Academic Social Science and Governance

William H. Young

In large measure because of the pernicious influence of academic social science over more than a century, America has come to a state of constant conflict and gridlock. National governance has become incoherent and ineffectual, with stifling laws and regulations and looming national insolvency, a debilitated social order and slowed economy, and an elite culture celebrating differences and will rather than unity and reason, undermining societal trust. The academy’s latest teachings, derived from social science—democracy or democratic engagement, diversity, social justice, social responsibility, and sustainability—extend that disorder.

Let’s begin by reviewing, for reference, America’s founding principles of governance: limited government based on individual natural rights; a liberal democracy and federal republic, in which representatives, elected by enfranchised citizens, deliberate and rule for a consenting sovereign people; moderate majority rule for the common good; and institutional checks and balances to control factions. America was founded as a commercial republic with a market  economy utilizing private property and entrepreneurial capitalism, with a small regulatory role for limited but effective government.

In advocating for the Constitution, James Madison declared in The Federalist No. 51 that “justice is the end of government.”[1] The Founders did not make equality a provision of the Constitution; they left government “to establish as much equality as justice requires.”[2] Equality of opportunity, improved by public education, and freedom of enterprise for the individual in the economic and social order—with rewards based on reciprocity—was considered justice under governance and the rule of law.


But from the late-nineteenth century, some academics began to envision a new kind of governance. American social science started with Dynamic Sociology (1883) by Lester Frank Ward, who called for direction of social policy by academic “experts.”[3] Political scientist Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1885:

We are the first Americans to…ask whether the Constitution is still adapted to serve the purposes for which it was intended; the first to entertain any serious doubts about the superiority of our own institutions as compared with the systems of Europe.[4]

A nascent academic social science turned to the philosophy of G. F. W. Hegel. Justice in the American sense, chiefly equal natural rights to share in the fruits of a bourgeois society, was hardly sufficient. Capitalism, ipso facto, yields both the inequality of private property and unequal recognition of the identity (dignity) of the individual.[5] For Hegel, genuine justice—the equal status and worth of the individual—can be realized only through rights granted by the state. Accordingly, equal rights to economic equality (progressivism) and equal recognition of identity (multiculturalism and diversity), to be achieved through social justice provided by the state, ultimately became the goals of social science.

Social justice requires redistribution by the state of social and material advantages from those who have succeeded through “unjust” group privilege to those in victimized groups who deserve “just” social and economic equality. Even inequalities of human nature are “undeserved” and are to be offset in the name of “fairness” to produce genuine equality of opportunity and result. Social justice is based on collective responsibility and communal sharing, to achieve identity-group equality. (See my previous articles on Social Justice and the Academy and Fairness.)

Reflecting academic concepts of progressivism, its chief guru Herbert Croly concluded in The Promise of American Life (1909) that the state would have to become responsible for “a morally and socially desirable distribution of wealth.”[6] Croly argued further in Progressive Democracy (1915) that progressive social justice should be the product of a collective “will” of American democracy rather than the rule of law and deliberation by representatives.

The American nation is no longer to be instructed as to its duty by the Law… It is to receive its instruction as the result of…collective action and…realize…by virtue of the active exercise of popular political authority its ideal of social justice….The first thing which must be set aside is the method of representation…[7]

A new political science of progressive governance (or collective liberalism) was created to overcome the limits of the founding order and enable a Hegelian state. Turning to the democracy rejected by the Founders, political elites determine the organic or unified “will” of the whole people and implement it through an administrative state and the technical rationality of social science, supplanting the people’s elected representatives.[8]

President Obama applies that progressive concept when he supersedes Constitutional governance with politics. He asserts a collective will (public opinion, particularly of his base) for some act of social justice and then executes it unilaterally, scorning and disregarding Congress (such as selectively enforcing immigration law[9]). The mission of today’s American academy, defined in A Crucible Moment, is Croly’s “democratic engagement” seeking collective social justice.[10] (See my articles Democracy and Democratic Engagement, Part I and Part II.)

The democratism of academic social science is founded on what Brown political scientist James A. Morone calls The Democratic Wish  (1990). Morone describes that wish as an image of a single, united people, wiser than their governors, bound together by reaching consensus over the public good….He calls this utopian ideal an “elusive chimerical promise: somehow power can be taken away from the state and restored directly to the people.” “Ultimately, ‘the people’ is a reification,” he says, “a powerful political fiction.” The democratic wish “may be the most important false hope in American history.”[11]

After World War II, explains Harvard government professor Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. in America’s Constitutional Soul (1991), social science found the determinants of popular will in the interests of minority groups and turned to “public choice” models that make rational choices for governance. Mansfield points out that the functions and officials of our constitutional government are “disdained” and “do not appear in public choice models.” “For actual majority rule, they substitute ‘conceptual unanimity’.”[12] Political scientist Jane J. Mansbridge, also at Harvard, adds, in Beyond Self-Interest (1990), that the social science of public choice made the public interest obsolete and political decisions possible “without substantively resolving underlying conflicts.”[13]

Progressivism was profoundly influenced by An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913), in which historian Charles Beard argued that the Constitution, was “an economic document designed to protect men of property.” He reflected Marxist economic determinism:

The theory of the economic interpretation of history…seems as nearly axiomatic as any proposition in social science can be…[14]

Academic social science, other than business economics, has since embraced Marxist economic doctrine, as do high school textbooks. (See my article Marxist Justice.)

Social science also engendered the entitlement mentality in progressivism, which helped create unrealizable expectations for lifelong sustenance by the Great Society state. Especially after the 1960s, collective responsibility replaced individual responsibility and communal sharing replaced reciprocity. And social science also turned toward advocating “social justice” for putative victims of discrimination, oppression, and economic deprivation, as NAS demonstrates in The Scandal of Social Work Education (2009). (See my articles on Individual Responsibility and Reciprocity.)


The academy of the 1960s also spawned a revolt against governing authority. In Part III, of his essay, Domestic Faction in a Republic, George Seaver explains that our founding concept of civic virtue “imposed unacceptable hierarchies, privilege and oppression in society.”…Hierarchy was abhorrent, and any attempt to impose one led to ‘privileging’ and oppressing the ‘Other’ in society.”[15] Trust in our governing hierarchies came to have no warrant in social science, which contributed to the dispersal of decision-making power and control in governance.

The concept of procedural justice in societal decision-making was introduced by Harvard professor John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (1971):

Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason, justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many….[16]

Social science invented new public processes, interposed between the people and governments, which I describe in Centering America (2002). Those processes provide rights to self-appointed “stakeholders,” empower factions, prolong decisions by elected representatives, and thwart economic and societal “progress.” The just outcome of a fair process is not a solution for society—even that defined as the common good by majoritarian government—but what preserves rights, especially of grievance groups.[17]

In The Rule of Nobody (2014), Philip Howard explains another effect of distrust of governing hierarchies:

Out of the caldron of the 1960s emerged the most amazingly impractical public philosophy ever devised. No one could take responsibility to make public choices. Legal restrictions on official choice now reached its apogee….

Rulemaking took off like a rocket. Between 1969 and 1979 the Federal Register nearly quadrupled its length, expanding not just the scope of regulation, but the granularity of its mandates….The purpose of regulation was not to confirm executive discretion but to eliminate it altogether….[18]

Such regulation continued to proliferate through the progressive administrative state (the “fourth branch”), strangling societal governance as well as small businesses and the economy, as I discussed in Law.

Howard also explains that environmental processes came to reflect a similar approach:

The history of environmental review shows how it got hijacked by courts and descended into a spiral of endless process….The statute [the Environmental Policy Act of 1969] was turned into a weapon for any group to stop or delay any project….

How can our country move forward when environmental review takes a decade?[19]

Think Keystone XL pipeline.


The concept of “social responsibility” taught on many campuses today assigns to students and citizens the duty to maintain a balance between the economy and ecosystems through democratic engagement—exercising their rights through the processes of social science rather than representative government. Regrettably, that is the only approach to governance that most of the products of American schooling now know. Since the 1970s, they have not been taught the governing principles of our founding and Constitution.[20]

Chicago professor of social thought Allan Bloom pointed out in The Closing of the American Mind (1987) that twentieth-century social science (and social studies) had done away with majority rule “in favor of a nation of minorities and groups each following its own beliefs and inclinations.”[21] In January 1995, the U. S. Senate passed a resolution condemning, by a vote of 99 to 1, the American history standards of academic educationists that demonstrated Bloom’s observation.[22] Yet a review by historians in 2004 found textbooks used in elementary and secondary schools were still “mostly a disgrace that, in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism, fail to give students an honest account of American history.”[23] And the situation has only gotten worse, as Peter Wood discussed recently.[24] Social science continues to falsify our past in order to redirect our future.


The academic turn to the social or cultural identity group actually began in the early twentieth century, ostensibly to overcome the tenets of social Darwinism putatively justifying rule by superior, privileged white male capitalists over socially oppressed groups. Theories of mind began to be refashioned to make classism, racism, and sexism as untenable as possible. The super-organic or group mind became a basic tenet of social science.[25]

Then in the 1960s, cultural determinism as well as collectivism began to shape a new American social order through social science. American academics embraced European cultural Marxism, which seeks cultural and sexual liberation of identity groups from a repressive social (patriarchal family) order and an oppressive capitalist (bourgeois) order, both epitomized by the Protestant ethic. Privileged white males were conjoined with capitalists as the oppressors, and minorities and women with workers as oppressed victims.[26] The predominant middle-class family culture—centered on respect for marriage, education, and work—was overcome by a culture of moral relativism and economic resentment. Especially in elite law schools, critical legal studies reflected the trend emphasizing identity-group rights and social justice.[27]

Ranging far beyond the moral doctrine of equity feminism, academic social science also embraced the ideology of gender feminism, which, like cultural Marxism, makes white male patriarchy the ubiquitous enemy and is obsessed with sexual liberation and self-centered expressive individualism (choice over commitment).[28] Opposing that cultural turn, the religious right became a political force in the 1970s. The “culture wars” polarize politics and preoccupy government while its fiscal house burns because of its inaction. Meanwhile, among their various causes, our Nero-like academy and media obsess over sexual preferences—for an LGBT population of less than 3 percent of Americans.[29]

In the 1970s, cultural pluralism or multiculturalism began to succeed the meritocratic and assimilationist ideals of progressivism in social science. Multiculturalism sees America as a conglomerate of separate and disparate races, ethnicities, and subnational cultures in which individuals are defined by their group membership, with Hegelian rights to dignity and recognition via social justice from the state. There is no societal common good, only cultural relativism and identity group rights, hindering the ability of government to be an integrating force.

Multiculturalism presents “the historical account of America as a system of oppression,” which is “rooted in the work of Marxist historians and social scientists,” notes Peter Wood in Diversity (2003).[30] Social science continues mainly to portray capitalism in Marxist terms, as exploitative and unjust, fomenting class conflict. Most college students graduate without understanding—or being readied for—our competitive economic order, as my article Exchange explicates. Moreover, the principles of social justice within social science are contrary to those of capitalism and our founding. (See my article Social Justice and Capitalism.)

In the 1980s, diversity and group identity—defined by ancestry, gender, or sexual orientation—dethroned unity and American identity to become the academy’s doctrine of political correctness, applied through social science. Parity by group subrogated freedom and equality of the individual as the cultural ideal and social goal of our economic as well as educated elites, as Peter Wood explains in Diversity.[31] Diversity added “political process” doctrine to the rule of law to perpetuate affirmative action.[32] Social justice requires proportional representation and perpetual preferences to atone for past injustices. Diversity sanctifies differences, exacerbating factionalism.

There is growing evidence of diversity’s divisive and disruptive influence on society. A five-year study published in 2006 by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam found that social capital is diminished in ethnically-diverse communities: people trust each other less, including members of their own groups; reciprocity, altruism, and cooperation are rarer; friendships are fewer; and there is less happiness—regardless of age or income level.[33] More societal conflict and less societal trust stem from the diversity ideology.

Ironically, Putnam advocates a return to the American ideal before social science led us down the garden path of diversity: policies explicitly designed to foster a shared sense of citizenship and mutual obligation to speed consensual assimilation, including English-language training. “Our national motto—e pluribus unum—reflects precisely that objective,” concludes Putnam, “namely to create union out of diversity.”[34]

The post-1960s cultural ethos evinced in social science, along with the legacy of Great Society legislation, has led to a devitalized American order that governance must now surmount. The decline of the family and parenting has produced many more disadvantaged children lacking human capital. A culture of dependence on the state is displacing a culture of work in the private sector. Schooling for social justice in primary through higher education begets graduates indoctrinated with political correctness but without the competency that would afford them equal opportunity and mobility in the economy. The middle and lower classes have suffered the burdens of the cultural conceits of academic and cultural elites—who, ironically, proclaim but do not practice their cherished beliefs, which have led to the adverse consequences just noted—themselves still thriving in the traditional family and social order they should be commending to others. See my article The Middle Class and Governance for specific evidence of this trend and its effects.


Since the 1990s, the European doctrine of postmodernism adopted by the academy and social science has further undermined the truth and trust required for collaborative governance. In postmodernism, Western reason and knowledge are dismissed. All reality and morality are relative, socially constructed by the self and will, and reflect only power relationships.[35] In postmodern politics, dissembling and sophistry based on ideological illusions has replaced rhetoric based on fact and reason. (See my articles Postmodern Philodoxers and Postmodernism and Governance.) This has exacerbated societal conflict rather than engendering comity. It has corrupted the ability to reach objective conclusions for the common good through government.

Philip Howard also argues that, because of distrust of our national executive hierarchy since the 1960s, increasingly prescriptive Congressional legislation (along with delegation of legal detail to regulatory agencies) has constrained the ability of the executive branch to effectively carry out its constitutional responsibilities, making both branches more dysfunctional.[36] On the other hand, President Obama is charged with exceeding the limits of the Constitution and acting based on political will rather than law, for example, in refusing to enforce some aspects of immigration law. [37]  

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has testified before Congress that the president is exceeding his constitutional authority by committing mounting abuses of executive power that ignore the legislative branch and its laws. Importantly, Turley argues that Congress is being bypassed on precisely the type of controversial issues for which the open and deliberative legislative process was designed by the Founders as a way to stabilize government in the face of factions.[38]

Virginia professor of politics James W. Ceaser agrees, reminding us that the aim of the Founders was “political constitutionalism”: the Constitution establishes a governmental structure that assigns to legislative representatives the responsibility to make political decisions to resolve disputed issues, often involving ideological factions, to reach a common good.[39] Social science has not only induced our national amnesia regarding moderate majority rule through deliberative representative constitutional government, it has substituted minority-group rule through progressive democratic will, which rives rather than unites America and has failed throughout history.

Finally, the latest progressive belief ascendant in academic social science is “sustainability,” which would take collectivism and tyranny in governance to the next level. To limit the economy to sustainable development—zero growth—the state would own natural and financial resources, allocate them to the private sector, and set wages on a global basis, as I described in my series (here and here) on The Reverse Metamorphosis of Sustainability.[40] To achieve sustainability’s vision of social justice through transnational progressivism, a totalitarian state and command economy would need to replace human freedom.


Over more than a century, the cumulative cultural, social, and political beliefs championed by academic social science—and advocated by numerous activist groups practicing identity politics—have transmogrified American governance, yielding our current state of conflict and disorder.

It seems clear that the gridlock of national governance will only be alleviated if the center of the American electorate decides to turn the legislative and executive branches of government over to a single political party. Hopefully that political party, whichever it is, would seek to return to the unifying governance contemplated by the Founders—political constitutionalism.

The enervating cultural and social ethos being impressed upon America by academic social science should be reversed, which NAS rightly seeks to accomplish every day. But that ethos is deeply embedded in the academy and extremely difficult to challenge.


This is one of a series of occasional articles applying the lessons of Western civilization to contemporary issues relevant to the academy.

The Honorable William H. Young was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and served in that position from November 1989 to January 1993. He is the author of Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010) and Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (2002).

[1] James Madison, The Federalist, “Number 51,” in Robert Maynard Hutchins, ed., Great Books of the Western World, vol. 43 (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952), 163–64.

[2] Mortimer J. Adler, We Hold These Truths: Understanding the Ideas and Ideals of the Constitution (New York: Collier Books, MacMillan Publishing Company, 1987), 42–45.

[3] David A. Hollinger, “Social Science,” in Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, eds., The Reader’s Companion to American History, Society of American Historians (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991), 1003–6. Mark C. Smith, “Social Science,” in Paul S. Boyer, ed., The Oxford Companion to United States History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 727–28.

[4] Woodrow Wilson, Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics (New York: Meridian Books, 1956) (First Published 1885), 27.

[5] William H. Young, Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (Indianapolis: Xlibris, 2010), 400–01.

[6] Herbert D. Croly, The Promise of American Life (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1965) (First Published 1909.

[7] Herbert D, Croly, Progressive Democracy (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1915).

[8] Harvey C. Mansfield Jr., America’s Constitutional Soul (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 139–62. John Marini, “Progressivism, Modern Political Science, and the Transformation of American Constitutionalism,” in John Marini and Ken Masugi, ed. The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science: Transforming the American Regime (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2005), 221–44. Ronald J. Pestritto, Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005), 67–83.

[9] George F. Will, “Obama’s extreme use of executive discretion,” The Washington Post, 18 December 2013.

[10] William H. Young, Capitalism and Western Civilization: Democracy, National Association of Scholars,, 10 May 2012. Robert William Fogel, The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 84–5.

[11] James A. Morone, The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 5–7, 30, 7, 30.

[12] Mansfield., America’s Constitutional Soul, 431−35.

[13] Jane J. Mansbridge, “The Rise and Fall of Self-Interest in the Explanation of Political Life,” in Beyond Self-Interest, ed. Jane J. Mansbridge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 8–9, 12.

[14] Charles Austin Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (New York: MacMillan, 1937) (First Published 1913), 6.

[15] George Seaver, Part III: Factions in the Postmodern United States, in Domestic Faction in a Republic, National Association of Scholars,, 25 June 2010.

[16] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 3–4.

[17] William H. Young, Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2002), 90−2, 217–34.

[18] Philip K. Howard, The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 104−07.

[19] Howard, Rule of Nobody, 108, 143.

[20] Diane Ravitch, Left Back, A Century of Failed School Reforms (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 421. Thomas G. West, Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997), xi. James W. Ceaser, “The Founders’ Friend,” The Weekly Standard, 10 November 1997, 36. David Horowitz, The Politics of Bad Faith: The Radical Assault on America’s Future (New York: The Free Press), 149, 151. Robert Lerner, Althea K. Nagai, and Stanley Rothman, Molding the Good Citizen: The Politics of High School History Texts (Westport: Praeger, 1995), 12–3, 17, 27.

[21] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 31–2.

[22] Ravitch, Left Back, 435.

[23] George Archibald, “Textbooks flunk test,” The Washington Times, 28 March 2004.

[24] Peter Wood, Update on AP U. S. History, National Association of Scholars,, 10 July 2014.

[25] Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2002), 15–17, 23–27.

[26] John Patrick Diggins, The Rise and Fall of the American Left (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), 347–48. John Fonte, “Why There Is A Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville in America,” Policy Review, Heritage Foundation, December 2000–January 2001, 15–16. Linda Kimball, “Cultural Marxism,” American Thinker, 6 March 2009,

[27] Fonte, “Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville,” 18–20.

[28] Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die, Sheila O’Connor-Ambrose, ed. (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2008), 24, 61, 84–91.

[29] Sandhya Somashekhar, “Health survey gives government its first large-scale data on gay, bisexual population,” The Washington Post, 15 July 2014.

[30] Peter Wood, Diversity: The Invention of a Concept (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003), 289.

[31] Wood, Diversity, 11.

[32] Warren Richey, “US Supreme Court: Michigan ban on affirmative action OK,” Christian Science Monitor, 22 April 2014. Ben Cohen, “Affirmative Action and Process Doctrine,” American Thinker, 21 April 2014.

[33] Robert D. Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture, 15 June 2007. John Leo, “Bowling With Our Own,” City Journal, Manhattan Institute, 25 June 2007. Jason Richwine, “A Smart Solution to the Diversity Dilemma,” The American, Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, 12 August 2009. Dora L. Costa and Matthew E. Kahn, “Civic Engagement and Community Heterogeneity: An Economist’s Perspective,” Conference on Social Connectedness and Public Activism, Harvard University, May 2002. Daniel Henninger, “The Death of Diversity,” Wonder Land, The Wall Street Journal, 16 August 2007.

[34] Press Release, “Harvard’s Robert Putnam Spotlights Immigration Discussion Ignores Crucial Need for Social Integration,” Harvard Kennedy School, 18 June 2007.

[35] Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 3–24. Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 4, 72. “Postmodernism,” Wikipedia.

[36] Howard, Rule of Nobody, 109, 157−59.

[37] Jonathan Turley, Written Statement, “The President’s Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws,” Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives, 3 December 2013.

[38] Turley, “President’s Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws.”

[39] James W. Ceaser, “Restoring the Constitution,”, 22 May 2012.

[40] William H. Young, The Reverse Metamorphosis of Sustainability, National Association of Scholars,, 21−24 June 2011.

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