Tag Archives: truth

Universities Torn Between Truth Seeking and Social Justice

A lengthy article by Jonathan Haidt dealing with the growing conflict over the proper goal or end of the academy ran here in full on October 23.  It was neither an original article of ours nor a reprint published with permission. It should have run–and appears now–as an excerpt referring readers back to its original site, Heterodox  Academy. We regret the error.—Editor

Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” – its purpose, end, or goal. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” –- the word appears on so many university crests. harvard-crestBut increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

As a social psychologist who studies morality, I have watched these two teloses come into conflict increasingly often during my 30 years in the academy. The conflicts seemed manageable in the 1990s. But the intensity of conflict has grown since then, at the same time as the political diversity of the professoriate was plummeting, and at the same time as American cross-partisan hostility was rising. I believe the conflict reached its boiling point in the fall of 2015 when student protesters at 80 universities demanded that their universities make much greater and more explicit commitments to social justice, often including mandatory courses and training for everyone in social justice perspectives and content.

Now that many university presidents have agreed to implement many of the demands, I believe that the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable.  Universities will have to choose, and be explicit about their choice so that potential students and faculty recruits can make an informed choice. Universities that try to honor both will face increasing incoherence and internal conflict.

 

Rescuing The University, II

Part II, The Solution
(The first part of this essay can be found here.)
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Restoring good sense to universities means allowing levelheaded academics to compete with radical imposters who proliferate by printing up their bogus currency. In a phrase: restore the gold standard of discovering and imparting truth. It is unnecessary to re-write university regulations to stop Ward Churchills or stipulate “good” and “bad” scholarship (which, in any case, is legally impossible and futile). The radicals have created a huge infrastructure, everything from journals to foundations, which, together with skilled back scratching, permits them to multiply virtually unchecked. A well-funded counter-weight is necessary. This is not about re-stocking the university with right-wing professors. The aim is encouraging non-ideological, unbiased let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may research. To paraphrase Orwell, victory will be announced when a professor can stand before his class and say, without fear, 2 +2=4.
Research requires money, often relatively small sums, and these are often difficult to obtain for those with the “wrong” views. University research boards, the traditional sources of seed money, are often controlled by PC forces. My own personal experiences here was that no hare-brained leftish proposal, no matter how technically flawed, was denied, even when damned by reviewers. If endangered species faculty are denied support, they will be enticed away by rivals, so it is better to give $10,000 to study cross-dressing Latina truck drivers than recruit a hard-to-find replacement for the “unappreciated” scholar. This is just supply and demand. As for the legitimate researcher seeking funds, a single impassioned rejection is sufficient no matter how ideologically motivated.
Similar obstacles are encountered when appealing to large foundations—requests to fund project that might “offend” politically protected groups are probably DOA, and so unlikely to be submitted in the first place. More generally, and this certainly includes nearly all “right wing” foundations, few foundations favor small grants or small projects—processing is just too labor intensive. Better to give a million to a single program than tediously scrutinize hundreds of requests for $25,000 or less. The Olin Foundation’s $25,000 for Allen Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind is a rare exception but one worth emulating (even Olin favored large scale, institution-building investment, however). To my knowledge, the only conservative benefactor that currently plays this seed money role is the Earhart Foundation, but their resources are modest and, I am told, like Olin, they are about shut down voluntarily (Disclosure—I have received several Earhart grants).

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Rescuing the University, I

Part I, The Problem
How is the university, specifically the humanities and social sciences, with its rampant anti-Americanism, anti-intellectualism, muddle-brained identity politics, hostility to the unvarnished truth and all the rest to be re-conquered and restored to sanity? As one who has spent four decades in the belly of the beast, half of which was resisting this pernicious stupidity, let me offer some observations and suggestions. They are especially directed to non-academics who badly want to help, willingly put their money where their mouth is, but, alas, are clueless. To cut to the chase, universities are the faculty, and without bringing in fresh blood or helping sympathizers already there, all else is ephemeral. To paraphrase the familiar real estate adage, its people, people, people. Warning: some readers sharing my views may find my remarks a bit upsetting.
Reform currently has three main elements, two of which thrive but, unfortunately, are unlikely to succeed; a third might be victorious but remains largely untried. I’ll call them (1) guerilla warfare; (2) monastery construction; and (3) CIA-style covert funding.
Guerilla warfare is waged by groups outside the university. Some like FIRE and Center for Individual Rights combat legal abuses and rescue victims of egregious PC. Others like David Horowitz’s Front Page, Campus Watch and Minding the Campus are of the sunlight-is-the-best-disinfectant school: expose the rascals in the hope that the chastised will repent. These hit-and-run tactics are absolutely vital, can be great though depressing fun, but will not restore reason since they leave faculty composition untouched, and without refurbishment, the abuses will grow only slightly less obvious. Nefarious deans will just become more media savvy and advise the local Ward Churchills not to put it in writing lest the dreaded Horowitz-the-Horrible (not to be confused with Leo-the-Impaler) discover it. And, sadly, many miscreants are often immune to the disinfectant, and not even being linked to Islamic terrorism embarrasses them.
The monastery approach creates campus sanctuaries promoting solid, traditional education, e.g., Princeton’s Madison Center. This is what the Veritas Center is all about. Hopefully, a few hundred students a year now escape mumbo-jumbo PC and learn that Western Civilization had a virtue or two. As an “alternative university” (to use the left’s 60s vocabulary) it is a wonderful (though frightfully expensive) enterprise but, here too, it will not alter faculty composition. These Centers cannot hire new faculty or award tenure to assistant professors. Today’s PC universities would never allow such back-door conversion regardless of financial enticements. Radical faculty would be outraged at not having a finger in the pie and, rest assured, if they were consulted, the Monastery would be forcefully diversified and made multicultural. At most, university administrators will graciously permit wealthy benefactors “the opportunity” to donate a few million for an endowed chair for an already distinguished conservative tenured faculty member, so nothing new intellectually is added. At the margins newly created sanctuaries permit a few tenured professors to burnish resumes or gain some release time. But, at day’s end, the PC fortress barely notices and if things got tough financially, radicals would shamelessly just confiscate everything. Sanctuaries may help survive the Dark Ages but they will not restore the Enlightenment.

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