Thursday, January 19, 2006

How not to fight PC on campus

A group of Republican UCLA alumni, determined to expose left-wing extremism at the university, is offering students up to $100 per class for documented evidence of bias in the classroom (such as notes or taped recordings). In response to this tactic, two of the group's board members, including my friend Stephan Thernstrom, the Harvard historian, have resigned from the group's board. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Thernstrom said he joined the alumni group's more than 20-member advisory board last year because he believed it "had a legitimate objective of combating the extraordinary politicization of the faculty on elite campuses today."

Still, Thernstrom said, "I felt it was extremely unwise, one, to put out a list of targets of investigation and to agree to pay students to provide information about what was going on in the classroom of those students. That just seems to me way too intrusive. It seems to me a kind of vigilantism that I very much object to."

Generally speaking, people do not like paid snitches. But even aside from the questionable tactic of paying students for dirt on professors, there's also the issue of what the group regards as radical.

John Cole writes:

I don’t have a problem with identifying and criticizing those who use their lectern as an opportunity to berate, belittle, or otherwise abuse students. I don’t really have a problem with accountability and having outside groups look into whether or not professors are abusing their positions. But what I do fear are the kinds of kids who are going to keep Andrew Jones and his group in business. They are the kid who sat in every class with you and loudly and annoyingly recited something he heard on Rush Limbaugh, thinking this showed the professor was a left-wing crank. This is, I am betting, the kid who screamed bias because the teacher seemed to spend more time looking to the left side of the class than the right, or the kid who saw bias because the professor refused to call 1992-2000 the “Dark Years.”

I saw Adam Jones, the head of the group, on "Hannity & Colmes" last night, and I can tell John Cole that he would win his bet. (You can watch a clip here.) When asked for specific instances of professorial misconduct, Jones talked about how Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU (which, to the Hannitized, is of course an automatic marker for Evil with a Capital E -- kind of like mentioning Dracula) was asked to teach a class at the university and taught it in a "one-sided" manner, and his complaint about it was not treated very seriously.

More about the group's grievances can be found in this informative post by David Schraub at The Debate Link. Most of these grievances seem to focus not on actual classroom bias or mistreatment of students, but on faculty members' political views (such as opposition to the war in Iraq or support for affirmative action) and off-campus activities. And there's some downright bizarre stuff, too. One professor is denounced for being too critical of the Japanese-American internment:

Kang's strange preoccupation with this historical footnote is in defiance of all reasonable history. Kang was born in South Korea, a country that (in its original undivided form) suffered for 50 years under a harsh imperial Japanese occupation. Moreover, South Korea was a country saved from Communist despotry by the United States not less than a decade after our brief use of Japanese internment camps.

As Schraub notes:

Of course, calling the Japanese internment a "historical footnote" might be the most radical thing I've read today. But more importantly, the implication that a "good" Korean should just laugh at American injustice toward other Americans (of Japanese descent) is both morally appalling, and gives lie to their self-proclaimed support for treating individuals as individuals, and not markers for their specific ethnic group.

More from Professor Bainbridge and Eugene Volokh.

John Cole writes:

[W]hile I have no problem with an honest acounting of what professors are doing, and I have no doubt that there are, by any standard, some radicals at UCLA, I am afraid a bunch of little David Horowitz’s are not the folks I want rooting them out.

Precisely.

Meanwhile, in case you've missed the news, "big" David Horowitz has a bit of egg on his face. Last week, a Pennsylvania legislative committee was holding hearings on the Academic Bill of Rights, which Horowitz has been pushing as a means to rectify political bias and indoctrination in academia. (While a lot of the bill consists of unobjectionable declarations of the principles of openness and not punishing students for dissenting viewpoints, it also contains provisions that could penalize professors for expressing their political views in class or failing to include enough diverse viewpoints -- which is open to a lot of potentially troubling interpretations.) According to InsideHigherEd:

[A]s hearings ended in Philadelphia Tuesday, critics of the Academic Bill of Rights were saying that they had scored key points. David Horowitz, the conservative activist who has led the push for the hearings in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, admitted that he had no evidence to back up two of the stories he has told multiple times to back up his charges that political bias is rampant in higher education.

In an interview after the hearing, Horowitz said that his acknowledgements were inconsequential, and he complained about “nit picking” by his critics. But while Horowitz was declaring the hearings “a great victory” for his cause, he lost some powerful stories. For example, Horowitz has said several times that a biology professor at Pennsylvania State University used a class session just before the 2004 election to show the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, but he acknowledged Tuesday that he didn’t have any proof that this took place.

In a phone interview, Horowitz said that he had heard about the alleged incident from a legislative staffer and that there was no evidence to back up the claim. He added, however, that “everybody who is familiar with universities knows that there is a widespread practice of professors venting about foreign policy even when their classes aren’t about foreign policy” and that the lack of evidence on Penn State doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

“These are nit picking, irrelevant attacks,” he said.

Others think that it’s quite relevant that Horowitz couldn’t back up the example, especially since there have been previous incidents in which his claims about professors have been debunked.

The other example Horowitz was forced to back down on Tuesday is from the opposite end of the political spectrum. He has several times cited the example of a student in California who supports abortion rights and who said that he was punished with a low grade by a professor who opposed abortion. Asked about this example, Horowitz said that he had no evidence to back up the student’s claim.

In the interview, he said that he didn’t have the resources to look into all the complaints that he publicizes. “I can’t investigate every story,” he said.

Horowitz noted that when he publicizes such stories, he does not print the names of the professors involved, and that he has stated many times that a professor involved in such an incident would be welcome to write a rebuttal that he would post on his Web site. “I have protected professors. I have not posted their names and pilloried them. My Web site is open to them,” he said.

Even if these examples aren’t correct, he said, they represent the reality of academic life.


I love the "fake but accurate defense," amusingly reminiscent of some classic arguments I recall hearing on the left: it doesn't matter whether Tawana Brawley was actually raped or not, because, you know, everybody knows that young black women get raped and abused by racist white cops.

(By the way, see the post by Clifton Snider in the comments section on the article for an example of Horowitz, apparently, falsely targeting a professor -- by name -- as a political bully in the classroom.)

Is it a problem that academia tilts so heavily to the left? Yes, it is. Is left-wing political correctness and speech suppression on campuses a problem? Yes, it is. (And it's too bad that when the American Historical Association voted recently to condemn the "Academic Bill of Rights" as an infringement on academic freedom, it declined a proposal to simultaneously condemn campus speech codes.)

But David Horowitz is clearly not part of the solution. Rather, he is a discredit to his cause.

For an example of how how to really fight for academic freedom, look at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), co-founded by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and Boston civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate. FIRE is scupulously and genuinely non-partisan, defending professors and students who are penalized for expressing any unpopular views, left or right, or prevented from freely expressing such views on campus. And it is equally scrupulous in its fact-checking. Oh, and it doesn't pay anyone to snitch, either.


65 comments:

Revenant said...

It would be nice to see a project like this that didn't lump professors who abuse their authority over students together with professors who merely have dippy ideas. Being exposed to dumb ideas isn't harmful -- being forced to accept them is.

I do like the idea of getting the professors on tape, though. That seems like a nice, non-abusive way of getting hard evidence for or against professorial misconduct.

Karol said...

David Horowitz accomplishes a lot just by bringing the subject into the open as often as he does. I know un-political college kids who, after hearing Horowitz speak at their school, decided to confront their teachers to stop talking about Bush in Chem class. And yes, it does really happen.

Y said...

When I was attending a public university, the policy was you were required to have the professor's permission for audiotaping the class. I did not really think this was much of a problem, as it seems fair to me that some one be aware they are being recorded. However, I was disturbed to see an ethics professor and an English professor refuse to allow recording without any explanation why. Now seeing so much selective quoting and statements taken out of context in the press and online, and even in the discussions that occur here, I am a little more sympathetic to the concern over how one’s words will be presented and used.

There is a group 'Accuracy in Academia' that advocated for the taping of professors to expose (liberal) bias. I know they briefly garnered some attention, but I never really saw them as having much of an impact. I cannot really see the UCLA ruckus will be any different. Lots of smoke, little to no fire.

Once again, the issue seems to be (some) conservatives and liberals being unwilling to allow even the idea of a valid differing point of view. I have to wonder if this is a continuation of a theme in Cathy's postings here. Namely, the unwillingness or inability of the left and the right to tolerate the other’s point of view, acknowledge points the others may have, and honestly debate on topics, rather than just sling mud. That the demand to be ideologically pure is more important than really thinking and solving the problem. I think symptoms are well established, now I am wondering what the disease is. Is it just laziness on the part of the American Public and media? Is it just that it is more fun to come up with the nasty put down, than really have discourse? Is it the result of the need to make complex problems into a 10-second sound bite? Someone I know who is a big conspiracy buff says it is a plot by the elite to make sure the subjects and issues that really matter don't get examined and talked about in any meaningful way. There are times I almost agree with him.

Mr Furious said...

The problem is the ravenous appetite of the right-wing media for this stuff—the Hannitys, Gibsons and O'Reillys will eat this stuff with a spoon. The next thing you knowa perfectly moderate professor will be quoted out of context, thrust into the spotlight and turned in to thhe next Ward Churchill.

Classrooms are not the "public arena" and professors are not "public figures." This is wrong.

Now faculty have to worry about being having everything the say used against them? Talk about a chiling effect.

William R. Barker said...

Bias is like porn... it may be in the eye of the beholder but most folks know it when they see it.

(*GRIN*)

I'd agree with Thernstrom's observation that "generally speaking, people do not like paid snitches."

(Hmm... but how about "whistle-blowers?" Are they alway "snitches" rather than "whistleblowers" as long as they're PAID? Or... might the "pay" issue give way to more results oriented descriptive language - for instance if the "snitcher" is a liberal student "snitching" on a right-wing, Christian fundamentalist professor it might be termed "whistleblowing," but if it's a right-wing, fundamentalist student up against a liberal professor it's... "whistleblowing?")

In any case, I totally disagree with Thernstrom's loaded language concerning "vigilantism."

As for Professor Cole... (*SMILE)... we see in his comments the time-honored debating tactic of "agreeing" in the abstract that there's no "problem with accountability and having outside groups look into whether or not professors are abusing their positions," BUT... when it comes to this specific instance he comes up with all these aneodotal examples of why in practice it's not such a good idea. (*GRIN*)

And from Cathy... (*WINK)

When Cole writes "[W]hile I have no problem with an honest acounting of what professors are doing, and I have no doubt that there are, by any standard, some radicals at UCLA, I am afraid a bunch of little David Horowitz’s are not the folks I want rooting them out," Cathy writes... "Precisely."

(*SMILE*)

Perhaps if this thread gets active I'll check out the Horowitz-backed "Academic Bill of Rights," but unless and until I do, let me just point out that while Cathy does provide a link to the ABR, she actually posts portions of the actual Inside Higher Education report.

It seems to me that Cathy has chosen her side... AND THAT'S FINE... but without doing the research myself I'd be a bit leary of taking everything Thernstrom, Cole, and the fine folks at IHE say and write as gospel and at face value.

Finally... sidenote... I'm NOT saying that I take everything Howowitz says at face value. Furthermore, I have absolutely NO tolerance for the exaggerations and unsubstantiated accusations that Horowitz apparently passed on as fact. I TOTALLY agree with the sentiment that LIES and EXAGGERATIONS are NOT the way to fight PC on campus or anywhere else for that matter.

*IF* you reply directly to my comments, Cath, all I ask is that you take a moment to re-read my ENTIRE post and understand that I'm not "attacking" you or even Thernstrom, Cole, or "Inside Higher Ed." I'm merely sharing my ambivilant reaction to your post and giving you some insight into WHY I react with ambivilance.

BILL

Revenant said...

The next thing you knowa perfectly moderate professor will be quoted out of context, thrust into the spotlight and turned in to thhe next Ward Churchill.

Maybe. But it is hard to see what can be done about the countless *real* "Ward Churchills" if it isn't acceptable to gather hard evidence of their behavior and expose them to the public. As with any other kind of abuse there will of course be people wrongly accused. That doesn't make it wrong to make accusations -- it just means you should be sure the facts are on your side before you make one.

Classrooms are not the "public arena" and professors are not "public figures." This is wrong.

How's it wrong? The professors are being paid to teach, and the students are the ones paying them. How can it possibly be wrong for students to keep records of what they are taught, or to expose shoddy or fradulent teaching practices? Are you seriously arguing that all the thousands of dollars students spend entitles them to nothing more than the right to sit there and listen to the guy at the front of the room babble about whatever pops into his pointy little head?

Talk about a chiling effect.

Yeah, god forbid a professor should hesitate before calling his students Nazis. The world really needs that kind of intellectual debate.

Brad said...

It would be nice to see a project like this that didn't lump professors who abuse their authority over students together with professors who merely have dippy ideas. Being exposed to dumb ideas isn't harmful -- being forced to accept them is.

Man, Rev, when we agree, we really agree.

Anonymous said...

The big problem is when you pay people to find something, they'll find it whether it's there or not. Some kid will goad a professor with a hypothetical, when the professor responds to the leading question, you take a sentence or two out of the recording, provide no context... BANG! 100 bucks!

Revenant said...

The big problem is when you pay people to find something, they'll find it whether it's there or not. Some kid will goad a professor with a hypothetical, when the professor responds to the leading question, you take a sentence or two out of the recording, provide no context... BANG! 100 bucks!

Why would a student greedy for a hundred bucks' reward money go through the effort of finding a moderate professor, tricking him into saying something inappropriate, and framing him for abuse with an out-of-context quote when he could simply make in-context recordings of one of the professors who IS abusing his position? The latter takes less effort and carries less risk, and abusive professors are easy to find on pretty much any campus.

Cutler said...

I could have made a killing with this.

W.B. Reeves said...

I imagine large part of this imbroglio falls under the heading of a publicity stunt. Who would be talking about this group if they hadn't offered the bounty? In terms of raising the profile of the organization, you'd have to mark it a solid success.

That said, it's a double edged weapon. It raises an obvious question. If the Nation's campuses are being tyrannized by "countless Ward Churchills", why is it that the UCLA stalwarts have to pony up cash payoffs to gather evidence of such? If the abuse is so pervasive, why aren't traumatized students breaking down the door to play informant for free?

Sounds like they don't have the budget to hire full time spies so they figure to do it on the cheap using student labor.

Then there's the danger that they still wont be able to produce the goods despite the hullabaloo. That would be embarrassing. Horowitz has been laboring in this field for quite awhile now with humiliating lack of success.

mythago said...

if it isn't acceptable to gather hard evidence of their behavior and expose them to the public

Apparently, Horowitz isn't particularly interested in "hard evidence". Third-hand rumors will do.

I guess you also didn't read Cathy's entire post, in which she refers to a non-partisan group that DOES attempt to document and prevent bullying and classroom abuse by professors, regardless of those professors' political leanings.

Listening to the defenders of the pay-for-taping policy was amusing. First, they pretended that copyright doesn't apply; then they insisted that $100 is a 'pittance'. Gee, if it's such a pittance, why offer it in the first place?

Baron Elmo said...

"...it is hard to see what can be done about the countless *real* "Ward Churchills" if it isn't acceptable to gather hard evidence of their behavior and expose them to the public."

Revenant's belief that the campuses of America are crawling with Ward Churchills is patently absurd. Ward is a one-of-a-kind aberation, a fourth-rate demagogue dug up by the Right as the brush with which to tar any professor who happens not to approve of the current administration... and the fact that he is the one they trot out every damn time as their example of Liberalism Run Amuck makes it clear that they don't have another.

For the record, I attended a liberal arts college during the Reagan era, taking classes with professors I KNEW were leftists... and yet, I never heard word one about matters political during a single lecture, save for my one Poly Sci course.

I would argue that yes, there IS substantial leftist activity on American campuses -- I'd also argue that at least 95% of it comes from STUDENTS, not teachers. College students are far from the naive blank slates that the likes of David Horowitz takes them for.

Revenant said...

Apparently, Horowitz isn't particularly interested in "hard evidence". Third-hand rumors will do.

I'm not defending Horowitz -- as I noted above, he is lumping the guilty in with with merely foolish. I'm just defending the idea of gathering hard evidence.

Revenant said...

Revenant's belief that the campuses of America are crawling with Ward Churchills is patently absurd. Ward is a one-of-a-kind aberation,

Oh, please. I had two professors just like him at UCSD. "One of a kind aberration" my ass.

AkaDad said...

We can add a new word to the English language.

"Horowitzing"

Just like McCarthyism, but instead of Commies, its liberals...

mythago said...

I'm just defending the idea of gathering hard evidence.

This is reminding me of one of Nicholas Capaldi's admonitions in The Art of Deception, where he reminds one never to admit one is wrong--at the very worst, to state that one has intentionally chosen a weak argument to illustrate a useful principle.

If, as the group claims, $100 is a pittance that won't motivate anyone much, why pay it? If students won't do it for free, on the other hand, they probably aren't feeling all that intimidated--and if they are, why not compensate them fairly?

Revenant said...

Mythago, please stop whining and go read my first post in this thread. I am clearly not defending Horowitz's project. I just like the idea of an organization that actively investigates universities for professorial abuse (which, by the way, FIRE doesn't -- they're more like the ACLU, responding to reports of abuse that other people bring to them).

AkaDad said...

If liberal proffesors are somehow "brainwashing" students, or abusing their power, then we should encourage more of it, since Universities produce the best workers in the world.

Unless anyone wants to argue, that we don't produce the best workers in the world.

W.B. Reeves said...

I just like the idea of an organization that actively investigates universities for professorial abuse (which, by the way, FIRE doesn't -- they're more like the ACLU, responding to reports of abuse that other people bring to them).

Why exactly? If organizations and systems for pursuing complaints of Professorial abuse already exist, why do you advocate going on a fishing expedition? If you believe that such abuse is widespread enough to warrant concern, wouldn't it make more sense to publicize such existing resources rather than grandstanding for the media?

This continues to underline the central point. Despite all the ballyhoo, there has been no substantive documentation of a plague of abuse by "Leftist" Professors on the nation's campuses.

The absence of such evidence has become so glaring that the true believers are now offering to pay anyone who can produce some. Rather like the rewards offered for the first authenticated photo of Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster.

The more time that passes without a clear example of systemic abuse, the less plausable becomes the claim that this is about classroom abuse rather than political opinions. The credibility of the entire enterprise is circling the drain.

Cathy Young said...

I'm going to respond to the comments later today, but for now, just wanted to step in and say ... could we please avoid comments like "stop whining"? Especially since I don't see any whining in mythago's post...

Anonymous said...

"If the abuse is so pervasive, why aren't traumatized students breaking down the door to play informant for free?"

The same reason escapees from North Korea are stunned at the reality they find; they are unaware of any alternatives.

The problem isn't so much direct professorial abuse of students, although in my recent three-year stint at an Ivy grad school I experienced some of that. Had I not spent ten years working between undergrad and grad, I myself may have been unaware that this was going on, or at least lacking in confidence to acknowledge it.

The problem is that the left has so successfully purged any viewpoint that could conceivably be considered right-wing, as well as anyone from a position of authority, professor or administrator, with the temerity to voice such viewpoints, even only for purposes of debate, that new generations of students are unaware they even exist, except in the minds of bigots and fools.

For instance, not once was any positive argument for the war in Iraq (say, the 23 offered in the congressional authorization) offered in any public forum, whether in the classroom, where many professors did hesitate from injecting their views, but far from all, or out, where they (and the administration) was far more forthcoming.

mythago said...

The same reason escapees from North Korea are stunned at the reality they find; they are unaware of any alternatives.

Putting aside the hyperbole of comparing American college students to refugees from North Korea--

Are you really saying that these students could not possibly see an alternative to oppression and professorial brainwashing until they are told they'll get $100 for fighting back?

Are you also really saying that students are ideological blank slates before college, such that they don't even know conservative views exist unless and until their professors teach them?

LongHairedWeirdo said...

You know, the discussion of Ward Churchill as being one of the bad guys who must be rooted out of academia worries me.

He has taken a set of assumptions:

(Please note: I'm now writing the assumptions I believe Ward Churchill holds, and no longer writing for myself.)
We, as citizens, must hold our government to account for its foreign policy.

We, as citizens, watched our government demand and defend sanctions on Iraq, causing the deaths of many people.

We, as citizens, let our government prop up some pretty nasty governments in the middle east.
(End of Churchill's assumptions)

He comes to the conclusion:
We should therefore not be all that surprised that the 9/11 attacks occurred.
(And that is the end of my digression into how I perceive Ward Churchill's beliefs. From here on out, I'm writing as John Palmer/Longhairedweirdo.)

His infamous essay is blazing with anger and I'd even go so far as to say he was infected by hatred while writing it. It gives a false impression.

Nevertheless, it is sound insofar as it takes a base set of assumptions, and works with them in a consistent manner.

I imagine it would be a wonderful thing, to debate with such a man, in an academic setting, if he was fair. Just think: you couldn't even assume that your own beloved home was entirely innocent in an unprovoked attack that killed thousands of people! You would have to examine some of your most cherished assumptions, and dig down deeply, trying to find something better than "just because!"

That a student might feel pressured in his class is a good thing; if the student decides to take a stand and defend it rigorously, and is rewarded for doing so, that would be an even better thing. That's how colleges are supposed to work. Students are supposed to learn to stand up and fight back and defend their ideas.

Now: show me some evidence that he ever downgraded a student who produced a sound argument because the student disagreed with him, show me he ever shamed or humiliated a student in an ad hominem manner, and then I'll start thinking that maybe he's a bad professor.

But that he writes nasty, hateful essays? That's healthy for an academic environment. Colleges and universities are supposed to expand your mind, and that often includes knocking you out of your comfort zone.

If Ward Churchill was teaching at a trade school, I'd agree that he is probably too controversial to be kept on staff... but he's not at a trade school. If he was teaching mathematics or biology, and spreading his views in class, I'd be concerned about whether he's wasting class time. However, he's teaching ethnic studies.

Anway: this is a longwinded explanation of why I am made nervous by this kind of attempt to chase down bias. I've heard a lot about the toxicity of Churchill's views, but never heard word one about his teaching and grading policies. If he encourages debate, and grades based upon soundness of research and development of ideas, he's exactly the kind of teacher you want at a college or university.

W.B. Reeves said...

For instance, not once was any positive argument for the war in Iraq (say, the 23 offered in the congressional authorization) offered in any public forum, whether in the classroom, where many professors did hesitate from injecting their views, but far from all, or out, where they (and the administration) was far more forthcoming.

Here anonymous reveals a different agenda in play behind all the hugger mugger about the abuse of students.

The fact that one is a teacher does not require one to have no opinions and certainly doesn't require one to remain silent about them, in or out of the class room. Being a teacher does mandate that one not allow one's opinions to negatively influence relations with individual students who differ.

If my Biology teacher believes that the Confederacy was right and the Union wrong and declares so in class, it matters not a whit so long as he does not penalize me for disputing him.

Likewise, it does not matter that Academia is the career choice of far more Liberals than Conservatives, unless it can be demonstrated that this translates into concrete abuse of the minority by the majority.

Anonymous seems to assert that such is the case but he comes up dry as far proof is concerned. He simply
treats it as an established fact that the Campuses have been "purged" of Conservatives. The only issue approaching substance that he raises is the fact that his Academic community was outspokenly opposed to the war in Iraq. Of course this amounts to a plaint that the institution didn't reflect opinions that it did not, in fact, share. Was anyone forced to concur with the anti-war stance against their will? Was anonymous forced to squelch his own view?

Contrary to what anonymous seems to think, educational institutions and educators are not obliged to trim their opinions to suit their student's prejudices, be they left or right. Nothing in anonymous's post, other than ungrounded assertion, suggests that there was anything preventing him from speaking out or organizing likeminded students and faculty to do so. That he couldn't manage to do so is not an argument for "Conservative" affirmative action, much less a campaign to drive Liberals from the Universities.

Longhairedweirdo,

For the record, it's my impression that Ward Churchill is a crackpot and a charlatan. I don't share your reading of his "Roosting Chickens" essay, I find it far too generous.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the patronizing. Guess I should have expected that by now.

"Here anonymous reveals a different agenda in play behind all the hugger mugger about the abuse of students."

You got me. I'm also fond of killing baby seals corrupting America's youth. Oops! wrong paranoid fantasy.

What agenda is that? That students should be aware that there is not some bizarre 100% concurrence in the opinions of those in authority on one of the central questions of our time? No, they're not blank slates, but what conclusion are they to draw in this environment?

I think what has happened is that the best and the brightest among professors and adminstrators have adopted an appropriate epistemilogical humility regarding the larger questions, but in doing so have abandoned the field to those without the intellectual firepower to know what they don't know.

To some extent, the young resist whatever it is that their elders attempt to impart to them - in some way, that's what new generations are for - but resistance isn't all they do. The reluctance of liberals in authority to speak up, for fear of indoctrination or even resistance that reminds them that they are now, in fact, the older generation, means the left has free reign for actual indoctrination.

No, not entirely blank, but shopping for new software, including an operating system, and the only barnd the store offers has a history of bugs.

Cathy Young said...

I agree there's a lot of PC and leftward bias in academia, but -- North Korea? Come on. There isn't a single campus, however PC, that doesn't have some conservative/Republican organizations and publications. Students do have access to competing ideas.

I think the problem is real -- I'm pretty sure that I myself once got a B instead of an A at Rutgers (at least it was the only B I ever got in an English class) because I wore a Reagan/Bush '84 button. (A fellow student actually warned me that the button was not going to go over very well with the prof who taught that class.) On the other hand, this happened to me once in all my college years, and I was a pretty outspoken libertarian/conservative. I don't think that a professor's politics automatically translate into intimidation against dissenting students, and these guys at UCLA seem to be hammering people for their political views -- not their classroom behavior.

Are campuses crawling with Ward Churchills? Depends on the field, I think -- if you're in Women's Studies or ethnic studies, for instance, you'll probably find a good number of truly radical professors. If it's English, probably a much smaller number, and if it's history or political science, smaller yet. Liberal, yes. Radical, not really.

I think it would be great if this organization got word out that if you were bullied by your professor for political reasons, or censored, or whatever, you can come to them and they'll publicize your story. But for money? How would conservatives feel if a feminist group was paying female students to bring forward evidence of sexual harassment, for instance?

mythago said...

No, they're not blank slates, but what conclusion are they to draw in this environment?

That conservatives are more interested in making money in the business world? I forget which liberal pointed out what while lefties pat themselves on the back for taking over the English department, the right wing has taken control of the White House, but he was correct.

Cathy is quite right; teachers who grade on ideology and punish dissent need to be dragged out from under their rocks. No matter WHAT those teachers' ideologies are. Paying students to complain, and only listening to the complaints of one stripe, smacks exactly of the tactics of a totalitarian viewpoint.

W.B. Reeves said...

Thanks for the patronizing. Guess I should have expected that by now.

Patronizing? Certainly not my intention. I'd be interested in knowing what definition you're using. I hope it doesn't emcompass every occasion when someone says you are wrong about something.

"Here anonymous reveals a different agenda in play behind all the hugger mugger about the abuse of students."

You got me. I'm also fond of killing baby seals corrupting America's youth. Oops! wrong paranoid fantasy.


Hardly paranoid and certainly no fantasy. Your post introduced a new argument. Previously the debate had been couched in terms of what methods were proper in hunting out Professors who were abusing their authority by penalizing students of differing political views. Both Horowitz and the UCLA crowd have been tenacious on this point, denying that they are engaged in an ideological witchhunt targeting Professors soley on the basis of their opinions.

You dismissed this position, saying that the real problem was the prevalence of Liberals in Academia. By doing so you made it plain that you regard the issue as being what the Professors think as opposed to what they do.

Yes, you made vague references to the supposed purging of competing viewpoints but you presented no evidence, much less proof.

What agenda is that? That students should be aware that there is not some bizarre 100% concurrence in the opinions of those in authority on one of the central questions of our time? No, they're not blank slates, but what conclusion are they to draw in this environment?

I think what has happened is that the best and the brightest among professors and adminstrators have adopted an appropriate epistemilogical humility regarding the larger questions, but in doing so have abandoned the field to those without the intellectual firepower to know what they don't know.


This is somewhat confused or at least confusing. You seem to be retreating from your earlier position that the problem is Liberal hegemony in the Academy. You now appear to be saying that the problem is Liberal cowardice. This all revolves, once again, around your despair that the Iraq War was unpopular on your campus. Of course, the war is unpopular outside the campus as well. It is absurd to suggest that any campus is so insulated that its students would be unaware that there is a divergence of views over the propriety of the Iraq adventure.

Again I have to ask, was anything done, either by school authorities or by faculty, to obstruct the free speech rights of those who support the war? Further, can you point to any instance of malfeasance or abuse by either the school or faculty in forwarding the anti-war position?

If you can't fufill either of these criteria, I'd have to say you are complaining about the consequences of holding a minority opinion. I have some experience with being in the minority so I can sympathize a bit with your predicament. However, the solution to minority status is the same as it ever was. You must argue effectively and win others to your view. If successful you will cease to be in the minority.

Does this mean going up against entrenched interests, antagonizing the relatively powerful, taking personal risks? Of course but you aren't facing anything that others haven't faced before you and that far less than most.

What is not acceptable is to establish political opinions as a legitimate criteria for deciding who populates academia.

If pointing out such things falls under your definition of patronizing, I'll simply have to bear the onus.

Anonymous said...

kind of a pity that the wealthy right wing people don't follow the example of Leland Stanford and start their own university.

Revenant said...

kind of a pity that the wealthy right wing people don't follow the example of Leland Stanford and start their own university.

Most of the private universities in the country were founded by and funded by "wealthy right-wing people", actually (Stanford being one such example).

But the goal here (for people like me, if not people like Horowitz) is to re-establish universities as places for free intellectual inquiry, not to establish centers of right-wing indoctrination to counterbalance existing centers of left-wing indoctrination. Universities are, I think, increasingly seen by students as just a four-year-long set of hoops to jump through for a white-collar job at the end, rather than as a place to actually acquire learning. Students forced to endure a semester of English literature full of irrelevant nonsense about how Marxism is wonderful and America is a fascist state don't come out as little Marxists. They come out thinking "English literary analysis is a scam". They come out with increased contempt for academia.

That's a real problem, and I think it has a lot to do with the decreased respect for academics in modern American society. The creationist trope that evolution is a conspiracy of liberal academics carries a lot of emotional weight because people know that too many liberal academics will happily believe complete nonsense (and suppress conflicting views) if it fits with their preconceived political notions.

Lori Heine said...

Groups that wish to "expose the biases" of those they don't like usually try to impose censorship upon them. They almost inevitably end up forcing their own biases on everybody else. This whole thing sounds like something from the McCarthy years. Or like Hitler Youth, being urged to rat on dissenters to the Reich.

What would happen if the universities simply stopped trying to regulate freedom of speech? A university should be a place of robust debate, where new ideas are given a chance to see the light of day and considered with an open mind. People used to trust that, if contrasted with error, truth had the power to show itself true.

Nobody should have to start their own university to get their ideas heard. And if they did, nobody would hear them except for those who already believe they way they do. They would, in effect, be "preaching to the choir."

America is breaking down into two paranoid and ballistically-defensive factions. I don't believe we should trust either one of 'em. When ideologies wage war, the truth always suffers.

W.B. Reeves said...

Students forced to endure a semester of English literature full of irrelevant nonsense about how Marxism is wonderful and America is a fascist state don't come out as little Marxists. They come out thinking "English literary analysis is a scam". They come out with increased contempt for academia.

This reminds me of a story told by my World Literature Professor, a wonderful teacher who described himself as a Catholic lay minister. He was particularly good when it came to the Old Testament, although he would spend an inordinate amount of class time apologizing for teaching it as literature. Fear of Southern Baptists I suppose.

As a parable about the pressures to publish in academic life, he told us the story an academic who hit on the following strategy to make a splash. He wrote an article purporting to examine the homoerotic subtext of the relationship between Jim and Huck in Huckleberry Finn. In a brilliant bit of marketing, he entitled this opus "Come Back to the Raft Huck Honey".

If you're going to purge pernicious nonsense from the Academy, you won't be able to limit yourself to mere politics. Academia, by its nature, is something of a haven for various forms of crack pottery. I had one composition instructor who insisted on teaching the class about Christ imagery in the southern California detective novel. I dropped three different instructors before I found one that would actually focus on the course material. She was a self described Christian Libertarian who was writing a paper on the role of Christian Love in the works of Shakespeare.

If you really want to insure that students won't be turned off by instructors spouting half baked silliness, you're going to have a very long row to hoe.

That's a real problem, and I think it has a lot to do with the decreased respect for academics in modern American society. The creationist trope that evolution is a conspiracy of liberal academics carries a lot of emotional weight because people know that too many liberal academics will happily believe complete nonsense (and suppress conflicting views) if it fits with their preconceived political notions.

I am in complete agreement with the principle of free inquiry but that principle forbids the imposition of any political or ideological tests for inclusion or exclusion. Free inquiry you won't rid you of "Marxist" Professors, however boring or irrelevant.

Your assertion that Liberal Academics are responsible for Creationism/ID activism strikes me as nonsensical. This is a controversy that dates back over a century. Besides, it isn't the academy that is being laid siege to , it is scientific inquiry and the scientific method itself.

Do you think that the credibility of the Scientific community has been degraded by Liberal domination as well?

One last thought. If people are going to continually claim that there is rampant Liberal suppression of differing viewpoints, it would be useful if they would attach one or two verifiable instances. That would make it possible to determine what, if anything, they are talking about.

drumgurl said...

I just graduated from a state college (University of Iowa) in May, 2005. My experience was that conservative students were way too sensitive. They felt they were "oppressed" if they got a dirty look from another student. Oh no, not a dirty look! How persecuted you are!

The Liberal Arts College at UIowa is considered liberal here in Iowa. But I graduated from the College of Business, which is very pro-free market. I only had *one* Keynesian professor my entire time there. And the conservative kids would get all red in the face and throw fits in his class. I didn't understand why. Our professor never told us what to think. He just presented us with that New Keynesian theory. I was happy to learn it, because now I understand it on a higher level and can better argue against it.

Bottom line: it's not a bad idea to learn about a different ideology. The socialist kids in my class weren't required to convert to capitalism. They just had to exhibit an understanding of free market theory. I found the same was true for Liberal Arts classes, just from a different perspective. (And I took lots of Liberal Arts classes, as I had a minor in political science.)

William R. Barker said...

Revenant wrote...

Universities are, I think, increasingly seen by students as just a four-year-long set of hoops to jump through for a white-collar job at the end, rather than as a place to actually acquire learning.

===============================

Agreed. But what can one expect from the "American System" where pretty much every child of the middle class or above is EXPECTED to attend college and "remedial" instruction is a norm at most American colleges for many incoming freshmen because these new "scholars" didn't learn what they should have in High School?

Most people aren't overly intellectually curious. That doesn't mean that they're "unenlightened" or "not as bright," it just means that most people either don't have time or don't feel the urge to seek out eclectic knowledge (outside of their interests and needs) simply for the sake of knowledge.

In order to allow the large percentage of the American population which attends college to matriculate... standards can only be so high. This is a particular problem in the liberal arts.

The very nature of the systems and the expectations of and for the system (along with simple human nature!) leads to the reality that Rev describes.

===============================

Revanent continued...

Students forced to endure a semester of English literature full of irrelevant nonsense about how Marxism is wonderful and America is a fascist state don't come out as little Marxists. They come out thinking "English literary analysis is a scam". They come out with increased contempt for academia.

================================

Yes... I'd agree with you, Revanent. But also - and here's where the problem is - when Americans are socialized throughout their formulative school years to simple accept the "of courses" of liberalism (example: Global warming is man-made and overall harmful and if only we'd pollute less we could "beat" or at least retard global warming.) and then during their college years they either don't expose themselve to or simply aren't exposed to the facts and theories which make up the "conservative" worldview (on global warming... or the minimum wage... or social security reform... or healthcare reform... pick your example) that's where the problem lies.

==============================

Revenant continued...

That's a real problem, and I think it has a lot to do with the decreased respect for academics in modern American society.

================================

It's not only decreased respect for professors, it's decreased respect for college/university administrators... it's decreased respect for elementary/middle/high school teachers and administrators... it's decreased respect for authority in general. And you know what? Some of this "lack of respect" is warranted - or at the very least to be expected.

==================================

Revenant continued...

The creationist trope that evolution is a conspiracy of liberal academics carries a lot of emotional weight because people know that too many liberal academics will happily believe complete nonsense (and suppress conflicting views) if it fits with their preconceived political notions.

===============================

Oh... I don't know about that, Rev. How many "creationalists" do you know? (*SMILE*) Yes, yes... they've shown themselves strong enough to temporarily "take over" a few school boards, but they're not a powerful force within American education. I really wouldn't lose any sleep worrying that evolution is going to be thrown out of school in favor of - or even in addition to - evolution theory.

Revenant said...

I am in complete agreement with the principle of free inquiry but that principle forbids the imposition of any political or ideological tests for inclusion or exclusion. Free inquiry you won't rid you of "Marxist" Professors, however boring or irrelevant.

Using an English literature class to push Marxism and condemn the United States as a fascist state isn't "free inquiry". It is fraud. Students are paying to learn about English literature, not the professor's political opinions. If you paid a mechanic to change your muffler and he decided it would be more fun to just take your money and stick a "Liberals are Traitors" bumper sticker on it instead would you just smile and praise his spirit of free inquiry?

Professors are paid to teach specific subjects. Any professor unwilling to do that should be fired -- he can pursue his free inquiry while slinging lattes at Starbucks.

Your assertion that Liberal Academics are responsible for Creationism/ID activism strikes me as nonsensical. This is a controversy that dates back over a century. Besides, it isn't the academy that is being laid siege to , it is scientific inquiry and the scientific method itself.

I didn't say that the leftist academics were responsible for Creationism. They are, however, partly responsible for the success with which the scientific method is being attacked, because they themselves have undermined the legitimacy of scientific inquiry by letting their own biases override their commitment to identifying the truth. Pseudoscience is altogether too welcome on college campuses these days, provided it is used in the service of a preferred agenda.

If people are going to continually claim that there is rampant Liberal suppression of differing viewpoints, it would be useful if they would attach one or two verifiable instances

Doesn't it strike you as hypocritical to insist that verifiable instances be provided when you've been condemning attempts to actively gather hard evidence of wrongdoing? In any case, go to FIRE's website -- you'll find a lot more than one or two. :)

W.B. Reeves said...

Using an English literature class to push Marxism and condemn the United States as a fascist state isn't "free inquiry". It is fraud. Students are paying to learn about English literature, not the professor's political opinions.

So you plan to defend free inquiry by outlawing opinions you disagree with? You do realize that Marxism has influenced a great deal of 20th century literature don't you? How exactly would one discuss Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle" without talking about Marxism? For that matter, I don't think you could discuss "Grapes of Wrath" without touching on it.

Yes I know, you're characterizing this as a question of "pushing Marxism" and "condemning the U.S. as fascist state." Lacking any concrete example, this remains a hollow exercise in rhetorical hyperbole.

Professors are paid to teach specific subjects. Any professor unwilling to do that should be fired -- he can pursue his free inquiry while slinging lattes at Starbucks.

Ah, so you weren't serious about free inquiry after all. Professors can either teach by rote out of a dictated lesson plan or they should get the boot. So long as the lesson plan comports with your bias, of course.

I didn't say that the leftist academics were responsible for Creationism. They are, however, partly responsible for the success with which the scientific method is being attacked, because they themselves have undermined the legitimacy of scientific inquiry by letting their own biases override their commitment to identifying the truth. Pseudoscience is altogether too welcome on college campuses these days, provided it is used in the service of a preferred agenda.

More sweeping generalization with no substantiation.

Doesn't it strike you as hypocritical to insist that verifiable instances be provided when you've been condemning attempts to actively gather hard evidence of wrongdoing?

No it does not. No more than I would consider opposing hacking into a Professor's email or bugging his office while requiring proof of abuse on the Prof's part to be hypocritical. Do you consider Young to be a hypocrite? Her criticism of these payments is essentially the same as mine. I doubt she thinks her position requires her to suspend the rules of evidence.

In any case, go to FIRE's website -- you'll find a lot more than one or two. :)

What makes you think I haven't? In any case, I think you should shoulder the responsibility of supporting your own argument rather than attempting to shirk it. It falls to advocate to prove his assertions. You're not entitled to require others to do your work for you.

Revenant said...

So you plan to defend free inquiry by outlawing opinions you disagree with?

Apparently your English classes didn't spend much time dealing with English either, because that's not even vaguely close to what I said. Let me spell it out for you in simpler terms: if the course covers X, and the professor decides to teach completely unrelated subject Y instead, then the professor has defrauded his students and should be fired.

You do realize that Marxism has influenced a great deal of 20th century literature don't you?

You do realize that I wasn't talking about discussions of Marxist themes in literature, don't you?

Ah, so you weren't serious about free inquiry after all.

I do not consider fraud to be a form of free inquiry. You do, so naturally we're going to disagree on that point.

Professors can either teach by rote out of a dictated lesson plan or they should get the boot.

Oh yes, how terribly clever of you -- a professor who actually teaches English in English class and Physics in Physics class is just "teaching by rote" from "a dictated lesson plan". And the good professors presumably make sure that their lesson plan bears absolutely no resemblance to the description in the course syllabus? The really great professors, I guess, are the ones who devote their computer science classes to analysis of German poetry and their math classes to impressionist painting. The better the professor, the less bearing his teaching has to what you're paying him to teach -- is that how you see it? Or are you just deliberately missing the point?

Professors have a moral and ethical obligation to teach what they promised to teach, especially if they're being paid to teach it.

Do you consider Young to be a hypocrite? Her criticism of these payments is essentially the same as mine

Cathy isn't playing your "abuse? I see no abuse. Bring be proof of abuse" game. So no, she's not a hypocrite. She acknowledges that the abuse occurs and disagrees about the appropriate tactics for dealing with it.

What makes you think I haven't?

I was giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that your request for examples of abuse was based in a genuine desire for knowledge, rather than a desire to get me to waste my time telling you what you already know to be true.

mythago said...

People used to trust that, if contrasted with error, truth had the power to show itself true.

People started to notice that when one person in the argument has the power to affect the grades and future career prospects of the other, the debate isn't entirely between equals.

Professors are paid to teach specific subjects.

Generally they're paid to do research; the teaching is secondary to that. Otherwise we wouldn't need TAs.

W.B. Reeves said...

Apparently your English classes didn't spend much time dealing with English either, because that's not even vaguely close to what I said. Let me spell it out for you in simpler terms: if the course covers X, and the professor decides to teach completely unrelated subject Y instead, then the professor has defrauded his students and should be fired.

One verified example of an instructor doing this who was not fired or otherwised disciplined, please.

You do realize that I wasn't talking about discussions of Marxist themes in literature, don't you?

Since you refuse to support your points with anything other than windy rhetoric it is impossible to determine exactly what you mean.

I do not consider fraud to be a form of free inquiry. You do, so naturally we're going to disagree on that point.

Of course, I never said fraud was a form of free inquiry. Naturally that fact doesn't stop you from claiming that I believe it.

Oh yes, how terribly clever of you -- a professor who actually teaches English in English class and Physics in Physics class is just "teaching by rote" from "a dictated lesson plan". And the good professors presumably make sure that their lesson plan bears absolutely no resemblance to the description in the course syllabus? The really great professors, I guess, are the ones who devote their computer science classes to analysis of German poetry and their math classes to impressionist painting. The better the professor, the less bearing his teaching has to what you're paying him to teach -- is that how you see it? Or are you just deliberately missing the point?

Again, one verified example please.

Cathy isn't playing your "abuse? I see no abuse. Bring be proof of abuse" game. So no, she's not a hypocrite. She acknowledges that the abuse occurs and disagrees about the appropriate tactics for dealing with it.

It's not a game. It's called honest debate. Spouting accusations without substantiation and demanding that others take it on faith that you know what you're talking about doesn't qualify. I never said that abuses didn't occur either but I can see that such details aren't terribly relevant to you.

I was giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that your request for examples of abuse was based in a genuine desire for knowledge, rather than a desire to get me to waste my time telling you what you already know to be true.

Why don't you post links to the appropriate citations here on the thread so that everyone can see how right you are and how wrong I am? That shouldn't be too hard.

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