Tag Archives: Leftist monoculture

David Horowitz: Battlefield Notes from a War Gone Unnoticed

I have been reading essays by David Horowitz for nearly fifty years, starting when he became an editor of the radical new-left magazine, Ramparts, in 1968, and I was a high school student prepping for debates about the Vietnam war. David famously moved beyond his red diaper origins, his Marxist enthusiasms, and his admiration of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. In time he became a self-professed conservative. The “Second Thoughts” conference he co-hosted in Washington, DC in 1987 came at a crucial moment for me.

Though I had long since lost any respect for the academic left, and I was strongly anti-communist, I had trouble recognizing the deeper character of my own political views. The forthright stand that David took alongside other formerly radical intellectuals opened my eyes. They made conservative thought thinkable for me: a plausible way to ground my sympathies in a living tradition.

Related: The Roots of Our New Civil War

My debt to David Horowitz came home vividly to me in reading his new volume of collected essays—volume eight in a series collectively titled “The Black Book of the American Left.” This volume, The Left in the University, bears the hefty burden of gathering his significant writings on American higher education, 1993 to 2010. A fair number of the 53 essays collected here, I’d read before. Reading them afresh and as part of a whole, however, is to see them in a more valedictory light.

Horowitz—I’ll retreat to the patronym from this point on—has plainly failed at that part of his intellectual project represented by this book. He has not arrested the radical left’s takeover of the university, let alone restored the ideal of a university that teaches “how to think, not what to think.” The diversity of ideas and outlooks that he has tirelessly promoted as the sine qua non of higher education is less in evidence today than it was when he started. Repression of conservative ideas and highhanded treatment of the people who voice those ideas has grown steadily worse. The dismal situation brought by the triumph of the progressive left on college campuses has darkened still further as a new generation of even more radicalized identitarian groups has emerged.

Related: The Long Plight of the Right on Campus

It is not that Horowitz is unaware that he has fought a losing battle. He understands that keenly, and a fair number of his essays ponder that fact. The reader may wonder why, with this failure so evident, Horowitz continues to fight. Surely, he has the motive to collect these essays other than simply documenting twenty-some years of futile campaigning on behalf of a lost cause? Horowitz has seldom lacked for constructive ideas to reform the university. Much of the book consists of his efforts to advance “The Academic Bill of Rights” and other measures that would have improved the situation. The book even ends with a “Plan for University Reform,” accompanied by the plaintiff note, “Written in 2010, before the AAUP eviscerated Penn State’s academic freedom policy.”

Horowitz never holds out hope that his proposals will at some later point leap back to life, as a smoldering coal might with a fresh breeze return to flame. To the contrary, his introduction includes a disavowal of the possibility: I publish it [that last essay] now because I have given up any hope that universities can institute such a reform. The faculty opposition is too devious and too strong, and even more importantly there is no conservative will to see such reforms enacted.”

Why No Greater Success?

What then? Why read this record of failure? One answer is that we can reject the author’s own judgment. Yes, his specific proposals failed, but Horowitz has done heroic work in building a conservative movement that will, I expect, one day prevail in re-establishing a form of higher education centered on the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. There are those of us who look to his work not just with admiration but for practical help in building this movement. The recent Pew poll that found 58 percent of Republicans saying that contemporary higher education has a negative effect on the country is testimony to the existence of this movement and to Horowitz’s actual legacy.

It may be fair to ask why Horowitz didn’t have greater success in the short term. The reasons may be many, but I will mention two. First, Horowitz framed his fight largely as a matter of combatting the Marxist premises of his opponents. He was surely right about those premises, and his collected articles are a gold mine of instances he which he calls out named individuals for their allegiance to the discredited ideas of that revolutionary. The trouble with this framing is that it flies over the heads of most ordinary Americans. To say that a professor is an acolyte of Stalin or an apologist for tyranny in some far-away place registers with only a fringe of Americans who take such things seriously. Who cares if some Ivy League English professor thinks that bourgeois American society is to be scorned and that Lenin or Mao was right? Maybe we should care—and indeed I care—but I also recognize that this point seems meaningless to most Americans who see themselves as “conservative.”

A Thunderbolt in 1983

The oldest essay in the book is a version of a speech Horowitz gave to the Modern Language Association in December 1993. It was a thunderbolt then, and it remains an astonishing tour de force. Horowitz calls out the MLA for “its assault on literature and its abandonment of the educational task,” and for “its burial of the literary subject under a mountain of feminist, Marxist, deconstructionist Kitsch.” He invokes the “empty files of ideological poseurs like [MLA presidents] Catherine Stimpson and Houston Baker to measure its descent into intellectual mediocrity and political attitudinizing.”

But back then, Horowitz was an optimist. His MLA address ends with the observation that “the demonization of American culture” was part of the “lowest ebb” of the American university in its 300- year history. Looking back at 1993 from the high Sahara-scape of academe in 2017, we know that that ebb tide didn’t turn. Its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (as Matthew Arnold might put it) is now so withdrawn as to be barely audible. But perhaps that is what it took for Americans to begin to wonder whether higher education devoted to crackpot utopianism and un-freedom is really what we want from our colleges and universities.

He Frightened Many People

Horowitz’s anti-Marxist combativeness was one reason his movement stalled. It hit home against the radicals but not with the parents. The other reason his movement stalled, I suspect, is that he is characteristically a warrior and that he frightened many a good soul who might easily have been won over by someone with a lighter touch. Higher education is a context where students and parents want to believe the best. The best about the character and intelligence of the students. The best about the faculty, the campus, the teams. The best about what will come after college. The fierceness of Horowitz’s attacks frightened many who preferred the wish-fulfillment of the colleges and universities. A Jeremiah among critics of higher education, Horowitz’s voice was indispensable, but it was not destined to win large numbers of converts.

I cannot end even a short review of one of Horowitz’s book without acknowledging the quality of his writing. He is a superb essayist who excels at telling compelling stories without deviating a jot from the larger compelling ideas he is arguing. The Left in the University is valued as a preciously detailed account of how the radicals have despoiled American higher education, but it is also a collection of superbly written and argued accounts from the battlefield. Horowitz’s book might be thought of as war correspondence from a war most Americans didn’t realize was being fought.

Why I’m Leaving the Political Science Association

Looking forward to a lively annual conference of the American Political Science Association, due to start this week in San Francisco, I proposed a panel on “Viewpoint Diversity in Political Science.” After all, I thought, wasn’t the 2016 election a signal lesson in the continuing relevance of diverse viewpoints in the American body politic?

My submission featured four of the most prominent political scientists in the country who have written on the issue of political diversity in the field. They included Joshua Dunn, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, whose co-authored 2016 book entitled Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University has been a focus of the national discussion among academics interested in the issue; and April Kelly-Woessner, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies at Elizabethtown College, whose co-authored 2011 book The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power Politics and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education is the gold standard on how to promote respectful political dialogue on campus.

Quaint Notions of White Identity?

Now, granted, every major conference receives far more submissions than it can accept. Still, I was surprised when the panel was rejected. I assumed that it had been bested by superior panels submitted to the jointly-organized teaching and education sections of the conference. But when the official program came out, I could see that it was not. Instead, it was crowded out by APSA’s serious lack of political diversity.

A total of 11 full panels or roundtables were accepted in the teaching and education sections. Of these, 7 are on mainstream teaching topics. Another 4 were set aside for, shall we say, more politicized topics. One, entitled “Let’s Talk about Sex (and Gender and Sexuality)”, is on how to restructure the classroom around ideas of being “genderfluid, transgender, or gender nonconforming.” Another, on “Tolerance, Diversity, and Assessment” will focus on how to use administrative coercion to enforce various group identity agendas.

The third, called “Taking Advantage of Diversity,” will help scholars to understand why their quaint notions of cutting edge knowledge are merely expressions of white identity. Another, “Teaching Trump”, is composed of left-wing feminist scholars. Final score for political science education at this year’s APSA conference: left-wing approaches to diversity and difference: 4; conservative or classical liberal approaches: 0.

The Holy Trinity of Leftist Grievance

For good measure, I looked at the entire conference program to see whether the preponderance of panels on left-wing approaches to diversity in the teaching and education sections was to balance a lack of them elsewhere. I searched for panels on the holy trinity of identity politics: sexism/feminism, racism/white privilege, and sexual orientation/homo/transphobia. My best guess is that conference attendees will have a choice of 104 panels on these topics, in addition to the 4 in the teaching and learning sections. Just for laughs, I searched for panels on political, ideological, or viewpoint diversity. None.

There are, of course, special sections controlled by conservative or classical liberal groups at the APSA conference. But as for the sections that are open to all submissions, they essentially fall into two groups: strictly empirical work or normatively left-wing ideas. Am I the only one scratching my head?

I have worked with political scientists of an overwhelmingly left-wing bent for all of my career, so I know that there is nothing nefarious in this. Indeed, this is a key finding of  Dunn’s Passing on the Right. Sometimes, conservative commentators on the academy write as if there is a vast conspiracy operating on campus. There is not. Most of my left-wing colleagues in political science are reasonable and rational people who are aware of the importance of bringing a variety of political viewpoints into the classroom. When I asked the section organizer why our panel was rejected, she genuinely seemed not to remember – not indicative of an intentional censoring of non-left-wing issues – and added: “I agree it’s an important topic.”

So why the lack of balance? Despite the lip-service to the importance of viewpoint diversity, asking an APSA organizer committed to the advance of left-wing viewpoints to take one for the right is like asking a glutton to forego ice cream. There are no practical means to translate theory into practice. The eyes roll tiredly over proposals concerning viewpoint diversity but perk up excitedly at the sight of one, to cite another of the offerings at this year’s conference, “Disavowing Violence: Imperial Entitlements, From Burke to Trump (Fuck That Guy).”

Looniest End of the Academy

Indeed, for the looniest end of the left-wing academy, even the theory is hostile to viewpoint diversity. They view the academy as a special zone of (left-wing) Truth that must be protected against (right-wing) Falsehoods of the real world. Genuine pluralism, from this vantage, is a cover for privilege and oppression. Why import such falsehoods into the charmed realm of truth they have carved out with taxpayer’s money? Or more to the point, why go through the pain, inconvenience, and potential disapprobation of importing falsehoods?  I do not think the teaching and education section leaders of this year APSA were of that sort. But the system is heavily stacked against even a brief effort in the direction of idea pluralism. Why stick your neck out to accept a panel on political diversity at a political science conference when, to cite another of this year’s offerings, one can win kudos for accepting a panel entitled: “Pussies Grab Back: Feminism in the Wake of Trump”?

Much has been written about the general problem of a lack of political diversity in political science and its drift to the far left. The ratio of Democratic/left-of-center to Republican/right-of-center professors in political science is variously estimated at around 15 to 1 nationwide, not counting moderates and centrist independents. In my home state of Oregon, I believe the ratio is infinitely large because I do not know of a single Republican or conservative in our profession here (I am a swing voter and independent). APSA is not only indicative of this worsening problem but, and here is the issue, a key cause of it and thus, potentially, a fulcrum point for change.

It was not always this way. APSA was founded in 1903 to defend the ideal of impartial empirical inquiry. It’s constitution still declares that “the Association as such is nonpartisan. It will not support political parties or candidates. It will not commit its members on questions of public policy nor take positions not immediately concerned with its direct purpose” of academic inquiry. For years, it upheld those ideals. Remarkably, APSA and political science more generally survived the onslaught of illiberal radicalism, political correctness, and censorship of the 1960s, as John Gunnell of SUNY-Albany wrote in the association’s main journal in 2006. APSA presidents well after that era included prominent conservatives like Samuel Huntington of Harvard (1986-7) and James Q. Wilson of UCLA (1991-2).

The real problems arose when the graduate students of the 1960s and 1970s became tenured faculty and APSA executives. While political science and APSA were able to withstand an assault on academic freedom and viewpoint diversity from illiberal students, they had no means to defend themselves when those illiberal students became the governors. From the 2000s, a string of such far-left scholars came into office as APSA presidents: they included old-left scholars of class and socialism like Theda Skocpol of Harvard (served in 2002-3), Margaret Levi of Washington (served in 2004-5), and Ira Katznelson of Columbia (served in 2005-6); and “new-left” scholars of racial and gender grievance such as Dianne Pinderhughes of Notre Dame (2007-8), Rodney Hero of Berkeley (2014-15), and Jennifer Hochschild of Harvard (2015-16). There is of course nothing wrong with a variety of positions being represented in the APSA presidency. However, there was never any countervailing tendency. The moderate leftists who took the helm between the growing frequency of radicals could do nothing more than steady the ship before the next gale of fanaticism.

Under this new post-2000 leadership, APSA turned from being a fairly pluralistic and professional-oriented body into a shock force for the latest thought liberations of the left. This has been evident most clearly in the bevy of special task forces that have been commissioned. One of these, on “Inequality and American Democracy” published in 2004, deserves special attention because it was the point where APSA lost its credibility. The report claimed to have uncovered “profound threats” to American democracy as a result of inequality, which was reinforced by social programs that served mainly old white conservatives; indeed that political scientists had reached a “consensus” that such a threat existed. Again, it was not the radical leftism per se but the growing suggestion that only radical viewpoints were welcome or even recognized in the discipline that rankled.

A Little Diversity? No Thanks

One political scientist, Robert Weissberg of the University of Illinois-Urbana, was allowed a dissenting voice in a symposium on the report. He called the report a “professional embarrassment” for its hysterical claims of what he called “an AARP coup d’état.” Putting aside the possibility that “overeager interns absconded with APSA letterhead,” Weissberg warned that professional political scientists who adopted an “overheated radical egalitarian tone” of the report were not just, in his view, getting it wrong on American democracy. The bigger problem was what it said about the state of APSA. The obliviousness of the report’s authors to what a conservative, classical liberal or centrist would see as its “embedded totalitarianism” might have been at least acknowledged if the 14-member task force had included one or two non-leftists. “A little diversity, so to speak, would have saved considerable embarrassment.”

Yet such diversity was, as it was becoming clear in 2004, precisely what was on the wane at APSA. The new generation of political science faculty and APSA leaders no longer saw their role not as engendering an appreciation and curiosity about the pluralism of the American body politic and its institutions (as well as those abroad). Instead, APSA had become a key citadel to storm and capture: “Transforming a discipline’s intellectual center of gravity is not rocket science once the administrative apparatus is secure,” Weissberg wrote.

Today, APSA has become barely distinguishable from the Democratic Party and its far-left wing. Its web page runs a constant stream of anti-Trump or anti-Republican news. This year, it issued a statement supporting the anti-Trump “March for Science” held in DC in April and another against the Executive Order on a temporary ban for travelers from several Middle Eastern countries. It also felt the need to issue a Letter to Members after the 2016 election (there was no letter issued after the 2012 or 2008 elections) saying the election had “cast into sharp relief an array of issues” for political scientists. I used to think that’s what elections were supposed to do.

Of course, for political scientists for whom every professional endeavor is a pitched battle for social justice waged against the dark forces of tradition and privilege, the takeover of APSA is just another point on the road to total victory. But, like Saigon when the Vietcong arrived, they may find that others have abandoned the city, leaving them with nothing but a Pyrrhic Victory.

The “boat people” fleeing APSA now include me. As it happened, this year’s APSA was on the theme of political legitimacy, one of my major research areas. I proposed a methods workshop on measuring legitimacy along with another scholar who, like me, has spent a lot of time on data and measurement issues. It was accepted, but alas is now canceled as I have chosen not to attend. I will continue to research, teach, and engage policy-makers about legitimacy, but not at APSA.

Maybe this does not matter. As Weissberg noted: “Transforming the profession into scholarly agitprop is lamentable, but hardly catastrophic in the grand scheme of things. At worst, intellectual corruption will render APSA publicly irrelevant.”

But for that shrinking pool of political scientists for whom a vibrant and pluralistic professional association still matters, it may be time for a reckoning. So here is my challenge: make “political and viewpoint diversity” the theme for a future APSA annual conference. Recognizing the problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

Diversity Overreach at American University

American University’s pervasive left-wing political climate has not prevented nasty racial incidents, but it sure has facilitated official overreaction antithetical to academia. AU is rapidly moving further than many other colleges and universities to enshrine ideological indoctrination into the curriculum in the name of diversity and inclusion.

Racist Incidents on AU’s Campus

The campus witnessed two dramatic racist events during the past academic year. A white student threw a banana at an African-American student in her dorm room and scribbled obscene graffiti on her door’s whiteboard. Later, during final exams, someone hung nooses with bananas marked with racist messages, including one attacking the African-American sorority of the new student body president, at three separate locations on campus, and vicious white supremacist attacks on her followed.

Both incidents were widely and laudably condemned by students, faculty, and administration alike in a positive exercise of free speech. The student who perpetrated the invasion of another student’s room was caught and disciplined by the university. AU has enlisted the FBI’s assistance and vowed to catch and to punish the other guilty parties.

But as those who follow campus news well know, racist or sexist events rarely end with punishment or a return to normality. They often trigger cries of “systemic” racism or sexism, curable only by reform programs, usually mandatory, to reshape the attitudes of all students.

Required Indoctrination Courses

Framed as courses designed to help students “transitioning into their first year of college,” two courses to be taught by diversity staff—not regular faculty– will focus heavily on ideological indoctrination. The themes of AUx2 emphasize the correct viewpoints on marginalization and victimization:

This is a bare-bones outline of one course:

Theme 1: Getting to Know Our Social Identities & Key Concepts

  • Identity Grid: Exploring Our Social Identities
  • Class Agreement: Supporting Respectful and Productive Dialogue
  • Bias Discrimination and Racial Formation
  • White Privilege vs. White Disenfranchisement

Theme 2: Intersections of Social Identity: Race in America

  • Code Switch Video Game About Multiracial Identity
  • Manifest Destiny and Native American Touch Points Group Presentations
  • Slavery’s Realities & Resonance Through Poetry
  • Allyship, Abolition, and Early Women’s Movement
  • Immigration, Exclusion and Shifting Definitions
  • Letter to Civil Rights Leader
  • The Complexity of Contemporary Identities

Theme 3: Letter to a Former Stranger

  • Research the Life & Stories of a Former Stranger
  • Informal Reading of Letters

AUx1 also contains four full weeks on promoting “A Culture of Inclusion” with topics such as “Diversity, Bias, and Privilege.”

The allocation of university resources for these required courses is considerable. According to AU’s website, there are 19 instructors, all staff rather than faculty, as well as an even greater number of peer leaders. The administration has also expanded with the addition of a director and program coordinator, as well as seven full or part-time staff people to assist AUx.

Expanding Indoctrination into Regular Classes

The university is now in the process of converting AUx into regular classes and beyond. The Senior Director for the Center for Diversity & Inclusion (CDI) has suggested “Allowing students’ participation in the seven-week Intergroup Dialogue program to serve as an alternative to another assignment/project or extra credit. I look forward to hearing the administration’s explanation to parents who pay phenomenal sums to send their kids to AU when they find out that a student managed to get out of a math assignment to attend a discussion group.

The two Intergroup Dialogue topics for Fall 2017 are “Islamophobia” and “Black Issues & Experiences on and off Campus.” There are also three segregated dialogue groups, creatively named as “intragroup dialogue” open only to “those who identify within Black/African diasporic communities” on three topics: “Immigration & Nationality,” “Stay Woke: A Dialogue on the themes of ‘Get Out’,” and “Whiteness & Anti-racism.”

“Allyship” refers to the proper role for heterosexual whites—secondary, passive and supportive of leadership. In plain language, it means doing as you’re told.

My guess is that an African-American student who questioned affirmative action would not be deemed “woke” even in his segregated safe space. In the AUx classes themselves, one cannot help but wonder if repeated challenges to the official dogma on “white privilege” or “allyship” might not harm the student’s grade in these mandatory diversity courses.

Beyond promoting Intergroup Dialogues in place of academic work, the Center for Diversity & Inclusion also encourages faculty to “incorporate CDI programs into their syllabus” by “Inviting Rainbow Speakers Bureau to host a panel in your class” or “Requesting a workshop/training or Diversity Peer Educator session.”

Not a bad way to get out of grading and teaching if you can stomach the agitprop.

Faculty Reaction

Faculty reaction to the initial AUx proposal was somewhat muted. Arts and Sciences Dean Peter Starr co-chaired the committee in charge of it, and Provost Scott Bass pushed it heavily, so people were none too keen on futilely challenging the people who determine their salaries or become identified as an opponent of diversity.  Nevertheless, faculty feedback included complaints about AUx inculcating a political viewpoint.

Despite ritualized requests for feedback, Starr made clear that he was uninterested in more than cosmetic changes. Here is the official short summary of changes made to AUx:

“AU Experience I & II: Course content is being developed for an online platform by faculty members with expertise in each area. Both courses will blend academic content and discussion methods, much the way traditional courses do. AUx2, in particular, now focuses on inclusion, with the explicit goal of creating a community of learners. The staffing of discussion leaders for AUx is a complex concern involving other campus initiatives such as the Reinventing the Student Experience (RiSE) project, and will likely be solved outside of this proposal. That said, all discussion leaders for AUx1 & AUx2 will be highly credentialed and complete training in advance of leading these courses.”

The above is an impressive example of managing to write a whole paragraph saying nothing. The short summary sent to the Faculty Senate notes, however, that “In addition to focusing on psycho-social development, AUx1 will include attention to academic freedom and freedom of speech.” The sole class on free speech remains heavily outweighed by the far greater number spent indoctrinating students on white privilege, bias, and exclusion.

The Faculty Senate approved the changes to the general education curriculum, including the AU experience, unanimously—not really surprising, as the faculty contains many promoters of this approach and is normally cowed by the administration anyway.

Never Enough, so the Cycle Repeats

Ironically, albeit utterly unsurprisingly, these changes were deemed wholly insufficient by student protesters who berated the administration and faculty alike at an administration-organized public meeting and during a student takeover of a Faculty Senate meeting. The response of both faculty and administration has been to double down.

During the Faculty Senate takeover, one student complained about the response of a fellow student on Facebook that included a photo of a noose. Provost Scott Bass took down the name of the offending student. Others demanded the immediate firing of faculty for racist comments and expulsion of students for racist actions.

The Faculty Senate immediately adopted a resolution calling for a permanent university commission on discrimination with a mandate to create a “cutting edge model of campus inclusivity” as well as creating a related Faculty Senate committee, which was immediately constituted by four volunteers. Apparently, this is on top of the Faculty Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Diversity & Inclusion.

Fortunately, the university shortly thereafter adjourned for summer break but one imagines that AU’s cultural revolution will continue as the Fall Semester proceeds and the AUx curriculum goes into full swing.

Are Conservative Fears of Campus Indoctrination Overblown?

Maranto and Woessner reply to Peter Wood’s excellent critique:

Our recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay makes the case that while conservatives and libertarians are dramatically outnumbered among higher education faculty by those on the left, fears that college students suffer ideological indoctrination are overblown. In his sensible, nuanced reply, our friend Peter Wood suggests we understate the dangers. Peter’s collegial response is a model of what academic discourse should be, and too often is not.

We agree with Peter that academia’s monoculture, particularly the absence of social conservative faculty, is a real problem, which to some degree reflects discrimination in academic job markets. Hiring discrimination does not make university faculty bad people; it just makes them people. As Louis Menand points out in The Marketplace of Ideas, many academic job postings see hundreds of applicants so naturally, facing large numbers of highly qualified candidates, faculty committees tend to hire people much like themselves.

 A Monoculture in Certain Fields

The problem in academia is that the relative political monoculture in certain fields and in particular at elite universities, which have the most impact on the national conversation, limits the research questions professors can ask without informal and sometimes even formal sanctions. One wonders, for example, given the discussions about rising income inequality, why professors have largely ignored the greatest statistical correlate of increased inequality, the rising numbers of single parent families.

Yet we disagree with Peter about widespread indoctrination of undergraduate students, and here our disagreements reflect fairly technical issues. First, while it is true that we cite The Still Divided Academy, a 2011 book using data from the 1999 North American Academic Study Survey (NAASS), the same findings obtain using other data, including the recent Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) data that we’re currently working on. Using unique data, one of us (Woessner) with April Kelly-Woessner, tracks individual students over time finding little ideological change and discovering that students can usually identify the political party of a faculty member, which may lead them to discount efforts at professorial persuasion. (See “I Think My Professor is a Democrat: Considering Whether Students Recognize and React to Faculty Politics” in PS: Political Science and Politics Vol. 42, No. 2 (April 2009), pp. 343-352).

Overall Impacts Are Subtle

Other studies, based on recent data, also fail to find strong evidence of indoctrination, suggesting that overall impacts are subtle. Relatedly, while it is true that students have grown far more supportive of homosexuality since the 1990s and more apt to agree that “helping others in difficulty” is very important, these seem to reflect broader social trends affecting young people and to some extent their elders both inside and outside of the academy. (The latter may reflect the Great Recession.) Interestingly, we could not find much evidence of more than modest shifts in these views between the freshman and senior years of college.

We agree with Peter that more than a few leftist professors attempt to indoctrinate students, particularly professors from what Michael Munger calls “departments of indignation studies” focused on ethnic or gender oppression. The extant data, however, does not suggest they enjoy much success at doing so.

To be clear, as we said in The Chronicle, this does not mean all is well in academe. As Peter perceptively points out, not all things that matter are measured. To engage in a thought experiment, suppose elite universities like Columbia and Harvard, where a young Barack Obama studied, had roughly equal numbers of liberal and conservative faculty. The young Obama, a rising star anxious to please grownup authority figures, would have had exposure to conservative and even neoconservative foreign policy.

Years later, this might have made President Obama less apt to accept outlandish Russian demands in Syria, the Ukraine, and elsewhere, for fear of being labelled a Cold Warrior. (One Washington joke proffered that incoming President Trump planned to outsource foreign policy to Russia—and thus would retain Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry.)

Along the same lines, in a range of problems and policies from the decline of traditional marriage to health care reform (and reform of that reform), there is no doubt that media coverage and ultimately the policies made would look and feel different if elite universities which set the rules of respectable discourse had adequate stores of conservative thinkers. That sort of representation would also make Republicans less likely to quickly and sometimes properly discount academic expertise.

We end with a plea for civil, and to the degree possible, empirical debate on the causes and consequences of higher education’s ideological homogeneity. This exchange with Peter is a nice start, but the next stop needs to be in the center of universities. Regarding debates of any kind, fields like Sociology are both beyond the pale, and increasingly marginal to the academic enterprise. (Save at hapless Evergreen State, can anyone think of a sociologist who leads an institution of higher learning?)

In contrast, our own academic association, the American Political Science Association, might well be game to host a debate. Or it might be a suitable topic for debate at future gatherings of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) or the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

Let’s make that happen.

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.

Universities, Free Speech and the Rise of the Spit-Viper Left

Free speech on campuses has come on hard times. By now, we are all too familiar with the litany: invited speakers disinvited, talks by honored guests disrupted by shouting protesters, vandalism and riots forcing the cancellation of events, campus security announcing it cannot guarantee public safety.

The disruptions and attacks come almost entirely from an emergent Spit-Viper Left (as I call it), drawn from a motley collection of campus grievance groups that are angry, uninformed, anti-intellectual and uniformly illiberal in their attitudes and beliefs.  They may describe themselves as feminists, defenders of civil rights, or advocates for sexual minorities, but they are very different from the older, and more tolerant versions of such advocacy groups, and far removed from any manner of liberalism by their authoritarian ways and intemperate rage.

Whatever else may be among the concerns of this newly emergent Left, furthering its cause through rational discussion isn’t one of them. The 60s-era radical Todd Gitlin, distraught at this transformation of the campus Left, suggests it may subconsciously feel that reason and argument are no longer on its side. Free speech, a fruitful exchange of ideas, mutual intellectual enrichment — these are not its modus operandi. And those among the most illiberal segments of the Left on college campuses often attract to their protests even more radical and more illiberal supporters from beyond the university, who bring with them a love of violence, confrontation and disruption. Mayhem can be exhilarating for some people — especially young males —  and outside anarchists and nihilists come to join in the fun.

Related: Do Free Speech Students Outnumber the Snowflakes?

It is important to realize just how far this newly emergent Left has strayed from the American Left of the immediate post-WWII decades.  During the Cold War, it was often Social Democrats and other anti-Communist leftists who were leaders in the struggle to defend free speech, whether on college campuses or within the broader society.

People like NYU philosopher Sidney Hook, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, University of North Carolina President Frank Graham, and perennial American Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas were in the forefront of those defending a very broad understanding of free speech in America and its central importance to a vibrant, well-functioning democracy.

Together with influential organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Americans for Democratic Action, these left-leaning defenders of free speech proclaimed in unison the ideal attributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Stalinists and other Communists, of course, never bought into such an ideal, but in the post-war decades, especially after Khrushchev’s famous 1956 Secret Speech denouncing the crimes of the Stalinist era, old-line Communists in America became increasingly marginalized, not least among the democratic Left.  This attitude carried over to the beginnings of the New Left, which in its founding Port Huron Statement praised American universities as “the only mainstream institution that is open to participation by individuals of nearly any viewpoint.”

The New Left first came to national attention in 1964 with a largely peaceful demonstration by students in Berkeley, California, as part of a Free Speech Movement challenging the university to live up to the free speech ideals it proclaimed.

Related: Their Violence Is Free Speech, But Our Speech is Violence

In the Cold-War years, it was usually members of the anti-Communist Right who sought to restrict the range of speakers permitted on college campuses. William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review and America’s leading conservative intellectual, considered it one of his great early achievements when he successfully convinced Yale University (his alma mater) to rescind a previous invitation to a prominent Communist to speak on the Yale campus. Dis-inviting invited guests didn’t start in the current century or with the Left.

The opposition to free speech on campus by the anti-communist Right, however, was hardly comparable in its scope or impact to the broad-based assault on free speech that we see today launched by the Radical Left. The anti-communist Right during the Cold War sought almost exclusively to deny hardcore Communists the right to speak — those seen by almost all Americans as not only odious but as traitors giving aid and comfort to America’s implacable enemies.

Aside from the views of pro-Soviet Communists, there were few views expressed on college campuses during the Cold War years that the Right sought to ban. Controversial speakers routinely came on campus with little opposition from organizations of the Right. There were no campus riots, the shouting down of lecturers, threats of violence, bomb scares and false fire alarms, strong-arm scuffles, acts of vandalism and arson — tactics that have become common among the Radical Left today.

And the targets of such assaults by the Radical Left are typically not those holding intolerant or extremist views like Klansmen or neo-Nazis, but often people of great moderation, decency, and an eagerness to engage those holding opposing views with sympathetic understanding and reasoned argument.

When people like Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Charles Murray, Suzanne Venker, Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heather Mac Donald and others like them are forbidden to speak on various college campuses — or their invitations to speak suddenly withdrawn — we know we are in a big-time crisis far removed from the minor-league opposition to free speech on college campuses that existed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Elsewhere I have referred to the Spit-Viper Left as “snowflake Jacobins and crybaby fascists.”  This designation was intended to draw attention to the fact that those who comprise the Radical Left on college campuses today — many of whom were brought up in excessively protective and indulgent parental households — manage to combine an overly sensitive and thin-skinned temperament unable to tolerate criticism, with an anti-liberal ideology and fascist-like authoritarianism.  And these Black-Shirted Snowflakes gain the support of at least small numbers of radical faculty members — and the cowardly indulgence of many college presidents.

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins of Higher Education

Most troubling is the fact that there seems to be a significant number of people outside the academy who are not themselves radicals or leftists but who agree with the Radical Left that those espousing offensive viewpoints ought not to be permitted to speak on college campuses.

A recent poll (April 27-30, 2017) by the firm of Morning Consult found an alarming number of Americans who support an extreme speech-restrictive viewpoint.  The following was one of the questions asked of a representative national sample: “Universities should not allow guest speakers to appear on campus if the guest’s words are considered to be hateful or offensive by some.”

If you scratched your head and asked, “Who could possibly agree with such a broadly proscriptive statement?” you are not well attuned to public opinion today. A very significant minority of Americans believe that only speakers should be invited to college campuses whose message does not seriously offend anyone and is not considered by anyone to be hateful.

The poll showed that support for such an “offense-takers veto” differs considerably by demographic groups. Women were much more likely than men to support the “don’t allow offensive speakers” position (36 percent vs. 23 percent), Blacks more likely than Whites (43 percent vs. 28 percent), and Democrats more likely than Republicans (41 percent versus 28 percent).

When gender and political categories are combined, the statistics looked particularly grim: Close to half (47 percent) of female Democrats agreed that offense-giving speakers should not be allowed to speak on college campuses versus only 18 percent of male Republicans. When one considers that females as both students and administrators often outnumber males on many college campuses, that at Ivy League and other elite institutions students identifying as Democrats often far outnumber those identifying as Republicans, and that many of the most politically engaged students are drawn from departments like Sociology, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature that are dominated by female Democrats, one gets a sense of the fragility of any free speech consensus on American campuses today.

Why should we worry about free speech on college campuses? How important is free speech on or off campus?  These are perennial questions that need to be addressed now more than ever.  I’ll just say briefly that for answers we could hardly do better than turning to the defense of open discussion and free speech in John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty, or to the defense of the university as the place where people of differing backgrounds can come together and share their differing perspectives found in Ralph Mannheim’s long neglected Ideology and Utopia. A brief word about each.

Mill starts out with the sensible claim that on many issues of public controversy, truth is often not monopolized by any one side.  While the human mind tends toward simplicity and one-sidedness, the fullness of truth, Mill believed, usually requires the interweaving of the partial truths contained in varying and often conflicting positions. Free speech and a vigorous confrontation with viewpoints differing from one’s own are indispensable to realizing this goal. Common opinions, Mill says, “are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth.  They are part of the truth, sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjointed from the truth by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.”  “In the human mind,” he goes on, “one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception.”

The only way that anyone — even the wisest and smartest — can ever come to know the truth on complex issues of morality and public policy is to listen attentively to the best presentations of the various opinions held on these subjects and then weld together whatever insights can be gained from a fair-minded assessment of each. “No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this,” Mill writes, “nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”  Such a process, of course, requires open, vigorous, and often contentious debate.

Even if an expressed opinion has no truth in it whatever, it can serve an important function in the truth-seeking process, Mill explains, in that its refutation requires understanding why it is not true and why an alternative view is better. Above all, disapproved opinions must not be prohibited if the goal is to know the truth and to know why it is true, and to know why competing views are not true or not the whole truth. “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion,” Mill writes, “is that it is robbing the human race — those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Mill’s defense of freedom of thought and freedom of expression in On Liberty is still the most eloquent and intelligent treatment of its subject in the English language.  It should be on every college reading list for entering freshmen.

Mannheim has a view similar to Mill’s regarding the complexity of truth in the area of controversial political issues and he shares with Mill the belief in the natural one-sidedness and parochialism of the human mind.  And like Mill, he believes that the only way that this limitation can be overcome is by bringing together people representing contrasting viewpoints and integrating the truth within each into a more comprehensive whole.

“It has become incontrovertibly clear today,” Mannheim writes, “that all knowledge which is either political or which involves a world-view, is inevitably partisan. All points of view in politics are but partial points of view because historical totality is always too comprehensive to be grasped by any one of the individual points of view which emerges out of it.”  He continues: “The fragmentary character of all knowledge is clearly recognizable.  But this implies the possibility of an integration of many mutually complementary points of view into a comprehensive whole.”

Mannheim believed that this integration process would be easiest to achieve by university-educated intellectuals who would attend institutions where they could receive a similar educational experience that would enable them to share with one another their varying perspective viewpoints. The unifying bond of such educational institutions would be the shared conviction that all could learn from one another and that a vigorous exchange of contending ideas would enrich everyone’s understanding.

Today the central ideas of both Mannheim and Mill could be used to defend some kind of university focus on “diversity” in its faculty and student body though it would be a very different kind of diversity than what is currently understood by that term in most of today’s institutions of higher learning.  The most important kind of diversity for Mannheim and Mill was ideological or viewpoint diversity, especially in regard to politics, economics, morality and religion. The fact that on many of these subjects contemporary American universities are often among the least diverse institutions in American life would clearly be seen by them as a tragic failure.

The systematic silencing of voices challenging the Left, and even within the Left a narrowing of permissible opinions to those of angry, anti-intellectual grievance groups, is a betrayal of a central mission of a university education. We have allowed the barbarians to destroy what should be one of the citadels of our civilization.  That, at least, would be the judgment of the older liberal defenders of universities and free speech like Mannheim and Mill. The Spit-Viper Left has spread its venom far and wide and paralyzed the work of one of the few institutions democracies rely upon for their sustained vibrancy and good health. There remains for us — whether liberal, conservative, libertarian, or social democrat — the work of reconstruction.

College Faculties, Heavily Tilted Toward the Left, Shun Diverse Viewpoints

A paper recently published in Econ Journal Watch, “Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology,” shows what almost everyone believes to be true – that college faculties in the social sciences are predominantly left of center. More than that, it shows that this is truer in some fields and geographic regions than others and, most importantly, that the leftist trend is becoming more pronounced over time.

Authors Mitchell Langbert, Anthony Quain, and Daniel Klein describe themselves as classical liberals who find both major parties to be “by and large, horrible,” so the study cannot be dismissed as merely partisan griping.

Related: The Age of Liberal Education Is Ending

They describe their findings modestly: “Other than indicating that Democratic-to-Republican ratios are even higher than we had thought (particularly in Economics and History), and that an awful lot of departments have zero Republicans, and that, yes, the ratios are higher at more prestigious universities and lower among older professors and among professors with higher-ranking titles, and that there are some regional effects, the paper does not offer new results of any great consequence.”

I think the authors are too modest, too restrained. Their findings are quite disturbing for anyone who holds a right-of-center or classical liberal philosophy since the paper points up the success that “progressives” are having with their project of seizing and holding the commanding heights in the war of ideas.

The authors surveyed voter registration data for professors in the five disciplines noted in the title at a wide array of schools. Out of 7,243 professors, 3,623 were registered as Democrats and just 314 as Republicans. Moreover, registrations for the Green and Working Families parties, both radically statist in outlook), equaled or exceeded Republican registrations in 72 of the 170 academic departments included in the study, and in many departments, there were no Republicans at all.

Related: Affirmative Action for Conservative Faculty?

Economics was the field with the lowest ratio of Democrats to Republicans (5: 1) and history the field with the highest (36:1).  In the middle were journalism (21:1), psychology (19:1), and law (9:1).

The fact that economics professors are mostly left-of-center will probably surprise many people since it’s widely believed that economics is the one social science discipline where free market/classical liberal scholars outnumber the left/interventionists. (See, for example, Peter Sacks’ MTC essay, “Don’t look for Marxists or Keynesians in Economics Departments.”) In an earlier study, Klein and Charlotta Stern showed that among members of the American Economics Association, only 8 percent held to what they regard as free-market principles.

If you thought that college students would be reeled back into reality when they take economics (which relatively few do anyway), the findings here are grim news.

Another worrisome conclusion from this paper is that the leftist domination of the faculty is intensifying. For example, in 1963, the D:R ratio in history was about 2.7:1. Today, it has mushroomed to36:1. Furthermore, the data show that the D:R ratio is lowest among emeritus professors and highest among assistant professors. Therefore, it appears, in the future college faculties will be even more politically and ideologically lopsided than today as the conservative older cohort retire.

The subject of the left’s domination of academe has been hotly debated, with different explanations offered. The explanation advanced by Langbert, Quain, and Klein is “groupthink,” which is the tendency for people to prefer to associate with individuals who hold similar beliefs and to avoid people who robustly disagree. That is especially true in the academic world, where ideas count for almost everything. Also, because academic hiring is controlled by departments, once an ideological slant sets in, groupthink drives them toward ever-greater uniformity.

Related: The Leftist Intellectuals Hovering over the Campus

What this means is that non-leftist students face — and let’s use the right word here — discrimination if they want to pursue a teaching career in these (and quite a few other) disciplines. Knowing that, most of them turn to more hospitable academic fields or look for employment outside of academe after graduation.

The big question is whether this matters. Leftists tend to make light of studies like this one, arguing that voter registration tells us nothing about the way professors conduct their courses. Overwhelmingly, they assert, these professors are devoted scholars who teach their courses without any bias. The authors, however, think otherwise, writing, “Works like Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (2012) and Christian Smith’s The Sacred Project of American Sociology (2014) represent a trend toward recognizing that scholarly interpretations and judgments are inseparable from a scholar’s sense of duty to higher purpose.”

That “higher purpose” is to serve as “change agents” as many professors admit they see their role. Sometimes we come across confessions from “progressive” faculty members that they feel proud and justified in teaching with a leftist bias to overcome what they see as the lamentable “right-wing” upbringing of many of their students. A good example is the book by English Professor Donald Lazere entitled Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias. (I wrote about that book here.)

So the classes taught by these professors probably won’t be taught without some ideological slant, and frequently with a very strong one. Even if students aren’t entirely “flipped” from right to left, the constant promulgation of leftist ideas is certain to affect quite a few of them, making “middle-of-the-road” students more inclined to accept leftist notions and making those who were already leaning that way into Social Justice Warrior types, the students who have been responsible for so much turmoil on campuses in recent years.

What is to be done? The authors offer no suggestions.

One palliative that I think helps slightly is to fund programs that bring professors who advocate free market and classical liberal thinking to campuses that are notoriously leftist.  At the University of Colorado, for example, a program brings in a visiting professor each year who will advance conservative and libertarian ideas. Last year’s visiting professor, Brian Domitrovic, wrote about the experience for the Pope Center. Clearly, it was a year well spent.

While such efforts are beneficial at the margin, they are rather like trying to stop a forest fire with your garden hose.

The depressing truth is that except some institutions, the faculties at our colleges and universities will continue becoming more leftist in their composition and more virulently political in their teaching. It’s a condition with no known cure.

Should Colleges Coddle the Whiners?

Our recent campus upheavals, focusing at times on offensive speech, have provoked a worry: are colleges infantilizing their students? Last March, the journalist and cultural critic Judith Shulevitz raised this concern in a tour de force of an op-ed, in which she argued that protecting students from offensive speech, except in the most extreme cases, is a species of educational malpractice: “People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled.”  This argument has since taken off.

It has taken off, in part, because it is a good argument. To take one of Shulevitz’s own examples, students invite the charge that they are infantilizing themselves when they construct a “safe space” that contains “cookies, coloring books, Play-doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies,” particularly when this safe space is to protect them from being “bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”

Related: MIZZOU WIPES OUT RESPECT AND EXCELLENCE

I don’t want to dissent from Shulevitz and others who have made related arguments, but I do think that the debate between those who wish to protect students from offensive speech and those who want to expose them to it is incomplete.

John Stuart Mill, one of the foremost champions of freedom of discussion had no illusions concerning its benefits. “I acknowledge,” he says in On Liberty, that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not cured by the freest discussion but heightened and exacerbated thereby.” Mill thinks that free discussion will tend to heighten partisanship, as those whose dear and cherished beliefs are challenged by their intellectual and political enemies cling to those beliefs all the more fiercely. For Mill, this drawback is made right by the benefits that accrue to people who are observing the quarrel: “It is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of opinions works its salutary effect.”

I think that Mill is right and that although the trade-off he describes is plausible in public discussions, it would be a peculiar model to follow in a college setting. Clearly our job is not only to, so to speak, toughen up our students, though that couldn’t hurt, but to educate our students to benefit, as Mill’s “calmer and more disinterested bystander” does, from the free exchange of ideas. That many of our students at present are not in a position to do so is no reflection on their childishness. Anyone who has paid a moment’s attention to “adult” political discourse will have noticed that getting angry, alleging bad faith, taking umbrage, and even demanding censorship, are standard. This is not new, though I don’t deny that our therapeutic response to it is somewhat new. As Hamilton says in Federalist #1 of “cases of great national discussion,” in which people’s interests and passions are deeply implicated, “a torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”

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Insofar as such discussions work their way onto college campuses, there is no reason to think that simply throwing our students into so polluted a sea in the hopes of hardening them, will result in an education. For that reason, I think it is singularly unimaginative to try to resolve the problem of a too liberal academy by inviting, though of course people are welcome to invite whomever they want, conservative controversialists like Milo Yiannopoulos to our campuses. Instead, we need to think much more than we presently do about teaching our students how to benefit from the arguments they hear.

John Locke, in Some Thoughts on Education distinguishes between the “art and formality of disputing,” which tends to turn a student into “an insignificant wrangler, opinionated in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others,” and the art of reasoning. I am not sure whether our present focus on “critical thinking,” even when it somehow gets through to our students, does enough to distinguish between wrangling and reasoning, or between philosophy and sophistry. But I am confident that a “Crossfire” approach to campus discussion is not going to help our students make such distinctions.

To throw our students into such an atmosphere and invite them to deliberate may avoid the danger of infantilizing them but it also demands more of our students than we demand of adults. Indeed, in some ways the university oscillates between treating students too much as adults and treating them too much as children.

In a Slate column, Eric Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, inadvertently illustrates the problem. On the one hand, he argues that today’s students are like children and consequently need protection. In the midst of an exaggerated argument in favor of this proposition, he says at least one sensible thing, namely that professors know that students need an education, which is why classrooms are not typically free for alls, in which students go at each other, hammer and tongs. But then he says that colleges should give in to student demands for protection because “that’s what most students want.” So which is it? Are we supposed to treat students like children, in need of protection, or like adult sovereign consumers?

Related: ELIMINATING FREE THOUGHTS IN THE NAME OF FALSE SAFETY

The answer, as I suspect most teachers grasp, is that college-aged students are neither children, to be protected from scary ideas nor adults, who either, in Posner’s way of viewing things, should have what they want or, in Shulevitz’s (to judge from the op-ed alone), should be thrown into the water and told to swim. They are neither children nor adults, and what we owe them is an education.

The education I have in mind makes no sacrifices with respect to inquiry into the questions that divide us. Instead, it puts the aim of conversation inside and outside the classroom, at the center of education, and thereby demands that our approach to conversation be tailored to that aim. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates admonishes Thrasymachus, who cares only about whether he has won or lost the argument, in these terms: the argument is not about just any question but about how one should live.”

How do people who genuinely think they can make progress in important matters act in conversation? Among other things, they practice the courage that enables them to continue an inquiry in the face of threats to their cherished beliefs, and the moderation that enables them to hear others out and to look for what use can be made of their arguments, rather than for how their arguments can be dismissed. But what every educator who has reflected on his or her experience knows is that such virtues do not come naturally to people. All our attentiveness as teachers may barely be sufficient to cultivate them in our students.

Is the Glut of Liberals In Academia Benign?

Academe is Overrun by Liberals. So What?” UCLA historian Russell Jacoby both declares and asks in a long Chronicle of Higher Education essay. Although published on April 1, it is presumably not an April Fool’s joke.

For a number or reasons — not all of which coexist easily —Jacoby dismisses out of hand the notion that there is any cause to be alarmed, or even concerned, about any “underrepresentation” of conservatives in academia.

His reasons:

1)They are really not so underrepresented. Why, he asks, is the concern always limited to humanities and social sciences? “Why not the medical sciences? Earth Sciences? Aerospace engineering? After all, those fields … possess the clout, money, and prestige.” The reason, he says, “is obvious: Liberals do not outnumber conservatives” in many fields that cover “a lot of turf — indeed, most of the university.”

2) Nothing new here. Jacoby is particularly critical of the social psychologists associated with the Heterodox Academy and their concern with the increasing political imbalance of college faculties. “That social psychologists tend to be liberal cannot be surprising,” he points out. “Virtually all the founders or key figures of American social psychology — Carl Murchison, Gordon Allport, Kurt Lewin — belonged on the left.” Also not surprising is that Jacoby did not attempt to make that argument for history or economics or political science or even sociology (see Emile Durkheim).

3) There are so few conservatives because so many are so dumb. “[T]hat there are many serious and responsible conservative thinkers cannot be doubted,” Jacoby begrudgingly acknowledges, but it also cannot be doubted that he doesn’t think there are very many of them. He equates conservative with Republican and then argues that any analysis of the paucity of conservatives in academia “cannot be taken seriously” if it “ignores” the fact that the “party of Dwight D. Eisenhower … became the party of Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio, all of whom denounce higher education, science, and the Department of Education.” Since “an anti-science, anti-evolution, and anti-climate-change ethos increasingly characterizes the Republican Party,” he is not surprised that so few of its members find their way into the humanities and social sciences. One gets the idea that Jacoby believes the only “serious and responsible” conservative is a former Republican.

4) No evidence that “left-wing unanimity distorts research and teaching.” Those who lament the underrepresentation of conservatives assume that “a balance of conservative and liberal professors would lead to better teaching and research, Jacoby writes. Conversely, having fewer conservatives on campus damages the educational enterprise. But is there evidence for that belief? Virtually none.” Implicit in this mistaken lament, he notes, “is that Democrats and Republicans teach or do research differently. A course on Chaucer or Rome taught by a Democrat supposedly diverges from that taught by a Republican.”

Related: Social Psychology—a Field with only 8 Conservatives

Russell Jacoby, meet Bloomberg News columnist Megan McArdle, also writing on April 1:

The politicization of the humanities was well under way when I was an English major in the early 1990s, and my education suffered as a result. This wasn’t because I was so oppressed as a conservative, but because in roughly half my classes, there was no easier route to an A than to argue that some long-dead author was a sexist pig, racist cretin or homophobic jerk. Being, like so many college students, not overly fond of unnecessary labor, I’m afraid I all too frequently slithered along the easy path to the 4.0.

Jacoby is a cultural historian, and thus it is odd he ignores the anti-conservative hostility that is pervasive in academic culture and dominant in many precincts of it. Intellectual diversity on campus is hindered not just by the paucity of conservative professors but also, perhaps especially, by the way conservative arguments are often treated, when they are treated at all.

In their recent book, Passing On The Right: Conservative Professors In The Progressive University Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn Sr. describe chilling examples of outright bias. A sociologist, in one example, wrote an article “with findings that affirmed a progressive critique of an important American institution” that was widely admired and featured in Contexts, an American Sociological Association Journal that attempts to disseminate important research to a wider audience. The author subsequently discovered a coding error that changed his results, but he could not get the corrected article published anywhere.

In a similar vein, in Mismatch Richard Sander describes (pp. 77-83) several episodes of prominent law professors and journals refusing to correct clearly demonstrated errors that undermined their conclusions. In one of them, he noted, the “results were stunning … a powerful, independent confirmation that law school mismatch was dramatically hurting minority law students.” If the authors, widely “respected empiricists,” had “fully and fairly reported their [corrected] results,” Sander concludes in both sorrow and anger, “the entire course of debate on law school affirmative action might have been quite different.”

Related: Affirmative Action for Conservative Faculty?

Jacoby does not discuss the bias and discrimination against conservatives and politically incorrect arguments that might have some bearing on the nature and quality of intellectual diversity in the academy, although he does mention Passing On The Right, a book that is filled with examples of it. Readers of Minding The Campus will know (from my review of it) that I am not a big fan of that book, but Jacoby’s brief reference misrepresents its argument.

Jacoby’s polemic is devoted primarily to rejecting affirmative action for conservatives, but the argument he attacks is largely a straw man. Thus he quotes Shields and Dunn stating that “The Bakke rationale obliges its defenders to support affirmative action for conservatives.” On their next page, however, they state explicitly that “To be clear, we are not advocating for or against affirmative action for conservatives.” And in case that was not clear enough, in a March 18 Op-Ed summarizing their book in Jacoby’s hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, Shields and Dunn stated unequivocally that “We don’t endorse preferences in graduate admissions and hiring.”

Jacoby’s confusion, if that’s what it is, flows from the fact that he assumes that anyone who believes that a paucity of conservatives on campus is a problem must favor a solution of not only affirmative action but preferential treatment leading to proportional representation. Referring to studies by the “Heterodoxians and their sympathizers” showing “political lopsidedness on American college faculties,” Jacoby writes, “The assumption of all these studies is that political variations require correctives. But why should political proportions be constant across society?”

Of course, neither the “Hetereodoxians” nor any of their sympathizers of whom I am aware demand proportional hiring of conservatives. Nearly all of them would be more than satisfied if the “diversity” and “inclusion” that is so incessantly preached in academia were actually practiced more consistently — if, that is, “inclusion” were extended far enough to include conservatives and conservative ideas.

Jacoby’s fundamental fallacy is that he denies the existence of the disease — the disturbingly small number of conservatives in many areas, with the resulting injury to intellectual diversity — because he opposes the cure that he mistakenly imputes to those who wish to treat it.

The Power of Buzzwords, like ‘Dispositions” and ‘Social Justice’

Mitchell Langbert, a professor at Brooklyn College, wrote last week about the grandly titled and resolutely leftist faculty union that he and all teachers at CUNY are stuck with, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). Langbert mentioned, briefly, that PSC had made no effort to defend our excellent writer, KC Johnson when KC was under attack at Brooklyn College and nearly lost tenure.

Langbert wrote, “When favored faculty—those with left-wing views, or those whom a departmental chair favors—are denied appointments or tenure, the PSC has been quick to protest. However, when KC Johnson, a politically moderate history professor who had published two acclaimed books but wasn’t sufficiently zealous about many leftist causes was denied a promotion, the union sided with the departmental chair who had denied it. (Eventually, Johnson’s position was secured, but only because of the intervention of trustees and the chancellor.)”

Johnson clashed with the left at Brooklyn College over many issues, but one of the best known was “Dispositions,” one of the apparently harmless but actually dangerous buzzwords in use at the time. The word seemed to say simply that prospective teachers at teacher education classes must have the correct “disposition” needed to help the young learn. But what it really meant was that teaching candidates should be weeded out if they lacked commitment to the hard left. Indicators of a poor disposition were lack of commitment to “social Justice,” another buzzword whose meaning was never quite clear, although it seemed to include commitment to gay marriage, aggressive environmentalism and redistribution of wealth.

During the flap over Johnson, it apparently included mandatory resistance to teaching standard English to young black kids who spoke versions of black English. Soon it may mean telling public school girls that after gym class they must shower with boys who think they’re girls, because otherwise it may hurt the self-esteem of those boys, and besides the current tsunami of gender nonsense is basically a left-wing cause. Beware of apparently harmless buzzwords.

How the Leftist Monoculture Took Over the Campus

By Richard Vedder

I didn’t sleep too well last night, thanks to Heterodox Academy’s (and NYU’s) Jonathan Haidt and John Leo, who recently carried on a provocative exchange in this space. Two questions really bothered me: Why is there so little intellectual diversity in the academy? And what can we do about the related problem of weak university leaders capitulating to ever more outrageous demands from student protesters?

So why is the academy increasingly a leftist monoculture, at least in the social sciences and humanities?  The standard answers relate to self-selection: conservatives and libertarians want to make money, so they go into business or the professions, or, more uncharitably, they are not as smart and thus cannot meet academic standards. In short, they are cognitively unfit for a life of the mind. Last month, James Phillips in an excellent paper discredited the latter notion with respect to law-school faculty presenting compelling empirical evidence that conservative underrepresentation amongst law-school faculty likely reflects some ideological discrimination.

Faculty—Wards of the State

One reason discrimination exists is that faculties are in some respects like fraternities—they like to have people around them with similar tastes and preferences; people who are simpatico ideologically probably will be closer colleagues and friends.

But it goes beyond that: faculty are increasingly wards of the state. They derive their income in large part directly or indirectly from governmental largess even at so-called private schools. Progressives favor big governments; big governments shower more dollars onto college campuses, providing larger salaries and lower teaching loads for academics. Those on the left push for free college and loan forgiveness; those on the right talk about restricting student-loan programs. The progressive view promotes larger enrollments and budgets, and with that more and higher-paid faculty. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

That brings me to the problem of recent student protests and the spineless reactions of presidents of prestigious universities like Yale. As temperatures rise this spring, protests will mount (our fragile students don’t want to discomfort themselves by protesting in the cold). Continued appeasement of students who seize control of buildings and curriculum and threaten university leaders destroys the rule of campus law and further reduces intellectual diversity and academic freedom. What can be done?

More Adult Supervision

I agree with Jonathan Haidt: bring in some adult supervision. Specifically, trustees and prominent alumni were educated when children were not protected by their parents from hearing or seeing hurtful things, when kids were raised to endure hardships and occasional blows to their self-esteem. By and large, I suspect trustees and large donors do not approve of coddling students. And one thing trumps everything else on campus: money. You don’t offend big donors

Typically, trustees rubber stamp administrative actions, and are seen but not heard. But they have significant power that needs to be unleashed: to borrow from a misguided University of Missouri professor, “Let’s have some muscle over here.” Presidents should be told in no uncertain terms that groups of spoiled brats cannot be allowed to ignore university procedures, disrupt operations, and threaten unfettered scholarly inquiry.

The problem ultimately is one of ownership. Radical students think they own the university. Faculty think they own or co-own it. Senior administrators think they are the owners, as sometimes so do powerful wealthy alumni. Universities earn financial surpluses that get disbursed to the putative owners, much like the dividends corporations pay to stockholders. That is what “shared governance” is all about –give the faculty low teaching loads and good salaries, administrators armies of junior administrators to do the heavy lifting, students low workloads and good recreational facilities, and the alumni a good football team. Everyone is happy except those paying the outrageous bills.

But for non-representative groups of students to claim an absolute right to determine major policies in return for not using violence is extortion. The legal owners of universities need to assert themselves and tell the presidents to show leadership and not let the lunatics run the asylum.


Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches at Ohio University, and is an Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.