Category Archives: Essays

What Happened At Hamilton

By Robert Paquette

On 17 September, Constitution Day, my two co-founders (professors Douglas Ambrose and James Bradfield) and I unveiled the Alexander Hamilton Institute in a historic mansion about a mile from the Hamilton College campus. Our goal is to promote the study of American ideals and institutions. This was not our first try. A little over a year ago , we were celebrating its founding at the college, as the Alexander Hamilton Center for the Study of Western Civilization. We intended to offer a rich menu of extras – conferences, colloquia, internships, fellowships, and awards – to Hamilton College undergraduates. In August 2006 we were toasting a signed agreement with the President and Dean of the Faculty; several weeks later, the initiative collapsed, only now reborn outside of the college. What happened?

The opposition was partly bureaucratic, partly ideological. On the modern campus, programs to study Western institution and culture tend to meet quick resistance. The activists win subtly and incrementally, in several different ways: by choosing the people who teach such courses; by abolishing core curricula that contain a strong American history or Western civilization component; by insisting that Western thought cannot be “privileged” at the expense of other offerings on, say, race, gender, class and sexuality.

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Administrators The Real Threat In Indoctrinate U

[this also appeared in the Washington Examiner]

Last week’s withdrawal of a speaking invitation to Lawrence Summers by the University of California’s Board of Regents placed the spotlight on a central member of the radical campus constituency – the administrator. Recent spats over radical professors have obscured this corner of the university – where the most solidly-entrenched threats to academic rights and the free expression of ideas can be found. In his new documentary, Indoctrinate U, Evan Coyne Maloney, sheds incisive light on university administrators. Maloney’s worthy film offers a brisk tour of the political afflictions of the modern academy, displaying repressive speech codes, expectations of minority behavior, and political imbalances and intolerance. As Indoctrinate U makes clear, the wild-eyed radical professor might be contained within their classroom; it’s the nondescript university bureaucrats that race to enforce their friendly dictums that pose the far-reaching threat to all students.

Widespread ideas of diversity have given rise to women’s centers, minority centers, and an assortment of items designed to advance particular, progressive causes. Most of these seem fuzzily nice, yet those questioning their utility are typically subject to swift punishment. Those who vocally disagree with these projects, making light of sacred doctrines of affirmative action, political correctness, or feminist politicking require a harsh lesson in civility, according to prevailing mores of college administrations. Indoctrinate U documents many such cases; a student at California Polytechnic was threatened with expulsion for circulating a poster for a black conservative’s lecture which read “It’s ok to leave the plantation.” This was labeled “harassment.” After months of pressure and legal threats, the university dropped its case. It never had much of one to begin with, but colleges never lose enthusiasm for quashing “objectionable” speech.

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AAUP To Critics: What, Us Biased?

Last summer, AAUP president Cary Nelson announced that the AAUP would be issuing a back to school statement on academic freedom in the classroom. Now that statement has gone public – and it makes for very interesting and informative reading.

Written by a subcommittee of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, “Freedom in the Classroom” acknowledges that professors have been accused in recent years of indoctrinating rather than educating, of failing to provide balanced perspectives on controversial issues, of creating a hostile learning environment for conservative or religious students, and of injecting irrelevant political asides into class discussion. And as such the statement is ostensibly meant to address the very real issues surrounding faculty classroom conduct that have arisen of late. As anyone who follows higher ed news knows, concerns about whether professors are abusing their pedagogical prerogatives have been repeatedly voiced; and, as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and other groups have repeatedly noted, those concerns should be addressed in a manner that is simultaneously respectful of students’ rights to learn and professors’ academic freedom to teach as they see fit. The AAUP is right to take up the issue of classroom speech, and it is right to seek to parse exactly where faculty academic freedom begins and ends.
The trouble, though, is that the AAUP’s statement does not take seriously the questions and complaints to which it purports to respond. A small but telling indicator of the larger problem: When interviewed about the statement by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nelson said that it is ultimately designed to encourage professors to say to outside critics, “Don’t mess with me.” In other words – by Nelson’s own admission- it’s less a rigorously reasoned policy statement than it is a confrontational ultimatum disguised as a policy statement. This maneuver was not at all lost on The Chronicle’s Robin Wilson, who wrote that while the statement “is billed as a tool to help professors decide what they can and cannot safely say in the classroom – particularly when it comes to hot-button cultural and political issues,” it comes across “more like a defense of the professoriate in the face of heavy criticism” coming from outside the academy.

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The Unseriousness of Freshman Summer Reading

Many college freshmen face their first academic task before they even set foot in a classroom – the freshman summer reading project. Many colleges now select a single volume for all incoming freshmen to read, and construct discussion groups and attendant orientation activities around the book. Temple University’s explanation of its program is fairly representative: “the goals of the project are to provide a common intellectual experience for entering students” and to “bring students, faculty and members of the Temple community together for discussion and debate.” At a time when core programs and required courses grow increasingly infrequent, it is surprising to find such strong language about “common intellectual experience” from universities. This all sounds encouraging, right? Perhaps, until you find out what they’re reading.

An overwhelming favorite of these reading programs is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed – it’s a perennial from Baruch to Slippery Rock to UNC Chapel Hill. Nickel and Dimed appears a perfect class-conscious selection to expand students’ minds. Poverty is a running theme in recent years’ assignments, from Case Western Reserve’s The Working Poor: Invisible In America to One Nation Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All at Washington University to a variety of Kozol readings across the nation’s campuses. These assignments have not always been received happily – the 2003 Nickel and Dimed assignment at UNC Chapel Hill inspired a protest coalition, arguing that the book was an inappropriate assignment, as a radical and left-inclined critique of the American economy.

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Regents Asleep At The Switch

By Anne Neal

Question: What happens when you take a world-class public university, let political correctness run amok, and give it regents who are asleep at the switch?

Answer: You get the University of California.

Over the last week, UC faculty, administrators and regents have illustrated, in gory and public detail, a principle one would think is common sense: When universities focus on ideology, not excellence, everybody loses.

It’s no secret that UC Irvine’s new law school offered its deanship to Duke professor Erwin Chemerinsky and then retracted it – amidst signs of political interference. Then, to make matters worse, the UC Regents rescinded an invitation to former Harvard president Lawrence Summers after faculty objected to his views.

Now, after a national outcry, UC has apparently re-hired Chemerinsky – but it has not restored its invitation to Summers.
Which of course begs another question: Why would either man even want to come to a place that is run this way? Yet, the events of the past week – however disturbing – are totally predictable in light of UC’s history.

In the 1960s, UC Regents handed vast academic and financial authority over to faculty and staff. The results of this terrific abdication are now on full display. UC boasts what Regents chairman Richard Blum recently called a “dysfunctional” bureaucracy – a bloated administrative system with runaway salaries and perks. It also hosts a faculty senate that voted to eliminate a historic prohibition against “propaganda” in the classroom – on the grounds that it is outdated.

In that kind of environment, is it any wonder that deans and speakers are picked based on whose views are popular?

Likewise, we should not be surprised when a 2004 poll conducted by the University of Connecticut of students at UCLA, Berkeley and other institutions finds a substantial number who complain that book lists and panel discussions are “totally one-sided.” Or when “conservative” students are affirmatively discouraged from taking a course on Palestinian poetics, as they were at Berkeley in 2003.

Given this environment, it’s no surprise that decisions like those involving Chemerinsky and Summers are made. Instead of simply expressing outrage when such violations of fair procedure occur, we should recognize them as the logical outcome of decades of poor oversight and spineless accommodation of special interests.

And we should agree that enough is enough. That’s what the American Council of Trustees and Alumni told the Regents last Friday. In a letter addressed to Chairman Blum, we urged the Regents to put a stop to the degrading, damaging nonsense once and for all.
The Regents can do that by initiating a thorough review to ensure that political and ideological concerns don’t trump free inquiry on UC’s campuses – that personnel decisions are made on the basis of merit, not ideological congeniality, and that the classroom is home to healthy, rounded inquiry rather than proselytizing.

Regents are responsible for the academic and financial well-being of their institutions – and it’s time for UC’s board members to prove they’re up to the task. They must ensure that their university is actually a university – that it is open to multiple viewpoints, and that it fosters the free exchange of ideas. Doing that is not rocket science, and the nation is watching to see whether they get it right.

The Hidden Impact Of Political Correctness

It’s easy to think of Universities as a circus for wacky professors; their semi-monthly comparisons of Bush to Hitler or indictments of inherent American racism are hard to miss. Universities’ deviations from traditional education are far more serious than a few zany radicals, though. Something far more significant overshadows this ranting, namely how PC invisibly sanitizes instruction to avoid “offending” certain easy-to-anger students. This is the dog that does not bark – “safe lecturing” to use the STD vocabulary – and seldom recognized since it concerns what is not taught, and as such deprives students of a genuine education.

Let me offer some observations from my 35-year academic career but these undoubtedly apply more generally. Some facts. First, today’s students, especially in lecture courses, display rather desultory academic habits. Many arrive late, leave early, doze off, regularly skip classes, eat, drink or listen to iPods, gossip and otherwise ignore the dispensed pearls of wisdom. Even stellar teachers cast pearls. Dreary test results confirm that lectures are disregarded and assignments go unread. Sad to say, many African-American students who should be expending extra efforts to surmount academic deficiencies are particularly guilty though expressing this plain-to-see reality is verboten.

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Creating Activists At Ed School

In 1997, the National Association of Social Work (NASW) altered its ethics code, ruling that all social workers must promote social justice “from local to global level.” This call for mandatory advocacy raised the question: what kind of political action did the highly liberal field of social work have in mind? The answer wasn’t long in coming. The Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditor of social work education programs, says candidates must fight “oppression,” and sees American society as pervaded by the “global interconnections of oppression.” Now aspiring social workers must commit themselves, usually in writing, to a culturally left agenda, often including diversity programs, state-sponsored redistribution of income, and a readiness to combat heterosexism, ableism, and classism.

This was all too much for the National Association of Scholars. The NAS has just released a six-month study of social work education, examining the ten largest programs at public universities for which information was available. The report, “The Scandal of Social Work,” says these programs “have lost sight of the difference between instruction and indoctrination to a scandalous extent. They have, for the most part, adopted an official ideological line, closing off debate on many questions that serious students of public policy would admit to be open to the play of contending viewpoints.”

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Harvard Long Gone

[This also appeared in National Review Online]

There was a time when Harvard stood for the Union. Almost 600 of its sons fought for the North in the Civil War, nearly one-quarter of whom gave their lives. Only the names of those Union dead are inscribed in the transept of Memorial Hall; the smaller number of Harvard affiliates who died for the cause of secession were not similarly honored.

But times have changed. In the current issue of the Harvard alumni magazine there is a profile of education professor, Howard Gardner, in which he declares: “The right wing isn’t just taking over the country, it’s shanghaiing all our values. If there’s a Republican administration after the next election, I would join in efforts for some sort of secession. It’s not the same country anymore.”

Keep in mind that these were not comments that spilled from Professor Gardner’s lips in an unguarded moment that were then exposed by “gotchya” journalism. They were in the University’s own publication that is used for promotional purposes. The profiles of faculty in alumni magazines are meant to portray the faculty and the University in a flattering light to generate support from alumni. Clearly, Gardner and at least some University officials believe that threatening secession conveys a positive picture of the institution.

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I’m Ok, You’re Not Ok

“Reclaim Your Rights as a Liberal Educator.” That’s the title of a short essay in this month’s Academe, organ of the American Association of University Professors. The phrase has all the imagination of a slogan unfurled at countless marches, but what it lacks in wit it makes up for in fortitude of the uniquely academic kind. Author Julie Kilmer, women’s studies and religion professor at Olivet College, sounds the standard “they’re-out-to-get-us” call and rallies her brethren to take back the classroom. We have, too, a vicious aggressor: conservative student groups that confront professors of perceived liberal bias, and they form a national network out to undermine the faculty, who come off as vulnerable and innocent professionals. While the professors uphold “freedom of inquiry to examine the worth of controversial ideas” and “teach college students to use analytical thinking in the development of new ideas,” groups such as Students for Academic Freedom do their best to subvert the process. Worst of all, they “encourage students to bring complaints against faculty to administrators.” To Kilmer, they are no better than spies, and they prompt her to wonder, “Each time a student is resistant to feminist theories and ideas, should I ask if he or she has been placed in my class to question my teaching? How is my teaching affected if I enter the classroom each day asking, ‘Is today the day I will be called to the president’s office?”

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Robert Dynes An Example Of Larger UC Problem

[This piece also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner]

Robert (Bob) Dynes is president of the University of California (UC) – and has been in that position since October, 2003. During my tenure as a member of the Board of Regents of UC, I worked with Bob while he was chancellor of the campus at San Diego and during his reign as president of the entire UC system. Bob Dynes has excellent credentials as a physicist and he is a very decent human being. But, in announcing his retirement from the UC presidency. Bob is doing something he should have done the day he was selected to head the UC system. In fact, it was a mistake from the outset to select him, for which I am just as responsible as all of the other regents.

Some contend that Dynes was “encouraged” to resign by the regents because of his handling of administrative compensation and other “perks.” This is undoubtedly true. Yet, while his departure is the right decision, the mishandling of executive compensation or the perception of him as a weak administrator are the wrong reasons for “encouraging” him to ride off into the sunset. It would be useful to examine some of the problems at UC.

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Administrative Orthodoxy At Ave Maria

Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University, and the town of Ave Maria, Florida (in that order) obviously isn’t attracting media acclaim in his effort to establish a conjoined orthodox Catholic University and Catholic town on a former tomato farm in Southwest Florida. No, he comes off as something as something of an Inquisitor, putting a farm of happily secular Florida tomatoes to the sword to make room for a bishopric of right-wing Catholics. The caviling about Monaghan, for the most part, is easily explained; Monaghan has explicitly proclaimed his intention of creating an orthodox Catholic University, and his critics despise the thought.

Monaghan’s truly revolutionary step here isn’t imagining a university – it’s that he hasn’t simply handed his dream over to the standard mush of college administration, but has remained deeply involved with the project – so far as to literally uproot the college over several states. The college’s move from the Midwest to Southwest Florida is a rather dramatic example of a founder’s influence, but American higher education seems to have altogether forgotten the experience of a living founder in this day of universal rule by amorphous faculty-trustee-administrator confederation (aka “our costs will always go up but no one knows who’s responsible”). Faculties are accustomed to Presidents who can be curbed when overly outspoken (Laurence Summers) and administrations are accustomed to routinely ignoring the wishes of donors and trustees (the Bass donation at Yale, the Robertson donation at Princeton). Monaghan is a very different quantity in this mix, an individual who hasn’t been content to see his wishes run aground in the morass of standard academic decision-making. He’s continued to exert a very active role in his University – a step that professors would see in almost any case as a clear intrusion into their purlieus.

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The Study Abroad Scandal

The New York Times has headlined yet another scandal in higher education: colleges and sometimes individual college officials have been receiving generous “incentives” to steer students into particular study abroad programs. The incentives include financial bounties and free trips abroad for the officials. As the Times points out, the self-dealing by college officials in these programs looks a lot like the self-dealing by college officials caught up in the student loan scandal.
How big a scandal is it that some colleges and some college officials have found another way to line their pockets at the expense of students? Not very big by itself, but coming on the heels of the student loan imbroglio, the study abroad scandal has stilts. From that height we can wonder if study abroad and financial aid are the whole of it: How many other aspects of the university enterprise offer college officials the opportunity to receive “gifts” at the ultimate expense of students?

Once upon a time, a certain kind of student yearned for a semester abroad or sought out opportunities to take a summer course in Salzberg or Poitiers. This was the American version of the “grand tour” with which wealthy Europeans once capped off the education of gentlemen. But Americans, being a pragmatic people, usually made sure that the venture included academic credit for courses that would meet degree requirements at the college back home.

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The “Fairness Doctrine” And Academia

In 1949, the United States Federal Communications Commission adopted a general policy which sought to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. This policy was based on the theory that station licensees were “public trustees” and, as such, had an obligation to give those with differing points of view an opportunity to be heard. The “Fairness Doctrine” was interpreted by many as requiring that those with contrasting views be given equal time whenever such controversial issues were being discussed. The “doctrine” was abandoned during the Reagan Administration when many government activities were deregulated.
When the bill to reform the nation’s immigration policies, specifically those relating to illegal immigration, was recently being discussed, several Democrat members of the United States Senate called for bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine” out of a sense of frustration that the public was not receiving a fair and balanced discussion of the legislation on talk radio shows, which the Senate Democrats regard as universally conservative and which they thought was having an inordinate influence on the deliberations concerning the legislation.
Personally, I oppose the “Fairness Doctrine” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it presumes the ignorance of the public and our inability to discern facts from horse manure. But, most significantly, broadcast stations are not owned by the government and should not be considered as government activity. With so many different sources of information – newspapers, major television networks, cable television and talk radio, for example – it is difficult for any one source to give us a “snow job.” But, there is one area of American life where I believe something equivalent to a “Fairness Doctrine” ought to be applied: the college classroom.

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The Mystery Of The “Diversity Commitment”

An epithet scrawled on a door, a brawl outside a football game, an ill-chosen costume for a Halloween party – over the course of the academic year, college campuses are bound to have incidents of racial friction. Some of them are indeed displays of outright bigotry. And when they occur, the diversity brigade is ready and waiting with its all-purpose solution: the idea that the cure for bigotry is a still warmer embrace of racial (and other identity group) preferences.
It has happened again, this time at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

In mid-July, Ralph Papitto, the chairman of its board, who had served for 39 years, was forced to resign after making a crude and racist remark. It is not clear exactly what he said, but all parties agree it included the N-word. The shake-up at the board sounds like it was overdue, and Papitto’s slur was only a nasty flourish at the end. Papitto’s racist tantrum came in response to a formal “notice of concern” issued on March 23, by the University’s main accreditor, faulting Roger Williams for its poor governance.

According to the accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) , the University board had stumbled in lots of ways – by failing to have a conflict of interest policy, by indulging numerous (apparent) conflicts of interest, by ignoring its own by-laws, by not having a separate audit committee, and on and on. But NEASC’s letter to RWU President Roy Nirschel also singled out diversity: “In addition, we understand that little progress has been made on the Board’s goal, established in 2003, to increase the size and diversity of its membership.”

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Ward Churchill And The Diversity Agenda

This week, as expected, the University of Colorado regents dismissed Professor Ward Churchill from his tenured position in the Ethnic Studies Department. (A university committee had found that Churchill committed plagiarism and misused sources.) And, as expected, Churchill has filed suit, alleging First Amendment violations.

The move against Churchill – who first attracted attention after describing those who perished (except for the terrorists) in the World Trade Center attack as “Little Eichmanns” – came over the opposition of the ACLU, which charged that the “poisoned atmosphere” of the inquiry into Churchill’s scholarship rendered meaningless the committee’s findings. ACTA president Anne Neal, on the other hand, welcomed the dismissal as “a very positive message that higher education is cleaning up its own.”

The viewpoints of both organizations raise additional questions. The ACLU’s position, if established as a precedent, would invite academics who (like Churchill) had engaged in research misconduct to issue inflammatory public statements, in the hopes that a public outcry (preferably from “right-wingers”) could then provide a First Amendment shield for their academic misdeeds.

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Research As Self-Branding

By Mark Bauerlein

If you browse through the list of dissertations filed in American literary and cultural studies last year, you will find many conventional and sober projects that fit well with traditional notions of humanistic study. Here are a few sample titles:

– “Rethinking Arthur Miller: Symbol and structure”
– “Tragic investigations: The value of tragedy in American political and ethical life”
– “Reading and writing African American travel narrative”
– “From demons to dependents: American-Japanese social relations during the occupation, 1945-1952”
– “The culture club: A study of the Boston Athenaeum, 1807-1860 (Massachusetts)”
But amidst these works, you also find a fair portion of projects with titles that border on the bizarre.
– “The fluviographic poetics of Charles Warren Stoddard: An emergence of a modern gay male American textuality”
– “Transperformance: Transgendered reading strategies, contemporary American literature”
– “Cruising and queer counterpublics: Theories and fictions”
– “‘Skirts must be girded high’: Spaces of subjectivity and transgression in post-suffrage American women’s travel writing”
– “Roddenberry’s faith in ‘Star Trek’: ‘Star Trek”s humanism as an American apocalyptic vision of the future”
– “Exhibiting domesticity: The home, the museum, and queer space in American literature, 1914-1937”
– “From sodomy to Indian death: Sexuality, race and structures of feeling in early American execution narratives”
– “The sentimental touch: Hands in American novels during the rise of managerial capitalism”

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Anthropology’s Holy Trinity

Karl Marx did everyone a huge favor when he announced that all history was the history of class struggle because then it was simple to analyze anything and everything confidently and crisply. But in Anthropology a new holy explanatory trinity has emerged to replace the good old simple one: Race/Class/Gender. You can barely refer to the weather without taking into firm account the now-triply-coercive impact of these factors. There are some immediate things to note about how these relatively reasonable independent variables are influenced by the prevailing ethos of the academic institutions which have affirmed their necessary role in peering at any social behavior. The first and in a way most dramatic feature is that the trinity is essentially composed of factors which are viewed as centrally negative. The use of Race (which is scientifically a hopeless, preposterous and dumb concept which should be embargoed from serious discussion) implies not that race is a positive matter but rather a source of inequity, loss of face, and the origin of variegated segments of oppression.

Another negative vitamin of the RCG Trinity is its unthinking association with the industrial way of life or of industry. Most folks in most of nature’s constituency don’t think in terms of class, unless they’ve been to the London School of Economics or any more expensive US college. Instead, kinship is all. Family, Uncle Dirk, Cousin Frank in Wichita – that’s the organizing principle of human as well as chimp and even bat society. You may be a big-city alderman or the owner of a Chevrolet dealership but you’re always a son or daughter or dim-bulb cousin first. Class as a construct was useful in trying to figure out how to deal with the conniptions of Europe when farmers had to leave the land either because of the Enclosure Acts or bad potato prices and moved to cities where they were obligated through the need for breakfast to work hard, usually for people who got to wear velvet. But as a cosmic imprimatur of how human life gets lived, sorry, class is rather particular as a tool and of course that’s why the gaseous term “middle class” serves countless suave commentators as a method of avoiding any punctilious analysis of the matter, as compared for example with folks who have tetanus and those who don’t.

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Professors And God: Any Connection?

By Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio

A report by Gary Shapiro in yesterday’s New York Sun carried some surprising information about the religiosity of college professors: though less religious than the general population, the majority believe in God. Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Barnard, was quoted as saying that the new data helps to refute the notion that academics are mostly atheists and agnostics.

But let’s turn on the caution light. The study of 1500 college professors at twenty top institutions that grant bachelors degrees, conducted by Neil Gross (Harvard) and Solon Simmons (George Mason), did indeed find that a slight majority claims to be religious. The numbers, not listed in the Sun, showed that 35.7 percent say “I know God really exists and I have no doubt about it,” while 16.9 percent reported “while I have my doubts, I feel I do believe in God.” Atheists and agnostics accounted for 23.4 percent of professors reporting.

The most heavily religious professors in the study teach accounting, followed by professors of elementary education, finance, marketing, art and criminal justice. The least religious professors were in biology, psychology, economics, political science and computer science. Research-oriented professors and faculty at elite institutions are significantly less religious than other academics. Only twenty percent of these academics “have no doubt that God exists.” The implications for the larger culture of these findings are crucial. Professors who are the least religious and most hostile to religion are the ones most likely to be writing textbooks, articles and monographs, and the ones whose opinions are most sought after by the media. It is these ideas of irreligious professors that carry the most prestige among the punditocracy, dominate elite discourse, and filter down to the general public. Liberal arts professors are much less likely than accounting professors to believe in God. The liberal arts and social science professors are the ones who most often express opinions on religion and deal with issues involving religion and morality in the classroom.

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Beware Of Elites Bearing Racial Theories

In his concurring opinion of June 28, 2007 about the use of race in student placement in elementary and secondary public schools, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave the American people some very valuable advice: “If our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories.”

Throughout our history, Americans have been confronted with a host of theories about race, from the early notion that blacks were inferior to the current view that racial integration is crucial to equal opportunity for blacks in education. It might be useful to take a look at a few of these theories.

The first commandment in the bible of racial theories is the view that “diversity equals excellence.” Until recently, this theory has been described in the elementary and secondary education settings as “racial integration.” For more than 50 years, public school districts throughout the nation have been engaged in efforts to racially integrate their schools. They have been subjected to mandatory court desegregation orders and they have implemented “voluntary desegregation plans.” The overall impetus for these activities has been the premise that a racially integrated America is socially desirable and that the process of racial integration should begin in the earliest years of education.

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DePaul Flubs Up On Finkelstein

It’s difficult to be anything but pleased by the failure of Norman Finkelstein’s DePaul tenure bid. He’s a figure of repulsive opinions, given to frequent invective and doubtful scholarship. Yet all should look more carefully at DePaul University’s explanation of the step before celebrating. The logical foregrounding for their tenure decision would have been problems with his published scholarship; instead, DePaul justified their decision chiefly with talk of “respect for colleagues.” There’s little doubt that Finkelstein is a jerk, but DePaul’s grounding of its refusal in that fact – instead of holes in his academic work – leaves it open to justified criticism. “Collegiality” is a potentially insidious concept – just ask Walter Kehowski, a professor at Glendale Community College, who was just released from a forced administrative leave for the crime of emailing George Washington’s Thanksgiving address to fellow professors. The crime? Creating a “hostile environment.” Finkelstein’s faults are clearly of a higher order than this, but all should be wary of arguments premised upon a professor’s sociability, instead of his scholarship.

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Immigration And Bowling Alone

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, is very nervous about the release of his new work. Understandably so. His five-year study shows that immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating impact on social capital, the fabric of associations, trust and neighborliness that create and sustain communities. In the short to medium range, that is, because in the long run, new communities and new ties are formed, Putnam says. What he fears – correctly – is that his work on the surprisingly negative impact of diversity will become part of the immigration debate.

His study found that immigration and diversity not only reduce social capital between ethnic groups, but also within the groups. Trust, even of one’s own race, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. The problem is not ethnic conflict or worse racial relations, but withdrawal and isolation. Putnam writes: “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down,’ – that is, to pull in like a turtle.”

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Twenty Years in the Vineyards of Higher Education Reform

This month the National Association of Scholars celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan sat in the White House. Twenty years ago a wall stood in Berlin. Twenty years ago the world wide web was only a gleam in Al Gore’s eye. Twenty years is enough time to have fought all the declared wars of the United States, as well as the Civil War, back to back. Twenty years doesn’t quite count as an era, an epoch, or even a full generation, but it’s not an inconsiderable span, and certainly one sufficient for taking stock. So, after twenty years of struggle for higher education reform, how do things stand, and, more significantly, what has been learned about feasible routes to remedy?

As to how things stand, let’s start with the plus. First, we have a genuine academic reform movement where twenty years ago there was none. A sizeable community of organizations, with distinct missions and partially distinct if overlapping bases of support, now act in concert. Some, like the American Academy for Liberal Education, the American Council for Trustees and Alumni, the Association for the Study of Free Institutions, the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, and The Historical Society, came into existence, in large measure, because of the NAS. Others, like that indispensable campus civil liberties watchdog, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, took shape under their own inspired leadership. Another, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has a productive history reaching back to the fifties, but, over the past two decades, has assumed a great many new and vital reformist roles. Groups like the American Civil Rights Institute, the Center for Equal Opportunity, and the Center for Individual Rights, while not confined in their concerns to higher education, are the vanguard in the fight against academe’s entrenched and emblematic system of ethnic preference. Donor organizations like the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, and the Manhattan Institute’s own Veritas Fund, have also come into being, with the promise of generating the financial resources which any growing movement requires.

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What Happened to Antioch?

Antioch is no more. The venerable college is closing its doors this fall. Antioch University – which has other operations – will continue, but its flagship college is finished.

Its namesake, the ancient city in Turkey, had its ups and downs too, after it was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Earthquakes, invasions, rebellions. The usual stuff. At one point Antioch was the world’s third-largest city, behind Rome and Alexandria, perhaps topping 600,000 people. But it was down to 200,000 by the fourth century AD.

The devoutly Christian founders of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, however, were no doubt less moved by the exceptional regard that Roman Emperors had for the strategic site than they were by the city’s key role in the book of Acts. Barnabas and Paul begin (Acts 11) their proselytizing there; Paul preaches in the synagogue; but Antioch also becomes the first city in which the followers of Jesus reach out to the gentiles, and the first place the followers were called Christians. Antioch is also the base for Paul’s subsequent missionary voyages.

When Judge William Mills, the Rev. Derostus F. Ladley, the Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows, Elder J. McKee and other Unitarians and members of the liberal denomination that called itself simply “the Christian Church” founded a new college in 1852, they chose the name for their enterprise audaciously. Calling it Antioch College enunciated an emphatically outward-looking Christian mission and a “we’re-going-to-change-the-world” attitude. They asked Horace Mann to be the College’s first president and it took many by surprise when the nation’s leading educational reformer accepted the offer. Mann plunged ahead with building a college that made it strongest stands in admitting women; eschewing “sectarian influence,” and promoting hygiene. The College’s first Catalogue also preached self-control:

The best knowledge is no match for bad habits. But true knowledge and virtuous habits will say to the demons of appetite and sensuality, Get ye behind me.

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Identity Group Commencements

Commencement weekend is hard to plan at the University of California, Los Angeles. The university now has so many separate identity-group graduations that scheduling them not to conflict with one another is a challenge. The women’s studies graduation and the Chicana/Chicano studies graduation are both set for 10 a.m. Saturday. The broader Hispanic graduation, La Raza, is in near-conflict with the black graduation, which starts an hour later at 5 p.m. this Sunday.

Planning was easier before a new crop of ethnic groups pushed for inclusion. Students of Asian heritage were once content with the Asian-Pacific Islanders ceremony. But now there are separate Filipino and Vietnamese commencements, and some talk of a Cambodian one in the future. Years ago, UCLA sponsored an Iranian graduation, but the school’s commencement office couldn’t tell me if the event is still going. The entire Middle East may yet be a fertile source for UCLA commencements.

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The Unchastened Radicals

Among the many lovely qualities that define today’s student radicals – their smugness, their historical ignorance, their blithe contempt for the rights of others – perhaps the most galling of all is their sense of total invincibility. They know full well they can go about the business of mayhem and general anti-intellectual thuggery with the utter certainty that they will never face any serious consequences. It may have been Columbia that got a little unwelcome publicity when its president, “free speech expert” Lee Bollinger, let off students who assaulted a Minuteman spokesman with a tap on the wrist, but more or less the same thing likely would have happened on countless campuses across America. Indeed, it is by no means even an American phenomenon; the Parisian students who recently celebrated the election of their new president are equally assured as their brethren across the sea of getting off scot-free.

How did such indulgence become the norm? How did our most prestigious institutions of higher learning become so astonishingly weak-willed and craven?

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