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Author Topic: Liberal bias in academia takes subtle form
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Or so claims a Nov. 12 opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University and director of research at the National Endowment for the Arts.

The entire piece is available here:
Liberal Groupthink is Anti-Intellectual

Two excerpts:

Yet while the lack of conservative minds on college campuses is increasingly indisputable, the question remains: Why?

The obvious answer, at least in the humanities and social sciences, is that academics shun conservative values and traditions, so their curricula and hiring practices discourage non-leftists from pursuing academic careers. What allows them to do that, while at the same time they deny it, is that the bias takes a subtle form. Although I've met several conservative intellectuals in the last year who would love an academic post but have given up after years of trying, outright blackballing is rare. The disparate outcome emerges through an indirect filtering process that runs from graduate school to tenure and beyond.

Some fields' very constitutions rest on progressive politics and make it clear from the start that conservative outlooks will not do. Schools of education, for instance, take constructivist theories of learning as definitive, excluding realists (in matters of knowledge) on principle, while the quasi-Marxist outlook of cultural studies rules out those who espouse capitalism. If you disapprove of affirmative action, forget pursuing a degree in African-American studies. If you think that the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being, stay away from women's studies.

No active or noisy elimination need occur, and no explicit queries about political orientation need be posed. Political orientation has been embedded into the disciplines, and so what is indeed a political judgment may be expressed in disciplinary terms. As an Americanist said in a committee meeting that I attended, "We can't hire anyone who doesn't do race," an assertion that had all the force of a scholastic dictum. Stanley Fish, professor and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, advises, "The question you should ask professors is whether your work has influence or relevance" -- and while he raised it to argue that no liberal conspiracy in higher education exists, the question is bound to keep conservatives off the short list. For while studies of scholars like Michel Foucault, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri seem central in the graduate seminar, studies of Friedrich A. von Hayek and Francis Fukuyama, whose names rarely appear on cultural-studies syllabi despite their influence on world affairs, seem irrelevant.

Academics may quibble over the hiring process, but voter registration shows that liberal orthodoxy now has a professional import. Conservatives and liberals square off in public, but on campuses, conservative opinion doesn't qualify as respectable inquiry. You won't often find vouchers discussed in education schools or patriotism argued in American studies. Historically, the boundaries of scholarly fields were created by the objects studied and by norms of research and peer review. Today, a political variable has been added, whereby conservative assumptions expel their holders from the academic market. A wall insulates the academic left from ideas and writings on the right.

One can see that phenomenon in how insiders, reacting to Horowitz's polls, displayed little evidence that they had ever read conservative texts or met a conservative thinker. Weblogs had entries conjecturing why conservatives avoid academe -- while never actually bothering to find one and ask -- as if they were some exotic breed whose absence lay rooted in an inscrutable mind-set. Professors offered caricatures of the conservative intelligentsia, selecting Ann H. Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as representatives, not von Hayek, Russell Kirk, Leo Strauss, Thomas Sowell, Robert Nozick, or Gertrude Himmelfarb. One of them wrote that "conservatives of Horowitz's ilk want to unleash the most ignorant forces of the right in hounding liberal academics to death."

Such parochialism and alarm are the outcome of a course of socialization that aligns liberalism with disciplinary standards and collegial mores. Liberal orthodoxy is not just a political outlook; it's a professional one. Rarely is its content discussed. The ordinary evolution of opinion -- expounding your beliefs in conversation, testing them in debate, reading books that confirm or refute them -- is lacking, and what should remain arguable settles into surety. With so many in harmony, and with those who agree joined also in a guild membership, liberal beliefs become academic manners. It's social life in a professional world, and its patterns are worth describing.

For the record, I think that what Horowitz and other convervative agitators believe and say about this problem -- and how they go about addressing it -- is wrongheaded and lame. Part of the problem is that conservative activists seem to want to replay the culture wars. This form of activism is simply reproducing some of the mistakes the left made in their take over of academia [and again, for the record, I think some of the critiques from the left and some of the gains made were entirely appropriate and needed].

What I'd like to see -- and this opinion piece has some great suggestions and is pretty much in line with what I think so please read the whole thing -- is a commitment on both sides to inquiry, civil discourse and honest engagement.

But that's just my pie-in-the-sky nature. When it comes to Realpolitik. Well, we know where things are headed and it's not going to be pretty.

EDIT: Sorry that your joke doesn't make sense now Annie, but I've decided to revise the title because apparently everybody was either put off or afraid of the "liberal groupthink" charge.

[ December 03, 2004, 02:55 PM: Message edited by: Zalmoxis ]

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Wow - I had no idea ants had an intellect to be studied, must less heard it used as an adjective.


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EDIT to add: And here I was about to promote your work on my incredibly influential blog.

[actually look for an e-mail from me later today -- I'm so not the vindictive type].

[ December 03, 2004, 01:15 PM: Message edited by: Zalmoxis ]

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Neat article, Zal. You're right, I did stay out because of the title.

I like the point about losing the ability to learn more about what you believe by never having to defend it. I learned about a religious assumption I held so deeply, I never even knew it was there until yesterday. All because Bok took the time to have a discussion with me.

I still believe what I beleived before. But now I know why I believe it. And what seemed silly for other people to believe makes sense.

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