Jewish World Review April 4, 2005/ 24 Adar II, 5765
Closing of the university mind
The professors won't exactly call it that, but how else can we account for the latest survey that found that 72 percent of faculty members at American universities describe themselves as liberal. The proportion goes up to 87 percent on elite campuses, so called, where only 13 percent of the profs are conservative.
"This is the richest lore of information on faculty ideology in 20 years," says Robert Lichter, a professor of communications (used to be called journalism) at George Mason University who is one of the authors of the study. "And this is the first study that statistically proves bias (against conservatives) in the hiring and promotion of faculty members."
A fly on the wall at faculty discussions over who gets hired and who gets tenure would probably hear all kinds of reasons why conservatives need not apply, but the sweep of the survey makes a mockery of the liberal demand for "diversity" on campus. The greatest shortage, of course, is the diversity of ideas.
The study, published in the March issue of Forum, an online political "magazine," doesn't say how the political breakdown affects style and substance, interpretations and content, but it's not hard to guess at the damage it does across a variety of courses. In English literature, for example, 88 percent of the professors are liberals; only 3 percent are conservative.
You may wonder what's "conservative" or "liberal" about Shakespeare, Milton or Wordsworth. Forget for a moment that they're dead white men who have to compete with newly minted women, blacks, Hispanics and the occasional "others" who have made it into the canon on the basis of sex or race. How poetry is taught today is deeply affected by ideology and "identity" politics.
Before the 1970s, literature was taught in the context of its time, a historical chronology looking at uniqueness and universality with appeals to a human connectedness, a spiritual renewal and transcendence that emerge from language. Each poem required a close reading for line, sound and substance as well as recognition of the artist himself. But that required that the professor knew how to read.
"One result of this triumph of ideology over art is that, on the basis of their publications, few literature professors know how to 'read' anymore and thus can scarcely be trusted to teach that skill to the students," writes Camille Paglia in "Break, Blow, Burn," her new book on poetry. Cultural studies only made matters worse, "undone by programmatic Marxism."
John Paul Sartre became a hero in literature, philosophy, sociology and political science even though his popularity largely depended on his politics, and he was wrong on the most important issues of his time, championing Marxism in spite of the tyranny it spawned. His reputation in academe was burnished by his hatred of America, which he described as "the cradle of the new Fascism."
The students of the '60s inevitably became the tenured professors that are so heavily with us today, trying to spawn a succession of look-alikes and feel-alikes. Henry Louis Gates Jr., an influential professor of African-American studies, was right on when he observed that his generation progressed from taking over buildings to taking over the curricula.
Sadly, Raymond Aron, a French intellectual who died in 1983 and who was a contemporary of Sartre's, never received the celebrity or attention he deserved for inspiring a counterargument to the corrupt liberal ideology that dominates the campus today. In his book, "The Opium of the Intellectuals," he trained a powerful lens on what was happening at the university, the savaging of ideals in the name of a false liberalism, tolerating only ideas that fit into "the proper doctrines." He wrote before "political correctness" was a campus cliche.
The lopsided attitudes of college professors pose a serious challenge because students are so susceptible to becoming intellectual sheep. Occasionally there's a corrective conservative student movement, expressed in alternative campus newspapers, but this contributes more to polarization than to a resurgence of deep thinking.
Ultimately we have to answer the question posed by the late Allan Bloom in his critique of the university: "Given the increasing and menacing pressures for conformity growing up within the university, it seems reasonable to ask whether it will not be necessary for thinking men and women to return to the isolation of private life in order to be able to think freely."
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