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January 14, 2005

what's up at the universities?

Don Herzog: January 14, 2005

Breaking news from CBN, 11/16/'04:

PAT ROBERTSON:  With us now to talk about what seems to be the nonsense that is permeating many of our institutions of higher learning is Dr. Jim Black.  He is a distinguished scholar and author of many books.  His recent book is called Freefall of the American University.  Jim, good to have you here.

JIM BLACK:  Thank you.  My pleasure to be here.

ROBERTSON:  Free fall?  That means free fall, nothing catching it.

BLACK:  Right.  I think we are in that state, Pat.  It may be a shocking word to use, but, in fact, universities have been going downhill for the past 30 years.  It started in the 1960s, but in the 1970s it went underground.  We thought that when the riots ended, that perhaps the dangers went away.  But the dangers are now worse, because they are now ideological dangers and philosophical dangers, and ideas that crept in, especially from France.  Things like postmodernism and moral relativism.  Now it has seeped into every course, and in every curriculum in the university campuses.

ROBERTSON:  What are they teaching at these secular universities?  I was watching a couple of interviews with Tom Wolfe, who’s written a book essentially on the sexual morality and other things about the current crop of college students.  What are they teaching?

BLACK: Well, basically, what they are not teaching are the things you and I learned at college.  They are not teaching freshman English nor American history, nor basic mathematics and science.  They are teaching radical courses about sexuality, and benign courses on vampires and the undead.  That is actually the name of one course.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, the universities I know are still teaching freshman English and American history, math and science.  (You can check out the University of Michigan's liberal arts offerings here.)  And I don't think the baleful emanations of postmodernism and moral relativism have penetrated, oh, the courses on introductory astrophysics and boundary value problems for partial differential equations.

Even though I don't think CBN should be peddling arrant nonsense, I don't mean to suggest that everything going on in American universities is beyond reproach.  There are plenty of problems, including some that the broader public has been less interested in:  the recent report on plagiarism by academics is horrifying, and I'm much troubled by the increasing use of a two-tiered faculty, with lower-paid lecturers doing lots of teaching.  A demurrer:  I don't study American universities.  On these issues, I'm a native, not an anthropologist.  So I am no position to assess how pervasive any problems are.  I've taught undergraduates, graduate students, and law students for over 20 years now; I opportunistically compare notes with colleagues elsewhere and pick up the occasional horror story making the rounds, like the one Marinewife pointed me toward.  For now, here are one professor's principles, very bluntly stated -- I'm happy to refine them in response to comments, also to think about your criticisms -- about what's appropriate.

May professors take political positions in the classroom?  Sure, if it's relevant to the material.  (Math profs shouldn't be taking time out to denounce or endorse the Bush administration for the same reason they shouldn't be fondly recalling an Ornette Coleman concert or telling stories about their cute preschoolers.  They should be teaching math.)  Do they then need to permit -- to invite -- critical discussion of their views?  Do they need to permit -- to invite -- pointed disagreement?  You bet.  When I teach a seminar, I sometimes tell the students what I think and why I think it, once in a while to launch a topic, usually midstream.  Then I throw things back to them, and intercede occasionally.  (And sometimes, especially when a flaccid consensus is emerging, I lie about what I believe, which is more effective than saying, "Suppose someone were to say...," though I do that too.)  When I teach large lecture courses, the kind where the students just sit and take notes, I don't take politically controversial stands:  they have no chance to talk back.  Then again, I bet my colleagues in economics spend lots of time touting free markets, and critics of mainstream neoclassical approaches -- Austrians, radical political economists, and so on -- are underrepresented in and out of the classroom.  And I don't think economics classes should always start over from ground zero to consider fundamental alternatives.

May professors silence or sneer at some positions?  I think so, though there's a reasonable case on the other side.  I once had an undergraduate in American political thought who wanted to explain, at great and tiresome length, that there really are witches and we really should burn them.  I decided one round of that was plenty.  And I would probably shut down defenses of chattel slavery or the Holocaust.  But I will, and have, let students defend a radically exclusive franchise, or socialist expropriation, or the night-watchman state, or anarchism.  The raging controversies about political correctness, I think, aren't about whether anything is ever out of bounds; they are about whether the current bounds are too narrow, whether reasonable positions entitled to a hearing are being ruled out.  And if half the horror stories are half true, that's happening, and it is plain outrageous.  Whether legislatures ought to get involved is a topic for another thread -- this post is more than long enough already.

Are students entitled to classrooms or campuses where they won't be offended?  No way.  That's a recipe for turning vibrant free speech into mindless pablum, given how many people have exquisite sensibilities on tons of issues.  Not that you need exquisite sensibilities to take exception to some things that get said.  There have been some grievous episodes of hate speech on campuses.  But every speech code I've ever seen, including the one from Michigan struck down in '89, is impossibly hamhanded.  Probably the best bet is to give up on such formal codes and sanctions, not on the Looney-Tunes view that free speech means anyone can say anything however and whenever he likes, but because we can't trust the authorities to make sensible decisions.  There are horror stories too about what jittery and spineless university administrators will do to protect students' sensibilities:  it was ludicrous to shut this down.

But are we suffocating in PC orthodoxies?  In my experience there's tons more room in the classroom than critics imagine.  I wouldn't open my seminar on liberalism and its critics by asking about affirmative action, because they might clam up.  But I routinely teach affirmative action in that class -- I assign a book for and a book against; several years ago it was these two -- and by a few weeks into the term, I have successfully shown the students that we will argue in earnest and fairly about heated questions while continuing to treat each other civilly.  And believe me, they do, in earnest, and unpredictably, and hilariously.  (White guy:  "Okay, so let's think about why we really have affirmative action."  Black woman:  "Oh, that's easy.  We're here to soak up the Cs on the curve.")  One reason I doubt that students are being brainwashed is that they are too spunky, too skeptical.  They know that we professors are at least faintly ridiculous anyway.

Do I think there is some singularly silly scholarship in the humanities and social sciences?  Yup.  (But my list might not be the same as yours.)  If I could, would I drum it out of the universities?  No way.  I am skeptical of my own judgment, and I assume that large, diverse disciplinary communities having vibrant arguments will do a far better job over time sorting out what makes sense than I could ever do on my own.  So when those communities are not diverse -- politically diverse, methodologically diverse too -- there's a problem.  This is just boilerplate John Stuart Mill:  without the clash of competing views, we can't make progress.  So like Elizabeth Anderson, I believe universities ought to be intellectually diverse.  If everyone doing political theory on your campus is a Straussian, or a Marxist, or a liberal, or a conservative, or an analytic philosopher, or a postmodernist, or an intellectual historian, that's a problem.  Some colleges are so small they can't do much about it, at least field by field.  And some smaller places try to carve out niches for themselves in the profession:  Rochester's political science department, for instance, is famously devoted to rational choice and formal modeling.  That gives them some advantage in the graduate school market, but it's a clear loser for undergrads.

Does every individual class need to be diverse?  No.  Not by topic:  It's fine if there is a course in Marxism, another course on conservatism, and so on.  And not by viewpoint:  It's fine if one course on Marxism is taught by an enthusiast, another by a staunch critic.  It's even fine if everyone in the sociology department treats gender as socially constructed, in the fashionable buzzword, and you have to saunter over to biology or psychology to learn about physiology.  More generally, if every class is a smorgasbord, students never have an opportunity to grapple with a sustained and deepening exploration of a view.  But it's also great if there are individual classes that stage collisions between competing views.  Over the years, with my political theory hat on, I've taught the likes of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche; Smith, Hayek, and Nozick; Locke, Montesquieu, and Mill; Schmitt, Habermas, and Foucault; and on and on.  Sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes not.  In all these cases I ask students to read with enough sympathy to follow what the author is up to, enough criticism not to just fall for it hook line and sinker, and enough judgment to try to figure out how much to salvage and how to weave it together with their other commitments -- and what other commitments they might want to revise. 

Are we politically indoctrinating our students?  I'll speak for myself, and confidently, though you may dourly suspect that I'm delusional:  I'm not.  I couldn't care less what their politics are, though if they're just echoing what I think (or, more likely, what they think I think) in order to get a good grade or to relieve themselves of the burdens of having to think, I get pretty damned testy pretty damned quickly.  My real passion is teaching them how to read and write and argue, more generally to turn them on to ideas.  The promise of the liberal arts, too, is that the truth shall set you free.  Is that politically neutral?  Not all the way down, because there are political visions in which rational argument is a pernicious practice leading to bizarre results.  I'm happy to let my students critically evaluate -- and endorse, if they like -- those visions, too.  But they have to do it with arguments, not by making blunt assertions.  Within that formal constraint, they can defend whatever they like.  That's the name of the game.

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Comments

Posted by: bakho

Their criticism is a bunch of hokum. I liked your comment about students and skepticism. Most college students are pretty skeptical and a good university should teach students to move beyond mere acceptance of dualistic positions and actually be able to analyze and defend a POV. Of course, some students don't like this because it is a lot more work to have to defend beliefs than to blindly accept someone else's.

I suspect the primary objection of the religious right to American Universities is the commitment to teach students to question and defend values. Religious organizations are inherently dualistic- right and wrong, sin, faith and disbelief- and what really concerns them is that the pool of people that will blindly accept the dualistic pronouncements of their leaders will shrink and the parishoners will challenge the church authority. Churchs want people to believe, not question. Univeristies exist to teach students to question authority. I understand why the Christian Right objects to the teachings in Universities.

Posted by: bakho | Jan 14, 2005 8:15:31 AM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Ditto, Don. Ditto. (And for what it's worth, Don practices what he preaches.)

Let me add that in the world of the liberal arts college, the view you lay out here remains at least the modal one, if not the majority. My concern is that I see younger colleagues who don't buy this view of the classroom and who see themselves as engaged in "activist pedagogy," by which they mean advancing their own views more clearly and forcefully and asking students to engage in real-world activism as part of the course. Although one can perhaps do both in ways that still leave the classroom formally open to multiple voices (e.g., by making activism assignments non-mandatory), it is difficult to imagine that the power dynamics of the classroom don't make it feel to students with different views as if their arguments are being ruled out of court or that they need to "go along to get along." I find it amusing that so many of my younger colleagues are so concerned with power relationships in the "real world," but are either blind to, or willfully ignoring, the power dynamics in their own classrooms.

Finally, let me throw out a possible definition of "political correctness" as it is sometimes practiced in the classroom:

Political correctness is the act of attempting to monopolize the moral high ground.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jan 14, 2005 8:37:24 AM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

As if on cue, in today's Wall Street Journal, a piece on growing student conservativism on campuses:

http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006149

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jan 14, 2005 9:43:32 AM


Posted by: Lancelot Finn

1) The search for truth often leads to a) confusion, and/or b) subversive conclusions. In that sense, Black's complaint about "moral relativism" may be valid, and Don's depiction of the classroom accurate, at the same time.

2) Don ought to be more troubled about all the silly research that takes place at universities at the public expense. His protests of his own fallibility are appealing, but they do not cut it when we're spending taxpayers' money. Someone has to be the judge. If it's not the paymasters (i.e., the public, and legislatures) then internal hierarchies will develop, immune to outside pressures. Whole fields are held hostage to radical, self-reinforcing ideologies: thus non-physicalists avoid philosophy of mind, and non-Marxists avoid social history. The fact that Marxism is still current in the universities is a scandal. The theory has been comprehensively refuted, at the theoretical as well as the empirical level. It should be on a level with Don's student's support for burning witches. Yet not only does it flourished in history departments today; since Marxists by definition are not committed to academic freedom, students often feel strong pressure to conform to their professors' insane ideologies.

I was once expelled from a class for cogently rebutting the ideas of Edward Said.

Posted by: Lancelot Finn | Jan 14, 2005 9:50:17 AM


Posted by: slarrow

All right, Prof. Herzog, we'll count you as one of the good guys.

Now, do you deny that there is a significant cadre of professors and universities that do not act as you do? I see that neither you nor Prof. Anderson think that the university ought to be monolithic in any intellectual way. What are you doing about it?

I realize that CBN and Pat Robertson make a nice, easily dismissable target, but what would you say in response to the article reprinted in the Wall Street Journal today entitled Right On Campus? How about the instances collected and publicized by Mike Adams and David Horowitz? Are they all exaggerated? Is their impact to be minimalized because you don't know anybody like that "back on planet earth"?

I realize you've qualified your remarks by saying you're speaking as a native instead of an anthrolopologist. I know exactly how you feel; I get that same sensation every time some poster or commenter here talks about the religious right and how backwards we are. (In the interest of preventing intellectual laziness, I ought to bust far more chops than I do, but the prospect of such a time-consuming task is wearisome.) But we both dance on the line of the same problem: since I don't do X and nobody I know does X, the people who accuse us of X must be wrong. But as I attempted to do with Chrenkoff, I'd like to give you a taste of what it is my side listens to and learns from.

I'm not particularly interested in running you out of town on a rail, godless liberal wackjob though you may be. (*wink*) Bizarre as it may seem, not many on my side like to persecute the innocent, and there's not a whole lot in your statement of principles that I find objectionable. But none of that is to concede that there is no dark side to the university nor that left-leaning professors are immune to the dangers of groupthink. You and I both agree that part of the solution is intellectual and ideological diversity. The difference is that you can do something about it while I really can't; I'm just some conservative religious type from the backwaters of Missouri who's on The Outside (despite my university degrees and my PBK key.) The most effective improvement will come from within, I warrant, because I suspect even the reasonable people will dig in their heels against change imposed from without (like the Academic Bill of Rights.)

Posted by: slarrow | Jan 14, 2005 9:59:57 AM


Posted by: Bulworth

If you're going to ban the teaching of Marxist theories because they've supposedly been "discredited" than you'd have to toss out neo-classical economics, too, for including in its framework the idea that there are no transaction costs, that there is perfect competition and perfect information, and that aside from providing for the common defense, there is no basis for social spending or other public expenditures because the market will allocate resources and distribute an economy's production perfectly.

Like neo-classical economics, Marxism is an economic theory, a simplified model of how the economy works or has worked. You may not like Marxist theories, but that isn't a basis for declaring that the inclusion of Marxism in history or economics courses represents a "scandal" any more than the teaching of hypothetical, purist "capitalism" is for all the flaws and incongruities between it and most functioning economies here and around the world.

Posted by: Bulworth | Jan 14, 2005 10:27:05 AM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Just a couple of more comments, from a libertarian "on the inside."

1) The WSJ piece today has a large element of truth to it, especially in its analysis of why kids are turning more to the right (the fact is, it IS the "oppositional" and "radical" position on campuses that are dominated by the left, just as being left was a generation or two ago). I will predict, however, that James Taranto's "Best of the Web" column today will invoke the "Roe Effect" to help explain the rise of conservative kids - namely that since liberals are more likely to have abortions than conservatives, they don't reproduce themselves.

The problem with the WSJ piece and much "outsider" writing on academia is that they take the extremes as the norm (much like many leftists writing about the Religious Right do, I should note). Extremes tell us something, but they are not the same as the "typical" instance. My campus, an upper Tier II NE liberal arts college, has had a small number of instances similar to the ones documented by the conservative press, but very few and almost all have been responded to by the administration in non-heavy handed ways that have respected the concerns of the students in question. I've been here 16 years as an "out" libertarian and have never been treated with anything but collegiality and respect by other faculty and administrators. In fact, I AM an administrator now.

So if you object to taking the extremes as the norms when it comes to the Religious Right, give academia the same courtesy.

2) The Academic Bill of Rights has a whole bunch of problems with it, even from the perspective of someone like myself who holds a minority political view. There was a great piece in the Chronicle recently that had a much better path toward getting it right in academia, but I don't have the time to find the link at the moment.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jan 14, 2005 10:27:31 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

One of the great ironies of the academy is that, excepting perhaps the church, it is the last essentially medieval institution thriving in contemporary society. Architectonic, class structured both within and among universities, insular, given to needless though amusing pomp and ceremony (“Welcome to the ancient and honorable community of scholars… here’s your long hood!”), modeled on the old guild hall training system of apprentices, journeymen and masters, etc., etc. Now, couple that with the even greater irony that society has, largely by default, given the academy a de facto monopoly as gate-keeper to the upper or at least upper-middle classes. How in the world did we ever permit this to happen? (That was a rhetorical question, by the way.)

Depending on one’s timeline, I was an undergraduate either at the end of what conservatives seem to think was the Golden Age of higher education or the beginning of when everything went to Hell in a Handbasket. They were the days when the hue and cry for ‘relevance’ in higher education began to take effect, heedless of the fact that those of use demanding such ‘reforms’ were too ignorant of our own ignorance to have the vaguest idea just what might be relevant to what. Like many in my cohort, I have subsequently been formally educated far beyond my limited intellectual resources, whether to good effect or not I will leave to others to judge. But the question has lingered ‘lo these many years, just what the hell do we want our colleges and universities to do?

Now, I have noted at this blog previously that university scholars are professionals in the sense that they are self-defining and self-regulating, and I think this is by and large a good thing. Mathematicians should determine what counts as mathematics, but that’s an easy one. Whether English literature professors should determine what counts as English literature or philosophy professors what counts as philosophy is a bit more dicey. Still, if what they are doing is defining what counts as the scholarly study of literature or philosophy, I have no objection to such things. Neither has much affected my reading habits. Nor do I seriously object to the fairly obvious fact that much errant nonsense is being promulgated not only by the likes of CBN, but by English and sociology departments (and especially any field ending in "Studies"), etc., far and wide. While I do strongly object to publicly supporting such silliness, I say more power to them to the extent they can continue to work this scam on private financial support.

Where this all gets messy and political is over the question of undergraduate education. Let’s be clear about this: higher education as an intrinsic good is a luxury item. We can afford as a society to consume a great deal of this luxury and I grant that we are better people and a better society as a result, but we shouldn’t pretend that it is otherwise. Moreover, I readily admit that in the process of learning to think critically about art or literature or ancient civilizations or even vampires and the undead, students develop a depth and breadth of understanding that is extremely valuable to them and to society throughout the rest of their lives. Mr. Herzog’s passion aside, I think it is a great pity they don’t arrive at college (let alone law school) already knowing how to read and write, but I have absolutely no quibble (except over teaching Foucault; waste of time, that) with the rest of his comments. Even so, it should be possible for colleges to do what my own alma mater once claimed as its objective: to prepare students not only to make a living but to know how to live.

Still, Mr. Herzog acknowledges that he is the native, not the anthropologist here. I suspect the Right’s critique of contemporary universities is in large measure grossly exaggerated. On the other hand, the fact that these schools do appear to be in thrall to Leftist sentiments together with too many anecdotal stories of such things as destruction of right-wing student newspapers and the shouting down of conservative speakers, etc., lead me to believe that there does exist a serious problem in the cultural milieu of the academy. To say things aren’t as bad as critics claim is hardly to make much of a case that things are just fine. There are genuine issues of accountability which, so far, many schools have been loath to acknowledge or address.

Without going all Abrahamic here, I am about to sacrifice my first born male child at the dubious altar of the academy next year. I do so with some fear and trembling and with no little resentment over the fact that the university is the social gate-keeper in America. I shall be watching from afar with, as the author of “God and Man at Yale” put it, “a gimlet eye.”

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 14, 2005 10:28:04 AM


Posted by: Ted Clayton

Much could be said about this, but at least for now I just want to agree with Steve Horwitz that Don's self-description is accurate, at least for the class I took with him, and add that I try to do the same things in my classroom as he does in his, and which the other Michigan faculty, in my experience, did in theirs.

Posted by: Ted Clayton | Jan 14, 2005 11:16:07 AM


Posted by: SamChevre

Pat Robertson’s criticism of the universities is familiar; in my opinion, it has three bases.

1) The change in emphasis from learning particular bodies of knowledge to learning habits of thought. For example, most universities still do teach courses in writing; however, a much smaller proportion of college students today can write consistently formal English and get complicated grammatical structures correct than was the case 50 years ago. Similarly, a smaller proportion can list the Presidents in order, describe the main Greek philosophers and the differences among them, or summarize the main plots and characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Many traditionalists argue that the primary focus of education should be learning existing bodies of knowledge.
2) To the extent that the university is based on some body of knowledge, that body of knowledge has changed in ways that conservatives dislike, particularly within the humanities. There is much greater emphasis on race, class and gender in readings of history, philosophy, and literature; correspondingly, there is much less emphasis on Western Civilization as uniquely good. There is more emphasis on respect for different ways of thinking about morals; correspondingly, less effort is devoted to learning traditional systems of moral thought thoroughly. For me (one of the UnReconstructed), there seems to be a pervasive effort to eliminate positive portrayals of the South and the Confederacy.
3) Certain professors (whom it is to be hoped are atypical) have definitely brought politics into the classroom in inappropriate ways. Most of the horror stories center around one of two things; designing classes that presuppose particular political views and effectively exclude those who don’t share them (for example, by requiring activism on behalf of particular causes as part of the course work), or requiring agreement with the professor, in politically loaded ways, to get good grades.

These problems are not new. Changes in the body of knowledge have been happening since there were universities; the change to include philosophy in the theological curriculum was controversial in its time, as was the inclusion of modern languages in the curriculum.

Secondly, these problems seem to most frequently occur in lower-tier state schools. That’s the thing to realize about Liberty and Regent; they aren’t competing with Harvard, or even with U. Va. They are primarily competing with the second-tier state schools.

Thirdly, diversity both within and among institutions is a good thing. The attempts of some to fight the accreditation of explicitly Christian schools because they are Christian and conservative have definitely made the academy look bad. And the sense that most conservatives have of being unwelcome in the Academy at every stage (which has been endlessly discussed elsewhere) has also angered conservatives and made real diversity of opinion less common in the universities than would be desirable.

Posted by: SamChevre | Jan 14, 2005 11:24:58 AM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Sam raised a very important point with:

Secondly, these problems seem to most frequently occur in lower-tier state schools.

Yes, yes, and yes. Although we do see incidents at the top public and private schools, the worst offenders along these lines are exactly the schools Sam has identified. I might call them the "academic wanna-bes." I'll avoid the generalizations I'd like to make and just make two others that are more polite:

1. At schools that really do have top scholars, and not wanna-bes, these problems tend to be less frequent because said scholars don't feel the need to bludgeon students with their points of view. Given their own accomplishments, that is both unnecessary and unfair. They don't need or want acolytes because they have plenty of respect from elsewhere.

2. At schools that take teaching and pedagogy seriously, these problems tend to be less frequent because one learns quickly that "PC" classrooms are really, really bad places for enhancing student learning. And students know it too and will say it on evaluations and the like. The best kinds of pedagogy are ones that give students as much voice as they are capable of that is consistent with them learning the material.

I would simply note that many mid and lower level state universities meet neither of those criteria, thus these problems tend to occur there more often than elsewhere.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jan 14, 2005 11:56:02 AM


Posted by: Chris Blakley

I'm a young philosophy instructor, just starting my first full-time job, so perhaps I simply don't have enough experience to speak to the issue of the problem with higher education. But, from where I stand the real problem in higher education is the same one that in society-at-large: namely the idea that everyone is entitled to hold whatever view they like and that it is "offensive" (i.e. immoral) to be confronted with the possibility that your self-selected "truths" don't stand up under criticism.

I get the feeling that many of the students in my classes, whether liberal or conservative, consider philosophy "offensive" simply because it requires them to consider objections and counter-examples to whatever view they happen to espouse. The liberal students flip out when I require them to consider criticisms of pro-choice and the evangelical Christians flip out when I teach the problem of evil. How am I to facilitate the development of critical, reflective, and analytical reasoning skills through the reading and discussion of philosophy when it's considered "politically incorrect"?

Posted by: Chris Blakley | Jan 14, 2005 11:56:12 AM


Posted by: Terrier

A million years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth and the man was actually drafting middle-class kids to serve in his war, I took a geology class at 7:30am (yes, I was young and stupid.) After a month of listening to my right-wing professor illuminate the geographical location of a specific rock-type by referencing the drug that the Communists were importing into America from there, a classmate of mine (a veteran) could stand it no longer and leapt to his feet and screamed "That is bullshit!" A heated exchange of loud curse-words followed which was ended by the professor inviting the student to meet him after class. After this, the course continued with my classmate present and without the professor's editorial comments and I set my clock one hour earlier, drank more coffee and got an A+ in the class and an education in political speech.

My question is this: who is Robertson trying to protect? If you pay for a class and do not find it acceptable then ask for your money back or complain about it through approved channels. In my day, I always felt like the professors were working for me and wanted nothing better than to help me become educated. I took classes with many that I did not agree with politically, religously, or philosophically but from each one I gained something of value. A biology teacher said pointedly the first day that he was going to teach science fact as he believed it to be and was quite willing to discuss any other views outside of class. The rigorous nature of that man's intellect (revealed through his lectures) taught me more of value than most classes I took within my field. IMHO, you get the education that you deserve. If you are educated at all you know that the point is not to hear every opinion but to form one for yourself.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 14, 2005 12:01:21 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Personally, I don't understand the defensiveness of universities over the relative under-representation of right-wingers in their midst. The apologies that academics feel compelled to issue forth whenever this issue arises strike me as being of a piece with the stereotype of liberals as being guilt-ridden, weak-kneed, and feckless.

Yes, the vast majority of professors, across ALL disciplines, particularly at distinguished research institutions, lean left rather than right. This over-representation is getting more, not less, extreme as the years go by. Even in the undergraduate population at elite universities, we see the same phenomenon -- about 4 times as many Harvard undergrads favored Kerry as did those who favored Bush (despite the supposed growth of Republicanism on elite campuses).

Why is this not a sign of the deep anti-intellectualism in the right wing, rather than a sign of bias in the universities? (Why, for example, do Harvard first year students ALREADY so heavily favor the left over the right?) Why the defensiveness here among academics? Why not instead use the poor regard of the right wing by virtually all serious thinkers, from philosophers to physicists to economists to biologists to psychologists to law professors to business school professors as compelling evidence of very profound, pervasive, basic intellectual flaws in right wing ideology?

Why not go aggressive on this? Can academics ever do anything but wring their hands?

Posted by: frankly0 | Jan 14, 2005 12:09:29 PM


Posted by: rtr

He who pays the piper calls the tune. Since I believe Hillsdale College in Michigan is the only U.S. college or university not accepting federal money, they are the only ones who can rightfully object in the manner Don Herzog does.

When the electorate realizes the false separation between church and state, it will be time for reverse indoctrination. Math profs receiving public funds may rightfully be required to begin class with a prayer to the Lord and a pledge of allegiance, under God, to the U.S., if that is what a democratic majority decides. The left has already made the case for this and it is established in law. Surely if a democratic majority can vote to take others’ property away through taxation they can also establish what ideas are to be taught and not taught.

The left may shut down defenses of chattel slavery or the Holocaust but they have no compunction with promulgating David Duke “Diversity” policies at every level of the academic institution. The left should not doubt for a minute that the “racist” label is going to come back and bite them extremely hard, and justly so too, not in a mere payback intellectually dishonest manner. The offensive herding of individual minds along the bases of sex and race sits like a communist manifesto in the university pamphlets and policies. No points for us crackers.

It is ludicrous to maintain that academia generally is not suffocating from Marxist everything. It’s evident in the scholarly work, it’s evident in the leftist philosophy, it’s evident in the biased indoctrination of the students. It only took the deaths of millions and the collapse of the communist countries for the left to begin to maintain that socialism cannot work. Now it is time to purge this idea out of the campuses, dumped alongside the rejected racist and sexist claptrap of the likes of Holocaust denial. Don writes: “It's fine if there is a course in Marxism, another course on conservatism, and so on” as if it were anywhere near balanced as that.

So allow me to continue with the Macarthyist re-education program as has been enabled by the progressive victories. The false juxtaposition or contrast between Marx’s Das Kapital and Smith’s Wealth of Nations will henceforth be replaced with and begin with solid refutation of socialist utopianism. This will be a program requirement for all educational institutions receiving government funding. Mises’ Human Action should suffice, the entire book as corrective affirmative action of truth, and not a bit piece by someone like Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative”. Only once tender easily confused minds are properly inoculated against Marxist indoctrination, will the use of Marx and other utopian socialist thinkers be allowed in more advanced undergraduate and graduate courses, such as histories of political thought, studies of the enlightenment period, etc.. The academic left is guilty as charged of teaching Marxism as a good idea, or as benign an idea as the Holocaust being a myth, rather than an evil idea. Any objections will be overruled and held in contempt of the court of public opinion. The left is in denial if they cannot see that campus thought is *overwhelmingly* Marxist. Admissions tests will henceforth routinely include the question “Is Marxist thought? A.) Evil B.) Good C.) Neutral”. All non-A answers will have education funding denied in the same manner that Supreme Court Justice nominees are denied for answering Roe questions incorrectly. All broadcast television news program will be required to broadcast Fox News in at least one corner of the room in campus locations, whether it be dorm common areas or campus cafeterias. If you think something like this couldn’t happen you should think again. The right electorate has been agitated and they will learn and use the same tactics that enabled progressive victories. It’s time for the likes of George Bush and a Republican controlled government to cease the handing out of blind government grants to fund ideologically biased bunk that is used against them. It’s like giving Dan Rather a million dollar grant to study and publish “journalistic ethics and its relation to right-wing religious fanatics”.

If the left is not politically indoctrinating their students then let’s see the statistical studies of students mirroring the political diversity of the public at large in the same “diverse” proportion. This is the type of social engineering the left has opened society up to. I’m the type of libertarian missionary to make lessons learned in reductio fashion. We cannot excuse the silence of the academic left that allowed Marxism to torture and murder millions in the 20th century. If public education is necessary for society, then it’s time for the public to be in charge of what is taught. Hello Father Don.

Posted by: rtr | Jan 14, 2005 12:10:44 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

SamChevre:

Secondly, these problems seem to most frequently occur in lower-tier state schools. That’s the thing to realize about Liberty and Regent; they aren’t competing with Harvard, or even with U. Va. They are primarily competing with the second-tier state schools.
This strikes me as wishful thinking.

The litany of complaints about hostile environments for conservatives seems to span the rankings of schools - the second-tier public schools may have more incidents, but there are also more schools. There have been some prominent examples of either attempts to suppress divergent views in the classroom at top schools, and there was the pathetic apologia for liberal slant from Duke. I'd also suggest reading this post from today by Jim Lindgren at Volokh.

IMHO, also as a native non-anthropologist (or a neighbor - I'm a biochemist, so most of the complaints are not in my discipline) I agree that the conservative critique is often wrong. Where I think it's wrong, however, is not in pointing out the symptoms, but in the diagnosis of the disease. My sense is that a liberal, a Marxist, or a paleo-conservative can all teach well and fairly. The problems come from not from having a point of view - it would be inhuman to expect the professoriate to be completely neutral - the problem is intellectual laziness, which takes the form of dismissing alternative views too easily, often by substitution of ascribing unflattering motives to those on the other side for actual argument (I find myself reminded of Monty Python here). And I'm not holding biochemists out as being better than our humanities colleagues - it's just that when we're lazy in our teaching the topic is usually not as politically loaded...with the major exceptions being when we cover bioethics and evolution.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 14, 2005 12:19:38 PM


Posted by: S. Weasel

What on earth would the Left do without Pat Robertson? When you trawl the likes of the 700 Club for debating points, I find it hard to pay attention to the argument that follows.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 14, 2005 12:24:17 PM


Posted by: oliver

We've imposed quotas and affirmative action for gender and race and handicaps. Opponents of academic liberals tend not to like such impositions at all, but they want them on the basis of an ideology?? Right-leaners and left-leaners must hold academic posts in proportion to their representation in the US population overall? We don't even know what that proportion is, given the pathetic percentage of people who vote and that a vote is hardly a nuanced assessment of a person's world view. So long as no one is being actively discriminated against, how about we just leave the demographics of ideology in academic to the invisible hand?

Posted by: oliver | Jan 14, 2005 12:32:20 PM


Posted by: Mona

Don, CBN and Pat Robertson are easily dismissed, and the exchange you quote is vacuous, at best. There are, however, organizations, such as The National Association of Scholars, that are dedicated to opposing rigid political orthodoxy on campus, and who cogently argue where and why the problem is, indeed, so serious. [Disclaimer: I've been an NAS member, and published in their journal Academic Questions, "Inside the Politicized Classroom: A Student's Account of a Seminar on Indian Treaty Rights"(vol. 5, no. 1; Winter 1991–92)]

NAS articles apparently are not available online, and I won't be home until late tomorrow to grab my piece and quote from it. But I assure you, this was not an article I wanted to write, because it implicated a faculty member (one of 5 in this interdisciplinary seminar) who had been a friend, and who wrote glowing letters of recommendation that aided me in getting into the law school of my first choice.

But what went on in this seminar was simply outrageous, and a scholar whose work I drew from to counter the overwhelming bias in favor of "authentic" Indian culture and against the purported depravity of all white people, past and present, strongly encouraged me to have the courage to expose a travesty.

Among the things that went on, were a sociologist announcing that he "hates (Xian) fundamentalists." Another faculty member declared there are not two sides in disputes between Indians and whites; there is only "the pro-treaty rights side." I assure you, her view that any critics of the treaty rights industry were illegitimate was made quite manifest during this "seminar." Indeed, I alone even READ the treaties in a seminar titled "Indian Treaty Rights", and could excite no interest among the faculty in doing so, since it was felt these were a matter of obscure interest only for those who care about history, but they were not relevant to the current political issues. When I brought in an Indian critic of romaticized notions of Indian life and culture, as was seminar protocol we discussed where the guest would afterwards be taken to lunch; one faculty member petulantly announced she wasn't sure she'd go, that that would depend on "what he had to say." The message from the faculty that there are "wrong" position on anything touching and concerning Indians, and that European-American culture is corrupt by contrast with Indian culture, could not have been more pronounced.

The whole thing was about getting us to environmentalist and anti-mining rallies, using ostensibly superior Indian religious beliefs as a launching pad for correct attitudes on environmentalism. Indeed, in a seminar supposedly about treaty rights disputes, the faculty had students taking surveys regarding attitudes toward the environment (where the "right" answers were understood by all 5 faculty).

If this thread is still active when I get home late tomorrow, I'll copiously quote from my account of a real classroom debacle. But for now, I will simply alert you to the existence of the NAS, and that criticisms of the academy far more substantive and difficult to dismiss than Rev. Robertson's are available.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 14, 2005 12:35:54 PM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Frankly0 asks:

Why is this not a sign of the deep anti-intellectualism in the right wing, rather than a sign of bias in the universities?

Sigh. You just need to get out more Frankly. There is PLENTY of conservative and libertarian intellectualism. It's just not in the universities. What do you think was a major causal factor in the rise of the dreaded right-wing think tanks? What do you think goes on there? Or take a trip through the best of the conservative and libertarian blogs. You'll see a downright worship of intellectual activity in both places. There is a whole deep culture of intellectualism among conservatives and libertarians. It's just not at the universities. What does THAT tell you? It tells me that they perceive (perhaps wrongly, but the perception is a reality to be dealt with) that they don't think they are welcome in academia, or that they don't have the chops for it. Either might be true, but neither is the same as "anti-intellectualism." Think a little broader next time.

Chris writes:

I get the feeling that many of the students in my classes, whether liberal or conservative, consider philosophy "offensive" simply because it requires them to consider objections and counter-examples to whatever view they happen to espouse.

Ding, ding, ding. This is the real issue - students of all stripes cannot tell the difference between having their views "challenged" and having the "attacked." To them, a challenge is an "attack." I could go on a long rant about the "Oprahization" of dialogue in the US, but I won't. The bottom line is that a generation raised with the belief that everything they say is a pearl of wisdom and a nugget of truth, and who has been patted on the head for the quality of the shits they take, will not take lightly to criticism of any kind. When I hear conservative students here whine about being attacked in the classroom, I ask them what happened. Most of the time, they were just being aggressively, but civilly, challenged by the faculty or by other students (!) and found that to be a problem. (In fact, students who feel "silenced" tell me it's more about other students' reactions than faculty.) Chris has hit the nail on the head here, 100%.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jan 14, 2005 12:43:18 PM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

One other thought, which deserves a post of its own:

If folks on the right are really concerned about the development of college students, then they should be more involved in addressing the biggest problem on college campuses today, and it's not political correctness. It's high-risk use of alcohol, in particular in combination with the panoply of prescription drugs that parents now insist upon for their children who aren't "perfect."

A generation is slowing destroying its ability to function as adults because their parents have tried to "fix" them through prescription drugs and, as a result, they have no ability to cope with the very real challenges life as an adult throws at them. The result is that they turn to high-risk drinking as both a "comforter" and a challenge they believe they can master, and as way to convince them they have the social skils they often lack. And the result of that is a disaster for them and for many campuses... and for their friends and families when they drink themselves to death.

The real problems facing college students, thanks to their parents, might best be described here:
http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20041112-000010.html

Political correctness, to my knowledge, has never been complicit in a rape or a death. High-risk alcohol use (and note, this is NOT an abstinence lecture) has been.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jan 14, 2005 12:52:35 PM


Posted by: paladin

There was an incident recently at my local community college concerning a "non-traditional" student who was a Christian, and a professor, who at the beginning of one class (can't remember the subject) rolled away one screen to reveal the F-word on one blackboard, then rolled away the other screen to reveal the word "God". The student was offended and filed harassment (or some such) charges against the professor. Of course, the professor claimed "academic freedom" and the faculty rallied around him, saying all views must be allowed to be discussed in the academic setting. The student shot back that he doubted the faculty would be backing the professor if the prof. had written F--K the (N-word). I'm inclined to agree.

Posted by: paladin | Jan 14, 2005 1:00:46 PM


Posted by: paladin

There was an incident recently at my local community college concerning a "non-traditional" student who was a Christian, and a professor, who at the beginning of one class (can't remember the subject) rolled away one screen to reveal the F-word on one blackboard, then rolled away the other screen to reveal the word "God". The student was offended and filed harassment (or some such) charges against the professor. Of course, the professor claimed "academic freedom" and the faculty rallied around him, saying all views must be allowed to be discussed in the academic setting. The student shot back that he doubted the faculty would be backing the professor if the prof. had written F--K the (N-word). I'm inclined to agree.

Posted by: paladin | Jan 14, 2005 1:00:46 PM


Posted by: Terrier

mona, I can't understand what your complaint is. Did you pay for this? Was a gun involved? Large doses of sleeping pills? Were the other attendees minors without the capacity for independant thought? If this was a waste of public money, did you complain to the governing body?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 14, 2005 1:04:13 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

Steve Horowitz

At schools that really do have top scholars, and not wanna-bes, these problems tend to be less frequent because said scholars don't feel the need to bludgeon students with their points of view.
A nice idea, but perhaps naive? The desire to bludgeon students in my experience is an independent variable with respect to the scholarly achievements of the prof. Moreover, even the top schools are not populated uniformly with scholars of this kind, and the schools at all levels have plenty of wanna-bes. In my experience, the top schools differ mostly in what particular items the wanna-bes are jealous about.

At schools that take teaching and pedagogy seriously, these problems tend to be less frequent.
True, but I'd argue that few top or second-tier (or worse) schools (including my own) take teaching and pedagogy as seriously as we claim to. Perhaps the small undergrad-only liberal arts schools do, but the Carnegie I schools are a mixed bag. Universities have multiple missions in society, and it is not entirely illegitimate to spend time on things other than teaching. However, there are faculty at all levels of schools who abuse the system, and the combination of tenure and the difficulty of objectively evaluating teaching complicate matters. FWIW, I am a strong supporter of tenure - it really does protect academic freedom, not only regarding divergent views, but also, more often, with respect to academic politics. However, tenure and academic freedom have a price.

Also, many, if not most, of the faculty wanna-bes you describe got their training at the top institutions.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 14, 2005 1:05:08 PM


Posted by: Jay Cline

The one thing that Don Herzog seems to ignore is that today, Political Correctness is widely debunked and considered a joke. Not so when I was attending college some twenty years ago. I took a freshman political science course on Nuclear something-or-another. You see, I had the audacity to challenge the assistant professor on some of his 'facts' on the morality of nuclear weapons and was roundly humiliated for asserting that, numerically speaking, saving one million lives (American soldiers) was possibly a greater good than saving a hundred thousand lives (civilians of Nagasaki and Hiroshima). After a couple weeks of being subjected to snide and personal attacks, I dropped the course.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 14, 2005 1:33:49 PM


Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw

I attended the University of California at San Diego. One of the requirements was to attend what was theoretically the basic writing course--Dimensions of Culture (DoC).

The professor spends weeks hammering that morality is cultural, no culture is better than another, and that right and wrong can't be judged across cultures. He was an anthropologist, and I'm not kidding when I say he taught complete relativism.

Late in the quarter, the discussion turned to the horrible institution of apartheid in South Africa. It was explained to us as a horrific example of one culture subjugating another (which it is). I asked the classic anti-relativist question: in the framework of non-judgment across cultures, how was it possible to condemn the Afrikaan culture which embraced the degradation of black people? Didn't that imply that some values were independent of culture? I was viciously attacked for being a racist and publically flayed for quite some time. I made it quite clear that I was not defending apartheid, but that it made no sense to condemn it unless there was some sort of universal principle involved--a concept that went against the previous teachings in our class.

The year-long class had many more instances--it was completely clear that my views were intolerable AND not to be engaged.

I haven't attended all of the colleges around. But this wasn't Berkely or one of the other hard-core leftist institutions. It wasn't pretty.

Does that strike you as ok?

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Jan 14, 2005 1:36:44 PM


Posted by: Mona

Well, my “complaint,” Terrier, is that I do not see the classroom as an indoctrination center, and I assert that the seminar I wrote of had the trappings of such. It should be a place where all are committed to searching for truth, and where one side of a contentious political controversy is not overtly dismissed as beyond the pale and unworthy of consideration. Proponents of views that conflict with preferred politics should not be marginalized and cavalierly dismissed as rednecks and racists, the religion that many of them hold should not be denigrated, and relevant historical documents that are not helpful to current preferred politics ought not be avoided for purportedly being “obscure.”

Do you think it is a model of good scholarly praxis for social scientists to both state and act as if there is only one legitimate side in a contemporary political controversy, and to express open hostility to those who disagree with them? I don’t.

In sum, my “complaint” is about the corruption of scholarship. I value the life of the mind, and object to the place where that gestates falling prey to political orthodoxy where heretics are ignored when possible, and derided when it is not.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 14, 2005 1:37:13 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I fail to see why tenure remains a valuable institution and would appreciate it if Mr. Hu and others who defend it would state precisely how they think academic freedom would suffer if tenure were abolished. There are too many filthy rich private schools for the state(s) to be any serious threat to academic freedom any longer. Besides, as far as I can tell, academics build their reputations through publishing and the decision what gets published is, at least in theory, refereed by supposedly disinterested peers and in some cases probably even involves blind submissions.

If anything, it seems to me that job security is most needed and that academic freedom would be best promoted if junior faculty members after a brief apprenticeship period had relatively long (say 5 year) renewable contracts. If they were sufficiently successful in the “publish or perish” game, they could later be offered non-tenured but more highly paid (you know, where as Ms Anderson notes, the money just piles up) and more prestigious full professorships with the understanding that if they didn’t produce something every five or so years the plug could be still be pulled from the bottom of the gravy boat.

It seems to me that tenure more likely promotes cronyism, provides disincentives for the marginal successes to continue to perform, makes the very sort of ideological insularity many here are complaining about more likely and doesn’t affect the academic stars who trot from one campus to another when the mood strikes them one way or the other.

I could, however, be wildly wrong about all of this and would be happy to be enlightened.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 14, 2005 1:55:38 PM


Posted by: Jay Cline

In all fairness, I have to comment of another political science class I took. The professor was a democratic delegate to the 1980 Democractic convention and the class was an intensive 2 week (10 day) 5 hours a day examination of the 1980 Republican convention as it took place. Prof. Griffin (or Griffith) was the consummate professional. We knew his political tendencies, but did not suffer in the slightest as he educated us on the electoral process.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 14, 2005 1:57:10 PM


Posted by: oliver

Jay Cline writes: "You see, I had the audacity to challenge the assistant professor on some of his 'facts' on the morality of nuclear weapons and was roundly humiliated"

This taps into what someone else posted earlier about the coerciveness coming from one's fellow students. One can't be "roundly" humiliated by one professor. Perhaps the problem is that professors are too idealistic about their free dialogue aspirations for the classroom and don't take it upon themselves to comfort those ganged up upon. Or perhaps the problem is that professors are people too and feel vulnerable before the mob. Naaaah--I think Robertson more or less nailed this one.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 14, 2005 1:58:41 PM


Posted by: df

"My real passion is teaching them how to read and write and argue, more generally to turn them on to ideas. "

I agree, but I also agree with Republican Robertson that there's something deeply wrong with universities. I even agree with the rabid christian that the teaching of postmodernism and moral relativism is a big part of the problem.

Students have been taught to be "tolerant" of everything. This not only leads to the philsophically dubious position of "moral relativism" - it leads to factual relativism.

There is no truth - if it turns you on to believe in evolution, cool. If it floats your boat to believe in creationism, right on.

Surely the postmodern deconstructivist ultra hip lefty francophilic humanists deserve some of the blame for turning Americans' brains into mush. (Of course, television, religious leaders and the mass mediumb deserves much more of the blame.)

Posted by: df | Jan 14, 2005 2:21:24 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Mona, so if you think their scholarship was faulty then point out their mistakes in publications in the field. How is that a problem of the academy? I'll grant that there are bad teachers and bad scholars but surely you are not saying that they are bad because they hold an opinion different from yours? If they suppressed your opinions was that a function of the academy they represented or just their own prejudice?

Just a little thought experiment: If I went to dinner and discovered that the Radical Republic's convention was being held in the restaurant I would promptly get up, ask for my money back, and walk out. Isn't this letting the market decide? Would anything be wrong with the restaurant that needed fixing by TV punidts?

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 14, 2005 2:25:15 PM


Posted by: Jay Cline

Professors should be teaching critical thinking and how to find the truth; not their version of it.

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 14, 2005 2:36:37 PM


Posted by: Mona

Terrier asks; Mona, so if you think their scholarship was faulty then point out their mistakes in publications in the field. How is that a problem of the academy?

It was not their scholarship per se that was faulty, it was their pedagogical praxis *as* scholars. (See the title: "Inside the Politicized Classroom.)These were five faculty members from disparate disciplines, and all agreed within narrow ideological parameters that were enforced by strong pressure, and many overt comments making it clear that significant disagreement was illegitimate. (To be fair, the Senior Anthropologist more or less just went along with the others; I had taken other of his classes which I had enjoyed and which were devoid of political brow-beating, or much in the way of politics at all.)

My criticism was directd at them as teachers, and that is why I published where I did, i.e., , in a journal dedicated to challenging political orthodoxy as it corrupts the scholarly enterprise in the teaching setting. I felt my examination of this seminar was proper for that journal, and so did its editors, scholars and professors all.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 14, 2005 2:43:23 PM


Posted by: JS

Is there a kernel of truth in the CBN rant?
True, Professor Herzog mounts a convincing case that he and like-minded colleagues are not deliberately indoctrinating students. But that misses another side of the story. Elsewhere on this site, an aspiring tenured professor, aptly named “Untenured Republican,” safeguards his anonymity for fear of academic failure should his politics be “outed.”

Will he be officially and expressly denied tenure for his views? No, of course not. For that matter, will students in Prof. Herzog’s class be silenced in class or marked badly for their politics? Almost never, I’d guess, at universities like Michigan.

But, will they be regarded poorly for such views? Probably. Remember that “political” opinions are not autonomous: they involve judgments of fact or applications of ethical sensibilities. If you’re not bothered by the torture of Abu Ghraib, for example, you’re insensitive to suffering, or so it could be claimed. If you harbor religiously inspired beliefs in supernatural (“superstitious”) objects like souls, you’re un-enlightened and your judgment is suspect. If you don’t see the cruel consequences of unfettered free-market conservativism, then you have both poor empirical judgment AND impaired ethics. If you’re emotionally moved by patriotism, you’re primitive. If you think Iraq is tied to the war on terror, you’re ignorant. These kinds of inferences – and I suspect they’re rampant – keep one ideology in power and another in check on today’s campuses.

Posted by: JS | Jan 14, 2005 2:48:38 PM


Posted by: df

"Professors should be teaching critical thinking and how to find the truth; not their version of it."

Lesson 1 of Critical Thinking 101: It is impossible to speak, teach, write, or argue in a completely "objective" manner. The course will always reflect the perspective of the teacher.

Any teacher who claims to be merely teaching you HOW to think critically and not teaching you WHAT to believe or value is lying.

Posted by: df | Jan 14, 2005 2:50:08 PM


Posted by: Mona

sigh, again having to end the italics mania.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 14, 2005 2:51:48 PM


Posted by: Jay Cline

df,

Now there is a very good example of relativistic thinking?

Thanks!

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 14, 2005 2:53:11 PM


Posted by: SamChevre

End the italics

I think Steve Horwitz is correct that some portion of the criticism of the academy (from both Left and Right) is simply students objecting to the necessity of defending their views. However, it seems that most conservative complaints (by, e.g., Mona, NAS, FIRE) are based on the fact that their views are presumptively declared indefensible, not the fact that they are asked to defend them.

Posted by: SamChevre | Jan 14, 2005 2:54:28 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

A few things.

From slarrow:

All right, Prof. Herzog, we'll count you as one of the good guys.

Now, do you deny that there is a significant cadre of professors and universities that do not act as you do? I see that neither you nor Prof. Anderson think that the university ought to be monolithic in any intellectual way. What are you doing about it?

--thanks on the first (yes, really); I've already said I am in no position to judge how pervasive problems are, so I literally don't know whether there is a "significant cadre," though I also want to say that I'd be disturbed even by very small numbers of abuses. What am I doing about it? Teaching school as best I can, writing the best scholarship I can, encouraging and supporting students with dissident views, getting angry and articulate when I come across even whiffs of ideological enquiries on faculty hiring issues. But -- you may think I need a keener sense of smell -- it almost never happens. Even in political science and law, lots of faculty members aren't all that political, not all the political ones are on the left, and almost everybody would promptly assent to the kind of picture of the liberal arts I sketched here.

Chris Blakley's report that students of all stripes can bridle at pressure to defend their views rings true. Students have conversational devices to try to avoid that. ("My own view is that," "I feel that," &c. I tell them I don't want to hear reports on their mental states, I want to hear arguments.) Some of this is I think about the uncertainties of arriving at a college campus and figuring out how to deal with students the likes of whom you've never seen before: a lot of undergraduate relativism is an attempt at a peace treaty for dormitory life, not a nefarious view planted by professors.

S. Weasel writes:

What on earth would the Left do without Pat Robertson? When you trawl the likes of the 700 Club for debating points, I find it hard to pay attention to the argument that follows.

S. Weasel now has my cordial invitation to try the post again, but read only the stuff that appears after the "Continue reading" break. A bit more serious, CBN has many many readers, and I bet some of them now believe that American universities are not teaching freshman English and American history, and I am quite generally impatient with cant and hypocrisy, from any and all ideologies. Any protest that mine is a cheap shot should be alleviated by my immediately pointing out that I don't mean to suggest that all is well.

Mona writes:

Don, CBN and Pat Robertson are easily dismissed, and the exchange you quote is vacuous, at best. There are, however, organizations, such as The National Association of Scholars, that are dedicated to opposing rigid political orthodoxy on campus, and who cogently argue where and why the problem is, indeed, so serious.

Alas the CBN exchange is not vacuous: it includes a blatantly false factual claim. As to the NAS, I know next to nothing about them, and again I wrote here as a native, not an anthropologist. I have a day job and am not willing to do the very serious research it would take to develop an informed view on how pervasive any problems actually are. As to the seminar experience Mona reports, and the other tales of horror that have come forward, we can generalize the question Sebastian Holsdaw asks:

Does that strike you as ok?

No, no, no, and also no. They all sound grotesquely bad.

From the Journal article:

From pervasive campus political correctness--the unfree speech codes, obligatory diversity-sensitivity seminars and school-sponsored performances of "The Vagina Monologues'--to the professorate's near-uniform leftism, with faculty Democrats outnumbering Republicans by at least 7 to 1 (at Williams, it's 51 Dems to zero Republicans), everything aims to implant correct left-wing attitudes in student brains.

"There's a natural and healthy tendency among students to question the piety of their teachers," Penn history professor Alan Kors noted a few months back. "And for so long the pieties, dogmas and set of assumptions being taught on college campuses have been found on the far left." Says Daniel Flynn of the Leadership Institute, a nonprofit that trains young conservative activists: "The intention of many in academe is to evangelize left-wing ideas, but in effect what they're doing is often the opposite: piquing interest in the other side."

--That first paragraph seems to me wildly overstated. (Even on the opinion page the Journal shouldn't be dealing in such reckless hyperbole.) I'm on board with the second paragraph: thus my reminder of how spunky and skeptical students can be.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 14, 2005 2:55:05 PM


Posted by: JS

[[Oops. italics was unintended
Here it is again:]]

Professor Herzog mounts a convincing case that he and like-minded colleagues are not deliberately indoctrinating students. But that misses another side of the story. Elsewhere on this site, an aspiring tenured professor, aptly named “Untenured Republican,” safeguards his anonymity for fear of academic failure should his politics be “outed.”

Will he be officially and expressly denied tenure for his views? No, of course not. For that matter, will students in Prof. Herzog’s class be silenced in class or marked badly for their politics? Almost never, I’d guess, at universities like Michigan.

But, will they be regarded poorly for such views? Probably. Remember that “political” opinions are not autonomous: they involve judgments of fact or applications of ethical sensibilities. If you’re not bothered by the torture of Abu Ghraib, for example, you’re insensitive to suffering, or so it could be claimed. If you harbor religiously inspired beliefs in supernatural (“superstitious”) objects like souls, you’re un-enlightened and your judgment is suspect. If you don’t see the cruel consequences of unfettered free-market conservativism, then you have both poor empirical judgment AND impaired ethics. If you’re emotionally moved by patriotism, you’re primitive. If you think Iraq is tied to the war on terror, you’re ignorant. These kinds of inferences – and I suspect they’re rampant – keep one ideology in power and another in check on today’s campuses.

Posted by: JS | Jan 14, 2005 2:55:25 PM


Posted by: df

[My italics were also unintentional. Not sure why it happened.]

DF: It is impossible to be 100% "objective."

Jay Cline: Now there is a very good example of relativistic thinking?

DF: There's a difference between:

a. acknowledging the cognitive science 101 fact that it is impossible to communicate without a frame or perspective AND

b.relativism.

Not all perspectives are equally objective.

Logic, probability, statistics, science are "more objective" than fundamentalist christianity. But they are not 100% objective, whatever that would mean.

The supreme use of reason is to show man the limits of reason. Pascal

Posted by: df | Jan 14, 2005 3:11:28 PM


Posted by: S. Weasel

A bit more serious, CBN has many many readers, and I bet some of them now believe that American universities are not teaching freshman English and American history, and I am quite generally impatient with cant and hypocrisy, from any and all ideologies.

Yes, and Jerry Springer has many viewers, many of whom probably believe missing cosmetically important teeth and sleeping with your stepmother is the norm. I didn't choose that example for cheap points; I spend a lot of time in the UK and have had Springer pointed out to me repeatedly as an example of what "many Americans" are like. It's a terrible mischaracterization, I'm sure you'll agree, but no further off the mark than Pat Robertson as posterboy for conservative opinion. After such an introduction, I enter the conversation bristling.

On a happier note, I'm told "Jerry Springer, the Musical" is rude but incredibly funny and is doing very well in London.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 14, 2005 3:12:17 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Never seen a second of Jerry Springer -- I don't watch any TV -- but I'll happily take your word for it. But I'll be damned if I can see where I said, or implied, that Robertson is a poster boy for conservative opinion. My thought was: some wild and woolly claims are circulating about what university life is like; here is one grunt's report from the trenches.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 14, 2005 3:18:23 PM


Posted by: Jay Cline

df,

a good lawyer can make Al Capone into a saint - anonymous

Posted by: Jay Cline | Jan 14, 2005 3:31:08 PM


Posted by: Mona

SamChevre However, it seems that most conservative complaints (by, e.g., Mona, NAS, FIRE) are based on the fact that their views are presumptively declared indefensible, not the fact that they are asked to defend them.

Yes, exactly. But to be clear, I could not be defined as a conservative, and I am also a non-theist. But I object to faculty deriding fundamentalist Xians and their moral beliefs, particularly when these same faculty would sever their tongues before uttering a dismissive word about the religious beliefs and tenets of an indigenous culture, or for that matter, of Muslims.

While some things may properly be placed beyond the pale, such as Holocaust denial, I'd err on the side of not having a very long list of them.

Posted by: Mona | Jan 14, 2005 3:35:17 PM


Posted by: S. Weasel

But I'll be damned if I can see where I said, or implied, that Robertson is a poster boy for conservative opinion. My thought was: some wild and woolly claims are circulating about what university life is like; here is one grunt's report from the trenches.

Well, it would be easier to make the case if this blog were called Left2ABunchofRandomPeople. As it is, I take every new topic in the spirit of, "you talkin' to me?

Scroll down the home page; three of the four posts prior to this one have been on the topic of religion, in ways that look to me as though the posters have difficulty distinguishing Christianity from Republicanism. This spot is becoming a very sore one, especially as "values" has attached itself to the November elections with the subhead, "we just couldn't get through to those bible-thumping morons in Ohio."

News flash: you're not getting through to the prickly atheist Libertarians, either.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 14, 2005 3:39:15 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

And here I thought, with the exception of occasional crankiness and name-calling, a bunch of charmingly different people were having interesting and productive discussions. Again: I am not here because of any dismay over Bush's re-election, and "getting through to" or "converting" anyone is not on my agenda. Two of the religion posts are mine, and neither says a syllable about Republicanism, and not because I'm hiding the ball. So I'll ask you to ignore the title of the blog, more generally to ignore whatever big-picture frames the media is floating about American culture and politics, when you read here. Let's continue the project of dealing with one another in good faith, taking words at face value, and see where the discussion goes. Sorry if that sounds preachy.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 14, 2005 3:46:54 PM


Posted by: S. Weasel

I don't know about "preachy"; but, then, I don't know about "possible" either. I've much enjoyed the surprisingly civil tone of this blog and don't want to sully that, but is it really reasonable to ask everyone to ignore the name and stated purpose of the blog and assume examples are apolitical when not explicitly presented as political?

Maybe I could do that at HerzogBlog, but I would expect occasional cat pictures.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 14, 2005 4:08:44 PM


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