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Conservative Strategies for Reforming the Academy:

Steve Teles weighs in on the Bruin Alumni Association and contrasts competing strategies for conservative reform of the academy. He argues that the "Federalist Society" approach of eschewing bomb-throwing has been more effective at getting conservative ideas legitimated in the legal academy than a more confrontational and combative style, which he refers to as the "Dartmouth Review" strategy (which is the BAA strategy as well). In fact, almost since its inception the Dartmouth Review has been doing teaching reviews similar to that of the BAA, as I'm sure student newspapers do elsewhere as well. (A reminder to interested readers that I was not and am not affiliated with the Dartmouth Review).

Steve's observations generally seem correct to me. But while I find the whole approach tasteless and more than a litte discomfiting, I'm not sure that I can agree that the strategy is counterproductive.

On the other hand, advocates of a more combative strategy might argue that we have both missed the real point, which is the need for fundamental change to the culture of the academy. And, indeed, I have heard some conservatives express the view that one danger of the approach that Teles refers to as the accommodationist or "Federalist Society" approach is that it runs the risk of coopting conservatives into the prevailing establishment, rather than meaningfully changing the establishment itself. (Let me stress that I am not implying here that the Federalist Society has "sold out"--I'm just borrowing Teles's terminology to describe a general type of approach toward the academy). In other words, conservatives are rewarded for their ability to "play nice" within the prevailing establishment, rather than being agents of change of the academy itself. In this view, conservatives are relegating themselves to permanent minority status because they are playing within the establishment structure and accepting the slate of rewards established there. Put otherwise, it is a serious question as to whether those who succeed within the establishment can be counted on to be agents of change of that same establishment, whether by temperament or by self-interest. To the extent that groups such as the Federalist Society simply bestow redundant rewards on those already rewarded by the establishment system, they run the risk of simply replicating the same establishment that they are titularly intended to oppose. The question here is not about whether this is true of this or that particular group, but whether the general approach gives rise to a temptation or general drift in that direction.

Consider an analogy that I have heard advanced in this context--the difference between the Republican Party of the 1970s and 1980s and the Republicans of the 1990s. The former group, led by the "Bobs" (Michael and Dole) were willing to accept the prevailing establishment rules--and permanent minority establishment. Bomb-thrower Newt Gingrich (and others, such as Lee Atwater), by contrast, used a more confrontational strategy and succeeded in overthrowing the establishment. The Bobs, of course, ridiculed the Gingrich types for the belief that either their strategies or their ideas could ever become majoritarian ideas. Gingrich, of course, intended to create an entirely new sort of establishment, a project which Tom DeLay then imperfectly took to the next level (before his fall, of course). And, of course, the new establishment eventually has come to take on many of the trappings of the establishment it supplanted.

An even more interesting question is whether the operation of both bomb-thrower groups such as the Dartmouth Review and BAA in combination with more establishment groups such as the Federalist Society may be an even more potent strategy for change than either strategy working alone. A third strategy is to simply give up on changing the existing system as hopeless and establish a completely alternative network of institutions (a counter-establishment), a position that many have come to support, especially religious conservatives. See, for instance, the rise of the home school movement, alternative universities such as Patrick Henry College, and in law, Ave Maria law school. That whole approach is beyond the alternative options addressed here, although it does seem to be an increasingly commonly-articulated strategy.

Now I'm not implying that the BAA in any way has thought this issue through with any sort of this type of care or strategic vision. But from a purely strategic and pragmatic reckoning it is not obvious to me that if the goal of the leaders of the BAA are to effect a fundamental cultural change of the academy that this is an obviously strategically stupid strategy that will inevitably backfire in the long run. It very well may turn out to backfire, as Steve suggests, but that is not as obvious to me as it seems to be to Steve. As Steve incisively observes, the purpose of strategies like the BAA or Dartmouth Review strategy seems to be to fundamentally delegitimate the entire apparatus of the establishment, much as Gingrinch did to the incumbent leadership in Congress, rather than accept permanent minority status within the prevailing establishment. I think Steve is right about that. The idea, as I take it, is to try to argue that the prevailing norms and self-governance of these institutions are corrupt to the core and should be replaced with a whole new ethos and system of governance (or in the case of the academy, I suppose they would argue "old" norms of less-political faculties).

In this sense, the BAA seems to be a flower from the same branch that has spawned the Academic Bill of Rights--the notion that universities have proven themselves to be incompetent at the task of self-government and that any catalyst for fundamental change is going to have to come from outside the academy. If that is the long-term goal of conservatives, then that is going to be much messier than the comparatively Marquis of Queensbury rules followed by the Olin Foundation and the Federalist Society, as opposed to more bare-knuckle groups like Horowitz's. Whether it is also more effective, is an open question. While I personally disagree with the Academic Bill of Rights, for instance, it is not obvious to me that it has been a strategic blunder for those conservatives who have endorsed it if they are pursuing a long run goal of a fundamental transformation of the American academy.

Steve notes that the "Federalist Society" approach is aimed at persuading fair-minded liberals within the academy of the intellectual merits of conservative and libertarian ideas. The BAA approach, by contrast, seems to be directed at constituencies outside the academy, such as alumni and state legislatures, who may have the power to change the academy from without. With respect to these consituencies, it is not obvious to me that it will be ineffective. Is it implausible that the BAA or similar groups could convince alumni to withhold alumni donations? And if that is the goal, is it obvious that this would not be an effective approach with those constituencies?

So leaving aside questions of taste or legality of the BAA, and viewing matters simply from a tactical level, it is not as obvious to me that it will be as counterproductive to the goals the group's leaders have as it seems to Steve. Indeed, I suspect that the approach will likely turn out to be quite effective with the outside constituencies toward which it is directed.

Again, let me stress that I am not endorsing this argument here and I am not implying that group that pursue an accommodationist approach have "sold out" to the establishment in any way. Teles argues persuasively that the Federalist Society approach may be more fruitful than the "Dartmouth Review" approach. But the counter-argument does not seem patently unreasonable to me for conservatives seeking to reform the academy, however, and it bears some further reckoning before being dismissed. Moreover, by remaining focused on a mission of change and avoiding co-option by the establishment, it is not inevitable that such strategies result in being co-opted. But it does seem like it is a greater temptation for those pursuing such an approach versus those pursuing a conscious counter-culture appraoch (such as the BAA), and it may be that those pursuing such strategies need to be extra-vigilant in ensuring that their tactics advance their long-term strategies, and not be content merely with permanent minority status or replicating the same establishment.

So, as I said at the outset, I find this whole approach more than a little disturbing, even leaving aside the legal issues that Eugene raises. And certainly I fear for the effect it could have on the classroom, especially among students perhaps even more than professors. But while tasteless and disturbing, I suspect that it will be somewhat effective. And, as a result and for better or worse, I expect the model to spread rapidly to other schools as well.

Update:

The New York Times reports today that the BAA has withdrawn its offer to pay students for course transcripts in order to save the groups "strident supporters" from possible legal action by the university. The reporter does not state who the BAA's supporters are or how she knows they are "strident." She does report that three members of the BAA advisory board have resigned in the wake of the offer and that group has raised only $22,000.

WB:
I wonder if the best solution isn't a balance of both approaches. Maybe FedSoc is good cop, and the Review is bad cop. Each helps the other, whether intentionally or not. Some changes are best made through the system, and others are better made through more hostile means. There's much to be said for and against both, and I don't think it's necessary to choose.
1.24.2006 10:24am
Justin (mail):
Do you really think that what Gingrich and DeLay has done to Congress is good for the Academy?

Remember, there's no Tip O'Neill here. The "liberals" are a majority in academia because the top people in PhD departments and top law schools are mostly "liberal" (and by "liberal" I mean centrist/statist). For conservatives to create a political strategy on academia will give conservatives a short term benefit, but on a long term cost of deligitimizing and weakening academia through a prisoner's dilemna that eventually liberals will have to join in an organized fashion. The "Congress" parallel is indeed apt, but for the wrong reasons. If Academia behaves more like Congress, it will be unable to achieve its core functions.
1.24.2006 11:06am
Jacob T. Levy (mail):
Todd's post assumes that the choice is one of means. But there's a crucial difference of ends between:

a) ensuring that illegitimate, non-meritocratic barriers to conservative or libertarian ideas in the academy are overcome or removed

and

b) making the academy more conservative.

The latter authorizes non-meritocratic broadsides against just every left-wing idea in the academy or every left-wing academic. That's the BAA/ Dartmouth Review/ Campus Watch/ David Horowitz approach. The fact that there are left-wing academics is viewed as itself the problem.

The Federalist Society approach-- also, I think, the IHS approach-- is to aim to hold the academy to stated meritocratic principles, by encouraging such meritocratically-impeccable work that it will both overcome and embarrass ideological hostility.

The latter respects the vocation of scholarship, indeed respects it *more* than the status quo ante did. The latter does not. From the perspective of that vocation, the Review approach isn't a bad means to a good end; it has nothing to recommend it, and is as bad as the worst parts of the status quo.
1.24.2006 11:11am
dick thompson (mail):
Jacob,

I disagree with your concept of what Horowitz wants. The idea is not to throw out every left wing idea. The idea is that there is a place for a right wing idea as well as a left wing idea and both sides should be treated as legitimate. The professors should not be involved in trying to force their students to regurgitate only the left wing ideas to pass nor should they be judged only in their ability to push the political agenda of the professor in every answer. When the English professor requires that you agree with the polical beliefs and sit there like a good little boy or girl while the professor rants on and on about how evil Bush is, then the Horowitz faction to my way of thinking has a valid point. When the Palestinian student supporters can do what they like but the Israeli student supporters can't then the Horowitz faction has a valid point. That is what Horowitz has been angling for all along.
1.24.2006 11:37am
Bruce Wilder (www):
I do not think "conservatives" as a group are anything more than an odd conglomeration. Groups like the BAA and leaders like Horowitz are not just tactical bomb-throwers -- bomb-throwing is the goal for them; partisan-ship is the game and they are not partisans of any particular ideal or idea.

Conservative politics is always and has always been about protection of vested interests, about enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor and merely middle class. Corruption (aka reform) of the Academy is always fundamentally going to be about money. The critical task is to tie funding to sources, which will demand and get fealty to vested interests; let biologists get their research funding primarily from Big Pharma, let the economists get their research funding from right-wing foundations and business corporations; reduce State funding and increase the cost of student aid so that institutions are more dependent on students, whose families can afford sky-high tuition. These are the kind of foundational moves, which will make the Academy welcome conservative "ideas".

If the foundational, financing strategies are in place, then groups like BAA and gadflys like Horowitz, generating a bit of political theatre, may have a minor catalytic effect, in hurrying the transformation, but they are transitory and ephermeral. The openness to criticism and change, which such groups advocate, would not, in the long run, serve conservative interests or temperament; they are only convenient in attacking a liberal and progressive establishment and accelerating its erosion. At worst, they risk a liberal and progressive backlash, supported by conservatives, who find such tactics distasteful.
1.24.2006 12:05pm
Public_Defender:
Was the Gingrich "revolution" successful? Two of the goals were an ethical government and fiscal sanity.

Tom Delay immediately began to funnel lobbying dollars directly into his friends' pockets in return for promises of action on the lobbyists' goals. (K Street Project.)

The Republican Congress has also managed to turn a balanced budget into the highest deficit and debt ever.

The Gingrich strategy can work if you want to take over something so that you can drive it into the ground. It doesn't work so well if you want to take over something to make it better.
1.24.2006 12:20pm
Perseus:
Holding the academy to stated meritocratic principles is hardly sufficient since many in the academy deny that conservative ideas have much merit or deny any such thing as "merit" (which they deconstruct as a power game).

One additional note: The Olin Foundation approach was precisely to avoid being co-opted by the establishment by setting a limited time for the foundation's operation lest it be taken over by its ideological opponents (e.g., the Ford Foundation). Olin is now out of business.
1.24.2006 12:52pm
Kipli:

The idea, as I take it, is to try to argue that the prevailing norms and self-governance of these institutions are corrupt to the core and should be replaced with a whole new ethos and system of governance (or in the case of the academy, I suppose they would argue "old" norms of less-political faculties).


But what would that system of governance be? The efforts of groups like the BAA (is it just me, or is it ironic that this sounds like a group of sheep?) really do not seem directed at much except to get outside groups like legislatures involved in university affairs. But to what end? Are they wanting to set up some kind of state-wide committee to monitor the syllabi and reading lists of faculty? Or, a la Horowitz, to give the students some kind of complaint mechanism if they feel their ideology has been demeaned/threatened/called into question?

As Jacob pointed out, the ends are the real issue here. If the ends envisioned by the BAA are to make the University "more conservative" then we have to ask what that means, in a practical, everyday sense.

How would the BAA define a "good" academy, and how would that be functionally different from the current one? If they can't provide a substantial answer to that question and show how their methods are an effective means to that end, then I'm not sure how much attention should be paid to them.
1.24.2006 1:11pm
KMAJ (mail):
This is all an ideological, not political, issue that has political ramifications. It is about education versus indoctrination. Since FDR's New Deal, the left had control over so much of society, academia, news dissemination, judiciary and, for the most part, our elected government. With half a century of domination, the non-elected institutions became monolithic and averse to change. Society started a shift to the right with the election of Reagan. It is why the left has so stringently and vitriolically fought educational reform in the balanced presentation of ideas. The media and academia are the last bastions of elite leftist dominance. The judicial branch is moving to the right, the old media monolith is being confronted with the advent of new information technology to present opposite viewpoints, thus deteriorating their influence, leaving academia as the sole bastion of leftist thought and defender of leftist ideals.

I think this really is a good cop / bad cop approach the right is using to confront academic bias. What we are witnessing is a societal change in attitude, much to the chagrin of the ideological left. The progressive left is falling back on old methods of implementing neo-marxist strategies of championing racial and class warfare and redistribution of wealth.

What I find interesting in the response of some leftist ideologues is their attempt to distort by projecting what they are fighting for onto the right, they want to exclude conservative ideas in the academic arena, while the right is fighting for equal representation of ideas in the academic arena. I have never seen anyone advocate the silencing of the ideas of the left. The ideas of the left and the right should have equal access to create robust discussion and thought. Just look at some comments, are they trying to make it 'more conservative' or are they trying to get a 'more balanced' presentation of ideas ? Choice of words can certainly affect the parameters of the debate. I do not think it is debateable that academia is out of balance and leans heavily to the left.
1.24.2006 2:22pm
Jeek:
As Jacob pointed out, the ends are the real issue here. If the ends envisioned by the BAA are to make the University "more conservative" then we have to ask what that means, in a practical, everyday sense.

When the issue was the lack of black or female professors in the academy, nobody asked what hiring more blacks or more women meant "in a practical, everyday sense." It was enough simply to hire more blacks and more women. Thus it should be enough to address the issue of "not enough conservatives" by hiring more conservatives.

The efforts of groups like the BAA really do not seem directed at much except to get outside groups like legislatures involved in university affairs. But to what end? Are they wanting to set up some kind of state-wide committee to monitor the syllabi and reading lists of faculty?

So what if they do? The people are paying for the universities, and if they want some accountability then they have a right to demand that their representatives in the legislature obtain this, one way or another. If the universities don't want the legislature meddling in what they do, then they better get smart and reform themselves before some outsiders do it for them.
1.24.2006 2:49pm
Mikeyes (mail):
According to one source (http://www.aneki.com/universities.html) there are 5,758 universities in the United States. Is "conservative reform of the academy" needed for all of these schools or only certain top tier schools? If the former, it seems like a daunting task, even if we are only talking about public universities.
1.24.2006 4:16pm
Kipli:
Jeek wrote:


When the issue was the lack of black or female professors in the academy, nobody asked what hiring more blacks or more women meant "in a practical, everyday sense." It was enough simply to hire more blacks and more women. Thus it should be enough to address the issue of "not enough conservatives" by hiring more conservatives.


Well, of course it is clear what "hiring more blacks or more women" means. But I wasn't addressing the issue of "not enough conservatives" -- it was about what it means for the academy to become more conservative. Hiring more conservatives may be one element, but I can't see that that's all there is to it, especially when, as Zywicki points out, the belief of some of the critics seems to be that the system itself is screwy and needs to be replaced. So what would be a "conservative" system?

(Then there's the issue of even identifying a conservative to hire. If Bush were to apply as a conservative, I think I'd have to reject the application, just as I would reject Kerry if he called himself a liberal. And, what's more, "hire more conservatives" can't honestly be Horowitz's aim when his Academic Bill of Rights expressly calls for hiring/promotion based on academic ability and not political beliefs.)

As for the other point of having the legislature "obtain [accountability]" we're back to the original question: what does that mean? It is simply not feasible to have a committee look over the reading list of every course being taught at every state institution every semester. And who would do the looking? I suspect that legislators would end up doing what they already do with the evolution "debate" -- call witnesses to testify on behalf of whatever ideological bias that legislator has, irrespective of whether that viewpoint is truly academically sound. (Just look at the recent hearings in South Carolina.)

If you were in charge of a university and wanted to avoid meddling by the legislature, what would you do to "reform" the university? (Beyond adding a box on job applications labeled "Conservative" and hiring only those who checked that box.)
1.24.2006 4:44pm
Jeek:
Then there's the issue of even identifying a conservative to hire.

The academy is obviously able to recognize them, since it doesn't hire them!

I certainly agree that Bush is no conservative, though his detractors often label him as such, and no doubt he'd fit the bill if some university was looking for a "conservative affirmative action hire". (Let's face it, he would certainly not neatly conform to the prevailing orthodoxy.)

"hire more conservatives" can't honestly be Horowitz's aim

That's quite clearly the outcome he wants.

It is simply not feasible to have a committee look over the reading list of every course being taught at every state institution every semester.

Don't school boards do something similar at the secondary level?

If you were in charge of a university and wanted to avoid meddling by the legislature, what would you do to "reform" the university?

Can't answer at length, but I would start by abolishing tenure and hiring on the basis of renewable five year contracts. I think a lot of the most outlandish behavior emerges from people who have a cushy sinecure and know they can't be fired unless they bang a student or something.
1.24.2006 6:05pm
William Sjostrom (www):
My guess is that BAA is trying to delegitimize left wing faculty the easiest way: get them talking. Today's piece in the NY Times has one of the professors on its list, Sondra Hale, complaining that she is tenured, and therefore is entitled to some sort of special treatment. She sounds like an Irish bishop in 1940 telling the government to slap down an annoying heretic. Vinay Lal complains about being treated like an American Indian on the verge of being massacred. In other words, BAA gets these people sounding like self-important windbags, and therefore makes them less credible to, for example, the state legisture and to voters. Sounds like an admirable goal to me.
1.24.2006 7:18pm
SamChevre:
I do not know if it is a goal of BAA, but one goal that their methods are likely to achieve and which I share is to limit the unquestioned nature of commentary/advice from universities. For example, any quotation of someone associated with Heritage says something like, "Dr So-and-so, of Heritage, a right-wing think tank, said such and such." Quotes from university professors don't usually have such disclaimers; if every quote of a professor from UCLA goes, "Dr So-and-so, of UCLA, a left-wing university, said such and such", that will limit the influence of the academy. (Although it will admittedly be quite unfair to Dr Volokh).
1.24.2006 7:42pm
Observer (mail):
If conservatives want a greater presence in the academy, they should become better thinkers. All of the efforts described in this thread, whether bomb-throwing or not, are seeking to impose an equality of results - the classic sign of a movement that lacks the confidence to earn acceptance of their ideas the old fashioned way.
It sounds very much like a Consevative Vicitimization Movement.

Academia will always be liberal, in the psychological sense of the word, for it is the social institution that trains young minds to think for themselves - thus necessarily prodding them to think critically about all the ideas that they had heretofor accepted as recieved wisdom. The more society is conservative, the more conservative ideas will be seen to be under attack in the academy - by those who don't really understand the educational process. Challenging recieved wisdom frees the mind to develop new ideas and new solutions to the new problems the students will face in their careers. It does not preclude re-embracing the recieved wisdom - if that happens, it will be by reasoned choice, rather than by never having developed ones own thoughts on the matter.
1.25.2006 3:00am
Jeek:
If conservatives want a greater presence in the academy, they should become better thinkers.

It doesn't matter how smart you are - if you buck the prevailing orthodoxy, you will not be hired.

All of the efforts described in this thread, whether bomb-throwing or not, are seeking to impose an equality of results - the classic sign of a movement that lacks the confidence to earn acceptance of their ideas the old fashioned way.

Kind of like racial affirmative action, which also seeks to impose equality of results?

Academia will always be liberal, in the psychological sense of the word, for it is the social institution that trains young minds to think for themselves

No. For one thing, academia was conservative until the 1960s. For another, they do NOT train young minds to think for themselves - they train them to regurgitate liberal dogma. Any signs of independent thought are punished.

Challenging recieved wisdom frees the mind to develop new ideas and new solutions to the new problems the students will face in their careers.

Just try challenging the received liberal wisdom on social issues in any university classroom, and see how far that gets you.

It does not preclude re-embracing the recieved wisdom - if that happens, it will be by reasoned choice, rather than by never having developed ones own thoughts on the matter.

Forcible ingestion of liberal orthodoxy at every level of the educational system is your idea of "reasoned choice"?
1.25.2006 10:44am
Observer (mail):
Jeek,
You truly do not know what you are talking about, rather you are just regurgitating over-the-top talking points from people with an ideological agenda. I have spent the better part of the last two decades in and around universities. No doubt, liberals are overrepresented relative to society at large. But I have never seen or heard of any actual person suffer any consequences for espousing consevative ideas. Quite the contrary - the quality most respected and encouraged is the ability to sustain an interesting argument on any particular point. The least respected persons are those who regurgitate - whether that be liberal or conservative orthodoxies. Academics tend to be intellectual-confrontation junkies - at least the ones I have encountered.
1.25.2006 1:51pm
Jeek:
I have spent the better part of the last two decades in and around universities.

Me, too, as both student and teacher.

I have never seen or heard of any actual person suffer any consequences for espousing consevative ideas.

I have. And there is absolutely no doubt that liberal orthodoxy has a "chilling effect" on the expression of conservative ideas. I have observed this many times and experienced it personally.

the quality most respected and encouraged is the ability to sustain an interesting argument on any particular point.

It may be respected but I don't think it's encouraged. Much depends on the professor. Some are open to discussion, but others are not and will retaliate against you if you contradict them. Usually the student grapevine tells you whether or not a professor is open to argument.

The least respected persons are those who regurgitate - whether that be liberal or conservative orthodoxies.

Every student knows that the key to a good grade is telling the professor what he wants to hear. The "most respected" way to tell them what they want to hear is to do so in a way such that it doesn't seem like you're just telling them what they want to hear.

Any instructor knows that there are ways to smack down a paper you don't like on other than ideological grounds. Few students indeed are able to generate a perfectly-written, perfectly-argued paper in support of their ideas. Yet the imperfectly written paper the professor disagrees with will be treated more harshly than an equally imperfect paper the professor agrees with.

Academics tend to be intellectual-confrontation junkies - at least the ones I have encountered.

Ah, but they cannot stand to lose such confrontations, and they are more than willing to use (abuse) their power in the classroom to end the confrontation on their terms. More than once I have seen a professor cut off an argument with (in effect) "I know more than you do, so be quiet."
1.25.2006 2:36pm
Observer (mail):
"Every student knows that the key to a good grade is telling the professor what he wants to hear."

That is complete bullshit. I don't know what kind of a school you went to or taught in, but it has no relation to the extensive reality that I have encountered. My sympathies to you, to the extent that this has actually been your experience, but it sounds to me that you have associated with the cowardly grade-grubber subculture that advances such charges as a strategy for making their way through the university process without ever having to think and develop.

Every prof I have ever known has heard the orthodixies from every side endlessly - they study them - and find their regurgitation to be incredibly boring and not worthy of reward.

Maybe you should investigate some institutions that are a bit more liberal and less concerned with propagating traditional orthodoxies? I mean, lets face it - what would be the absolute worst places for the practices you describe? Bob Jones?
1.25.2006 3:16pm
Jeek:
That is complete bullshit.

Whatever, dude, I've seen it in action countless times, both watching it as a student and coming at me as an instructor. Is there anybody who hasn't heard, at one time or another, students strategizing about "what professor so-and-so wants"? That is my "extensive reality". Your "reality" of independent-thinking students who are not afraid to Speak Truth To Power seems like a total delusion to me.

Maybe you should investigate some institutions that are a bit more liberal and less concerned with propagating traditional orthodoxies? I mean, lets face it - what would be the absolute worst places for the practices you describe? Bob Jones?

In the academic context, liberalism is synonymous with the prevailing orthodoxy (and the propagation thereof), it does not stand in contrast to it.

The absolute worst places for students who got where they were through grade grubbing and brown-nosing in high school - and who continue those practices in college - are of course those fonts of liberal orthodoxy, the Ivy Leagues. Many alumni of these schools who I meet in daily life, and whose works I often read, are all but incapable of original thought. As for Bob Jones, I can't say, since I don't know anything about it and have never met anyone who went there.
1.25.2006 4:56pm
Observer (mail):
Jeek,
I think we are getting a pretty good picture of the type of student and instructor that you were. To clarify my point regarding "independent-thinking students" - I have found that only a minority are that way naturally, and that one of the important goals (if not THE most important goals) that most academics have is to encourage more to be that way.
As for the Ivies, well, a brief glance at the resumes of conservatives, starting with your bud in the WH, gives lie to the claim that they churn out nothing but liberals.
Of course they do, except when they dont.

So sorry to have stepped all over your "conservatives as victims" meme. Why is that whatever small pathologies arise amongst lefties tends to be taken up and raised to absurd levels by those on the right?
1.25.2006 5:11pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I've experienced the chilling effect,and seen it.

There is another aspect to this. If a student sees a professor in class three hours a week for a semester, that's fifty-four hours.

If a cumulative total of three hours, or about 5%, of the time is devoted to irrelevancies, that's three hours of instruction gone, and the money to pay for it with it.
At this time, the irrelevancies may well be left indoctrination.

BTW. When on campus in the Sixties, I found one of the profs I'd had earlier offered a blanket A to his intro students if they didn't come to class but instead "radicalized". Anti-war and all that. Among other things, you were not allowed to retake a class you had passed. The kids were not prepared for the next level and had no way to get there.

I'm sure nothing like that happens now, because the academics all insist it does not. So I know.
Oh, wait. I was in my student mode.
Nope. I don't believe it for an instant.
1.25.2006 8:39pm
TJIC (www):
I think that the word "discomforting" would have been more appropriate in the post than "discomfiting".
1.26.2006 7:23am
Jeek:
I think we are getting a pretty good picture of the type of student and instructor that you were.

As a student, I was practical. You can spend your time fighting the professor and not get a good grade, or you can give him what he wants, think your own thoughts, and move on. A specific example - I took a class on national security policy, and the prof said straight out, "if you write a paper in favor of national missile defense, then that paper will not get an A". I was perfectly capable of crafting a good argument in favor of missile defense, but I heard what he said and gave him the paper he wanted (since it is also possible to craft an intellectually honest paper against missile defense). Ideals are one thing, but your transcript does not have any footnotes to the effect of "goddamn liberal professor dinged me in this course."

As an instructor, I spend most of my time crusading against poor writing rather than for or against particular political positions. I don't care what you think, but dammit when you get out of my course you will know how to write a decent 5-page paper. =)

To clarify my point regarding "independent-thinking students" - I have found that only a minority are that way naturally, and that one of the important goals (if not THE most important goals) that most academics have is to encourage more to be that way.

As it happens, I agree with you, but I do not think that "most academics" achieve this, even if they think they are doing so, not least because they are incapable of "independent thinking" themselves.

As for the Ivies, well, a brief glance at the resumes of conservatives, starting with your bud in the WH, gives lie to the claim that they churn out nothing but liberals. Of course they do, except when they dont.

Who said Dubya was a "conservative"? Certainly not I. Nor did I say they only churn out liberals. My assertion was that the Ivies are largely attended by grade grubbing brown-nosers who are incapable of original thought, and that applies equally to the "conservative" students as the liberal ones. Perhaps even more so!

So sorry to have stepped all over your "conservatives as victims" meme.

I wish you full enjoyment of your imaginary triumph.

Why is that whatever small pathologies arise amongst lefties tends to be taken up and raised to absurd levels by those on the right?

The overwhelming ideological dominance of the Left on campus is a "small" pathology? Somehow I doubt the Left would regard this as a "small" problem if the Right dominated campus in a similar way.
1.26.2006 7:42am
Brutus:
To clarify my point regarding "independent-thinking students" - I have found that only a minority are that way naturally, and that one of the important goals (if not THE most important goals) that most academics have is to encourage more to be that way.

Why do I have a vision of some professor saying "I'm going to have them read NOAM CHOMSKY and HOWARD ZINN, that should drum some independent thinking into their complacent, bourgeois suburban heads, hahaha!" ?

If a cumulative total of three hours, or about 5%, of the time is devoted to irrelevancies, that's three hours of instruction gone, and the money to pay for it with it. At this time, the irrelevancies may well be left indoctrination.

Yes, I always found the political commentary most annoying when it was introduced into courses that should have nothing to do with politics (i.e. language classes). Shut up and teach, already!
1.26.2006 8:30am
Observer:
Brutus,

I think it would be great to have students read Zinn and Chomsky. The very fact that you mention them seems to indicate that maybe you have read them. Were you thus instantly transformed into (insert here some suitably insulting phrase)? A crucial step in becoming an independent thinker is to be exposed to, and forced to deal with, a wider range of thought on relevant issues than one gets in a high-school education. If you think that this amounts to "indoctrination", then you are expressing a profoundly cynical and insulting sentiment regarding students. If they are so slavishly stupid as to be brainwashed by whatever it is they are required to read in any given class, then there really is no hope for them at all.

If you have any confidence whatsoever that non-Zinn or non-Chomskian ideas have value, then you should actively wish for students to have the opportunity to analyze their works, to better understand how well-intentioned thinkers can go awry. Thats how you train people to deal with ideas outside of their comfort-box - a skill that they very much need.

Your advice "shut up and teach" strikes me as being completely at odds with the vision of developing independent thinkers. You seem to want indoctrination - for "your" set of ideas. I dont think you really get this education thing....

Note to Jeek. The "small pathology" that I referenced was not liberalism on campus, but the trend to vicimology, developed on the left, and taken up with a vengance by the right (at the same time that they criticize it as a tactic).
1.26.2006 1:45pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Brutus.
If I pay to learn, say, French, I want my instructor to teach French. I don't want to learn about his kid's birthday party, or his politics, or his hangover.

If I'm in an anthro class, I'd be willing to learn about multiculti, but I'd be wary of expressing an independent opinion--tried that forty years ago and paid the price--or poli sci--my brother tried that forty years ago and paid the price--but if I'm in a math class, I, or my parents, or the taxpayers, or some combination, are payingn the guy to teach math.
Is that okay with you?
1.26.2006 3:54pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"If you have any confidence whatsoever that non-Zinn or non-Chomskian ideas have value, then you should actively wish for students to have the opportunity to analyze their works"

Sure, but you're putting the cart ahead of the horse. If all they're taught is Zinn and Chomsky (and worse!), then they'll lack the requisite tools for the analysis. You're defining the center, and thus what counts as "wide-ranging", on the basis of societal norms, where as the student populations have not yet been exposed, intellectually, to those norms, so they renorm on the basis of what they're taught. In this case, a steady diet of Marx and Zinn, by professors mistakenly believing they're broadening horizons when they are in fact going a long way toward setting them.
1.26.2006 4:11pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Observer:

You presume the professor would welcome, tolerate, or allow critical thinking ref. Chomsky and Zinn.

Big, BIG assumption.
1.26.2006 9:10pm
Brutus:
If I pay to learn, say, French, I want my instructor to teach French. I don't want to learn about his kid's birthday party, or his politics, or his hangover... if I'm in a math class, I, or my parents, or the taxpayers, or some combination, are payingn the guy to teach math. Is that okay with you?

That is exactly what I think too - teachers should shut up and teach, and keep their personal political opinions to themselves.

Your advice "shut up and teach" strikes me as being completely at odds with the vision of developing independent thinkers. You seem to want indoctrination - for "your" set of ideas. I dont think you really get this education thing....

Let us take Aubrey's examples. If my kid is in a French class (or math or anything else not specifically related to domestic US politics in 2006), and the teacher launches into an anti-Bush diatribe, explain to me how that will make my kid an "independent thinker"? When they are in math class, I want them "indoctrinated" (i.e. taught) the proper techniques of mathematics, I do not want them "enlightened" (or whatever you want to call it) about the personal political views of the instructor.

Needless to say, I agree with Bezuzhov that in schools today, a "wide range of ideas on the issues" is NOT what's being presented. Nor, I suspect, would truly critical analysis of Chomsky or Zinn be acceptable.

If they are so slavishly stupid as to be brainwashed by whatever it is they are required to read in any given class, then there really is no hope for them at all.

So, it doesn't matter what they read (since they can't be brainwashed) so long as they read a "wide range of ideas"? You would have no problem with including, say, overtly racist arguments in the mix?
1.26.2006 9:52pm
Observer:
Richard, Bezuhov,
With all due respect, I suggest you get your heads out of the RW propaganda pool. Ideological advocates, like Horowitz, do not have the slightest interest in presenting an accurate picture of what goes on in the normal classroom. They troll around for supposed horror stories, present only one side of them, embellish them, and then send them round and round the usual circles. They are advocates with an agenda, and whatever they can say to advance the agenda they will do. The result is pretty close to a big lie.

I repeat my experience. Never have I actually met a real person who was pressured to pretend they believed something that they didn't. Never have I met someone who was punished for a political opinion. The typical reaction that I've seen from a professor, when a student critiques a required text, is to smile - "hey, we have a sign of life here"!

Maybe y'all should go back to school.
1.26.2006 10:03pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Observer: You ought to open your eyes.
If you tell the truth, then I'm your first.

If you keep your eyes open, I won't be your last.

Several years ago, I was at a Christmas party in East Lansing. Found myself talking to a young lady whose PhD work was in national security. I observed that I had pretty conservative views on the subject. She looked around and admitted she did, too, but being in East Lansing--although there were no professors at the party--she felt she needed to self-censor. Think she'd been reading too much Horowitz?
I've had crap thrown at me by professors and that was forty years ago. It wasn't bad, just some snark and a clear warning that worse was available should I not change my ways. As it happened, a grad student told me later that nobody really believed in multiculturalism, but they were required to pretend when talking to undergrads. My brother had a similar experience in political science, his major.
1.26.2006 11:27pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Maybe y'all should go back to school"

Hello! Just spent three years at an Ivy grad. Your level of presumption is frankly breathtaking.
1.27.2006 7:41am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
People who spend an excessive amount of time in front of a class get to thinking that people believe them. In fact, people are generally--myself and a few others excepted--smart enough to play along.

Unfortunately, these same people have the same presumption outside of the classroom where they have no power. Sort of a habit.

The same is true of others who do a lot of one-way communication. Journalists, clergy, politicians.

Does make for some humor, though.
1.27.2006 8:46am
Jeek:
Oh Aubrey, when I said I had experienced pressure but just played along, he called me a cowardly grade-grubber who probably went to Bob Jones...

They love to accuse Bush of living in a bubble, but one of the biggest bubbles around is the college campus. Professors don't notice liberal dogma any more than a fish notices the sea.
1.27.2006 11:15am
Bezuhov (mail):
Well, speak for yourself. I was smart, or self-respecting, enough not to play along. That's not a tremendously effective learning strategy, nor conducive to much in the way of character. This didn't hurt me much grade-wise, and did in fact spur the better professors to engage in good faith, as Observer suggests.

Where I was disappointed was in the area of encouragement toward further scholarship - not only personally, but also seeing which students were encouraged and which not. It reminded me of Feynman's accounts of attempting to teach in Brazil, where the students could regurgitate exhaustively but were evidently oblivious to the possibility of original thought.

Now that you mention playing along, it does seem that those students who most assiduously did just that were the ones who garnered the attention of their professors. Its as if the professors are caught in a time warp and believe that what was original forty (or more! the New Deal is ever new!) years ago is still original today.
1.27.2006 11:31am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It's one thing to let a professor think you believe him. That doesn't preclude learning in other settings.
Not playing along in a classroom is unlikely to ignite new learning opportunities--at least learning about the subject advertised in the course catalogue.
1.27.2006 1:22pm
Observer:
I am trying to take all of your recounted experiences seriously, but I find I am not convinced that your overall assessment is on track.

The primary mission of a professor is to develop independent thinkers and scholars (at least to the extent of producing citizens who know how to access and analyze information). They also, of course, need to impart a certain body of factual knowledge. Regurgitating the facts in the frame that they are presented assures the prof that, at minimum, the student has done their homework and fulfilled the basic requirements of the course. A fair number of students find that to be an adequate deal - just regurgitate, and get your passing grade. This is what I referred to as the "grade-grubbing" subculture, and it seems that most of the stories I hear around here come from that perspective. It is, unfortunatly, true, that regurgitating will get you by. So, many students take this to be the operative equation at universities, and deduce further, that something other than regurgitating will be punished. I have not found that to be the case - except when the non-regurgiation equals a failure to deal with the issues presented.

I find it pathetic that a grad student at a major university would feel the need to whisper her political leanings at a party where there were not even any professors around. Let me be clear - it is the grad student I find pathetic. It seems rather an extreme example, but I have witnessed similar feelings in students. I have seen quite few new grad students who seemed fearful and reluctant to fully challange their profs - but it was NEVER the case, in my experience, that those feelings were justified. I have spent quite a bit of time urging, kicking, young grad students (I was an older one) into being more assertive, assuring them that that is exactly what their profs wanted from them. And it was true. In my own personal experience, it was my professors who encouraged me to disagree with them.

Professors are human beings, and given that, there are no doubt all manner of corruptions, weaknesses and failings that can be found by anyone determined to do a hit job on the entire academy. But the prevalance of these problems is enormously lower than the impression put forth by the ideologues.
1.27.2006 2:40pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Observer.

I know what the job of a prof is. The problem is that absolute power--or in this case, impunity--corrupts absolutely.

Some are not immune.

The grade-grubbing you refer to is not what the rest of us are referring to. What we mean is when a prof says, for example, that we have no standing to judge the efficiency of a particular cultural practice because of... Wounded Knee or something, we write on the next test that we have no standing to judge the efficiency of a particular cultural practice because of Wounded Knee.

Speaking of which, if you have any connections to the Social Sciences, try remarking on what is in the new book "1491", which is that huge numbers of Indians were killed by disease, and not as a result of being reservationed, either. It's been a dirty little secret that the massacre numbers have to be artificially inflated to make the whites look as bad as possible and the Indians as victimized as possible. Disease gets the whites off the hook. My guess is you'll catch some flak.

I should say that the young lady at the party to whom I referred was not in a position to know there were no profs there. There were a lot of professionals, but no profs. She may have figured it out later.

She may strike you as pathetic, but she has this idea that she'd like to get through her programs and get employed and there's no reason to be silly. From the short time I talked to her, I expect she'd be as hard-nosed as Condi once she's on the job. But it only takes one bozo to ruin, or at least substantially hinder the run-up to a career.

I knew, in 1965-58, of some veterans of Viet Nam who tried, in vain, to correct the professors who were about as balanced as Ho Chi Minh. There was little, no, strike that, none at all, welcoming of informed dissent. None at all. Most of them saw the writing on the wall and kept their mouths shut.
1.27.2006 4:23pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"There was little, no, strike that, none at all, welcoming of informed dissent."

Reminds me of someone here named Observer. His words about encouraging dissent do not speak nearly so clearly as the extent to which he does, or doesn't as the case may be, in this forum.

Would he react to the expressed concerns of other minorities in the same manner? Or are they just pathetic as well?
1.27.2006 11:02pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Do fish know about water?

Perhaps we are using different dictionaries when defining words like "welcome", and certain others.
1.28.2006 12:07am
Observer:
Bez,
Geez,,,,I support you, I encourage you, please speak your mind, - don't worry, I won't give you a bad grade.

Doesn't mean I have to agree with you, does it?

Actually this exchange is illuminating. I do sense that what the conservative critics are really intersted in is not some greater level of "free speech", - but rather more acceptance of their ideology. If they can't win the arguments on the merits, then scream discrimination.
1.28.2006 1:03pm
Observer:
Yes, I suspect that fish do know about water. To the same extent that you know about air.
1.28.2006 1:05pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Actually this exchange is illuminating. I do sense that what the conservative critics are really intersted in is not some greater level of "free speech", - but rather more acceptance of their ideology. If they can't win the arguments on the merits, then scream discrimination."

Who said I was conservative? If I were conservative I likely wouldn't have been wasting my time with academia in the first place.

"Doesn't mean I have to agree with you, does it?"

Ideologically? Of course not. Since when does one generation agree with the ideology of the next?

Some evidence that you've considered the substance of our dissent offered here on the merits and not dismissed them out of hand with tired platitudes and ad hominem implications would speak better to how you typically handle dissent in your classroom. Lacking such evidence here, what am I supposed to include.

"Geez,,,,I support you, I encourage you, please speak your mind, - don't worry, I won't give you a bad grade."

Thanks for the insult. I've already stipulated that I had little concern regarding grades - with the Ivy grade inflation, this is beside the point anyway - and I had an ample support system without needing cheerleading from professors. But absent a coherent grading system, the only thing that matters is connections, and I'm am questioning the criteria by which the faculty club selects new members, given the results of such selection over the past thirty years...
1.28.2006 4:04pm
Bezuhov (mail):
Oops, that should be "conclude". With a question mark. Wrong button.
1.28.2006 4:06pm
sporcupine (mail):
Speaking from left-of-center myself, I still think we need a course correction to add conservative professors. That's partly about fairness on ideas. It's also about believing that an education ought to help people refine their ideas. I got that opportunity, but I think conservative students don't get enough of that refining.

When right-of-center handle disagreement with their liberal professors by "writing what's expected," that's not the full engagement needed for education. When they organize their own resistance, it often seems sophomoric for the simple reason that the organizers themselves are sophomores and juniors.

How could it be different if there are very few mature intellectuals on site modelling developed, sustained ways of following out conservative ideas?

I think more conservative professors would yield wiser conservative graduates, and that would be yield wiser public debate valuable even to people who disagree.
1.28.2006 11:50pm
Bezuhov (mail):
Thank you for the good faith response.

"I think more conservative professors would yield wiser conservative graduates, and that would be yield wiser public debate valuable even to people who disagree."

It might, in fact, yield no conservative graduates, if conservative ideas are indeed mistaken. What is guaranteed, however, is that focusing on aptitude over ideological affinity would make for wiser liberal graduates, and providing for wider idelogical diversity in many directions, a wiser left.
1.29.2006 2:59am