Tag Archives: liberal

Which Thinkers on the Political Left Do You Most Respect?

Here’s how conservative scholar Steven F. Hayward responded to the question, which was asked by the Intercollegiate Review

Michael Sandel, who is a critic of the left from within the left; Robert Putnam, whose work tends to ratify a lot of conservative insights about social order; William Galston, one of the few liberal students of Allan Bloom who respects and engages conservative perspectives; and Alan Wolfe on occasion.

John Rawls deserves respect and serious reading, as he attempts to justify aggressive egalitarianism within the liberal tradition instead of tearing it down like Marx and today’s nihilist postmodern left. Even if his premises and major steps are wrong, he is the key thinker for much leftist thought today, though I find that few leftists have read him carefully.

Finally, Cass Sunstein is the most sophisticated political-legal thinker on the left, and he is dangerous precisely because he can synthesize conservative thinkers like F. A. Hayek into his leftist agenda. I used to enjoy the prose style and unusual arguments of the late Murray Kempton. He was the left’s closest equivalent to William F. Buckley Jr., and some of his old columns are worth reading.

Obama’s Win Is An Indictment of Higher Education

This morning in the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes summed
up
one condition of the Republican Party:

“What’s their problem? In Senate races, it’s bad candidates:
old hacks (Wisconsin), young hacks (Florida), youngsters (Ohio), Tea Party
types who can’t talk about abortion sensibly (Missouri, Indiana), retreads
(Virginia), lousy campaigners (North Dakota) and Washington veterans
(Michigan). Losers all.

“And those are just the Senate contests decided
yesterday.  In 2010, it was similar.  Republicans threw away two of
their best chances to gain seats, choosing pathetically incapable candidates in
Nevada and Delaware.” 

Indeed, conservative and libertarian teachers, writers, and
intellectuals have to wonder why the candidates they have to choose from are
precisely that, “pathetically incapable” mouthpieces who can’t talk about
controversial issues such as abortion sensibly. 

Here’s one reason why: those politicians didn’t study any
conservative thinkers in college.  When they talk, they say nothing that
suggests they have read much serious discourse on the right side of the
spectrum from Burke to Charles Murray.  Leftists have their nostrums down
pat (against racism, sexism, imperialism, economic inequality . . .), and
however dated and predictable those utterances are, liberal politicians stick
to the point and press it again and again.  Again, one reason is that they
received ample helpings of liberalism in freshman English, history, any
“studies course,” sociology, etc., reading some Marx, Foucault, Dewey, Malcolm
X, a bit of feminism here and multiculturalism there.  In school, those
future conservative politicians likely rejected those texts, but they didn’t
plunge into the other side’s corpus

It shows in the absence of depth in so many Republican
candidates.  When you hear them speak, nothing in the tradition comes
through–no Franklin on work ethic, Madison-Hamilton-Jay on power, Emerson on
self-reliance, Hawthorne on Federal employment, Thoreau on Big Government,
Booker T. Washington on individual responsibility, Willa Cather on the pioneer
spirit, and Hayek on social engineering.  This is a fatal deficiency, and
it neglects one of the strengths of conservatism (superiority in the battle of
ideas).  Worse, when conservatives don’t have the tradition in their
background, when they lose elections, they tend to look forward by examining
their relationship to the electorate instead of their relationship to first
principles and values.  Conservative candidates don’t need more political
calculation that competes with liberalism, but rather more intellectual heft
that presents a better alternative to liberalism.

It won’t happen in college, so maybe organizations such as
the Manhattan Institute should run two-week seminars for office-seekers. 
Not policy-making or campaign strategy sessions, but short courses in
conservative words and ideas.  Have them read Franklin‘s Autobiography, Washington’s
Up from Slavery, and Cather’s O Pioneers!  Let them know,
too, that while we all await the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, one way Reagan
thrived in politics is by withdrawing for a time and reading Hayek and Friedman
carefully, soberly, far from the madding crowd.

The Ultimate Victory of Liberal Bias

The Daily Texan has reported that a conservative student group at University of Texas-Austin has inaugurated a “watch list” containing the names of professors who “politicize the classroom” and squash “dissenting opinion.”  The chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas describes the list as an information resource, providing information on wayward instructors before students sign up for their classes and regret being stuck in them for a semester of illiberal education.  

An earlier version of the Watch List that appeared in Spring 2007 cast a wider net and placed professors on the list without any hard evidence of abuse of students.  This time, the project focuses on tyrannical behavior.  As of two weeks ago, the head of the local chapter stated he had received “eight or nine names” but that he wouldn’t release them, perhaps because he hadn’t reviewed the validity of the claims.  The group is careful not to cite any professors who openly espouse a political position but allow opposition. 

The Huffington Post picked up the story a few days ago and hosted a forum on the issue, but it’s hard to find any other notice of the case.  Searches of “University of Texas Watch List” at the Chronicle of Higher Education and www.insidehighered.com produced no stories, and on the Texas campus there isn’t any evidence of subsequent discussions or events.   

Compare this to the vehement criticism David Horowitz faced ten years ago when he initiated concrete proposals to root out liberal bias.  Back then, critics hurled denunciation and indignation at Horowitz in many different fora. This time, however, the effort to monitor misbehaving instructors doesn’t even raise the quick and easy charge of McCarthyism.

Most professors realize that the liberal-bias movement doesn’t threaten them at all. In fact, many colleges have learned how to benefit from their right-wing students. Numerous campuses, such as Brown, UCLA, and Princeton, have allowed of the formation conservative or libertarian centers. As a result, development offices are finding that conservative alumni are more willing to donate. They will grant space to alternative viewpoints in order to let the dominant system proceed as before.  There’s no doubt the centers have benefited the students. But conservative faculty groups and conservative student activists barely touch left-leaning faculty and administrators.  

In other words, the liberal-bias movement succeeded and it failed.  It succeeded in overcoming the reflexive condemnation of biased professors, earning conservative and libertarian ideas some legitimacy in the academic square.  No longer can a faculty speak of conservative/libertarian thinkers and ideas as prima facie stupid.  But it failed to dent the prevailing left-liberal ideology of identity politics, diversity, and statism.  The worst tendencies continue, but in the administrative offices rather than the classroom. If the liberal-bias movement had really succeeded, the diversiphile network on campus would have shrunk, not expanded.

One wonders if the cannier left-liberals among the faculty and administration welcome scattered attacks on the professors for bias, as it gives them another reason to pay lip service to “academic freedom.”  Meanwhile, the real work of liberal-bias spreads in the bureaucracy, where students can’t see it happening.

The Wacky World of Victim Studies

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Bruce Bawer’s new
book, The Victims’ Revolution:  the Rise of Identity Studies
and the Closing of the Liberal Mind
, arrived on the front page of the “Back
to School” issue of the New York Times Book Review.  Any
author of a book on higher education would have to be delighted to be awarded
such prominence.  The review itself, however, sliced in the opposite direction,
declaring The Victims’ Revolution to
be quaintly out of touch with the realities of American higher education;
behind the times; mistaken in its basic points; “lacking in balance;”
full of “dubious assertions;” guilty of preciosity in its criticisms;
and oblivious to the real issues of the day.  


The reviewer, Andrew
Delbanco, professor of American Studies at Columbia University, earlier this
year offered up his own diagnosis of what ails American higher education
now.  In College:  What it Was, Is, and
Should Be
, Delbanco argued that “the vast majority of college students are
capable of engaging the kinds of big questions–questions of truth,
responsibility, justice, beauty, among others–that were once assumed to be at
the center of college education.”  His is
the voice of a moderate reformer who is at peace with most of the changes in
higher education that have arisen in the last half century, including its
massive expansion, but who sees some room for improvement.

Continue reading The Wacky World of Victim Studies

Here’s How the Scholar Disappears

Political scientists Gary King (Harvard University) and Maya Sen (University of Rochester) recently produced a working paper titled, “The Troubled Future of Colleges and Universities.” Everyone interested in higher education should read it. The paper is instructive for those who want to understand how little most academics understand the crisis universities face. The problems with the paper are numerous, but I will just focus on one–their ambivalence about learning, or what they call “education.”

King and Sen uncritically assume that “education” is a unit of computer data. They define the purpose of the “modern university” as the “creation, preservation, and distribution of knowledge,” like how computers produce and distribute data to consumers. University research generates knowledge, and professors then distribution that knowledge in university classes which, until recently, were “the most sought way to get educated.”

However, the university is experiencing competition from the Internet and for-profit schools, and it may lose its ability to provide knowledge, especially considering how the University of Phoenix has apps (apps!) that put that knowledge on smartphones. Imagine the efficiency of getting educated in between rounds of Food Ninja.

The metaphor completely misrepresents how learning works; it is not a piling up of data until amount equals the common measure for “educated.” What King and Sen do reveal is their ambivalence about education itself. They say nothing of how the financial troubles of universities might deprive generations of a liberal education, as Joseph Epstein fears. Their ambivalence explains the relatively low esteem with which Harvard holds teaching, as Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus detail. Harvard faculty place greater emphasis on research, largely for professional and institutional reasons. As a result, we should not be surprised that teaching suffered, since it amounts to an obstacle to research. Unsurprisingly, King and Sen recommend that traditional universities compete with Internet-based alternatives by putting undergraduates to work in faculty research projects, which is something University of Phoenix Online and Udacity cannot offer.

The solution is strange. It is hard to imagine luring students into college with promises of data coding, regression analysis, and grant-writing; worse, this solution is simply admitting defeat–universities are no longer places of learning but training facilities in quantitative methods. As Martin Heidegger prophesied in “The Age of the World View”:

The decisive development of the modern business character of science, therefore, forms people of a different stamp. The scholar disappears. He is replaced by the individual engaged in research projects. This, rather than the pursuit of scholarship, gives his work its keen atmosphere. The research man no longer needs a library at home. Besides, he is always moving about. He does business at meetings and gets information at congresses. He contracts to work for commissions from publishers, who now help to determine what books must be written.”

On a final note, the recommendation that undergraduates simply start apprenticing as research assistants comes at an unusual time for those like King and Sen, who advocate quantitative social science research. NassimTaleb, Jim Manzi, and Emanuel Derman are part of growing movement of former “quants” skeptical of the attempts to quantify human behavior and afraid of the dangers that come from living and governing as if such quantification were possible. Increasingly, the moment seems right for a heartfelt defense of the university as a place of learning, tradition, and contemplation. There is no app for that.

Misunderstanding Intellectual Diversity

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When
critics of higher education complain about a lack of “intellectual diversity,”
mostly what they deplore is the shortage of conservative professors. But there
is much more at stake than that.

Consider
climate change:  As I write this, parts
of the nation have endured sweltering heat, serious drought, and treacherous
storms, at one point leaving millions of people without electricity for
days.  The invocation of “climate change”
as the “cause” of more violent and extreme weather, worse forest fires and
flooding, indeed, of a host of calamities, has been used to assign culpability
to the whole human race, mimicking what irritates defenders of evolution about
the claimants of creation science, that debunking evolutionary theory is an
underhanded way of insinuating religious belief and its claims about the fallen
state of humanity.

It
turns out the wholesale secular embrace of science insinuates its own range of
pious beliefs.  Climate theory pretends
both to the throne of reason and to public policies dictated as if they were
royal decrees.  To question a royal
decree in this case is construed as treason again reason.  But how did reason come to rely more on a
consensus of belief than skepticism about such grand causal claims?  Unlike creation science, the advocates of
social engineering who believe that science is equivalent to policy intimidate
all doubters.  The absence of intellectual
diversity is detrimental to public policy debate, not to mention how the
stranglehold of environmentalism in colleges and universities also steers any
debate toward predetermined conclusions. 
Here the challenge becomes disentangling the science of climate change
from the policies that should follow from that science.

Continue reading Misunderstanding Intellectual Diversity

A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Weissberg essay.jpegAs one who has spent
nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often
suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious
(peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that
heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines,
op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and
this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or
promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in
disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those
who reject the PC orthodoxies.

Continue reading A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

A Survival Guide for the Right in Leftist Academia

Back in 2010, University of Illinois, Chicago, Professor and former
Weatherman radical Bill Ayers gave a presentation on Public Pedagogy at the
American Education Research Association annual meeting. Ayers, then a member of
AERA’s governing board, made the claim that he, Bill Ayers, was really not a
terrorist. Ten of the first 11 sentences in the talk abstract were in the first
person singular, before Bill Ayers switched gears to say that really, any
violence Bill Ayers might have encouraged merely came in response to the evils
of the U.S. government.   

Continue reading A Survival Guide for the Right in Leftist Academia

The Hunt for Conservative and Liberal Genes

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Based on “new findings involving behavioral genetics,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education,
a growing clump of contemporary social scientists agrees with Gilbert
and Sullivan that both liberals and conservatives (but especially
conservatives) are the product of nature, although they seem to find
nature’s production of conservatives more tragic than comic.

Swimming upstream against the strong current of conventional campus
wisdom holding that just about everything controversial –race, sexual
preference, IQ, gender identity and even gender itself — is “socially
constructed,” these behavioral geneticists believe that political
differences are not caused primarily by conflicting ideologies or moral
visions but instead are deeply rooted in the psyche and even the genes.
As one of these scholars put it, “The differences between political left
and right are now being recognized as ‘very deep and psychological,
such that they connect with very basic personality tendencies that don’t
really have anything in particular to do with politics.'” One estimate
“showed that as much as 40 percent of a person’s political orientation
can be explained by genes.”

Continue reading The Hunt for Conservative and Liberal Genes

The Coming Decline of the Academic Left

indoctrination.jpgIt is no secret that what passes for an education at most of the nation’s colleges and universities is suspiciously akin to indoctrination. An asterisk: With the exception of a few areas–specifically, climate and the environment, certain fields within biology and medicine, history of science and the interaction between science and public policy–the rot that infects the rest of academia has been averted in science and engineering schools. A student who seeks a higher education in the unsullied areas of science and engineering can obtain truly the finest technical education that can be found on our planet at innumerable universities throughout the United States.

But when surveying the remaining disciplines in academia, as well as
the administrative structures that direct the nation’s academic
enterprise, one can say that today’s students are subject there to an
unsubtle, mind-numbing, conformist indoctrination. Numerous polls
conducted in humanities and social sciences departments–at elite, state and minor universities–reveal a stunning skew between liberals
and conservatives at least as distorted as 90%-10%. The inherent bias
spills over into classroom presentations, selection of curricula, and
grading. Moreover, it has been thus for at least two generations.

Continue reading The Coming Decline of the Academic Left

Campus Libertarianism up, Civic Commitment Down

One of the most mentioned findings in the annual UCLA survey of college freshmen is a decided trend toward more “liberal” political attitudes. The survey shows increased support for same-sex marriage (supported by 71.3% of students, representing a 6.4% increase since 2009); for a pro-choice position on abortion; for the legalization of marijuana; and a corresponding decrease in opposition to provision of public services to undocumented immigrants. One finding that seems at odds with the overall trend is support for national health care, which dropped nearly a point since 2010, and fourteen points since 2007.

As Mark Bauerlein rightly pointed out, the trends point not in a “liberal” direction, but rather one that is “libertarian,” with a strong stress upon being “individualists.” If there is one overwhelming conclusion that one can draw from this survey, today’s students are individualistic. As an article about the survey expressed, their dominant perspective is to “Live and Let Live (and Study).”

The study is striking for what it does not ask: while it asks about hot-button social issues ranging from same-sex marriage to abortion, it does not ask students very much about their views on the economy–something one would think in our current climate would be interesting to know (the survey claims that its findings should inform how issues should be framed in the upcoming Presidential election. If that is the case, why the avoidance of economic questions?).

My own more modest campus “survey” suggests that students are trending libertarian (what many would call “conservative”) in the economic sphere as well. In one class I teach at Georgetown, I assign students a short paper asking them to provide a “political autobiography.” I have been struck over the past several years at the increasing number of students who self-describe as “socially liberal and economically conservative.” Their political lexicon is fairly impoverished (doubtless with thanks to our political media), but what they in fact disclose is a growing embrace of a consistent ethic of libertarianism. If we take their fading support of national health care as a proxy for their view about government interference in the economy, then we can indeed conclude that today’s students demonstrate an overall disposition toward “live and let live,” in both the social and economic realms.

Toleration, Diversity and Me

This conclusion, I would submit, ought to be a source of deep concern for those who care about the future of the American polity.

The overarching emphasis in the highest echelons of society–among our “elites,” and especially those working at our public schools and universities, as well as in the media–has been upon the need for “toleration” and “diversity.” The underlying belief informing this widespread view is that a high level of toleration toward others will result in a decrease in social conflict, the cessation of the mistreatment of minorities and outsiders, and a more peaceful and hence prosperous society. This message has clearly been internalized by today’s students: among the worst possible sins one can commit is to be a “Hater”–or, in their parlance, to “H8.” To render judgments or critical views toward lifestyle decisions is to engage in an unacceptable form of prejudice; people should be allowed to behave in whatever way they wish, so long as no one is physically harmed (though, it should be noted, self-destructive behaviors such as smoking are now severely frowned upon–only 2% of the surveyed population today acknowledges being a smoker). In what possible way could one be disquieted by this seemingly praiseworthy disposition of toleration and acceptance of diversity?

What the data also demonstrates is a keen and intense emphasis on the self. Today’s students simultaneously urge toleration toward others, but also expect to be left alone. Their overarching emphasis upon individual achievement–particularly in the area of career advancement–suggests that the message of “toleration” and “diversity” seamlessly co-exists with a self-centered focus on material success and personal lifestyle autonomy. At risk is a cultivated belief in civic membership, a sense of shared fate and even forms of self-sacrifice.

One telling aspect of the survey has, to my knowledge, received no attention: while 72.3% state that the “chief benefit of college is to increase one’s earning power,” only 2% of current college graduates are enrolled in an ROTC or other military program. While likely career choices are fragmented among many possible choices (with the largest numbers of responses clustering around the choices of engineer, physician and business, together totaling 28%), only 1.5% responded that they foresaw a military career; 0.9% intended to enter government or public policy; and .1% stated an intention to become a member of the clergy. As many respondents indicated a likely future of unemployment (1.5%) as those willing to serve in the military!

Increasing Earning Power

Contemporary liberals who significantly shape the views of today’s young (especially through the media – 50% of respondents indicated watching television more than 3 hours a day) believe that they are ushering in a future of toleration and “laissez-faire.” However, this attitude in fact buttresses the other overwhelming finding of the survey: that students today are “in it” for themselves. Their view of college is already determined before they enroll: the purpose of college is to increase their earning power. They are not in college to be liberally educated or to understand the “meaning of life.” They are not there to prepare for a life of responsible citizenship, parenthood and neighborliness. They are “capitalist tools,” people whose lives are dominated by professional ambition and bottom-line accounting.

Several disquieting questions should come to mind: what kinds of citizens will these people grow up to be? What kinds of parents and what kinds of neighbors? They will likely be willing to leave other people alone–but will they care about others? Will they love? Will they serve? Will they sacrifice? According Charles Murray in his recent book Coming Apart, it is the upper classes (which will be composed of the students in this survey) that have largely abandoned any idea of trusteeship and moral and civic responsibility toward those who have not won the meritocratic sweepstakes. The survey suggests that this divide will only deepen in coming years.

I fear that we are not ushering in a utopia of toleration and sensitivity, but one of indifference and self-absorption. Today’s young people have deeply absorbed the lessons that have been taught them by their elders. Do we truly think a civilization can persist when it teaches its young that the most important thing in life is indifference toward others and that the means to happiness is earning the most money?

Students More Liberal? Not So Fast

Political and Social Views Decidedly More Liberal.”  That’s the first finding in the 2011 American Freshman Survey, a project of the Higher Education Research Initiative at UCLA,
one of the largest annual surveys of college students. 
Last year, the Survey chalked up 204,000 first-year-of-college
respondents who filled out a lengthy questionnaire on behaviors,
attitudes, and background. 

Some of the questions were political, and the authors derive a definite liberal trend among the 2011 cohort.

Continue reading Students More Liberal? Not So Fast

Occupying the Time Machine

In 1895, H. G. Wells concocted an imaginary time machine
that hurled people into the future and back to the past.  Since then, that device
has been re-invented by sci-fi writers, film makers and scientists.  They
needn’t have bothered.  The time machine has already been in existence for more
than four hundred years. It’s called New York City.

Glimpses of the future can be seen in the blueprints of every
new skyscraper in every reconstructed neighborhood.  As for the latest instance
of ancient history, Exhibit A–the recent occupying of the onetime New School
for Social Research (now just the New School) located in Greenwich Village.

Continue reading Occupying the Time Machine

No Time for Conservative Faculty

I’m totally baffled by the general looniness that seems to pop up when the liberal-left side talks about Republicans and the wealthy.  And it all “trickles down,” so that students parrot the same attitudes.  Today a student of mine from last year, who’s smart and nice, said in passing that the Tea Partiers are “racist.”  I said, “I don’t think so,” and he at once said, well, that’s what he’d learned in the press.  And he acknowledged that that was all he knew — the particular press he’s exposed to.

Continue reading No Time for Conservative Faculty

How Administrations Undermine Their Faculties

the fall of the faculty.jpgIt’s no secret that America’s colleges and universities have become bastions of political rectitude. This is often attributed to the left-liberal political orientation of the faculty. Typically, however, the administration, not the faculty, is the driving force behind efforts to promote campus diversity, to build multicultural programming and to regulate campus speech.  The president of the University of Rochester, for example, recently announced a 31-point “diversity plan” saying that diversity was a “fundamental value” of his university.

What accounts for the solicitude shown by university administrators for this progressive political agenda?  The chief reason is that a pitched battle for control of the university is under way, and by championing left-liberal causes administrators hope to bolster their own power

Republicans Miss an Opportunity

In theory, conservatives and liberals should have an equal concern with the state of higher education in America today, because all involved in politics should want an informed citizenry. In practice, however, liberals tend to ignore higher-ed reform. The race/class/gender triumvirate that dominates the contemporary academy translates into African-Americans, unions, and feminists in the political realm–and these three groups are vital to the Democratic Party’s base. Among the Democrats, only the party’s (dwindling) band of strongly pro-Israel figures would have political cover to address the effects of the groupthink, “diversity” atmosphere on today’s college’s campuses.

This political reality leaves Republicans as the only party likely to seriously champion higher-ed reform. Conservatives, it would seem, have an additional incentive, since the overwhelmingly left-leaning nature of social sciences and humanities faculty has given rise to the not-implausible concern that conservative ideas get short shrift on campus.

While education issues played almost no role in the 2010 elections, the unprecedented Republican gains at the state level provided an opportunity for at least a few state legislatures to exercise their oversight roles and inquire into whether their state’s public colleges and universities were actually fulfilling their stated goals of training the next generation of citizens. Are the interests of all citizens best-served by the kind of racial preference admissions schemes on display in the Fisher case in Texas? Do trustees or administrators need to play a greater role in the personnel process, to provide some semblance of balance and to make sure important topics or fields aren’t simply excluded by the groupthink atmosphere within most college faculties? What sorts of protections will ensure that students who pay good money to get a college education actually receive value for their dollar, and that students’ rights are honored even by professors who, for ideological or pedagogical reasons, view many of their students with contempt?

Continue reading Republicans Miss an Opportunity

A Double Shock to Liberal Professors

haidt200.jpgSocial psychology has long been a haven for left-wing scholars. Jonathan Haidt, one of  the best known and most respected young social psychologists, has heaved two bombshells at his field–one indicting it for effectively excluding conservatives (he is a liberal) and the other for what he sees as a jaundiced and cult-like opposition to religion (he is an atheist).

Here he is on the treatment of conservatives:

I submit to you that the under-representation of conservatives in social psychology, by a factor of several hundred, is evidence that we are a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering. … We should take our own rhetoric about the benefits of diversity seriously and apply it to ourselves. … Just imagine if we had a true diversity of perspectives in social psychology.  Imagine if conservative students felt free enough to challenge our dominant ideas, and bold enough to pull us out of our deepest ideological ruts. That is my vision for our bright  post-partisan future.

Continue reading A Double Shock to Liberal Professors

Reading Kant and Debating White Nationalists

cpac-2009.jpgThe many surveys backing up what those of us in the academy know only too well—that liberals vastly outnumber conservatives—are used to bolster the idealistic argument for “intellectual diversity.”
But a viewing of an incident at the recent CPAC conference and a video of a philosophy professor further confirmed my beliefs that it is not intellectual diversity that is needed as much as intellectual anything, and that that need is much more urgent than often recognized. The New Left began its onslaught on Western civilization through violent demands in the 1960s for the inherently anti-intellectual “studies” that replaced the traditional disciplines, like philosophy. The New Leftists and their intellectual descendents in the academy have just about succeeded in their mission of destroying the foundation of Western civilization: and that is reasoned inquiry. We see the outcome every day, in the nonsensical pontifications of tenured professors and inchoate expressions of our young people—even those involved in conservative politics.
Take for example an incident at CPAC with a group of young adults denouncing white nationalist Jamie Kelso captured on tape. They remind me so much of the college students I teach. Their reactions of disgust as Kelso’s aim becomes apparent indicate that their hearts are in the right place.

Continue reading Reading Kant and Debating White Nationalists

Why the Times Article Hit Home

At first glance, John Tierney’s report in the New York Times on the liberal-conservative imbalance of faculty looks like just another account of a very familiar subject. But read it twice and you can see why it became one of the most talked-about articles on higher education in months. How did this happen? First, it appeared in the Times, an unusual outlet for reports on liberal domination of campuses and the third-class status of the few conservatives. Comments about this are generally breaking news to Times readers. Then too, in asking for a show of hands among a thousand social psychologists at an academic convention, Jonathan Haidt, a non-conservative professor, had the academics demonstrate their political imbalance themselves (three hands went up when he asked how many were conservatives). Writing on the Atlantic website, Megan McCardle offered the most likely reason why the Tierney article had such resonance: Haidt couched his comments on faculty imbalance in classic victim language of the left. He compared conservatives to closeted gays in the 1980s, afraid to talk about their unacceptable status and ever fearful of exposure. One academic, writing anonymously about a faculty conversation, told Instapundit that he had once carelessly mentioned the architecture in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and dreaded the possible cost of that revealing remark. McCardle added that an imbalance in numbers, usually taken as a sure sign of bias when women, gays and minorities are being discussed, means nothing to the left when the minority is conservatives. When liberals begin explaining the scarcity of conservative professors, she wrote, they “sound suspiciously like some old reactionary explaining that blacks don’t really want to go into management because they’re much happier without all the responsibility…. In other words, it’s not our fault that they’re not worthy.” Ouch.

No Labels = No Thinking, and No Fighting for Principles Either

no%20labels.bmpWhat a different scene at Columbia University in the last month of 2010 from the glory days of the 1960s, when student radicals took over the campus! On December 13th, mild-mannered students with pleasant smiles nodded in agreement with establishment politicians and political strategists at the “No Labels” conference. As political analysts have pointed out, the repeated pleading for “bipartisanship” and for moving not “left or right” but “forward” was an attempt to obscure the losing message of Democrats and nervous Republicans in the 2010 elections.
But the phrases of “moving forward” and “compromise” were refrains in a song familiar to more than 300 college students from across the country gathered on campus. At the microphone, these students demonstrated their docile acceptance of the “no labels” pedagogy of “consensus-building,” “conflict resolution,” and “civil discourse.” When explaining “why” they were there, they echoed the words of the organizers and said they were tired of “hyper-partisanship.” Then they “pledged” to “speak out against this hyper-partisanship” because “a win for one party is not necessarily a loss for another party.” Sometimes making their statements with the timorous inflection of a question mark at the end, they raised—for some observers, at least– the issue of intellectual decline, and spiritual and psychological decline as well.
Like many of my college students, these students displayed a reluctance to declare anyone–or any idea–a “winner.” The notion of there being a losing side, whether in wiffle ball or a mock UN debate, has in effect been outlawed over the last few decades. In part this numb recessiveness is the work of campus “mommies,” freshman composition teachers who instruct their classes to shy away from assertion and real debate.
Freshman composition was once known for teaching young adults how to defend a conviction with logic and evidence. Feminists saw the inherently competitive nature of this enterprise, and sought to replace it with the “maternal presence in the classroom,” an Orwellian term in circulation at the University of Georgia in the 1990s, where I taught as a graduate teaching assistant. At the time, the English department, known as the last hold-out from the pernicious influence of the various schools of postmodernism, was being taken over by feminists who sought to root out the patriarchy in all its manifestations—including the freshman essay. The “maternal presence” trickled down into our annual fall orientation sessions where we were directed to implement the new strategies as “facilitators.”

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The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools

Paulo_Freire.jpgRadical Math held its third annual conference in New York last weekend. Four hundred high school math teachers and education professors attended the conference on “Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice.” At thirty-two workshops on Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and in half a dozen city public schools, math teachers demonstrated classroom lessons to help students understand society from a “liberatory,” anti-capitalist perspective. For example, one workshop demonstrated how student math projects could be used to “explore the distribution of wealth in the United States and imagine more socially just alternatives.” Another showed how math problems could be structured to “empower and inspire students to change their world. This workshop will examine the Personal Proof Project, connecting Geometric proofs and activism.” At the Radical Math conference I attended three years ago, University of Massachusetts Professor Marilyn Frankenstein proposed that elementary school teachers who truly care about social justice should instruct their students that in a “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”
The Radical Math conference can be viewed as a demonstration of Freirism in action. The organization faithfully follows the doctrines of Paulo Freire, the late Brazilian Marxist and “critical pedagogy” theorist. The official program for the conference I attended was emblazoned with this passage from The Pedagogy of The Oppressed, Freire’s seminal work: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world.”
In The Critical Pedagogy Reader, a widely used text in education school courses, Robert Peterson writes about how he plumbed The Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a young elementary school teacher in inner-city Milwaukee, looking for ways to apply Freire’s theories to his own fifth-grade classroom. Peterson realized that he had to jettison what Freire dismisses as the prevailing “banking method” of education, in which “the teacher and the curricular texts have the ‘right answers’ and which the students are expected to regurgitate periodically.” Instead, Peterson switched to Freire’s “liberating” pedagogical approach, which “relies on the experience of the student. . . . It means challenging the students to reflect on the social nature of knowledge and the curriculum.” Peterson seems to have succeeded, turning his fifth-graders into critical theorists and junior scholars of the Frankfurt School.

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The Forty-Year Failure of American Sociology

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I hesitate to criticize sociology or sociologists. After all I am now at nearly a lifetime in the discipline, which I have taught for more than thirty years. But I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that throughout that time I have been a dissident in the field, a role, protected by tenure, which has challenged a complacency that some–mistakenly–now put at the doorstep of tenure. The problem for sociology was never complacency, but rather irrelevance, a misguided regard for political conviction rarely overcome by facts.

Consider divorce in America: it has taken sociologists forty years to conclude that divorce, in a strictly statistical sense, is not good for children. Many sociologists of my generation were at the forefront of arguing for more liberal divorce laws in the 1960s, and they devoted their careers to studying carefully the consequences of the social changes wrought. The news was not surprising, really. Kids adapt, no question about that, but adaptation is not the only lesson or goal in life. Divorced families are financially poorer; the children of divorced families do more poorly in school, and they suffer more from depression; and the list of collateral damages goes on.

The liberal sentiments of the 1960s did what J.S. Mill’s critic, James Fitzjames Stephen, said Mill did in his time: “Strenuously preach and rigorously practice the doctrine that our neighbor’s private character is nothing to us, and the number of unfavorable judgments formed, and therefore the number of inconveniences inflicted by them, can be reduced as much as we please, and the province of liberty can be enlarged in a corresponding ratio. Does any reasonable man wish for this?” Sociologists, once responsible for understanding the nature of moral and social life, grew silent in their regard for moral judgment, except as political judgment. Sociology as a field and through its professional association simply became a mouthpiece for progressive politics, sounding evermore peculiar to all but the most elite Americans still enmeshed in the daily problems and struggles of moral and social existence.

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Political Correctness Is the New Puritanism

3581039587_78ef193a3e.jpgOne of the saddest effects of the plague of political correctness that infects most selective campuses is the rampant dissatisfaction and unhappiness it produces. Those who care enormously about the purity of anything are often frustrated by even rumors of deviation from perfection. Just as hi-fi buffs searching for the absolute sound tend to listen for the imperfections on their discs or in their equipment more than to the music they ostensibly love, so today’s oh so caring politically correct students seem to live on constant guard against even the barest whiff of “exclusion” or homophobia or sexism or classism. All that concern makes for many unhappy campuses.
In one of her first acts as the new president of the University of Virginia, for example, Teresa Sullivan declared a Day of Dialogue on Sept. 24, with multiple events in hopes that

a full day of open and vigorous discussion about violence, hate, bias, and violence prevention will bring us together in new ways so that each of us can feel safe to participate fully in the life of the University.

Although Virginia’s Dialogue Day was provoked in large part by the murder last year of an undergraduate by her undergraduate boyfriend, the University community now has a long tradition of flagellating itself over what many see as raging tides of hate. Indeed, pick up the Daily Cavalier on almost any day and you’re likely to find a lamentation about the rampaging forces of hate on what to naked eye seems like an unusually friendly, “welcoming,” “inclusive” campus.

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The Defense of Radical Teaching

For a few years now, distinguished literary scholar Gerald Graff has been disputing with “social justice” professors and “radical teachers” over the proper use of authority in the classroom. While president of the Modern Language Association, he spoke forcefully against the stigmatizing of conservatives, and in the pages of PMLA and Radical Teacher he has argued several times that an insidious coerciveness underlies the leftists’ claim to promote critical thinking, challenge hegemonies, and foster a more just society.
In last May’s PMLA, Graff weighed in again. In a previous issue, radical professors had responded critically to Graff’s presidential address and had Graff had replied at length. Here, another letter comes in from Margaret Morganroth Gullette, a cultural critic at Brandeis who specializes in “age studies” (web site: “Age studies from childhood on can be as powerful as studies of gender or race in empowering people to challenge American age culture”).
The letter opens with the standard premise that “views not informed by radical critique implicitly promote hegemonic values.” That is, if you don’t challenge the hegemony, the system, the Establishment, etc., you endorse it. Or, if you’re not against it, you’re with it.

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The Sad Transformation of the American University

This is the slightly edited introduction to the author’s new collection of essays, Decline and Revival in Higher Education ( Transaction Publishers ). Dr. London is president of the Hudson Institute, one of the founders of the National Association of Scholars, and the former John M. Olin Professor of the Humanities at New York University.
book_reg_B84A0192-DB43-AEA5-19F4316BB9740083.jpgWhen I entered Columbia College in 1956, the college had a deep commitment to liberal opinion. Father and son Van Doren (Mark and Charles), the recently appointed Dan Bell, my adviser named Sam Huntington, the legendary Lionel Trilling, and a brilliant lecturer named Amitai Etzioni graced the campus and, more or less, leaned left at the time, albeit over the years several had their political orientation change. Yet there was one constant: These professors eschewed orthodoxies, notwithstanding the fact that in a poll of faculty members Adlai Stevenson won the 1956 presidential sweepstakes hands down.
Different views were welcome. Controversy was invited. “Political correctness” had not yet entered the academic vocabulary, nor had it insinuated itself into debate and chastened nonconformists. I was intoxicated by the sheer variety of thought. For me this smorgasbord of ideas had delectable morsels at each setting. It was at some moment in my senior year that I became enchanted with the idea of an academic career.

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