Tag Archives: campus monoculture

Yes, Campus Indoctrination is Real

Robert Maranto and Mathew Woessner are not alone.  They are two political scientists who assure us that leftist domination of the faculty does not mean that college students are coming away from their campuses indoctrinated in progressive ideology.  Maranto and Woessner’s latest version of this argument was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education as “Why Conservative Fears of Campus Indoctrination Are Overblown.

Their basic point is that students are “not ideologically pliable.”  Their evidence for that comes from survey research that show “relatively minor” shifts in student political attitudes over four years, with “the typical student” becoming “slightly more progressive on social issues while becoming slightly more conservative on economic issues.”

I don’t doubt the integrity of their research or that of other social scientists who have gone looking for measurable evidence of such changes in student attitudes.  In fact, for several decades social scientists have been looking at this question and for the most part coming up with answers similar to that of Maranto and Woessner.

But they, like many others, are profoundly mistaken. Their conclusions follow their research, but that research inevitably focuses on certain kinds of data, which unfortunately do not get to the heart of the problem.

In their Chronicle article, Maranto and Woessner reference The Still Divided Academy, a book published in 2011, which includes an analysis of “Students’ Political Values” based on the 1999 North American Academic Study Survey (NAASS).  That eighteen-year-old data means something, but does it mean that today’s college students are barely touched by the forces of campus indoctrination?

Related: How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

In the 1999 survey, 45 percent of college students said they did not believe homosexuality is “an acceptable lifestyle.”  The survey did, however, pick up a shift of seven percentage points in favor of acceptance of homosexuality by the senior year:  a shift the authors interpreted as the students moving towards the views of their professors and administrators.  The NAASS study has not been repeated, but we do have the annual survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI)at UCLA, which includes some relevant data. The HERI survey of college freshmen in 2015, for example, found 81.1 percent of freshmen at all baccalaureate institutions endorsed gay marriage.

That dramatic shift, from 45 percent opposed to homosexuality “as a lifestyle” to more than 80 percent favoring gay marriage, tells us nothing about whether colleges indoctrinate students.  These were freshmen surveyed in 2015—mostly innocent about their professors’ attitudes.  But the shift testifies to the need for caution in relying on 1999 figures to decipher today’s trends.  It also testifies to the astonishingly rapid transformation of American youth during this period.

We don’t have very good grounds for thinking that college students today respond to the social and political cues of campus life in the way they did a generation ago.  In fact, the opposite.  The most recent HERI data from fall 2016 found “the fall 2016 entering cohort —  of first-time, full-time college students — has the distinction of being the most polarized in the 51-year history of the Freshman Survey.”  The year before, the HERI surveyors found that a third of the freshmen (33.5 percent) self-identified as liberal or “far left”—the highest percentage since 1973, the height of the Watergate scandal.

Related: Indoctrination in Writing Class

Anyone who has taught freshmen knows that their self-labeling is not necessarily the best indication of their political orientation.  The 2015 HERI data yielded some other clues about the leftward orientation of these freshmen.  A record 8.5 percent of these students said there was a very good chance they would participate in “student protests while in college,” i.e. they were ready to protest before they could possibly have any cause to do so.

HERI also found a record number (74.6 percent) of freshmen who said that “helping others in difficulty” was very important or essential to them.  An orientation towards helping others sounds very good in the abstract, but that figure might also signal the degree to which activism aimed at advancing progressive ideas of “social justice” had become a baseline social attitude for late Millennials entering college.

The HERI data is full of other material that suggests that today’s entering college students bring with them dramatically different attitudes than the freshmen of yesteryear.  Anyone interested in the sociology of college students will find it eye-opening.  But HERI doesn’t resolve the question of whether or how much four years of college education changes students’ political and social attitudes.

That question has actually been a research topic for many years, perhaps best codified by Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini in a series of massive volumes, How College Affects Students.  I have relied on Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini’s Volume 2:  A Third Decade of Research, published in 2005, but there is 2016 edition with new editors, How College Affects Students: 21st Century Evidence that Higher Education Works, Volume 3.  Pascarella and Terenzini, synthesizing the work of numerous other scholars, reach some interesting conclusions for students in the 1990s:

  • “Freshmen-to-senior year shifts in political identification were associated with the peer and faculty environments of the institutions attended.”
  • The shifts “were more than mere reflections of changes occurring in the larger society.”
  • The shifts were not simply “artifacts” of the attitudes students brought with them to college, and they couldn’t be explained as part of “normal, maturational processes.”

Related: An Update on the Mess at Bowdoin

As often happens when social science researchers roll up their sleeves and dig deep into a problem, these researchers discovered the obvious.  Of course, “peer and faculty environments” shape students.  If anyone continues to doubt that, I recommend What Does Bowdoin Teach?  How A Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students (2013), the top-to-bottom ethnography that my colleague Michael Toscano and I wrote about the “peer and faculty environment” at one of the nation’s top-rated liberal arts colleges.

What that study showed more than anything is that Bowdoin’s left-wing bias was all pervasive.  It wasn’t conveyed just by a few dozen hard-core leftist faculty members, though they did their part. It was embedded in the curriculum as a whole, residence life, extra-curricular activities, pronouncements from the college president, self-declared college crises, invited speakers, student awards, and more.  And just as important, that bias was made to seem normal by the absence or near absence of alternative views.  It doesn’t feel like “bias” if you are surrounded with people who all agree. The courses not offered, the professors not appointed, the speakers not invited, the student clubs that are not formed:  the nots are the real key to campus bias, especially because they are usually invisible to the students.

At one Bowdoin event, a student stood up and half-in-resentment, half-in-perplexity, challenged me:  “We have everything we could possibly want at Bowdoin.  What’s missing?”  He had absolutely no clue as to what ideas and opinions existed outside the “Bowdoin bubble.”

In such an environment, even those who call themselves dissenters tend to absorb the premises of the prevailing view.  They will quibble about details and typically fail to realize how much they have conformed to the campus Zeitgeist. At Bowdoin, we found “conservative” students who were wholly taken in by the premises of multiculturalism and diversity and perfectly supportive of efforts to muzzle free speech.

Rendering Much of the World Invisible

This is where Maranto and Woessner go most wrong.  “Indoctrination”—if that is the right word—is not mainly about the domination of academic fields by leftist professors.  That happens, and it is part of the problem.  But the larger problem is a campus culture that renders much of the world invisible.

That is not to say the college students today are blankly unaware that a great many Americans hold views at odds with their own.  They know Donald Trump was elected President and that many millions of Americans voted for him.  And progressive ideology provides a whole gallery of stock villains with which to picture the oppressors and those who are not yet “woke.”  The Alt-Right, the cis-gendered privileged, the one-percenters, and so on are the cartoons that take the place of any need to understand conservative ideas.

This doesn’t make every college student an incipient leftist.  Probably the most common political orientation among college students is a soft libertarianism that tolerates anything that doesn’t get in the way of the student’s preferred social activities.  These students have no fondness for the hard left radicals with their Bias Response Teams, Title IX tribunals, protests, and occupations, but neither do they have much interest in putting up a fight. The soft libertarians seldom give a thought about the longer-term consequences of the left’s initiatives, and they are entirely satisfied with the consumerist curriculum they have been offered.

To my way of thinking, this libertarian silent majority on campus has created the condition in which a radicalized minority can exert its tyranny. College administrators don’t worry about the leave-me-alone crowd.  But they are ever eager to placate Mattress Girl, Black Lives Matter, and the students who want to run Charles Murray into the Vermont forest.

So, pace Maranto and Woessner, no, conservative fears of campus indoctrination are not overblown. Sometimes conservatives over-simplify their case by focusing too much on the wild declarations of extremist professors or the exclusion of conservative faculty members.  But taken all in all, contemporary American higher education does indoctrinate students in progressive ideology.  And it does it so well that most of the graduates don’t even realize it.

CUNY’s Love Affair with Violent Radicals

The choice of Linda Sarsour, an Arab-American activist, as a commencement speaker at CUNY’s School of Public Health last Spring generated much-heated debate. Good. Speech and counter-speech shed welcome light on the views of controversial figures.

That Sarsour once advocated violence against a political opponent – stating that Ayaan Hirsi Ali needed an “ass-whipping” and didn’t deserve her vagina – raises questions about the value of Sarsour’s views, but not about the right of CUNY to choose anyone it wants to address its students. Indeed, CUNY’s choice of Sarsour illuminated CUNY’s odd infatuation with proponents of violence.

Served 16 Years

The Susan Rosenberg case provides one example. Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground, served 16 years for explosives possession. She was also a suspect in the Brinks robbery, during which two policemen and a security guard were killed.  In 2002, following Rosenberg’s release from prison, CUNY’s John Jay College hired her as an adjunct professor.

After four semesters – and in the wake of objections by both the New York City and Rockland County chapters of the Police Emerald Society – CUNY did not renew her contract. In an attempt to get the decision reversed, the chair of the CUNY faculty senate published a letter in support of rehiring Rosenberg. She was not rehired, but that did not stop John Jay College from holding “a celebration of Susan Rosenberg” in 2011.

CUNY’s faculty senate chair was similarly sympathetic to another convicted felon, this time one of CUNY’s own. Mohamed Yousry, an adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s York College, was convicted in 2005 of providing material aid to terrorism and conspiring to deceive the government. Three days after Yousry’s 2006 sentencing on terrorism charges, the senate chair – in an apparent attempt to solicit a job for him – speculated in an email to a faculty senate chat room that Yousry might be looking for work as a teaching adjunct.

A Policeman Beaten

Yousry isn’t the only teacher at CUNY to engage in extreme behavior: three of the six people charged in the 2014 beating of policemen on the Brooklyn Bridge (Eric Linsker, Cindy Gorn, and Jarrod Shanahan) were teachers at CUNY. Of course, assaulting police officers pales in comparison to the crimes of Rosenberg and Yousry, but that act is consistent with the mindset that justifies violence in the service of political causes.

The actions of CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) are particularly telling because they presumably reflect the sentiments of substantial numbers of faculty. (The leaders of the union, which represents roughly 19,000 faculty and staff, have repeatedly been re-elected since 2000.)

The PSC’s actions include:

  • Contributing $5,000 in 2000 to a committee dedicated to freeing Lori Berenson, an American who was convicted in Peru on terrorism charges.
  • Contributing to a defense fund in 2002 for Sami Al-Arian, who later pleaded guilty to contributing services to a terrorist organization.
  • Passing a resolution in 2007 calling for “freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” who was convicted in 1982 of the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. (Note that the union resolution calls for the immediate freedom of Abu-Jamal, not a retrial: those with a fixed world view don’t feel any need to support that view with evidence.)

15 Years for Aiding Al Qaeda

No one can say, based on existing information, whether the favorable attitude of CUNY faculty towards violent radicals affects the students. But the record of the following three CUNY graduates at least puts the question on the table. Farrooque Ahmed was sentenced in 2011 to 23 years in prison for his role in planning bombings in Washington D.C. Syed Hashmi was sentenced in 2010 to 15 years for attempting to supply military gear to Al Qaeda. Noelle Velentzas was arrested in 2015 for plotting to prepare an explosive device to be detonated in a jihadist-inspired terrorist attack in the United States. (Her trial is pending.) Is there another university that can boast such a record?

That CUNY faculty lean left is hardly surprising – that’s standard in the academic world. Leaning towards the violent left is, however, noteworthy. Let me be crystal clear. Although I believe education is best served by a politically diverse faculty body, I support the right of universities to hire and invite any speakers they want to address students. But I also believe in truth in advertising. The taxpayers who support CUNY and the parents who send their children to CUNY schools have a right to know about its faculty’s long record of support for violent radicals.

Bias Response Teams—Not Gone Yet

At Emory University, when someone had the nerve to write “Trump 2016” in chalk on some sidewalks and steps, a wave of “fear” struck the campus, according to the university president. He made it clear that “Trump’s platform and his values undermine Emory’s values of diversity and inclusivity.” He also said that any student found guilty of chalking up that dreaded name would “go through the conduct violation process.”

Welcome to the new hyper- bias. On the modern campus, it’s an inflatable concept that can include a recommendation to vote Republican.

We were once told to worry about hate crimes–a recognized legal category. Then the focus turned to hate speech and microaggressions–not crimes, really, but at least plausibly offensive incidents. Now we are told to guard against ambiguous and seemingly innocuous incidents, such as a trio of Wisconsin students who dressed as the three blind mice for Halloween and were accused of mocking the disabled.

Related: Watch out for Bias Team

Buoyed by the belief that the university exists to protect them from words that upset them, students and even professors now fight against unwanted speech with righteous fervor. “Bias” has evolved into a quasi-religious concept that lurks in the hearts of unsuspecting students–like a demonic force–that must be exorcized by the Orthodox priests of the liberal academic order.

Who are the inquisitors of this order? Enter the “Bias Response Team,” or, in some cases, the “Bias Awareness Response Team.” They walk the halls of the modern university, monitoring speech, reviewing anonymous complaints at closed-door hearings, painting scarlet Bs on people’s foreheads. The free exchange of ideas–a principle that was once sacred to the very idea of the university–has been replaced by the new sacred principle of the safe space.

They’ve even developed a cute acronym for these inquisitions. BRT’s or BART’s have become a standard part of the vast academic administrative apparatus. More than one hundred U.S. campuses have some version of it on campus. In some cases, they’re dubbed BIRT’s or even BERT’s or BHERT’s. (The ‘H’ stands for hate.) But, alas, a committee by any other name smells just as Orwellian.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College 

One thing these diversely acronymized bias response teams have in common is a kind of air of self-evident righteousness. A belief that words ought to be closely policed. There is a sense of moral urgency and faith that precludes all questioning. Don’t you believe in tolerance, openness, and inclusiveness? How dare you speak of stifling speech!

Nevertheless, some universities have begun to break faith. While these kinds of anti-bias teams remain prevalent, more than one campus has disbanded BART concerned that the constant fear of being reported to the university administration as a “biased person” by anyone who happens not to like what you say in the classroom could, maybe, possibly–there is a chance–lead to a stifling of free speech.

The University of Northern Colorado announced that it would terminate BART back in September with the president, Kay Norton, explaining that the bias team had “sometimes made people feel we were telling them what they should and should not say.” What she didn’t detail in the statement were the hundreds of posters the bias team had put up around campus warning students not to use controversial terms or phrases such as “illegal immigrant” or “all lives matter.”

Even worse, two professors received visits from the school’s bias response team after they asked students to consider an opposing viewpoint as part of a class assignment. Some students in their classes had complained that the assignment constituted bias. In August, officials at the University of Iowa put their plans to launch a bias team on hold, citing the controversy at Northern Colorado.

In an essay in The New Republic, professors Jeffrey Snyder and Amna Khalid of Carleton College cataloged a long list of troubling incidents involving bias response teams. They included professors being pressured to resign, students dragged in for questioning and punishment, and episode after episode of students anonymously reporting “bias” when a professor or student simply said or did something they didn’t like. The result of all this has been to exalt the status of the tattletale, and to give one self-entitled student power to threaten and silence, by proxy, any person who crosses his will. The BART became a weapon for the brat.

Little wonder that even many conventionally liberal academics have begun to join conservatives to say enough is enough.

Ironically, none of these universities appear at all interested in taking steps to correct the most glaring bias of all–the hiring bias against conservative and Republican-voting faculty candidates. According to one study, only 14% of U.S. professors identify as Republican. The ratio is even more skewed at the nation’s most elite institutions. In 2012, for example, 96% of Ivy League faculty political donations went to Obama. (Mitt Romney, presumably, divided the remaining 4% with Jill Stein.)

The humanities and social sciences, where political issues are more likely to emerge in class discussion than in sciences or technical disciplines, are laughably bereft of diversity. Only 2% of American English professors identify as Republican. Two percent! Among social scientists, there are three times as many self-identified Marxists as there are Republicans–a figure so ridiculous it caused even The New York Times’ Nick Kristof to cry foul.

It’s a shame these anti-bias teams were not conceived to look into university hiring practices. And it’s no wonder students get confused and begin to think they are victims of bias whenever they encounter a differing political opinion. They go nearly all the way through college without ever hearing one.

College Students Lose It over the Election

University heads are very concerned with their students’ feelings and fears about the presidential election.  A Chronicle of Higher Education article collected 45 university president statements on the election. The statements reveal how many presidents advocated acceptance of the election results and/or congratulations of the winner—approximately zero–as opposed to offering comfort and therapy of sorts for the allegedly traumatized losers.

They have nothing to say about citizens’ duty, in a democracy, to accept election results, even if their preferred candidate loses.  This is both shocking and a reflection of the higher education ideological monoculture (see Jonathan Haidt’s Minding the Campus interview) as well as survey results showing that about 25% of millennials reject democracy as a form of government.

U.S. flags were burned in protest at American University, Hampshire College and the University of Missouri at Columbia, among other places.

At Brown University, some students tore up a large number of small flags that were planted to mark Veterans Day. This was a breakthrough in flag-based antagonism: ruining other people’s flags, instead of just your own. A comment on the website of The Brown Daily Herald said, ” Their purpose was not only to honor veterans as a whole but specific members of our community. I am ashamed that our campus continues to have a problem civilly and rationally expressing opposing opinions. We are becoming an echo chamber and the liberal caricature that Fox News thinks we are.” And St. Mary’s College of Maryland announced that an investigation has shown that some of its students were responsible for shredding and lowering to half-staff a flag at a local post office.

And St. Mary’s College of Maryland announced that an investigation has shown that some of its students were responsible for shredding and lowering to half-staff a flag at a local post office.

The colleges’ endorsements and promotions of partisan animus are an ominous turn for American society.  Citizens who are unhappy with the election results should feel free to oppose the incoming administration (witness Mitch McConnell’s pledge to make Barack Obama a one-term president around 2009). But they should not feel free, as university presidents apparently do, to oppose the legitimacy of the result.  University presidents should be particularly wary of making academia more partisan than it already is.

Unfortunately, higher education is part of the license raj.  As a government-sponsored cartel (accreditation, professional certification requirements plus student loans), it considers itself exempt from outside pressures.  The result has been the removal of civics from curricula and capture by a radical identity politics ideology to the exclusion of a commitment to democracy or republicanism (small caps).