Tag Archives: politics

The Campus Assault on American History

As a professional historian at Hamilton College, I teach my students that the United States was founded on the principles of limited government, voluntary exchange, respect for private property, and civil freedom.  Does any sane parent believe that more than a tiny fraction of students graduate from college these days with a deep and abiding appreciation of the worth of these principles? 

For Doubting Thomases, look no further than the eleven elite liberal arts colleges that comprise the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which includes Amherst, Williams, Trinity, and Wesleyan.   Not one of these eleven colleges requires undergraduates to take a single course in American history.  Even worse, a substantial majority of these eleven elite colleges do not even require that students majoring in history take any American history courses. And none of the eleven history departments requires a two-semester American history sequence for its majors.

Non-Western history, however, has a privileged status in a majority of the departments.  Amherst requires of history majors that they take only “one course each in at least three different geographic areas.” The United States is but one of six geographic areas from which students can choose.  Bowdoin College’s history department offers eight fields of study.   Four “non-Euro/U.S. courses” are required, but not one US history course. In 2007, one-third of all history majors at my college, Hamilton, were graduated without one course in American history. 

As the American historians in my department battled to remedy this disgrace, the majority voted a minor concession: Starting with the class of 2012, majors must take one course in US history, although the non-Western requirement would remain: “Three courses must focus upon areas outside of Europe and the United States.” The downgrading of American history continues.

Politics and the Race/Class/Gender Trinity

My City University of New York colleague David Gordon has penned a convincing analysis about the current state of history in higher education. I share, and fully endorse, his critique about the direction of the field, with the vise-grip of the race/class/gender trinity “distort[ing] historical enquiry.” Stressing above all else victimization and oppression poorly serves both unbiased intellectual life on campus and the students that we teach.

Gordon’s article focuses on the dramatic expansion of gender history, observing how specialists in the topic have increased their representation to around 10 percent of all historians. (As Gordon points out, that percentage doesn’t include historians of race–a more popular topic, and one even more dominant among U.S. historians–or historians of class.) This expansion, moreover, has occurred at a time of overall contraction of history departments, especially in cash-starved public institutions. So what Gordon terms the “distort[ing]” effect of gender history is more than the profession simply expanding into a new area–it’s evidence of the profession contracting in other areas. In this zero-sum environment, advocates of “traditional” subfields have lost out.

If anything, then, Gordon could have presented an even more alarming case. And while I’d like to embrace an ideal that history departments might embrace a more pedagogically diverse vision in the future, I don’t see any evidence that it will occur. I’m certainly not aware of any department that has come under the dominance of the race/class/gender trinity that then launched a major hiring drive in political, or diplomatic, or military, or constitutional, or business history.

Less convincingly, Gordon suggests possible political influence on the profession’s current state. It’s quite clear that the early move toward race/class/gender was accelerated by contemporaneous political developments (such as the student protests at Cornell and Columbia in the late 1960s, or a second wave of politically correct campus protests in the 1980s). And it’s also true that a handful of politicians–such as the odious former New York City councilman Charles Barron, a close ally of the CUNY faculty union–continue to champion de facto racial or gender quotas in faculty hiring, or a certain type of “diversity” instruction in the classroom.

But in general, I don’t see much evidence that these hiring patterns–much less these curricular and pedagogical patterns–are driven by “politicians who want votes.” If anything, the problem is the reverse. A general indifference by politicians to the lack of intellectual or pedagogical diversity on campus is preventing state legislators in particular from providing a necessary (and appropriate) oversight role.

Nor, I should note, is there much evidence for Stanley Kurtz’s post-election theory implying a connection between the ideological imbalance among the faculty and the fact that “our colleges and universities have been quietly churning out left-leaning voters for some time.” It seems to me that Republican opposition to issues such as marriage equality (backed by 70 percent or more of all 18-24 year olds–not just those who attend college–in Maine, Minnesota, and Maryland last week) and the DREAM Act (which has two-to-one backing from all voters under 34 years old–not just those who went to college) more convincingly explains why 18-24 year olds strongly backed the Democrats in the 2012 elections.

Neither party has an interest in an ill-informed electorate: Democrats increasingly have presented themselves as technocrats, an approach that presumes voters will be able to comprehend public policy debates; Republicans increasingly have presented themselves as defenders of the Constitution, an approach that presumes voters understand what is (and is not) in the Constitution.

Cowardice provides an easy explanation as to why Democrats have avoided addressing the decline of academic diversity in the academy. In political terms, race, class, and gender correspond to black voters, unions, and feminists–three critical elements of the Democratic Party’s base. Tackling the situation on campuses would risk antagonizing base voters.

But what accounts for the Republicans’ reticence? Quite apart from the policy importance of promoting quality education, politically, the issue would seem to be ideal for the GOP. (Consider, for instance, the inexplicable silence of the Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives regarding persistent evidence of ideological slanting at the University of Iowa.) Alas, over the past four years the highest-profile Republican politician to involve himself in higher-ed issues has been Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli–who decided to go after a former University of Virginia science professor, in an effort that did little to advance the cause of pedagogical diversity on campus.

I don’t think, in the end, that historians can blame politicians or political pressure for the profession’s sad state. Blame instead lies with the scholars themselves, and the diversity-obsessed administrators who have abandoned the academy’s traditional fealty to the broadest possible range of intellectual debate on campus.

Proving Discrimination Is Almost Impossible

Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit
against the University of Iowa law school ended a few weeks ago when a jury
declared that the school did not submit her to political discrimination when it
rejected her application for a job. Wagner made a second allegation–that her
equal protection rights were violated because the law school held her political
activism against her–which was not ruled upon, the judge declaring a mistrial
because the jury couldn’t reach a decision, leaving open the possibility of
future action by Wagner’s attorney. Indeed, the Chronicle reports
that Wagner has filed papers asking for a retrial on all counts.
 

The first verdict wasn’t unexpected.  Wagner had to
prove that faculty members voted against her for her political views, which run
well to the Right.  But of course, nobody on hiring committees ever
says outright, “She’s a conservative–she’s out!”  They know
better–Schmidt cites one witness who “testified that no faculty member
would ‘be stupid enough’ to cite politics as the reason for turning down an applicant”–and
besides, they don’t have to.  In the hiring process there are so many
stages and variables that it’s easy to drop a conservative candidate for a
dozen other more or less non-political reasons.  “She isn’t a good
fit,” one might say, or “We already have strengths in her area, we need someone
in another field,” another could argue, or “I don’t think she handled questions
very well in the interview” could be the line.  The outcome is
assured and nobody needs to raise delicate matters along the way.

In Wagner’s case, a clear
distinction came up in her qualifications relative the person who got the job: She was one of five candidates chosen from a pool of 50 applicants invited to
present to the university’s faculty.

But that enthusiasm died soon after her presentation. The job
was given to Matt Williamson, a candidate who had never practiced law, had no
published works and was an ardent liberal who frequently criticized
Republicans, according to testimony and court documents presented last week to
the jury.

That a candidate who never practiced law and had no publications
should prevail over Wagner sounds fishy.  The Chronicle story
relates, too, that the person hired resigned a year later for “poor
performance.”  One could also mention the disparate-outcome argument
so beloved by liberals: the law school has one registered Republican and 46
registered Democrats.  Finally, one should note the email
law professor and former associate dean Jon Carlson sent to the law school dean
after the first rejection in which he worried that the faculty would balk at
the hiring of Wagner due to
“her politics (and especially her activism
about it).”
  

But the faculty had an answer: she botched the
presentation.  When asked about teaching “legal analysis,” an
important part of the job, they say, she declined.  Several witnesses
repeated that criticism, even though Wagner never recalls saying so (she showed
her pre-interview notes in court that displayed her intention to teach the
subject), and a couple of witnesses agreed with her, including Carlson and Mark
Osiel, another professor in the law school. The law school taped Wagner’s
presentation and could have offered the tape to settle the question. However,
the university erased the tape months after the hiring process had ended.

The coda to this story is equally frustrating. Just last week reporter
Jason Clayworth spoke
with four members of the jury who told him that jurors did believe that
political discrimination had taken place, but that they couldn’t hold one
person responsible.
This outcome shows how
far universities are able to fiddle with the hiring process with
impunity.  Here we have a jury convinced that political discrimination
took place, but they can’t convict because they have the wrong defendant. 
But the plaintiff couldn’t pick another defendant; indeed, federal law dictated
that the dean be made the “responsible party.” So people who feel they’ve been
treated unfairly face a Catch-22, and universities can carry on as usual.

Preferred and Prohibited Discrimination

Is the Fourteenth Amendment inferior to the
First? If states are generally prohibited from discriminating on the basis of
political identity, why should they be allowed to discriminate on the basis of
racial identity?

Consider Teresa
Wagner’s much-discussed
lawsuit against the University of Iowa College of Law for not hiring her due to her political convictions. A federal grand jury
believed the law school had indeed discriminated against her but ultimately deadlocked
because “federal law does not recognize political discrimination by
institutions.”

More interesting than this perhaps
provisional result is the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals’ legal reasoning that
made the trial possible. In its decision last
December allowing the trial to go forward, The Court of Appeals relied on a 2006 Supreme Court
decision
holding that Title VII “seeks a workplace where individuals are
not discriminated against because of their racial, ethnic, religious, or
gender-based status.” In short, it seeks “to prevent injury to individuals
based on who they are, i.e., their status.” The Eighth Circuit also
adopted the First Circuit’s holding that, if a plaintiff presents sufficient
evidence of discrimination, the employer was obligated to demonstrate a “nondiscriminatory
basis” for the decision to not hire. Specifically, the employer must show that
they did not consider the applicant’s “political affiliation.”
                                                                 

This raises an obvious question. Why should
courts allow discrimination against an applicant because of her racial identity
but not because of her opinion about abortion?
 

In an editorial
about the Teresa Wagner case, the Des Moines Register argued that the
University of Iowa “respects the goal of diversity for race, religion and
gender, but it should show the same respect for diversity of political
thought.” Actually, it already does. It discriminates on the basis of political
thought just as it discriminates on the basis of race and ethnicity. More
discrimination — seeking, say, a “critical mass” of conservatives — would
simply compound the discrimination, not cure it.

Out of Sync: America’s University Faculty

kenyon.jpg

Every three years or so, the highly regarded Higher
Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA surveys large numbers of faculty at hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation.  This year’s survey of some 30,000 faculty
reminds us of how different university faculty are from ordinary Americans.

Take politics. In the latest survey, for the 2010-2011
academic year, 62.7 percent of faculty said that they were either “far left” or
“liberal,” while only 11.9 percent said they were “far right” or
“conservative.”  The notion that
universities are hot beds for left-wing politics has a solid basis in
fact.  Moreover, the left-right imbalance
is growing –a lot.  The proportion of
those on the left is rising, on the right declining. In a HERI survey three
years earlier, there were 3.51 professors on the left for each one on the
right; in the latest survey, that ratio rose sharply to 5.27, not likely
explainable solely by sample variations. Meanwhile, the middle-of-the-road
professor is becoming less common (the proportion fell from 28.4 to 25.4
percent in three years).

Contrast this with the general public. In an article
written earlier this year, Atlantic
senior editor Richard Florida concluded Americans were becoming more
conservative (opposite the trend amongst academics), with 40 percent labeling
themselves conservative, and only 21 percent liberal–one one-third the
proportion of the faculty. Also, the 36 percent of Americans who call themselves
“moderate” contrast with a much smaller proportion of faculty who are
“middle-of-the-road.”

Continue reading Out of Sync: America’s University Faculty

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.

Iowa and the Groupthink Academy

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Iowa and the Groupthink Academy

Left-Right Agreement on Affirmative Action?

Perhaps anticipating a defeat for affirmative
action in the Fisher v. University of Texas case about to be argued
before the Supreme Court, Columbia University political philosophy professor
and former
Dean of the College
Michele Moody-Adams has just suggested
moving away from a fixation on affirmative action and “Toward
Real Equality in Higher Education
.” Whatever happens in Fisher,
she argues, “we must recognize that controversies about race-conscious
admissions have unhelpfully narrowed the debate about equality of educational
opportunity and diverted attention from the extraordinary inequalities that
continue to exist.”

As “an African-American alumna of a selective
college” and high-level administrator at Cornell and Columbia, Prof. and former
Dean MM-A acknowledges that “diversity” (her quotes) is “unquestionably
valuable,” but unlike nearly all diversiphiles she recognizes that “it can lead
institutions to view minority students as mere means to an end: essential
embodiments of “diverse perspectives” whose greatest value to the
institution lies in their capacity to help fulfill institutional goals.” (Can?
How could it not, since the official rationale for admitting some minorities who would not have been admitted
but for their race or ethnicity is so that non-minority students could be
exposed to them?)
 

Since most colleges are not selective, her
criticism continues, “the percentage of minorities at selective institutions
has little to do with the educational opportunities available” to anyone. Nor
is she persuaded by the “trickle-down effect” defense of affirmative action, a
prediction that minority students would devote their careers to expanding
opportunity in their communities. “Not surprisingly,” she writes, “minority
students have turned out to be like students in general: By and large, college
students do not feel obligated to define their personal goals in the context of
broader social goods.” (Not surprisingly? If it is not surprising that
minority students are just “like students in general,” what is the point of
lowering admissions standards for them so they can provide “diversity” to
others?)

Prof. and former Dean MM-A is clearly no
conservative. She has no use for “familiar criticisms that affirmative action
undermines a system that is otherwise based wholly on merit,” and she rejects
the view that selective institutions do or even should “reward only those
applicants with the right combination of talent, hard work, and ambition — who
really ‘deserve’ a place in those institutions.” In suggesting that the pursuit
of “diversity” should be subordinated to efforts that  promote “real equality of educational
opportunity,” she echoes a long line of leftist criticism of affirmative action
(see a good example here)
as little more than a tattered bandage, or worse, on the open wound of American
racism.

Interestingly, many conservatives agree that
affirmative action is and has been a generation-long diversion from
confronting  the real problems afflicting
blacks in American society. In the long last chapter of his recent book, Wounds That Will Not Heal: Affirmative Action and Our Continuing Racial
Dilemma
(watch this space for a forthcoming
review), Russell Nieli argues that affirmative action was born as a response to
the urban riots of the 1960s but the plight of those who had provided the
initial impetus was lost “in the ensuing decades in the never ending
controversy over racial preferences.” What Nieli calls “the sorry plight of the
black underclass” disappeared from the national radar screen. “The ‘affirmative
action response,’  focused mainly on the
black middle class,” he concludes, “has diverted our gaze from the place it
really belongs and done much to undermine interracial sympathy and goodwill.”
 

Who said left and right never agree?

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.

Those Mealy-Mouthed Statements from Our Cairo Embassy

Near
the beginning of Bruce Bawer’s strong new book, The Victims’ Revolution, he talks about the anti-American attitudes
that are nearly mandatory on campuses today and how they radiate throughout our
culture. Those attitudes, inculcated by so many professors, range from
apologetic and guilt-ridden to outright contemptuous and reflexively supportive
of our enemies. The incredibly abject comments from U.S. officials on the
murder of the US ambassador to Libya and the assaults on our embassies in Libya
and Egypt are fairly mild, but still stunning, examples of these attitudes in
action.

What
did the US Embassy in Cairo have to say about the murder of four Americans by
mob violence? It tweeted “U.S. Embassy condemns religious incitement,”
referring to the homemade and obscure anti-Muhammad movie the mob thought
was worth killing for. Nineteen minutes later the embassy thoughtfully added
that it condemns the attack of the mob as well, perhaps because it dawned
on them that self-hatred wasn’t playing well at home. Those early tweets were
deleted, but the official statement from Cairo was just as bad: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the
universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
     

These
same attitudes infected the mainstream media as well. The New York Times buried the mob violence and killings at the bottom of Page 4, not
mentioning that an ambassador was killed and assuring any readers who got that
far that anti-American feelings are confined to “pockets” in the Middle east.
On the First Page, however, was a big story that Mitt Romney was not opposed to
the Vietnam war as a college student in 1966. Likewise, o
n Morning Joe the all-lefties panels focused exclusively on Mitt
Romney’s statement, the point of which I 
couldn’t quite figure out from the indignant discussion. Romney’s campaign said: “It’s
disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks
on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the
attacks.” I’m not sure Romney should have jumped in at that point. However, the
statement is clearly sensible and accurate, particularly since the Obama
statement was almost as mealy-mouthed as those from the tragically inept
embassy in
Cairo.

Aki Peritz, a former U.S. intelligence analyst,
had the best comment: “Upon reflection, a future press release might
state, ‘We condemn the morons who overran part of our Embassy earlier today.”
Yes, whatever their hurt feelings are.

 

Campaigning in the Classroom

Last month, distinguished Ohio State English professor Brian McHale sent out the following email to colleagues:

Colleagues,           

I’ve been in touch with a couple of campus organizers for the Obama campaign, who have asked me to pass along to all of you a request for access to your classes in the next few weeks. If you were willing, they would send along a volunteer to make a pitch to your students about registering to vote. This would involve five minutes or less of class time, at the beginning or end of class (whichever you preferred), and the volunteer could make him/herself available after the end of class to sign up students who wanted to register on the spot.

If you were willing, the volunteers could also take a couple of extra minutes to see whether they could interest any of your students in volunteering for the Obama campaign themselves. If you weren’t comfortable with this, however, you’d only need to say so, and the volunteer would limit his/her presentation to voter registration, and leave the recruitment pitch out; it would be your call.

I don’t need to tell you that voter registration is absolutely the key to this election, not least of all in the state of Ohio.

(I don’t need to tell you this because it has been made so manifestly plain by those who have been doing their best in several states, including ours, to limit access to the polls in various ways.) I hope you can see your way to helping bump up the voter registration and turnout among this key constituency–our students.

The easiest way to arrange for volunteers to visit your classrooms is to contact Natalie Raps or Matt Caffrey directly: [address removed] and [address removed]. Alternatively, you could contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with them. Either way, please do it!

Democracy: love it or lose it.

Peter Wood reproduces the entire message at the Chronicle of Higher Education and adds that Caffrey and Raps belong to the official Obama campaign in Ohio.   

Once the email went public, the legal counsel at Ohio State issued a statement asserting that “Simply put, partisan political discussions may not be sponsored by university employees on the Ohio State campus. I urge you to refer to the guidelines regarding political activity by employees of the university.” No professor should bring “political organizers into our classroom.” 

Once again, as with the earlier case of “tenured incognizance,” there is no need to debate the matter. The impropriety of bringing Obama campaign staff into a classroom, even under the guise of a non-partisan registration session, is beyond question. Not to the professor, though, and this is the remarkable thing about the whole story. In the Lantern piece, we read that McHale did not believe he did anything wrong. 

I believe him. If he were disingenuous here, then he would have been wary enough not to put his recommendations down in writing and send them out to fellow professors. Apparently, he really didn’t know that having a couple of Obama staffers address his students, a captive audience, went way over the line into partisanship. The argument that students had the right to opt out of hearing about joining the Obama team doesn’t pass the smile test. To believe that it lifted pressure from the students contradicts both common sense and leftist beliefs which say that power operates subtly and covertly, beneath the guise of institutional practices.

McHale is a chaired professor who has written extensively about postmodernism and theory. It is amazing–and exasperating–that such a sophisticated analyst of text and power should become so callow and obtuse when real power is at stake. For conservative reformers, it is one thing to combat deliberate strategies of indoctrination on campus, but contesting actors incognizant of their own malfeasance is a whole other chore.

Pundits Wrong on the GI Bill

As part of its series on higher ed issues in
the 2012 campaign, the Chronicle of Higher Education has a long opinion
piece
in the form of a news article accusing Republicans of hypocrisy.

In “Self-Sufficient,
With a Hand From the Government
,” author Scott Carlson claims to find “a
striking dissonance” between the moving “pull-oneself-up-by-the-bootstraps
narrative” a number of speakers at the Republican Convention told of their
fathers’ and their benefitting from the GI Bill, “one of the biggest federal
programs in recent history.”

This “irony,” Carlson reports, “wasn’t lost
on liberals. Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist and consultant, jumped all
over the remarks on his Twitter feed
on Tuesday night: ‘Christie: Dad went to Rutgers on the GI Bill. Dems built
that.'” Begala thinks these Republican fathers did not succeed “on their own,”
in President
Obama’s now famous words
. They did not succeed because they were “just so
smart” or because they worked hard. They were successful only with the help of
a “hand from the government.”

Carlson finds it “interesting to ponder …
whether Governor Christie’s father would have been able to get that degree
today, given the recent history of receding state support and inflating costs.”
Seen from Carlson’s and Begala’s angel, Republican calls to scale back the size
and scope of government amount to biting the government hand that fed them.

What this complaint of hypocrisy ignores,
however, is a crucial distinction between government programs to which
beneficiaries have contributed, such as the GI Bill, and open-ended entitlement
programs that require no such contribution. Assume for a moment that after the
Civll War all freed slaves received “40 acres and a mule.”
Would anyone, even President Obama or Paul Begala, seriously claim that former
slaves who had become successful later in life owed their success to the
government program and not to their own sacrifice and hard work? Well, maybe,
but would anyone listen to them if they did?

The GI Bill, like the hypothetical 40 acres
and a mule, was not an entitlement or an example of beneficent government
generosity. It was partial compensation for sacrifices made for and services
rendered to the nation. Finding an “irony” in Republican proposals to scale
back massive federal borrowing and debt, including funds for higher education,
even though the fathers of many current party leaders benefitted from the GI
Bill requires assuming that if one limited government program compensating one defined
group of people for a limited time is good, all government benefits are good;
that if some spending at one time was good, more spending all the time is
better.

That “narrative” is more mythical than
anything coming out of the Republican convention.

University of California’s Politicization is Out of Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise! Faculty Money Goes to Dems

This week featured some interesting political news regarding campaign contributions: confirming the partisan shift on Wall Street, Business Week revealed that around 70 percent of Goldman Sachs employees who have donated to this year’s presidential campaign send funds to Mitt Romney. The contrast to 2008, when about 75 percent who made contributions had donated to Barack Obama’s campaign, confirmed the deteriorating relationship between the President and Wall Street.

Another story dealing with campaign contributions, however, attracted scant notice. A study from Virginia Watchdog showed that professors at public colleges and universities in Virginia (one of the two or three most important states in the election) have donated over $100,000 to President Obama’s campaign, as opposed to around $11,000 to Mitt Romney’s. Among professors at the system’s flagship campus, the University of Virginia, the disparity is $62,000-to-$2,000. The totals were similar at public universities in other battleground states.

As with the yawning gap in partisan registration among the professoriate, disparities in campaign contributions are, at best, a crude measurement to determine the intellectual health of a campus. (Full disclosure: I was an Obama donor in 2008 and am again, at a lower level, in 2012.) It’s possible, for instance, that a military historian might be a major donor to the Green Party, while his colleague in African-American history might have just cut a check to the Romney campaign. But in the real world, the number of GOP backers who get jobs in African-American history is small indeed. And the partisan/donor disparities, at the very least, should prompt administrators and–especially–trustees to ask some hard questions as to whether open or implicit biases in the personnel process are encouraging a closed-minded campus, while excluding other areas of study that might challenge the politically correct.

When confronted with indications of gender or racial disparities, universities certainly go to great lengths. Indeed, as John Rosenberg pointed out in his analysis of the University of Texas’ filing in the Fisher case, universities all but invent reasons to address such disparities, real or imagined.

But with this data? Indifference. Bronson Hilliard, spokesperson for the University of Colorado (where the donations disparity was 6-to-1), told Colorado Watchdog, “Few meaningful generalizations can be drawn from this (data). A lot of people in higher education are Democrats. A lot of bankers, financiers, and business leaders are Republicans. That doesn’t mean that all academics are incapable of interacting fairly with those who don’t agree with them politically any more than it means Republicans in the financial world aren’t capable of being fair to their Democrat[ic] customers and clients.”

The comparison, of course, is absurd. “Republicans in the financial world”–and, it’s worth noting, 70 percent of Goldman Sachs donations in 2008 went to the Democratic presidential candidate–are “capable of being fair to their Democrat[ic] customers and clients” because these “customers and clients” are paying the “Republicans in the financial world” lots of money. A banker who doesn’t treat his customers fairly will soon be a lot less wealthy. The same, of course, can’t be said of professors. Indeed, to take the most extreme example (Joseph Massad), an argument could be made that not treating his students fairly helped his career, to the extent that Columbia gave him a second shot for tenure following the media outcry caused by his dubious classroom behavior.

More to the point: what kind of threshold is Spokesperson Hilliard using? As long as professors don’t mistreat students, outsiders aren’t supposed to inquire any further into the data? That’s an embarrassingly low criterion for analysis.

Foolish Defense of the Politicized University

Political observers might have noticed that hostility to
higher education has formed a sub-theme of the Republican presidential race.
Mitt Romney has criticized Barack Obama for embracing
the ideals
of the “Harvard faculty lounge.” Rick
Santorum
, more recently, has faulted Obama for encouraging all students to
attend college, which the former Pennsylvania senator has termed
“indoctrination mills.”

Continue reading Foolish Defense of the Politicized University

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

More Campus Claptrap about 9/11

Our own Charlotte Allen has a wonderful piece in the Weekly Standard on campus events marking the anniversary of 9/11. While some of the events are rational enough and a few seem moving, the general tone reflects the fact that after a decade, our campuses are still as out of sync with the rest of the country’s attitudes and emotions as they were when the attacks occurred. Concern about ” Islamophobia,” American soul-searching, anti-Western resentments and the future of Islam take center stage, while commemoration of the heroism of the firefighters and the passengers of Flight 93 and the simple evil of slaughtering nearly 3,000 innocent Americans seem beyond the scope of most campus concern.

“Instead,” said Allen, writing in advance of the anniversary, “the campus commemorations… will focus on, well, understanding it all, in the ponderous, ambiguity-laden, complexity-generating way that seems to be the hallmark of college professors faced with grim events about which they would rather not think in terms of morality: “Historical and political representations,” whatever those are (Harvard), “How do we determine truth and reality?” (more Harvard), and “Imaging Atrocity: The Function of Pictures in Literary Narratives about 9/11″ (St. John’s University in New York).” This intellectual sludge flowed on many campuses, with the worst examples from Harvard, Duke and NYU.

Continue reading More Campus Claptrap about 9/11

A Campaign Against the Koch Foundation

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There is an old saying in politics that “They don’t scream unless you hurt them.”  When your adversaries scream, it is a good sign that your measures have been effective. Judged by this standard, the Koch Brothers (David and Charles) have been very effective in recent years in advancing their causes of limited government and classical liberalism, much to the discomfort of liberal foes promoting business regulation, higher taxes, and ObamaCare.

The Koch brothers have been on the receiving end of non-stop attacks from liberal journalists and academics ever since Jane Mayer published a hit piece on them last year in The New Yorker purporting to show that their contributions were behind the rise of the “Tea Party” movement.  This wildly exaggerated claim was meant to cast the Koch brothers as great villains, but villains possessed of a satanic combination of power and tactical brilliance.  In a predictable course, Mayer’s fairy tale was circulated by the columnists and editorial writers of the New York Times and from there through a network of second-level columnists and political magazines until at length it came to the attention of the credulous foot soldiers of the liberal-left who have kept the pot boiling in recent months with ever more inventive and exaggerated versions of the original lie.     
 
The latest controversy surrounding the Kochs arises from an article published last week in the St. Petersburg Times titled, “Billionaire’s Role in Hiring Decisions at Florida State University Raises Questions.”  The author insinuates that the Koch Foundation was trying to “buy off” the Economics Department at Florida State University through a $1.5 million grant (paid over six years) to hire new faculty and to support graduate fellowships under a program in “political economy and free enterprise.”  Under the grant, a three-person faculty committee was set up to review candidates for the positions, including one member designated by the Foundation.  The paper suggested that by designating a member of the review committee the Foundation was undermining academic freedom by interfering in the faculty’s right to appoint colleagues on the basis of professional competence.   

Continue reading A Campaign Against the Koch Foundation

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

Politics and the Demise of the Humanities

“But when humanism became the servant of the political or university establishment it lost its vitality and, indeed, its credibility…

         Willem Frijhoff discussing 16th century humanism in 
         A History of the University, Vol. II (Cambridge U Press), p. 45

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                                                        ***
The crisis of the humanities officially arrived on October 1, 2010. At least this is what Stanley Fish claims in the <em>New York Times</em>. The fact that SUNY Albany’s president announced the demise of the university’s French, Italian, classics, Russian, and theatre programs on this date hardly appears to be a significant omen, but Fish believes this event possesses deeper symbolic importance. It represents the empirical reality that numerous scholars have already observed: the humanities are withering away in higher education. 
 
What will revive them?  As a consistent postmodernist, Fish suggests politics should be the answer, by which he means “the political efforts of senior academic administrators to explain and defend the core enterprise to those constituencies—legislatures, boards of trustees, alumni, parents and others—that have either let bad educational things happen or have actively connived in them.”  In a follow-up column Fish specifies that this political solution also includes begging the state to provide more money for the humanities. 

Continue reading Politics and the Demise of the Humanities

The Impasse at Hamilton College

A month ago, Robert Paquette, history professor at Hamilton College, wrote a commentary at the National Association of Scholars website that concluded with a sad note. After reviewing several initiatives and offices at Hamilton that aim to promote the atmosphere of diversity and raise the “comfort level” of all students, then rehearsing some of the unfortunate episodes of the Alexander Hamilton Center (now the Alexander Hamilton Institute, which is independent of the College), Paquette takes a personal stand.
Here is the second-to-last paragraph in full:

Enough is enough. For seventeen years I have held the title of Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History. Last week I sent a letter to Chairman of the Board A. G. Lafley, resigning my chair. Mr. Lafley, formerly CEO of Proctor & Gamble, is on record as having advanced P&G by, as he told Charlie Rose, taking complaints seriously. May I beg to differ? My letter contained no Jefferson-like statement of a long train of suffering. Nor did I ask him to resolve several rather Orwellian situations in which I’m currently embroiled with the current president and her buffers. Neither Mr. Days nor Mr. Massolo was decisive in my reaching of this decision, but they do qualify as contributory.

It is easy to get indignant over this. Some readers of Minding the Campus have followed events at Hamilton over the years, but when one of the best scholars at a college resigns a chair, it’s time to forget the history. The leadership and faculty may consider Paquette difficult and abrasive, and they may find his politics odious. They may want nothing more than to see him retire. But that doesn’t change the facts: his scholarly record, his popularity with students, his ability to raise funds, his dedication to the mission of higher education, and his entrepreneurship in founding and sustaining the Hamilton Institute make him a resource for Hamilton College.
My hunch is that if somebody in power at Hamilton were to step forward and say to Paquette, “Look, Bob, can you let go of everything that’s happened over the years and start working with the College constructively?” Paquette would reply, “Yes I can, but only if they start treating me like a colleague and not a demon.” Hamilton needs a diplomat to move it forward, someone who can break the prevailing conditions. Paquette feels the injury, and, no doubt, so do several people on the other side, and it’s up to someone else to turn attention forward, not backward. All of them, I presume, know that situations like this don’t go away. They just go sour.

The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

rosenbergs.jpgMany universities have set up centers to examine the history of the Cold War. The Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington D. C., for example, created an offshoot called The Cold War International History Project. That institute has over the years hosted many conferences, with panels of scholars representing all points of view. Two years ago, I was an active participant in a two days session at the CWIHP about Soviet espionage, that was based on the new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.
The sponsors were fully aware of contending views on the issue of the role of Soviet espionage in America during the Cold War and carried out the meeting with great fairness. Compare that with the Tamiment Center at New York University, which cares little for fairness, academic rigor or diversity of views. Its inaugural event four years ago, “Alger Hiss and History,” left no mystery about its agenda. As I wrote in the New Republic, the conference

was intended to resurrect Old Left myths about the innocence of those accused during the so-called Red Scare in the 1950’s, and in particular, to re-open the case to prove Alger Hiss’ innocence. The only reason Hiss was indicted, their announcement made clear, was to “discredit the New Deal, legitimate the Red Scare, and set the stage of Joseph McCarthy.” Mark Kramer, who heads a similar Cold War center at Harvard, commented that the meeting “consists of diehard supporters of Hiss whose attempts to explain away all the new available evidence are thoroughly unconvincing.”

Continue reading The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

Could the Feds Tell College Students What to Do?

Women-in-Science.jpgIf the Obama administration’s argument that Congress has the authority to require every individual to purchase health insurance is upheld by the Supreme Court, many students may be in for a big surprise.
Yes, students. The administration argument, briefly, is that access to affordable health care is so essential to both personal and national security that individual choice of when or even whether to purchase insurance must be subordinated to the government’s authority to regulate the health care market. Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce is so pervasive, the administration argues, that it necessarily includes the power to require individuals to participate in that market, and to fine them if they refuse.
Here’s how Judge Henry Hudson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia summarized the government’s argument, on his way to rejecting it:

Continue reading Could the Feds Tell College Students What to Do?

The Big, Bad, “Right Wing”

Each fall, the NEA comes out with Thought & Action, the union’s higher education journal. (The 2010 edition is not yet online.) The publication functions as a clearinghouse for defenders of the academic status quo; safe from their position of dominance within the academy, they rail against their imagined oppressors. This year’s edition includes defenses of such trendy matters as “learning communities” and Arizona’s ethnic studies curriculum, along with an entry on “liberation bibliography.”
In this light comes a piece from an AAUP stalwart, Yeshiva University professor Ellen Schrecker, who purports to uncover the “roots of the rightwing attack on higher education.” Her thesis? The malicious and deceptive activities of the “right wing”—not the activities of the academic majority—have convinced most Americans to view the academic majority as “radical, elitist, and somehow alien to most ordinary citizens.” This argument serves two complementary purposes: it fits into Schrecker’s predisposition to see the “right” as latter-day McCarthyites; and it absolves Schrecker and like-minded colleagues of any responsibility in creating a contemporary academy characterized more by ideological groupthink than by a commitment to free inquiry.
Schrecker’s essay begins by pointing out, accurately, that a backlash developed against the excesses of the late 1960s—perhaps most notably, the decision of Cornell’s administration to cave in and create a black studies program in 1969—and that politicians (most but not all Republican) exploited this backlash. But, Schrecker also notes, some professors—whom she intemperately refers to as “hysterical,” “Cassandras,” and characterized by “more than a whiff of elitism”—also worried about the academy substituting its traditional pursuit of the truth in favor of embracing a commitment to pursue “social justice.” (Schrecker also complains that these “conservative” professors tended to oppose faculty unionization.)
Yet somehow, the arguments of these faculty members continued to resonate. Could the intellectual quality of the “conservative” critique explain its staying power? Of course not, in Schrecker’s world. Instead, the professors who yearned for the “golden age when intellectually serious (white male) undergraduates eschewed politics and lounged appreciatively at the feet of their professors to soak up the truths purveyed by Plato, Shakespeare, and the other Greats” only remained relevant because these professors prostituted themselves to “a highly self-conscious and well-financed campaign to destroy the influence of the academic left.”

Continue reading The Big, Bad, “Right Wing”