Tag Archives: ideology

Iowa and the Groupthink Academy

That certain quarters of the academy–humanities
departments, most social sciences departments, and many graduate programs
(social work, education, and to a lesser extent law)–are ideologically
imbalanced is not news. A decision in an Iowa court, however, exposed the
difficulty in addressing the problem.

The case, which received extensive coverage in the Des Moines Register and attracted some
notice in the national press, involved Teresa Wagner, who in 2006 applied for a
vacancy at the University of Iowa Law School. (She then applied for adjunct jobs
between 2007 and 2009.) Wagner had served as a part-time instructor before that
time, was invited for an interview for the tenure-track job but didn’t receive
it, and then didn’t get any of the adjunct positions, either. (It’s odd indeed
for a candidate considered qualified enough to be a finalist for a tenure-track
job to, in turn, be deemed unqualified for an adjunct’s position.) Wagner
believed that her outspoken activism on social issues and her affiliation with
some very conservative groups, notably the Family Research Council, motivated
the opposition to her candidacy. Wagner then sued the dean of the law school.

Winning a lawsuit for an adverse hiring decision is all
but impossible. (The contrast here is to an adverse tenure decision, where the
odds are long but not insurmountable.) The university can always claim that,
whatever the apparent strengths of the plaintiff, there simply was another,
more qualified, candidate for the position, and that privacy/personnel rules
prevent a thorough airing of the matter. Given the inherently subjective nature
of the hiring process, that line of argument almost always carries the day, to
such an extent that few lawsuits alleging bias in the hiring process even make
it to trial.

The Wagner case, however, was unusual, in that she was
able to present an e-mail from the law school’s associate dean–dubbed a
“smoking gun” document by her attorney–in which the associate dean wrote, “Frankly,
one thing that worries me is that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in
any role in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially
her activism about it). I hate to think that is the case, and I don’t actually
think that, but I’m worried that I may be missing something.”

The law school dean unsurprisingly denied Wagner’s claim
of ideological bias, and instead rested on an assertion that Wagner had flubbed
an interview question by saying she’d refuse to teach a course required for the
position. But the law school’s position was weakened by its inability to
produce any contemporaneous references to this alleged flubbing (the notes from
other faculty seemed to praise, not disparage, Wagner’s performance). And a
videotape of Wagner’s interview that Wagner’s critics promised would prove their
case was conveniently erased.

Continue reading Iowa and the Groupthink Academy

Tenured Incognizance

A small controversy surfaced
last week at University of Central Florida when a psychology professor sent an email
to all his students to berate some of them for “religious bigotry.” 

According to the professor’s letter, some Christian students in class
that evening claimed that their faith is “the most valid religion,” thereby
“demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry
looks like.” When the professor asked students to imagine how Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists, and “non-believers” experience that
affirmation, a student stood and urged others “not to participate”–to the
professor a grossly arrogant and disrespectful act.

A university should abhor such “censorship” and
“anti-intellectualism,” the professor concluded. Students go there to be
challenged, to encounter ideas contrary to “cherished beliefs,” to become
“critical, independent thinkers.”

Very well. We don’t know exactly what happened in that class,
but the lengthy email contains nothing to surprise anyone who has spent
time on campus and doesn’t share the orthodox secular
left-liberalism. On the professor’s part, we have:

  • The customary
    condescension–“We’re adults.  We’re at a university.”
  • The inability to
    respect class boundaries–“There is no topic that is ‘off-limits’ for us to
    address in class, even if only remotely related to the course topic.
  • The elevation of
    mainstream beliefs into an oppressive hegemony–“the tyranny of the masses” (the
    dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
  • And finally, the
    interpretation of conviction as intolerance–“Bigots–radical bigots or religious
    bigots–never question their prejudices and bigotry.  They are convinced
    their beliefs are correct.”

Of course, every believer believes his or her religion is the most
valid one, and to say that doing so victimizes others is to raise sensitivities
to paranoid levels. Indeed, no belief can be held if it isn’t regarded as
correct.

But it is a waste of time to make such points. For professors
such as this one, the inconsistencies and contradictions run so deep that there
is little hope of dispelling them. His cultural relativism is
absolute. He calls for mutual respect, yet inserts sarcasms about
students. Etcetera. 

His incognizance is more significant than his ideology. It
poses a stiffer challenge to conservatives and libertarians than his liberalism
does, and so does his attitude. Instead of taking the Christian students’
assertion as a position to explore, he denounces it. Instead of ponder
the “not-participate” ejaculation as a comment upon him, he turns it onto the
student alone.

This is a hardened condition, and it won’t soften. It has
tenure and (spurious) academic freedom behind it, so why change, especially
when the majority of colleagues reinforce it? No wonder the many
and valid criticisms of the ideology of the professors have produced so little
real reform. They don’t touch attitudes and self-images, things academics
guard more closely than their ideas.

University of California’s Politicization is Out of Control

KC Johnson drew our attention to an
extraordinary development at UCLA, where the faculty senate of a major campus
is now on record approving use of a class to promote an instructor’s personal
political agenda. The practice itself is not new, but to date objections have been
met either with obfuscation or outright denial.            

The sequence of
events that led here began on March 29, 2012, when two members of the UC
faculty, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of UCSC and Leila Beckwith of UCLA mentioned
Professor Shorter’s promoting the boycott of Israel on his official class
website to four UC officials: system President Mark Yudof, UCLA Chancellor Gene
Block, statewide faculty senate chair Robert Anderson and UCLA senate chair
Andrew Leuchter.

What happened
next was astonishing. Though similar queries had been brushed off, within 24
hours Leuchter promised a full investigation by senate and administrative leadership
and barely two weeks later he assured Benjamin and Beckwith that the case was
resolved.

Unfortunately
but unsurprisingly, Leuchter cut many corners to get this rapid result. He compressed
the investigation, consultations, and resolution of the case into a few days. As
an old senate hand, Leuchter knew that he should have handed the matter over to
his Academic Freedom committee, but he didn’t. And he ended the matter by
directly ordering Shorter’s department chair to chastise him, which Leuchter
had no right to do since he was only an elected faculty leader without
administrative appointment. He also publicly announced the disciplinary action
against Shorter, a prohibited action which violated Shorter’s right to the
privacy of his personnel file.

We need not
look far for what prompted UC officials to bury the Shorter case as quickly as
possible. On March 30, the California Association of Scholars (CAS) sent to the
UC Regents its report entitled “A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect
of Political Activism in the University of California.” The report cited copious
evidence to demonstrate UC’s politicization. Advance copies had been
circulating for two weeks, and reporters had already begun to phone UC
officials for comment.

University
spokesmen resorted to the argument that the report was merely anecdotal.
However, a lengthy, supportive account of the report in the Wall Street Journal
by Peter Berkowitz made that shopworn tactic look rather silly. More importantly,
any reader of the eighty page report itself could easily see that the talking
point was a flagrant lie. This context explains why Benjamin and Beckwith caused
a panic. They proved that CAS’s evidence could not be dismissed.

Leuchter failed
to consider the effect that his ill-considered action would have on Shorter and
his many allies on campus. Though he acted to protect the politicized status
quo from CAS scrutiny, Shorter saw only a restriction of his previously
unlimited freedom to politicize his classroom.

Accordingly, Shorter
and his allies struck back hard. He denied having ever conceding his error,
organized a letter of protest signed by many of his fellow professors, and
appealed to the campus Academic Freedom committee that Leuchter had improperly
bypassed. Dominated by Shorter’s ideological allies, the committee failed to
grasp that Leuchter was only trying to keep CAS at bay. It backed Shorter as a
matter of principle, and now Leuchter’s stratagem had backfired spectacularly.
He thought he had deprived CAS of the evidence of Shorter’s politicized class,
but he had actually provided CAS with the infinitely more important evidence
that Shorter’s politicizing was approved by a large and important segment of
the faculty–exactly what the CAS report had argued. He had shown that
pro-politicization sentiment was rampant among the UCLA faculty.

The university
administration aspires to protect the university, but its conception of “protection”
is extraordinarily shallow. It does not extend to defending the University’s core
value of pursuing integrity in teaching and research. Ultimately, this
administration aims to protect itself against individuals wishing to restore it.
This means avoiding the wrath of faculty radicals who bark at the mere mention
of quality control.

This episode confirms that neither the faculty
nor the administration can be trusted to protect the core values of the
University. That leaves only the Board of Regents, a body with the constitutional
duty to protect both its academic integrity and public reputation. What will it
do?

College Insurrection

Today Professor William Jacobson (of Legal Insurrection fame) launched College Insurrection, a new website devoted to higher education. The site, according to Professor Jacobson, will help “conservative/libertarian students…find out what is going on with like-minded students on other campuses, and understand that they are the many, not the few, no matter what they are told.” 

Given our mutual interests, we look forward to working with CI. You should check it out.

UCLA: Still Obsessed with Diversity

diversity.jpgWhat is it with universities in California? Financially strapped, troubled by protesters making impossible demands, and worried about the declining value of their academic programs, many of the state’s great universities decide to…redouble their commitment to a fast-fading political ideology.

The latest example is the impending vote by the faculty of UCLA’s
College of Letters and Science that would add a course on diversity to
the general education requirements. Only it is not called a course on
diversity. Because the word “diversity” has become too obviously an
enunciation of a contentious political agenda, the supporters of the new
requirement have renamed it “Community and Conflict.” Kaustuv Basu,
writing
on Inside Higher Ed, quotes a UCLA official who observes that
earlier efforts in this vein failed because the word diversity “means
different things to different people.” And the chairman of the Faculty
Executive Committee helpfully explains that the community and conflict
requirement “is not designed to be a diversity requirement.”

Continue reading UCLA: Still Obsessed with Diversity

In Praise of Ideological Openness

Many people, some conservatives included, say we need to get ideology out of the college classroom. Some professors say proudly, “my students never come to know where I stand.”
 
I practice an opposite approach. I tell students that I am a free-market economist, a classical liberal or libertarian.  And I am not suggesting that it is wrong to be ideologically reserved. Different styles suit different professors.
 
And of course some professors go much too far in pressing their ideological judgments and requiring conformity, even forms of activism. But we should not fall into simplistic ideals of neutrality and objectivity. There is an ethical high-ground in temperance, but that does not necessarily mean reserve and circumspection. One can open up about ideology without falling into intemperance. Here I meditate on some merits of being open about your own ideology, even somewhat outspoken, when teaching a college course.
 
When listening to testimony on financial regulation, we like to know whether the testifying expert has a vested interest. And we like to know if he has other sorts of commitments that might affect his interpretation and judgment.
 
An individual’s ideological commitments are like his religious commitments, in that they run deep and change little. They suffuse his professional and personal relationships; they suffuse his sense of self. They are like vested interests, only deeper and more permanent. 

Continue reading In Praise of Ideological Openness

The Safe and Secure Professoriate

Here is what Andrew Hacker, co-author of Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It , says about tenure in a recent interview in Atlantic Monthly:

Here’s what happens. Academics typically don’t get tenured until the age of 40. This means that from their years as graduate students and then assistant professors, from age 25 through 38 or 39, they have to toe the line. They have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can’t be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We’ve seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don’t change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they’ve been trained to follow.
What bothers us, too, is that over 300,000 professors have it. That’s a tremendous number. What that means is these people never leave. There’s hardly any turnover in the senior ranks—not just at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford but at small colleges in Kentucky, everywhere. You go to a campus and over two thirds of the faculty have been there at least 25 years. They begin to stagnate. In many ways, they become infantilized, embroiled in ideological issues like faculty parking.

Continue reading The Safe and Secure Professoriate

Another Argument against Liberal Bias

Every ideology has its factual holes. The press of ideas and values highlights certain facts and obscures others, and when the ideology grows in force in local settings, those obscured facts disappear entirely, or even turn into outright falsehoods in the eyes of the “ideologues.”

George Mason economics professor Daniel Klein and Zogby International researcher Zelija Buturovic have analyzed the findings of a Zogby survey that reveals the dangers of excessive ideological conformity.

Zogby posed to nearly 4,835 American adults eight assertions about basic economics and asked them to agree or disagree. The prompts included “Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services,” “Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago,” and “Rent control leads to housing shortages.”

The survey also broke the respondents down into six ideological groups, “Very conservative,” “Libertarian,” “Conservative,” “Moderate,” “Liberal,” “Progressive/very liberal.” It also asked respondents for their political party affiliation.

Here are the researchers’ conclusions as recounted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Klein this week: “Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics.” For instance, “On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%).”

Furthermore, “Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect.”

This is to say that possession of certain economic facts varied by ideology. The right performed better, much better. This is not to say that the left would not perform better in other areas. I think it likely that it would. But the survey does support the notion of factual blind spots, and we may infer that in more or less closed bodies such as academic departments in which one ideology reigns, the blind spots can dilate, progressively turning into accepted wisdom. Add to that the complacency that follows and you have a formula for intellectual weakness.

Decoding Teacher Training

Thanks to the efforts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—and a rare, if welcome, instance of Congress standing up for students’ rights in higher education—the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) abandoned its de facto “social justice” criterion. Yet while the development made it harder for Education schools to use “social justice” and “diversity” to demand ideological fidelity from students, the ideologues that populate such programs have hardly ceased their efforts. Only now they must take accountability for their actions.
A good example of the continuing problem is the renewed emphasis on “cultural competence”—a term, much like “dispositions,” which is meaningless to anyone outside the academy but has a specific, and ideologically charged, designation to those familiar with Education code. Take, for instance, the Education Department at the University of Minnesota whose activities were exposed by Katherine Kersten in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Kersten uncovered a report prepared as part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, which is reorienting the U of M’s teacher-training curriculum.
The intellectual interests of the report’s authors not only preview the group’s recommendations but also give a sense of what passes for the ideological mainstream in Education departments on the nation’s college campuses. The work of Professor Tim Lensmire, who says that he uses the classroom to promote “radical democracy” through embracing “various progressive, feminist, and critical pedagogies,” sets the ideological tone: Lensmire notes that his “current research and writing focus on race and education, and especially on how white people learn to be white in our white supremacist society.” The report’s other authors include Bic Ngo, whose research examines “the ways in which the education of immigrant students are shaped by dynamic power relations as they play out at the intersection(s) of race, ethnicity, class and gender” using “critical, cultural and feminist theories” to explicate “the role(s) of critical multicultural education”; committee chair Michael Goh, whose research explores “multicultural counseling”; and two non-tenure track figures, Mary Beth Kelley and Carole Gupton.

Continue reading Decoding Teacher Training

Three Groupthink Conferences—No Dissenters Please

Several years ago, in a seminal Chronicle of Higher Education essay, Mark Bauerlein lamented a campus in which “the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they’ve reached an opinion through reasoned debate—instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit.”

The Bauerlein hypothesis projected that this “groupthink” environment would produce a more one-sided academy, with extremist voices becoming more prevalent. Three recent academic conferences, on topics of obvious academic and national import, confirm the point.

The first such gathering, which occurred a few weeks ago at NYU’s Ewen Academic Freedom Center, examined academic freedom in contemporary America. In the post-9/11 world, the topic was certainly timely, although differing viewpoints exist on whether a serious threat to academic freedom exists from outside the academy. Moreover, in an era of academic mobbing, in which by almost any standards most humanities and some social science departments are becoming more one-sided ideologically and pedagogically, any serious conference on academic freedom would surely examine whether the majority in the academy is truly committed to fostering dissenting points of view.

The NYU conference, however, wasn’t interested in viewpoints that challenged prevailing academic orthodoxy. The conference led off with remarks from Alison Bernstein, a Ford Foundation vice president and co-author of Melting Pots and Rainbow Nations, which one reviewer gushingly described as “nothing less than a new feminist approach to global issues.” At Ford, Bernstein has developed a program called “Difficult Dialogues: Promoting Academic Freedom and Pluralism on Campus.” The “model” for this initiative? The Ford Foundation’s earlier “Campus Diversity Initiative,” a program implemented most aggressively by the “diversity”-obsessed AAC&U. Many non-academics, I suspect, would wonder about the relationship between protecting academic freedom and promoting a “diversity” agenda. But for the academic majority that Bernstein personifies, the two causes are very much interlinked: the threat to the academic majority’s “diversity” agenda, and therefore by extension “academic freedom,” comes almost exclusively from outside critics of the academy.

Continue reading Three Groupthink Conferences—No Dissenters Please

Why I Left Academia

By Anonymous
In March 2008 I reluctantly made the decision to leave academia. After six years in graduate school and three years as a professor, it was clear to me that the discrimination I faced was so pervasive that there would be no escaping it in the years ahead. Don’t misunderstand what I write in the paragraphs that follow. I am not bitter, vengeful, enraged, or anything of the sort. My experience as a professor was disappointing and saddening, but not for me. I feel sad for the students and taxpayers. My leaving was the latest in a long string of departures that stem from the discrimination I describe below.
I was a good professor, well liked by students (third highest student evaluations in my department of 18), productive scholar (2 books, 6 articles, and 10 book reviews in two years while teaching a 4/4), member of a university committee, and the advisor to a campus organization.
The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurred a week after I approached the university lawyer to notify him that I would be running for a seat on the county commission. As a political scientist, it seemed appropriate for me to have some experience in the subject I taught and loved. I also discussed my plan to challenge the incumbent US Senator in 2010. It may seem an ambitious endeavor, but ambition is something of which I have an abundance.

Continue reading Why I Left Academia

More Diversity Nonsense

If you still think the diversity ideology isn’t corrupting the universities, consider these two items from Canada:
– Carleton University in Ottawa is dropping cystic fibrosis as the beneficiary of its annual fundraiser because the disease isn’t diverse enough—most of the people who suffer from it are believed to be white males.
– Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, has trained six students to listen in on conversations around campus and correct speakers who voice slurs and other opinions that women, gays and minorities might consider objectionable.
The Carleton decision came in a vote by the students’ association, with only one dissenting vote. “They’re playing politics with this,” said the dissenter, journalism student Nick Bergamini. “I think they see this, in their own twisted way, as a win for diversity. I see it as a loss for people with cystic fibrosis.”
The administration-appointed eavesdroppers at Queens are officially known as “dialogue facilitators,” though some students call them “conversation cops” or simply “the snoops.” The “facilitators” expect to be particularly active in the dining hall, where they expect plenty of conversations to facilitate. “If there’s a teachable moment, we’ll take it,” said assistant deal of student affairs Arig Gigrah, who runs the program. “A lot of community-building happens around food and dining. It’s about creating opportunities to dialogue and reflect on issues of social identity.” For instance, if a student uses the phrase “That’s so gay,” calls someone “retarded” or declines to go to a birthday party for “faith-based reasons,” the snoop-facilitator will step in and suggest the use of pro-diversity language that reflects a proper commitment to social justice. Daniel Hayward, 46, who is studying for his master’s degree at Queens, said that facilitators like himself, “are trained to interrupt behavior in a non-blameful and non-judgmental manner, so it’s not like we’re pulling someone aside and reprimanding them about their behavior.” So in that respect, the Queens program is somewhat different from the surveillance so popular in East Germany and other Communist countries. Still, before talking to friends or anyone else, Queens students should ask themselves, “Are my opinions really the ones my university wants me to have?” and “Do I have time to develop new opinions before the conversation cops arrive at my table to set me straight?”
As for Carleton, lots of other diseases could run afoul of a proper diversity test—Tay-Sachs (mostly Jews), sickle disease (mostly blacks) and, for that matter, AIDS (mostly male and gay) and breast cancer. It’s just hard to get illnesses to observe diversity standards.

Ideology In The Classroom

Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities, published in September to little fanfare, has caught on amid its intended audience: those who believe indoctrination of students is a figment of the conservative imagination and not really a factor on our campuses. The New York Times, calling indoctrination “an article of faith” among conservative critics of the universities, gave the book a boost in a November 2nd article.
The authors of the book, George Mason professors Bruce Smith, A. Lee Fritscher and Jeremy Mayer, acknowledge that the professoriate leans the to left–with Democratic party registration reaching 9 to 1 over Republicans at some universities– but argue that this imbalance has no appreciable effects, since most academics tend to avoid political controversy altogether. On the basis of questionnaires, the authors report that 95 percent of professors claim to be trying to be “honest brokers among all competing views” and 81 percent believe ideology plays no role at all in faculty hiring.
Asking professors to state whether they are classroom propagandists or fair-minded teachers does not seem to be a rigorous methodology. Just as earnestly, the authors asked professors if students elsewhere on their campus got unfair grades because of their political views. Only one percent said it happens frequently or often. The authors say self-censorship of political and religious views, out of fear of negative reactions, was just as common among very liberal professors as among very conservative ones. And –in another counerintuitive leap–“discrimination against non-Christians appears to be more widespread than discrimination against conservatives.”
The authors spend a good deal of space deploring Ward Churchill on the left and David Horowitz on the right, while depicting faculties as moderates nestled in the middle, so not to worry. Although the universities have become more moderate since the 1990s, the book says, “The media have much preferred the narrative of the lefties in academe taking over.” But this is hardly the preferred narrative of the mainstream media, which have a long record of denying or ignoring patterns of coercion on campus, often giving the issue their full attention-as the Times did with Closed Minds?- only when some study dismisses the issue.

Continue reading Ideology In The Classroom

The Long Shadow Of The Sixties

In every discussion of left-wing bias on college campuses, a good portion of faculty defenders come to the table with a blunt contention. There is NO bias, they insist. Sure, most humanities and social science faculty register Democrat, but it doesn’t much affect teaching, and besides, campuses have their fair share of conservatism and libertarianism in the business school and upper-administration. Indeed, some add, the charge is but a concoction of fevered or cynical rightists, a weapon to dominate the classroom in the same way conservatives have AM talk radio. So, professors approach the issue not as a proposition to be examined, but an agenda to defeat.

It’s a frustrating reaction, but campus critics shouldn’t always chalk it up to faculty tactics and turf anxieties. Most professors who deny leftist bias believe what they say, and in fact maintain that the university has drifted well rightward in recent years. The notion certainly ticks off conservatives, who sense opposition down to the very first premises of several disciplines, but it’s still worth taking seriously. And one of the best ways of doing so is to go back in time to key moments that signify in the eyes of the most defensive professors just how liberal the college campus used to be—and is no more.

I came across one of them awhile back while perusing old issues of the San Francisco Chronicle. The year was 1968, and the town across the bay was a battle zone. On August 31, a riot on the Berkeley campus left one police officer with a gunshot wound and 13 protesters in jail. Three days later, a story in the Chronicle bore the title, “A ‘State of Emergency’ in Berkeley.” Youths lived under a curfew, and the city instituted a ban on public assemblies (largely ignored). A few miles to the south a trial had begun, flamboyant Black Panther leader Huey Newton facing charges of murdering a cop.

Continue reading The Long Shadow Of The Sixties

Want to Teach Here? Then Tell Us Your Politics

It’s hard to say just when universities ceased to believe that education was a worthwhile mission. But that they have done so is beyond question. Among many signs of this reality is the anxiety to redefine the university’s task. After all, educators who no longer expect or demand serious intellectual effort from their students are bound to look elsewhere for ways to justify their existence and that of their institutions. Enter the language of “community engagement,” “outreach,” “social justice,” and “equity” (to name just a few of the terms now used as rallying cries on many campuses).

If anyone has doubts that behind these grand terms lies the degradation of academic life, a look at procedures for recruiting new faculty is a good place to observe the university’s priorities. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I teach, a document both sublime and ridiculous advises us how to go about determining if applicants have what it takes to work here. Along with the usual lists of questions that may or may not be asked, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity provides some crucial guidelines in a document titled Supplemental Search Instructions. I reproduce the final section of this document below:

Continue reading Want to Teach Here? Then Tell Us Your Politics

What Does ‘Sustainability’ Have to Do With Student Loans?

The student loan crisis – or near crisis; narrowly-averted crisis ; or postponed crisis – no one is sure – comes co-incidentally at a moment when many colleges and universities are once again repackaging their basic programs. The new buzzword, as John Leo has pointed out is “sustainability.” I also recently tried my hand at unpacking this polyvalent idea. “Sustainability” sounds to the uninitiated as though it is about environmentalism, but it is much more. As I wrote in Inside Higher Education, many of the advocates of “sustainability” see it as an encompassing concept. It includes science, economics, and the social structure. And for many in the movement, the focus on social order is the basis for far-reaching attempts to advance “social justice” policies.

I doubt this development has come into focus for many parents or people outside the campus. The campus left learned with its promotion of the concept of “diversity” the advantages of packaging hard-core ideology in bland, feel-good terminology. Sustainability is another venture in this direction. No one can really be against sustainability (definition 1) – prudent use of resources with the needs of future generations in mind. But while most of us hear the word in that sense, campus ideologues are busy rearranging the curriculum and student life around “sustainability” (definition 2) – a condition that arises when capitalism and hierarchy are abolished; individuals are made to see themselves as “citizens of the world;” and a new order materializes on the basis of eco-friendliness, social justice, and new forms of economic distribution.

Sustainability (2) is an amalgam of environmental extremism, shards of Marxism, romantic utopianism, and identity group politics. It doesn’t have a significant political following in America outside college campuses, and in that sense it is a fringe movement. But on campus it’s everywhere. Hundreds of campuses now have sustainability officers, courses that promote the ideology, and most ominously, “co-curricular” programs run through student life and residence halls that attempt to “educate” students about their mistaken “worldviews” and bring them aboard this new ideological ark.

Continue reading What Does ‘Sustainability’ Have to Do With Student Loans?

The Ideological Fog Of The Modern University

Don’t miss Peter Wood’s remarkable speech on the crisis in the universities, delivered April 19 to the National Association of Scholars affiliate in Minnesota. The speech is featured above in commentary. Wood, NAS executive director, neatly encapsulates the crisis in a single sentence, discussing “how higher education one ordered by a small number of abiding principles has, within a few decades, fragmented into a million little multiculturalisms, vanished into the Cheshire Cat grin of postmodernism, erupted into truth-denying relativism; spread its ideological fog of race, gender and class reductionism, dynamited the very basis of rational inquiry through deconstruction and other anti-foundational pseudo-philosophies and transformed the university from a steward of civilization to its spendthrift.”

Citing the work of chaos theorist Edward Lorenz, who died a week ago, Wood speaks of attempts to face the chaos of the campuses in terms of either Phylum A – try to begin the reform of existing campuses by establishing beachheads on their alien soil – and Phylum B, acknowledge that reform of the ideologically committed universities is a hopeless cause: let them decline in their folly and build new institutions to replace them. Wood thinks Phylum B, though obviously emotionally satisfying, will not work. Among the beachheads of Phylum A: Robby George’s Madison Institute at Princeton, Patrick Deneen’s Toqueville Center at Georgetown, Robert Koons’s Center for Western Civilization at the University of Texas, Dan Lowenstein’s Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions at UCLA and John Tomasi’s Political Theory Project at Brown.

Wood favors Phylum A and includes in its description parallel organizations set up to counter existing ones, including the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), the Association of Literary Scholars and the Historical Society. The Federalist Society doesn’t quite fit in this category, but it is a counter to the American Bar Association. Wood discusses many Phylum A projects and warns that reforming higher education will bring some chaos of its own.

Indoctrinate U At The Manhattan Institute

Last night the Manhattan Institute sponsored a screening of Evan Coyne Maloney’s brilliant documentary, Indoctrinate U. Some 400-500 people attended, laughing in all the right places. (It’s hard to explain why a film about campus repression is so funny, but it is.)

Not one campus administrator (on or off camera) even tries to answer any of Maloney’s questions about campus policy. Instead the normal reaction from a normal university bureaucrat is to call the cops. The lesson here, a familiar one to those who follow the issue, is that the people who run the universities are not willing to defend in public what they do in private. Instead, they are deeply affronted and want the ever-polite Maloney carted away for asking questions.

Indoctrinate U undercuts the usual reaction to complaints about campus repression–that anti-PC commentary relies solely on a few endlessly recycled anecdotes. Not so. Maloney makes clear that censorship and indoctrination run from coast to coast, from public to Catholic colleges, from elite universities like Yale to California’s Foothill College.

One memorable tale is the saga of Republican student Steve Hinkle, who was subject to vast pressure and abuse for trying to post, in a Cal Polytechnic multicultural center, a flier announcing a speech by black conservative C. Mason Weaver, author of It’s OK to Leave the Plantation. Maloney is too kind to mention the president of Cal Poly who presided over the mess that cost taxpayers $40,000 in a prolonged effort to punish Hinkle, but his name is Warren Baker, co-winner of my 2003 Sheldon award given annually to the worst college president in America.

A week ago, Indoctrinate U. went on sale as a DVD. It’s available from the Indoctrinate U website for $21.99.

Indoctrinate U Screening

The Moving Picture Institute and MindingTheCampus.com invite you to a public screening of Indoctrinate U on Monday April 14, 2008 from 6:00-8:00 PM. The screening will be held at the Directors Guild of America Theater and will be followed by a discussion featuring MindingTheCampus.com editor John Leo and David DesRosiers, executive director of the VERITAS Fund for Higher Education. For more information or to RSVP, click here.

Soft Bias Against The Right

In recent years, conservative critics of academia have had few better friends than Ward Churchill, the Group of 88, MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins (who fled Larry Summers talk about variations in intelligence between genders), and a few other hot-headed leftists on campus who made headlines. They proved the point about ideological bias every time they opened their mouths or printed their opinions. They were the slam dunk cases, and their high standing proved an embarrassment to their colleagues.

Beyond those outspoken circles, though, the evidence appears to grow thin. For the truth is that the majority of academics are not fiery, intolerant people railing against Bush in class or berating a conservative sophomore in office hours. They fall on the left side of the spectrum and wouldn’t dream of voting for a Republican, yes, but they pretty much stick to their jobs of teaching a field and pursuing more or less apolitical topics. Churchill et al discredited the profession with their partisan heat, but mainstream professors restore credibility precisely by their dutiful, everyday manner.

It is all the more regrettable and exasperating, then, that when they make fundamental choices in their work these moderate professors harbor some of the same biases, although in softer form and more judiciously expressed, and they produce equally discriminatory effects.

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Where Are The News Media?

Stuart Taylor’s brilliant rant in this week’s National Journal (“Academia’s Pervasive PC Rot”) says “the cancerous spread of ideologically eccentric, intellectually shoddy, phony-diversity-obsessed fanaticism among university faculties and administrators is far, far worse and more inexorable than most alumni, parents, and trustees suspect.”

There’s an obvious explanation of why so many university watchers don’t seem to know what’s going on: the news media are extremely reluctant to report on what the increasingly coercive diversity lobby is doing to the campuses.

The brainwashing and indoctrination at the University of Delaware (and anyone who has read the voluminous documents in the case knows that use of these words is surely fair) has been pervasively reported on conservative blogs and right-wing radio. But the left has been silent and the mainstream media have almost universally avoided telling alumni, parents and trustees what is going on. Only a few news outlets covered the story. The Wilmington News Journal ran a piece headlined “Some Made Uneasy by UD Diversity Training”, thus reducing indoctrination to discomfort. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a similarly soft report that used the headline word “unsettled” instead of “uneasy.” The story’s lead: “When University of Delaware freshmen showed up at their dorms this semester, their orientation included an exercise aimed at bridging cultural

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Professors: Just As Liberal, Or More Moderate?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the voice of liberal academia, says that an important new study shows that liberal dominance among professors is much less than commonly believed. Not really. The study, by sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, found that in 2004, 78 percent of faculty voted for John Kerry (77percent) or Ralph Nader (1 percent), while only 20.4 percent voted for President Bush. Among social science professors, Ralph Nader and “other” received a percentage of the 2004 vote as large as that of President Bush.

Other findings:

* Liberals outnumber conservatives by 11-1 among social scientists and 13-1 among humanities professors.

* 25.5 percent of those who teach sociology identify themselves as Marxist. Self-identified radicals accounted for 19 percent of humanities professors and 24 percent of social scientists.

* Although business school professors are believed to be predominantly conservative, professors of business voted 2-1 for Kerry. These professors were barely more conservative than liberal.

* Only 19.7 percent of respondents identify themselves as any type of conservative, compared to 62.2 percent who say they are any type of liberal.

* At elite, Ph.D-granting schools in general, 60.4 percent of faculty members are Democrats, 30.1 percent are independents and 9.5 percent are Republicans.

* Gross and Simmons believe that liberals are losing ground to moderates among faculty, though conservatives are not gaining at all. Faculty members who are 35 or younger are less likely that their elders to be left-wing, and less likely to be conservative as well.

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The Humanities: A Laughing Stock?

An excerpt from the new book Education’s End, Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life by Anthony T. Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School (Yale University Press)

By the early 1970s, the humanities were floundering. Ideological rifts were widening. Traditional ways of teaching had lost much of their authority, and there was worried talk of a “crisis” in the humanities. To many it seemed less clear than it had a quarter century before, when Harvard published its famous report on the aims of liberal education, what the humanities are supposed to do and why their doing it is important. In this anxious and excited environment, a new set of ideas began to gain currency. The first idea was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement and is associated with the concept of diversity. The second generally goes under the name of multiculturalism, and reflected the deepening suspicion of Western values provoked, in part, by the Vietnam War. The third, which provided philosophical support for the other two, I shall call the idea of constructivism, though its supporters have given it a variety of other names (“postmodernism”, “antiessentialism,” and the like). Loosely inspired by the work of philosophers as different as Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault, constructivism affirmed the artificiality of all human values and the absence of any natural standards by which to judge them. It insisted, in particular, that the values of the West have no inherent superiority over those of other civilizations and are merely instruments of power in disguise that must be unmasked and resisted as weapons of colonial oppression. Together, these three ideas are the source of the culture of political correctness that has dominated the humanities for the past forty years.

Each has something to recommend it. Each has a core of good sense with intellectual and moral appeal. And each draws its appeal from a feature it shares with secular humanism, which also acknowledged the diversity of human values and the need to construct one’s life by making a choice among them. Together these ideas have helped to maintain the confidence of many in the humanities that they do in fact have something special to contribute to the work of higher education. They have helped define a new and distinctive role for the humanities, organized around attractive moral and political values – one that fills the void that opened up when teachers in these fields abandoned their role as guides to the question of life’s purpose and value in favor of the research ideal. And they have done this in a way that appears consistent with the values of secular humanism itself.

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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.

Praising Discomfort at Middlebury

Stop the presses. The president of a well-known college has actually come out for diversity of ideas, rather than just the narrow form of diversity prized on campus (skin color, gender, sexual orientation). In a baccalaureate address at Middlebury College’s graduation, President Ronald D. Liebowitz talked about the “value of discomfort” in listening to and grappling with new ideas. Liebowitz said, “If the wariness about discomfort is stronger than the desire to hear different viewpoints because engaging difference is uncomfortable, then the quest for diversity is hollow, no matter what the demographic statistics on a campus reflect.” If the pursuit of diversity is to be intellectually defensible, he said, Middlebury can’t just exchange one orthodoxy for another.

At colleges, “discomfort” is a familiar buzzword justifying censorship or punishment for offending the sensibilities of students designated as “underrepresented.” That’s why coming out in favor of discomfort is a near-heresy in the campus monoculture.

Some students objected to Bill Clinton as this year’s commencement speaker, while a larger and more irritated group objected to Middlebury’s endowed professorship in American history and culture honoring William Rehnquist. Liebowitz noted that some members of minority groups on campus felt “invisible and disrespected” by the decision to honor Rehnquist and considered it an offense against diversity. Indignant objections to conservative supreme court judges are an old story on campus, including attempts to boycott Antonin Scalia at Amherst and Clarence Thomas at the University of North Carolina Law School.

Some objectors to the Rehnquist professorship claimed that the goal of a liberal education should be to advance social change, and since Rehnquist failed this test, he should not be honored. “I do not share in that narrow definition of a liberal education,” Liebowitz said. “Rather, liberal education must be first and foremost about ensuring a broad range of views and opinion in the classrooms and across campus…” Good idea. Will it apply to the hiring of professors as well?