Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Leaning Tower of Academic Ideology

And the tower leans left.

Are university faculties biased toward the left? And is this diminishing universities' role in American public life? Conservatives have been saying so since William F. Buckley Jr. wrote "God and Man at Yale" -- in 1951. But lately criticism is coming from others -- making universities face some hard questions...

I spent four years in the 1990s working at the centrist Brookings Institution and for the Clinton administration and felt right at home ideologically. Yet during much of my two decades in academia, I've been on the "far right" as one who thinks that welfare reform helped the poor, that the United States was right to fight and win the Cold War, and that environmental regulations should be balanced against property rights.

All these views -- commonplace in American society and among the political class -- are practically verboten in much of academia. At many of the colleges I've taught at or consulted for, a perusal of the speakers list and the required readings in the campus bookstore convinced me that a student could probably go through four years without ever encountering a right-of-center view portrayed in a positive light...

Ultimately, universities will have to clean their own houses. Professors need to re-embrace a culture of reasoned inquiry and debate. And since debate requires disagreement (emphasis mine--Darren), higher education needs to encourage intellectual diversity in its hiring and promotion decisions with something like the fervor it shows for ethnic and racial diversity. It's the only way universities will earn back society's respect and reclaim their role at the center of public life.
Notice that the linked article is from the left-leaning Washington Post, not the more right-leaning Washington Times.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Ultimately, universities will have to clean their own houses."

...yeah, good luck with that...

Ellen K said...

Universities have the same problem with who they hire as high schools. For example, if you have a liberal president or dean, their staff leans that way. If you have a former football coach as a principal, you end up with coaches out the wazoo. People in power tend to hire those who mirror their views. And since most of our academics were part of the Flower Child generation and their offspring, we will suffer through at least another ten years of acadmic blindness, which will lead to unbalanced and unprinicpled research. You cannot have true academic integrity unless you allow dissent. And right now, the left is all about bottling up those who disagree. In another place and time, that would be considered fascist. Now it is just business as usual.

allen said...

It's a similar problem but it doesn't come from lefties hiring lefties but from lefties not having to worry about hiring incompetent or academically fraudulent lefties. That's why you see the worst excesses in the "soft" schools: lit, poli-sci, philosophy, history, etc. Academic success is defined not by some objective standard but by acclimation. Where there are more objective measures politics plays less of a role. No one'll give a Marxist physicist the time of day let alone a teaching gig but Marxist political science profs are still employable.

If it helps, there's change in the wind and ironically enough the colleges, even more college lefties, have brought the changes on themselves.

By driving the cost of college into the stratosphere without a concomitantly stratospheric education the value of the education becomes a more urgent issue. It becomes tougher to foist off "studies" department classes as their valuelessness becomes more apparent so those are disappearing. Ward Churchill's departure makes every other over-the-top leftie in academe more target-worthy since a loud-mouth like Churchill got the axe. If you don't have his high profile your chances of avoiding his fate are lessened. Some will take a hint and shut up, some won't. Either way the academic environment improves.