Tag Archives: liberal bias

Times Says Conservatives Unwelcome in Academia

Yesterday The New York Times ran a column by Nicholas Kristof saying that American colleges and universities seem to have very few conservative teachers and display a conspicuous aversion to acquiring more. Readers of this site already know this, but the news must have come as a surprises to Times readers.

“A Confession of LIberal Intolerance,” is the headline on the column (no hedging there), and the subhead is “We are big on diversity, but not when it comes to conservatives in academia.”  Exactly.  It’s worth your time to read the entire article.


An Interview with Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield

Harvey Mansfield is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1962. He has written or translated works on Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Alexis de Tocqueville and Edmund Burke as well as a book on Manliness. His notable former students include: Andrew Sullivan, Alan KeyesWilliam KristolClifford OrwinPaul Cantor, Delba Winthrop, Mark LillaFrancis Fukuyama, and Shen Tong.

JOHN LEO You’re known for giving two sets of grades to your students. Why do you do this?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: One set of grades is my private opinion of the work they’ve done. And the other, a higher, official grade that goes to the Harvard registrar, is at or near the Harvard average. Right now, A is the most frequently given grade at Harvard, and A- is the median grade.

JOHN LEO: So this is your kindly answer to grade inflation. You pump up the official grades so your students can compete fairly for jobs with graduates of other colleges that dole out equally inflated grades. Have you had any kickback on that? Anybody protest it?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Never. At first, I thought students might be upset. But they sort of laugh. It’s obvious to them that the purpose of this is to prevent my having to punish them for taking my course,

JOHN LEO:  Let me ask you about the state of the colleges in general. Never before have we had so many students in college. And yet the signs of actual learning are slim. In fact, there’s a body of research about how little college students learn. The most resonant of those studies is the 2011 Richard Arum-Josipa Roksa book, “Academically Adrift.”

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  I think that is so. I haven’t been a student of it, but I did read that book, and it was quite convincing to me. The reason for it, I think, is that the universities have stopped pursuing truth for its own sake. They don’t think that there is such a thing as truth, or at least they have grave doubts about it. And that leaves everyone free to do his own thing. Harvey Mansfield

Then there is multiculturalism, the belief that all cultures are equal. So none is better than any other is. And that’s because there isn’t really any true culture or a culture higher or better than any other is. And so while many professors do their best, students are misled and generally demoralized by the view that learning fundamentally isn’t possible. All you can do is indoctrinate. And indoctrination is unprovably good, unprovably true. And that, I think, is why you’re seeing that lack of devotion to learning, and lack of accomplishment in learning seem to go together.

JOHN LEO:  So you think that the de-emphasis on learning is a direct result of relativism?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Yes, I do. This relativism is a sort of liberal view in a general political sense, but it’s been made much more specific by what’s called postmodern thinking.

JOHN LEO:  And do you think the shift toward activism on campus might have something to do with that? Because if you’re not studying and you want to apply things to get a better world, it seems to me, you’re pushed in the direction of activism instead of study.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   Right. It can be activism, and it can also just be extracurricular activity, which is not as toxic as activism. The Harvard students that I see are sometimes more devoted to their extra-curriculars, as they call them, than to the courses they take. The courses they take are not very challenging, whereas extra-curriculars do challenge them, either in athletics or in competing with other ambitious students to get an impressive resume. The less presentable aspect of all the leisure time, which students have right now, is to protest in such a way as to try to force the university to adopt your politics or your policies.

JOHN LEO: How do you account for the emphasis on hurt feelings and aggression, micro-aggression, the resentment of people who are bent out of shape having to hear things they  don’t already agree with?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Well, again, students doubt that there really is anything fundamentally that they need to learn. And they look at themselves and say, if I don’t need to learn anything fundamentally, my attitudes deserve to remain as they are right now. And I’ll defend those attitudes, and defend them by feeling offended, rather than reconsider or stop and reflect and wonder if what I’m listening to in the classroom has any effect on my life.

JOHN LEO:  How do they become that touchy?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: This idea of being offended gains momentum from feminism, because feminism has used the notion of sexual harassment to establish something called a hostile environment, which had been applied to the workplace, but now also to universities. So women are entitled to be at a university which is welcoming to women, has safe spaces and which doesn’t require them to hear things that they don’t want to hear.

JOHN LEO: Right. A hostile environment now seems to include any difference of opinion, or even the slightest twinge of a hurt feeling.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes, I think that’s right. Because it becomes one’s moral duty to look for offenses. [laughs] And the people who give offense, even though they may be innocent or not ill meaning, still deserve to be smoked out, reproached and told that they are wrong.

JOHN LEO: At Yale it was the taking of offense at a very polite email from a professor disagreeing with the Halloween costume policy of Yale.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes. That professor wasn’t even a dissenter from the university policy.

JOHN LEO:  Many people have begun to use the word monoculture to describe the social sciences and the humanities, and sometimes the entire undergraduate machinery of colleges. Is that fair?

HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Yes, I think so. A monoculture’s the same thing as a multiculture [laughs]. And the reason is that the monoculture thinks that everything that deserves to be included in our culture has already been included.

JOHN LEO:  Right.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   And that especially means the cultures or opinions of groups that  are oppressed in some way.


HARVEY MANSFIELD:  Well, there’s an official list of oppressed minorities, led by the gays, blacks, women, and others too. And, and once you’ve accommodated all these, then that’s sufficient to call yourself a multiculture. And a multiculture is that which…lifts or elevates diversity to monoculture.

JOHN LEO: Well, if there is a monoculture, those who resist it must have a tough time on most campuses. As you know, the rule of thumb is that each major campus is allowed one conservative – at Yale it’s Donald Kagan; at Princeton, Robbie George; and at Harvard, you.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yeah [laughter]. That’s an exaggeration, but I’m afraid only a slight one.

JOHN LEO:   How has your experience been, being the house conservative at Harvard?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Not all that unpleasant, actually. I can’t say that I’m embattled. In fact, people do want to patronize me – [laughs] in a way that pleases them. They like me because I’m a kind of mascot, which proves that everything I say is false. If I can say it, then it must be sayable by anyone, and that means that conservatives or other minority viewpoints are not being overlooked, or disregarded.

JOHN LEO: Right. Well, is it harder for a young conservative or libertarian to get hired at Harvard?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Of course it is. Yes, it’s really very difficult for any conservative to get hired, especially in a field where politics matters, or which is close to politics, like my field.

JOHN LEO:  Yes, government.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   or political science.

JOHN LEO:  Let me talk about this new book, Passing On the Right.  Are you familiar with it?


JOHN LEO:  It’s by two self-identified conservatives who say conservatives should keep their heads down and be happy to paddle along in a pseudo-liberal way until they get tenure.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: [laughs] That, they should be perhaps content if not happy to do that. I mean, that’s a kind of damnation that I’m not prey to — that one has to go along and pretend to be something other than what you are and believe. So I wouldn’t be consoled by that. There is this kind of mascot aspect that I just spoke of in which the universities pat a conservative on the back and say, we’re so glad we have you.

This happened once some years ago when I got an offer to go to the University of Chicago. And the chairwoman came up to me and said, “Oh, Harvey Mansfield, you mustn’t go. You’re our balance.” [laughter] And so I was one person, and I was the balance. That was also when I learned the difference between balance and diversity. Balance is what a conservative gives. And diversity is what liberals supply.

JOHN LEO:  In some of your profiles, I’ve sensed an attempt to be fair, along with this quizzical attitude of, why does he have such an undesired approach to academic work?


JOHN LEO: Given what you believe about the curriculum and how it’s constantly being watered down, why is it that administrators are so afraid to defend free speech on campus these days? If the curriculum doesn’t matter, why does incorrect speech?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Their understanding of free speech is dissenters’ speech, and dissenters are always on the left. So that simply adds to the monoculture that already exists. But they can’t think of conservative speech the same way.

JOHN LEO:  One example on the internet today — the pro-Trump chalking at Emory University has everyone in a lather. And one of the students who wanted the chalking removed and the perpetrators punished said, “Don’t they feel our pain?”

HARVEY MANSFIELD: [laughs] That’s really not a legitimate pain, when your fellow citizens disagree with you.

JOHN LEO:  Many think there’s an authoritarian tone growing on the campuses.

HARVEY MANSFIELD:   Well, yes. This is a tone of superiority and of disbelief that reasonable people could hold a different opinion. Diversity is everybody’s goal except when it comes to diverse opinions, or viewpoints.

JOHN LEO: Of course. Do you sense that it’s usually accompanied by a demand for a remedy or punishment of those who have upset your feelings? I mean, that would be more authoritarian than just censorship.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Well, that’s happened to me. A Harvard student two years ago called for me to be fired. This was a student who was a protester in Occupy Harvard. And it wasn’t listened to. But I don’t know any other professor in my time who’s ever had to face that sort of student’s demand.

JOHN LEO: College presidents as a group are not exactly profiles in courage. I notice only one college president in the last three or four turbulent months has said no to the protesters. And that was Krisov at Oberlin, who was confronted with a long list of non-negotiable student demands. And he said no. He said, “I’m happy to talk to you, but we don’t deal with non-negotiable demands here.”

HARVEY MANSFIELD: I’d have to say in defense of Harvard that our president, Drew Faust, said no to divestiture of fossil fuel investments, and to Israeli-related investments. So, you know, it is possible for dissenters to go too far.

JOHN LEO: Well, what about the rising demand from the left that Israeli professors not be invited over or be dealt with in any way?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes, that seems to me totally outrageous.

JOHN LEO: Well, I don’t think it’s in full bloom yet. But a few years ago, it was just laughed out of court. Now it’s not.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Right. But the pressure should be rejected loudly.

JOHN LEO:  Okay. Here’s the big question. Given the perilous state of the universities as you describe it, what can be done? What reform movement would you recommend or do you see coming at all?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: It’s very difficult. Because universities give tenure, and that means it’s very hard to remove or replace the faculty. In fact, it’s impossible. Also, supporting agencies exist. All the professional associations are politically correct, even more so than the universities themselves. The American Political Science Association is a good deal to the left, certainly of our Department of Government at Harvard – and I think that’s generally true of the professional associations. Those institutions are dominated by the most fervent activists on the left. And so they are not going to object to the monoculture in the universities. And so far, the universities are getting some criticism, but not very much.

I would say, the level of criticism should be raised and be made loud and clear to alumni associations and trustees. Otherwise, one hopes for a change of opinion perhaps from students. I find that students are much more reasonable and actually more tolerant than either the faculty or the administration. They may seem to be less tolerant, but that’s only because a small minority of them are protesters. Students can be riled up. But the students in my classes are much more reasonable than my colleagues and the administration.

JOHN LEO: Do you think the last few months have pushed people away from conventional campus liberalism?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: I think the rise of Donald Trump has not been helpful to conservatism. It makes the universities feel self-righteous and just confirms them in their uncomprehending and stagnant liberalism.

JOHN LEO: Is there anything else you want to say here ?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: All the universities face what you might call a crisis of the humanities–and that is the difficulty that the humanities have in defending themselves or explaining themselves where science is dominant. All knowledge today is taken to be scientific knowledge. And that’s true as against religion, but also against the knowledge that comes from study of literature and of humane topics. And this I think is the issue behind the flight from the humanities by students, from majoring in English and other literatures into fields concerned with moneymaking.

JOHN LEO:  So in response to this, the humanities seem unable to defend themselves and to explain why it’s good to be at a liberal arts university, why students should major in something else besides engineering, accounting or computing.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: That’s right. The humanities have come to be dominated by so-called postmodern thought. And postmodern really means against science and against the benefits or alleged benefits of progress and technology especially.

JOHN LEO: Let me ask you one last question. And that is, do you sense a rising disdain, if not contempt, for the West and the United States on campuses?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Well, I do. That’s right. And the troubles we’re having over Islam, our inability to identify an enemy, and to move against it with determination. So, I do see that and it’s something we have to deal with.

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.

Should Conservatives Lead Secret Lives?

Passing on the right is dangerous and generally illegal driving.  But a fair number of people do it anyway.  The title Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn’s new book, Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University, combines the image of the careless driver with the other transgressive meaning of “passing.”  Conservative professors can now pass by concealing their political identities the way Coleman Silk, the classic professor who is the central character in Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain, “passes” as Jewish to conceal his African-American origins.

Racial passing has a storied history in the United States.  It evokes a two-edged response:  some admiration for the trickster who successfully evades racial obstacles to social advancement, combined with disdain for the individual who turns his back on his own kind for the sake of getting ahead. It is a complicated deceit for the person who does it, since it often means concealing from oneself important parts of one’s own identity, and perhaps betraying friends and family.

Related: Social Psychology, a Field with Only 8 Conservatives

Thus, when Shields and Dunn playfully put the word front and center in the title of their book, it signals trouble ahead.  And indeed the trouble comes.  As many reviewers have already noted, their core theme is that conservatives can get along just fine in academe provided they wait until after they get tenure before they reveal their conservative views.  This is troubling in several ways, not least in its seeming validation of the unfair obstacles that conservatives must endure along the way.  It is troubling in more subtle ways too, including its implicit endorsement of the pathological tactic of passing.  Train up a generation of conservatives to believe that prudence requires them to hide their views for more than a decade of graduate study, post-grad appointment, and tenure-track positions, and you train up a generation imbued with the intellectual habits of timidity and excessive deference.  Elsewhere in the academic archipelago this has a name, “internalized oppression.”

Why do we need a book counseling conservatives to love their mistreatment?  What good is it to tell conservative scholars to bear with it, because at the end of the day, you will be rewarded with freedom? It is a freedom that is in fact wasted on many of those who eventually get it.  By that point in their lives, many faculty members have achieved hard-won acceptance in their departments and professions which they are not about to put at risk.  They are enmeshed in relationships with senior colleagues on their political left and they know that, at most, they can from time to time dip a toe in the waters of dissent from progressive orthodoxy.

As the head of The National Association of Scholars, I talk frequently with conservative scholars who express views like this: untenured scholars scared stiff they will be identified as having non-progressive views, and tenured scholars scared of being labeled their campus’s “conservative professor”—a category always assumed to be singular.

Related: Why So Few Conservatives in Higher Ed?

In that light, I don’t welcome Shields and Dunn’s book. It strikes me as profoundly cynical and likely to damage the effort to summon from young scholars the courage they will need to change American higher education for the better.

But it would be unfair to paint the book as only that.  They have done good research and have many pertinent observations.  Their evidence for their conclusions comes from interviews with 153 professors in economics, political science, sociology, history, philosophy, and literature, all of whom self-identified as “conservative” or “libertarian.” They found their subjects by networking outwards from faculty members who had published in journals such as The Claremont Review of Books.  That gave them a list of 249 “confirmed conservative professors.”  Over the course of ten research trips, they were able to conduct in-person interviews with 153 of these at a total of 84 colleges and universities.

Those numbers may strike some as small, but in fact that’s an impressive accomplishment. Shields and Dunn recorded and transcribed these interviews and kept track of the relevant categories.  Political science provided the largest number of interviewees:  25 percent of the total.  Sociology the fewest:  nine percent of the total.  The academic ranks of the respondents, however, tell the largest story.  Full professors accounted for 53 percent of the respondents, and associate professors accounted for 27 percent.  So 80 percent were in tenured positions.  Another 4 percent were “emeritus,” i.e. retired from a tenured position.  Only 8 percent were in the pre-tenure category of “assistant professor.”   The remainder were visitors and adjuncts, off the tenure track.

Translation: 127 of those 153 were protected from the most serious career consequences that can follow from being identified with non-liberal positions on current issues.  Nonetheless, Shields and Dunn have concealed the identities of all but one of them.

Shields and Dunn frequently acknowledge pertinent realities.  They write, for example, that “Conservatives are least welcome in field where they are most needed.” But each such zig is followed by a zag.  The very next sentence following that acknowledgement is the declaration that “the right-wing critique of the university is overdrawn.”  It’s overdrawn because a privileged and adroitly disguised few have created “niches” for themselves within the university.

This is rather like saying a few stray wildflowers have survived in the 2,000-acre industrial-scale mono-cropped farm.  We wish those wildflowers well, but what we would really like is some greater diversity in the planting.

There should be no need to pass on the right. In either the sense of traffic management or the sense of concealed identity.  Shields and Dunn know that and more than once call on liberals and progressives to welcome conservatives into the faculty.  They know too that this counsel is unlikely to be heeded, and their last words of counsel go instead to “conservative outside the university” not to complain too loudly about “intolerance” on campus because doing so discourages young conservatives from pursuing academic careers.

My own response differs.  I would rather that anyone who is daunted by the obstacles conservatives face choose a career outside the academy.  What we need are people willing to dismantle those obstacles by challenging them head-on.

Jane Mayer Peddles Her “Sky is Falling!” Story

Jane Mayer is a writer for The New Yorker who knows her audience. It consists mostly of elitist progressives who like reading that their enlightened transformation of America is imperiled by greedy conservative villains. She has written many articles and most recently, a book entitled Dark Money on that theme.

The February 26, 2016 issue of Chronicle Review (the companion publication to The Chronicle of Higher Education, but much more overtly political) contains an essay drawn from that book, “How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education.”

To leftist readers, that’s certain to sound frightful. Higher education, after all, is supposed to be the domain of highly intelligent, far-sighted, compassionate scholars—the sort of people they admire. How awful to hear that it has been infiltrated by malevolent billionaires, who have (as the cover of the issue puts it) “tugged academe to the right.”

In the essay, Mayer recounts the tale of how this dastardly deed was done, beginning with the John M. Olin Foundation’s “offensive to reorient the political slant of higher education to the right.” That so-called offensive meant funding a few scholars at major universities who dissented from the prevailing leftist notions about the impact of government. Those scholars were all of a classical liberal bent, their thinking informed by the likes of John Locke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.

That intellectual tradition has always been present in American universities, but following the New Deal, progressives who could see nothing but good in the expansion of the state came to dominate most faculties. For many students, contrary ideas could only be found if they ventured into the dusty shelves of the library. Was there a case against socialism, for instance? Students would probably never hear that there was unless somehow they chanced upon a reference to Ludwig von Mises’ great 1922 book.

What Olin and other foundations wanted was to revive an intellectual tradition that was out of favor with the elites who thrive on government control. They weren’t “tugging” higher education in any direction, but merely trying to add to a voice that was mostly going unheard. If a philanthropist put money into sponsoring a series of string quartet performances, we wouldn’t object that he was tugging the music world toward the classics.

But Mayer knows that she needs to keep her readers edgy, so she throws in lines like this, a quotation from a “progressive political strategist,” who says of Olin and other conspirators, “What they started is the most potent machinery ever assembled in a democracy to promote a set of beliefs to control the reins of government.”

That isn’t within light years of the truth. The objective of Olin (which spent itself out of existence ten years ago in keeping with the benefactor’s wishes), the Koch Foundation, and many smaller foundations is not to take control of the reins of government but instead to suggest to people that we’d be better off if the reins of government were loosened.

Mayer wants readers to think that some sort of coup is in the making, but all that’s happening is that a rather small number of students will get to hear one or two professors who think critically about the impact of government.

Critical thinking is supposed to be something colleges encourage. Mayer is opposed to letting “right-wing billionaires” encourage it with regard to the effects of government policy. She can’t resist name-calling and wails about “a tiny constellation of private foundations filled with tax-deductible gifts from a handful of wealthy reactionaries.”

That’s both nasty and false – the people behind this movement are only “reactionaries” if that word now means anyone who thinks government has grown too big.

If Mayer wanted an accurate title, she might have written “How a Handful of Classical Liberals Added Some Intellectual Diversity for Students to Consider.” But that wouldn’t scare her readers.

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.

The Challenge To Restore Balance To Our Universities

Changing the course of American Universities is no easy task, concluded a panel “Liberal Bias on Campus: The Challenge To Restore Balance to Our Universities” organized by the Manhattan Institute at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference. David Horowitz observed that “ever major university has been taken over by a chiliastic religious sect.” Samatha Harris, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, identified, in the higher education system, a “fundamental disrespect for students and faculty who don’t toe the line.” John Leo noted that it would take “decades to clean the PC indoctrinators out of the universities.” The panelists identified above, along with Joe Lindsley of the Collegiate Network, and moderator Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner offered a stark, but not unhopeful portrait of the state of politicization of the American academy to a full audience consisting mainly of students, who from, the tenor of conversation and questions, seemed amply familiar with the problems outlined.

Many of the difficulties detailed were age-old. The power of politicized “departmental fiefdoms”, particularly in recent, highly politicized subject areas, was widely deplored. Joe Lindsley lamented the continuing fracturing of a core curriculum, with its replacement by an “over-abundant super-value menu” of courses. Samantha Harris spoke of the continuing threats to freedom of expression and association that universities pose, in a climate where “anything that offends anyone is fair game for censorship.” It’s an unequal game, however; as David Horowitz pointed out; rarely are left causes threatened; “there is absolutely no goodwill on the part of administrators to enforce their own rules.”

More importantly, the panel identified several emergent threats and challenges. David Horowitz pointed out the dangerous precedent of the Lawrence Summers case; “the first university President to be censured by his own faculty, and in effect fired by them.” John Leo pointed out the disconcerting rise of “transformative” programs on campuses, such as the Delaware residential life program; “their goal is not just to teach PC principles; the goal is to get students to emotionally commit to them.” Samantha Harris echoed this point, noting that the University of Delaware program explicitly referred to the “treatment” of students; it’s no longer enough to simply teach students; they must be changed, indeed, “required to advocate for progressive causes.” The model of dispositions requirements in Ed Schools where “students are basically required to show a commitment to certain values in order to graduate” has now penetrated even residence halls.

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