I think we’re all agreed here at the Bookworm Room that Leftism in higher education is a very serious problem. To help illuminate the problem, PRI hosted what’s being billed as a traveling road show: a panel made up of that most rare of rare birds . . . the conservative college professor in the humanities.
The panel was a heavy-hitting crowd. The touch point for the discussion was a book that Jon Shields, PhD, wrote: Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. Prof. Shields was there in person to discuss his book, the most pertinent point of which, I thought, was that the professors he interviewed were so concerned about repercussions that they insisted on anonymity.
Joining Professor Shields were (1) the moderator, Dean Pete Peterson of the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, Senior Fellow at the Davenport Institute, one rare “more conservative” schools in America; (2) Professor Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; (3) Professor Russell Berman, Walter A Haas Professor in the Humanities Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Stanford University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; (4) Dean Henry Brady, Goldman School of Public Policy, Class of 1941 Monroe Deutsch Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley; and (5) Professor David W. Brady, Bowen H and Janice Arthur McCoy Professor of Political Science in the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.
I’ll begin by saying that, judging by their performance on the panel, both my undergraduate and law school educations would have been much more entertaining and informative if I had been able to attend a class taught by any one of these men, let alone all of them. Having said that, I was disappointed in the overall panel discussing because I thought it didn’t go far enough in either diagnosing the problem or proposing solutions.
All the panelists agreed that conservative professors cluster in disciplines such as STEM or economics. All also readily pointed to data showing that Leftists — nay, hardcore, self-identified Marxists — far out-number conservative professors in the humanities. This is especially the case in sociology, which the Left routinely uses to advance its political agenda. From there, though, the talk never really took off because (in my mind) the panel focused too narrowly on a small subset of issues and students.
The professors agreed on the following facts or principles regarding Leftism in higher education: (a) Solidly conservative students maintain their values despite Leftist professors; (2) an interesting teacher can manage to introduce new facts to adamant Leftists; (3) the imbalance in professorial political diversity does more of a disservice to Leftist students than to conservatives, because the Leftists never learn new data nor are they called upon to defend their facts, ideas, or beliefs; (4) a calm demeanor and a strong command of facts can help conservative professors bring a note of rationality to their more extreme colleagues and students; (5) conservative students avoid sociology specifically and humanities generally because they find the group think boring; (6) nobody, even Leftist students, really likes professors who are too doctrinaire; and (7) diversity was initially a good idea because it opened the academy to new ideas about women and minorities, but it’s now gone too far.
Yes, yes, yes. I agree with everything, but the above represents a very placid view from behind the lectern (“Don’t worry, I’ve got things under control here.”) and it too easily congratulated itself on the fact that conservative students were able to withstand the Leftist academic assaults.
Worse, the ideas Shields and the panelists put forward to remedy the problem struck me as wishful thinking. Humanities departments, they said, should hire more intellectually diverse faculty members; the University of Colorado, which is to date the only university to hire a visiting professor to introduce students to conservative thinking, should be emulated; and hard-Left campuses should do faculty exchanges with professors who are more conservative.
That wish-list struck me as foolish because it’s demanding that those who won an ideological battle that gives them control over America’s future leaders dilute their victory by making room for the ideological losers. If you think about it, only the United States and Israel are stupid enough to make major concessions to those they’ve beaten on the battlefield, turning each victory into a Pyrrhic victory. If you’re not Israel or the United States, you think it’s an absolutely idiotic idea to concede anything to those you’ve conquered. Put another way, there’s no reason in the world that victorious Leftists who completely control humanities departments at colleges across America would ever see themselves as obligated to alter that status quo in any way.
After the panel discussion ended, I stood up and whipped through a statement that raised three issues about Leftism in higher education and closed with one question.
Issue One: We should all be glad that conservatives students emerge stronger than ever from American colleges and universities. However, they’re not the students we actually need to worry about. The worrisome ones are the vast, lazy, mushy middle, who have anodyne political views that hew Left thanks to the teachers’ unions takeover of American public education and who readily take humanities classes because, even if they’re boring, those are the classes that get easy As. These are the ones who go in vaguely apolitical and come at as screaming pink-hatted protesters. (To me, it’s these mushy students who explain why Jews and Asians are relentlessly Leftism, even though Leftism is antithetical to their interests. It’s because they’ve been through the college mill and, in between a lot of partying and a little learning, they absorb Leftist pieties.)
Issue Two: Education isn’t merely Leftist, it’s ceasing to be any education at all. Survey classes are out the window as Leftist humanities professors teach random classes that are simply endless iterations of their PhD theses run through PC victim ideology: E.g., The gal with a PhD thesis that saw her focusing on button manufacturing in 19th century New Hampshire will inevitably teach only these classes: Button Manufacturing in 19th Century New Hampshire as it Affected Women; Button Manufacturing in 19th Century New Hampshire and its Affect on Gender; and Button Manufacturing in 19th Century New Hampshire — Racism in the North East. Leftist education is reductive to the point of nonexistent.
Issue Three: The real problem isn’t in the classroom. It’s in the administrative approach to education and generally to life on campus. I reminded everyone that, in the last thirty years, while the ratio of faculty to students has remained unchanged across America, the administrative bodies at universities have metastasized and they’re all Leftist. I referred briefly to the horrors of administrators at my Little Bookworm’s college introducing their pronouns and the appalling belief that incoming freshman, following a two-hour orientation, needed the help of a service dog to cope. The reality is that the administration creates a toxic petri dish that issues out gendered, race, and sexuality issues that touch upon everything the students do in and out of class.
The question: How do you fix these matters and will stopping the flow of federal funds help?
A little boasting here: When I ask questions, people usually come up to me afterwards and say, “That was a really good question.” This time, the whole room broke into applause.
To give them credit, the members of the panel made a good faith effort to answer. That is, none were offended. They basically agreed about the problem of professors endlessly reiterating their PC theses, about liberal administrative staff. While acknowledging that burgeoning administrative staff is a problem, the UC Berkeley professor pointed out that, due to budget cuts, Cal froze its administrative staff about a decade ago. What he didn’t address is the fact that (in my opinion), the freeze was too little too late. Cal already had locked into place all sorts of race and “womyn” and God-knows-what departments, complete with heads, and assistants, and assistants to the assistants. The panel also acknowledged that there’s a great deal of ideology indoctrination for students without strong inclinations one way or the other.
What disappointed me about the panelists’ response was that they couldn’t move beyond their initial idea that things can be fixed by somehow (in ways unexplained) getting the victorious Leftists to cede space on humanities faculties to openly conservative professors. To my mind, they essentially argued off their own premise.
One other audience member garnered applause, much more deserved than mine. He was an elderly man (older even than I!) who identified himself as a sociology professor at Cal. He thought that the panel was too generous in saying that conservative students turn to economics and STEM degrees because they find the Leftist group-think in the humanities boring. Instead, he stated strongly that conservative students are on the receiving end of serious disincentives, such as classroom insults and a refusal to write recommendations to help them further their academic careers.
This professor ended by saying that, if any of the people in the room had children getting degrees in sociology, he was ready to impart the two-word magical phrase that would ensure those students an A on every exam: “America sucks!” One of the panelists (I’ve forgotten which one) was moved enough to add that he could top that phrase: “America sucks big-time!”
I think it’s a great idea that these guys are opening a discussion about the serious problems American campuses face due to one-party intellectual control. However, until they acknowledge that the problem is greater than conservative professors having to hide their identities (and, Lord knows, that’s bad enough) and then come up with solutions that are under the control of ordinary citizens, rather than victorious Leftists, their panel will never be anything but a sort of interesting insight into professor think. Given their august presence — their credentials, their intelligence, and their low-key, but nice, humor — they ought to be able to do a great deal more than that.
Photo by dewfall