more resources on mere undergraduate teaching, a mission long ghettoized in research universities.

So how can we make college rankings better? Rankings do a decent job of reporting a school’s resources, and student candlepower. What existing rankings fail to do is capture whether a college or university takes seriously its charge of developing young minds. As Stanford Social Psychologist Carol Dweck explains in Mindset, one can view intelligence as a variable or a constant.  If intelligence is something you are born with, then there is no point working to get smart: you either have brains or you don’t. Unfortunately, this seems to be the mindset of many universities, which work hard to attract smart kids for prestige and then do little or nothing to make them smarter.

Continue reading What I’d Add to College Rankings

Bryn Mawr and the Confederate Flag

Bryn Mawr College, a good liberal arts college where I adjunct taught a few years back, recently got the kind of press no college wants: two southern students displayed a Confederate flag, leading to days of demonstrations.

One protester had written on her arm “I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO QUESTION IF I BELONG HERE. I WILL NOT BE SILENCED.”

First, it might not be fair to attack this as yet another example of campus political correctness run amok. College administrators, quite reasonably, sought to have the students work out their disagreements. If there was something like McCarthyism at Bryn Mawr, the college president did not lead it.

Second, one should admit that as Stanley Fish argued some years back, we are all censors. Arguably, some symbols have no place on campus: most obviously the Swastika and the Marxist Hammer and Sickle, whose regimes produced at least 80 million corpses and ruined whole economies, societies, and ecosystems. (Read Harvard University Press’s Black Book of Communism if you require documentation.)

Continue reading Bryn Mawr and the Confederate Flag

The Politically Correct University and How to Fix It

With various co-authors, University of British Columbia Sociologist Neil Gross has made a cottage industry of downplaying charges that academia is politically correct. Seemingly, the left’s domination of social science and humanities departments is of no more concern than the fact, cited by Thomas Sowell, that in the 1990s, Cambodians ran 90 percent of California’s donut shops.
Gross’s studies appeal because they serve the psychological needs of professors. It is comforting to think that we smart folks just happen to surround ourselves with people who think just like we do. Gross assures us that there is nothing unseemly here. Collegiate single-mindedness is of course totally different from the groupthink that characterized the George W. Bush White House, to take a not quite random example.
In fairness, Gross and his colleagues have made some sound points over the years. For example, most academics do not think of themselves as political extremists but as centrists. Of course this is no surprise. People compare themselves to their peers, so liberal professors are indeed in the center or even the right compared to their colleagues on the far left. Some surveys indicate that a quarter of sociologists are self-proclaimed Marxists, meaning that there are quite literally more socialists in Harvard faculty lounges than in the Kremlin. It is not difficult to seem moderate or even conservative in such company.
Gross and others are correct to say that not all of the pronounced leftist tilt in the academy reflects discrimination. As Matthew Woessner and April Kelly Woessner point out in a chapter in my co-edited The Politically Correct University, conservatives value family life more than liberals; thus academically talented liberals are more willing to delay childbearing for the decade it takes to earn a doctorate, and more apt to leave their families and hometowns to attend PhD programs thousands of miles distant. Liberals may talk more about relationships, but conservatives seem less willing to jettison them for academic self-expression.
Yet to say that not all of the conservative under-representation reflects discrimination is very different from saying that none of it does. The Woessners also find that conservative undergraduates receive less mentoring from faculty. This too may explain why fewer conservatives apply to PhD programs, even though conservative and liberal undergraduates have identical GPAs. Similarly, a recent and much hyped Gross co-authored paper argues that conservatives eschew academic careers because of “typing,” the stereotype that professors are liberal. As Steve Balch points out, much of this reasoning is circular. How exactly is the stereotype that professors are supposed to be liberal any different from stereotypes that women are not supposed to study science or that African Americans are not supposed to be chief executives? Wouldn’t we find it offensive if a CEO explained an all white management team by saying that “African Americans don’t type themselves as executives?”
Academia is a merit system based on publication, but one that works better for some than others. In The Politically Correct University Stan Rothman and Bob Lichter present evidence that professors holding socially conservative views must publish more to get the same jobs, with ideology having about one-third of the statistical power of one’s publication record. Among professors who have published a book, 73% of Democrats but only 56% of Republicans hold high prestige academic posts. Both statistics and “lived experience” suggest that I am not the only conservative or libertarian professor denied a job or two. And it is no surprise that as the academic job market grew tight in the 1970s, ever more discriminating faculties became more ideologically homogeneous, hiring clones rather than peers.

Continue reading The Politically Correct University and How to Fix It