Part II, The Solution
(The first part of this essay can be found here.)
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).
Getting published with an identifiable academic imprint is likewise currently difficult for scholars offending the orthodoxy but here, too, this can be finessed though, naturally it must be invisible. The CIA (and other government agencies like USIA) covertly subsidized books simply by absorbing pre-publication costs or guaranteeing a certain sales level. This is a no-brainer given that today’s hard-pressed publishers would gladly welcome smartly edited, ready-for-publication manuscripts, let alone extra funds to market books that might “offend” one’s PC colleagues. It is not that “offensive” books are banned from the marketplace—they do exist; rather, there must be hundreds, not a few tokens, and each one helps somebody receive tenure. Add academic conferences where papers are eventually published in respectable outlets, again a favorite for the PC crowd. An example are those organized by the Center for Social Philosophy and Policy at Bowling Green University. Papers are published (after a close editing by Center staff) in the prestigious Social Philosophy and Policy. Unfortunately, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the other side’s endless lavish conferences to kvetch about oppression.
Lastly on this highly abbreviated “to do” list is a central source of career opportunities and research possibilities for those trapped inside hostile universities. It is my experiences that few political scientists know about, say, CATO, Heritage, Atlas, AEI, and dozens more wonderful places and what they offer. Even many right-leaning New York City-based academics are clueless about the Manhattan Institute. I’ve made a small career of getting promising graduate students to Heritage and Atlas events, and in some instances it has been a career-altering experience. A central bulletin board, so to speak, would be a gateway to think tanks websites (many of which link to scholarly studies and data sets), foundations supplying seed money, and anything else to assist graduate students find decent employment or push an assistant professor over the line to tenure. “Taking care of one’s own” networking is extensive among campus radicals, and helps explain why they quickly colonize departments if not entire social science and humanities faculties. Only the most oblivious, inept feminist scholar is unable to locate conferences, symposium, grant opportunities and sympathetic journals to help her gain life-time employment so as to indoctrinate several more generations of students. It is no exaggeration to say that for scholars on the left, the currency necessary for academic advancement grows on trees.
Part III Self-Imposed Obstacles
The recipe for launching this re-conquest is simple enough. Nor would it cost too much by the standard of modern philanthropy or require persuading left-wing campus administrators. Benefactors would (1) award hundreds of smallish grants to promising scholars (without an ideological litmus test) whose work conforms with the university’s historic mission—find truth, dogma be damned; (2) subsidize academically respectable publishers to facilitate the careers of decent thinking on-the-make professors; (3) fund conferences via respected professional organizations that eventually lead to publications ; and (4) create a centralized bulletin board where under-the-gun graduate students and junior faculty can get help. In a few years, hundreds of young academics will rise up through the system and replace the crazies. It is a familiar sports farm team model: cultivate young talent, often on the cheap. Since top universities are extremely competitive, and given a choice between real scholarship or the dreck manufactured by the PC crowd, ambitious opportunism will triumph. The tide will turn.
Now for the bad news and reader discretion is advised. I’ve discussed this approach with conservatives who, ostensibly, are committed to refurbishing the university, and the reaction is indifference. Indeed, I’ve pitched the National Association of Scholars, an organization seemingly designed for the task, and the reaction was total, absolute, complete, and utter silence. Even the idea of a NAS website to help faculty find resources beyond the university lacked appeal, and this would have cost a pittance. The NAS obviously has other fish to fry.
Why the lack of interest? Perhaps the kindest explanation is that outsiders just don’t understand how universities operate, specifically the need for quality published research in respectable academic outlets as the coin for career advancement. Few have ever been a graduate student or lowly assistant professor swimming against the radical tide, knowing that they have no future unless they drink the Kool Aid or teach at a “teaching school” where professional influence will be minimal. Yes, these outsiders may know about funding risky commercial start-ups, but it may never occur to them that the same process applies in the academy.
There are also more awkward explanations here. This strategy brings zero personal glory or recognition. This is no small obstacle where philanthropists expect gratitude for their generosity. Unfortunately, however, facing a choice between honoring a famous a conservative academic for the umpteenth time, and a banquet to boot, versus helping a still obscure junior Rutgers professor, the former is irresistible. This is a serious obstacle. Recall the CIA parallel—to brag about how a prominent European anti-communist intellectual were on the take guaranteed disaster. There can be no plaques on buildings or public adulation. At most, rumors may circulate that the sudden surge in intellectually honest books, published with excellent imprints, all of which embrace traditional academic virtues—objectivity, balance, careful documentation, nuance, an absence of proselytizing—hints of a vast right wing conspiracy. Meanwhile, radical feminists, loopy deconstructionists, Marxist, identity politics “theorists,” rabble rousers in expensive suits and all the other familiar campus characters will increasingly grow alarmed. Bit by bit, their counterfeit scholarship will go the way of bank-issued Greenbacks, pushed aside by the real stuff. Hopefully.
There is also urgency here. A recent New York Times story told of how baby boomer professors are beginning to retire, radicals included. Their upcoming replacement will “the University” well into the mid 21st century, and with the college age population stable, the next few years may be the window of opportunity to shape the future campus. It will be tragic if today’s aging airheads are replaced by upgraded airheads for the simple reason that job searches find no alternatives. And rest assured, unless something is done to lend a hand to novices beginning to climb the academic ladder, we will get more the same or worse.
In sum, exposure and litigation are guerilla warfare, and while vital to the war effort, they cannot hold territory. Only infantry can occupy the enemy’s camp, and here the infantry are professors.
2 thoughts on “Rescuing The University, II”
Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital. Thomas Jefferson
Peter Wood, in responding to Robert Weissberg’s challenging two-part article on “Rescuing the Campus,” references the “rough sledding” of the Alexander Hamilton Institute and its agility in moving from a prospective on-campus “monastery” to an off-shore site after Hamilton College officials reneged on a signed agreement. As the chief architect of the AHI, I can speak with some authority on the points made by both Mr. Weissberg and Mr. Wood. The current state of the country presents, in my view,golden opportunities to advance our common cause of educational reform. To take full advantage of them we need a debate that is healthy, honest, and clarifying.
First, a disclosure. Steve Balch is on the AHI”s board of directors. I invited him to join because his counsel had proved valuable in charting a new course after the collapse of the original agreement with Hamilton College. Peter Wood not only has visited the AHI to see first-hand what we have accomplished in a short period of time, he spoke on academic freedom with AHI’s sponsorship to a capacity crowd on campus. I have spoken to Peter on several occasions about “What is to be done?” I have never found him indifferent. Quite the contrary.
Funding, as Mr. Weissberg suggests, lies at the heart of the matter. Truth be told, not only do many promising campus outposts remain underfunded and vulnerable, so too are the off-campus citadels that would like to strengthen them. One doubts that NAS, ACTA,ISI, and any number of other organizations sit on a pot of gold sufficient to translate the best and freshest ideas into action.
One of the most distressing developments in higher education is the extent to which affluent trustees, among the greatest beneficiaries of the traditional Western cultural endowment of freedom, democracy, and capitalism, have sold out to the “progressive” agenda. Let us not forget how much money Goldman Sachs executives give to the Democratic Party. In my own experience, I can recall a conversation with a former chairman of the board of Hamilton College, a CEO of one of the largest real estate firms in the United States. In effect, he told me “Paquette, what are you worried about. There’s no hard evidence that conservative kids going to a campus dominated by left-wing professors turn into their radical acolytes.”
The problem, as I told him, is not that left-wing Hamilton College will turn conservative sons and daughters into Ward Churchill-types. It is the inability of those sons and daughters upon graduation, given what is not taught or taught in caricature in the classroom, to defend the essentials of a great tradition at a time of civilizational struggle or at the very least, of multi-front, multicultural besiegement.
College campuses, instead of living up to their bright and shiny mission statements about the elevating, ennobling, civilizing nature of their task, have become hothouses for a kind of reconstructed “self” that both openly despises the West’s traditional endowment and seeks to subvert it. Irving Kristol diagnosed the problem long ago.
To suggest what is possible, I not only encourage interested parties to go to the AHI’s website (www.theahi.org), but will put some money where my mouth is. The AHI is willing to help sponsor a assemblage of kindred-spirit reformers to chart a winning strategy in trying times.