My first response to the sleazy New Yorker hit piece by Jane Mayer on Art Pope (and spilling over onto the Pope Center) drew a reply from John Wilson on the AAUP’s blog. In today’s Pope Center piece, I answer Wilson’s arguments that we are intent on “buying the curriculum,” imposing “ideological control,” and on subverting “academic freedom.” None of that is true. On the other hand, I maintain that if you want to find people intent on imposing ideological control but who don’t concern themselves at all with the academic integrity of colleges and universities, look no further than the mass of the professiorate.
Recently, my colleague Ashley Thorne reported here on Yale University's abrupt decision to terminate a program devoted to the study of antisemitism. The program was the only one of its kind in the United States and seemed to be flourishing. So why was it terminated? Apparently because a recent conference had included an examination of antisemitism within parts of the comtemporary Islamic world. This prompted a letter from Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO's representative in the US, to Yale president Richard Levin, protesting the university's abettment of "anti-Arab extremism and hate mongering." A short time later, the program was toast.
But word comes today at Inside Higher Education that Yale has reconsidered. A new institute for the study of antisemitism is in the works. You can also read about it here at the CHE.
That's good news, and I'm glad that Yale and president Levin have had a change of heart. I also wish, though, that they hadn't caved in the first place.
John Tierney's article in Sunday's New York Times describes the most-talked about speech from the recent annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Jonathan Haidt gave a talk in which he asked members of the audience to raise their hands to identify themselves politically. When he asked for conservatives, only three hands went up. Haidt concluded, “this is a statistically impossible lack of diversity”
Brooklyn College appointed Kristofer Petersen-Overton as an adjunct professor to teach "Politics of the Middle East," then fired him, apparently because of his politics. NAS defended Petersen-Overton's academic freedom, noting that "rescinding the appointment of an instructor on the basis of complaints about the likelihood of his future bias strikes us a serious misstep and a very bad precedent." Hours after we posted our article, Petersen-Overton informed us that Brooklyn College would be announcing its decision to reinstate him unconditionally.
Sharad Karkhanis's Patriot Returns, which goes to 13,000 CUNY faculty and staff, published a recast version of my piece on the Kristofer Peterson-Overton matter that was covered in The New York Post, New York Daily News, New York Times, and Inside Higher Education. Brooklyn College's president, Karen Gould, decided to hire Petersen-Overton after the administration initially rescinded his contract.
Today in the Chronicle of Higher Education Innovations blog, Peter Wood writes about Martin Gaskell, who contends that the University of Kentucky discriminated against him and did not appoint him as the director of its new observatory because the search committee suspected him of being "potentially evangelical."
In a series of posts Power Line Blog has been exposing the lurch of the National Endowment for the Humanities under Obama's appointee, Humanities Chairman Jim Leach, toward "political partisanship and rank buffoonery." In the latest of these posts Professor Penelope Blake describes, for example, an egregiously politicized and anti-American conference on the "Legacies of the Pacific War in WWII." Professor Blake rightly urges that Congress not approve the NEH's multi-million-dollar budget for 2011 until the agency eliminates its political agenda, supports objective scholarship, and offers forums which ensure diversity of opinion.
In today's Pope Center piece, my colleague Jay Schalin writes about the flap over the fact that some colleges have accepted funds from BB&T Foundation with the proviso that the money be used to support courses in which students will learn about Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and in particular her defense of laissez-faire capitalism. The argument raised against this is that colleges are supposed to allow the faculty to decide upon curricular matters. Naturally, some professors who are adamantly hostile to the case for laissez-faire (although I doubt that many have ever read Rand's Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal or have heard a thorough explication of the damaging consequences of government interference in the spontaneous order of the free market) say that schools should shun BB&T money. Jay gets a whiff of double standard here, since professors on the left don't much complain about the importation of material into the curriculum they find congenial. Rather than a defense of princple, their stance seems to be an instance of selective indignation. Econ 101 is often taught as a dull, mechanistic and to many students baffling exercise in graphs and abstruse theories having little apparent relationship with life. Adding a BB&T catalyzed course that allows students to see how Rand and other advocates of laissez-faire (Ludwig von Mises, e.g.) looked at economic questions would be a beneficial offering. Colleges should be open to the marketplace of ideas. Like the marketplace of goods and services, sound ideas tend to win out and unsound ideas tend to be rejected. (I say "tend" because it doesn't happen automatically. After all, we still have cigarettes in stores and professors who preach socialism.) John Allison of BB&T is trying to get colleges to open their curricula to another idea (or set of ideas). No harm in that.
NAS is uniquely positioned to influence higher education for the good. As a non-profit organization, we are outside academia, free of its entanglements and able to provide a detached point of view. As a membership association, we are inside the university, with thousands of our members as professors on campuses all over the nation.
Back in March, I received a leaked copy of a plan for one of the colleges at Virginia Tech. It was a new set of guidelines for faculty promotion and tenure that would require every candidate to compile an annual record of “demonstrated” diversity accomplishments. Other Virginia Tech documents spelled out in detail what would pass muster as a diversity accomplishment. The new rules were intended to apply to the classroom, research, publication, faculty involvement with student activities, and everything else that faculty members might do. I raised a fuss through the National Association of Scholars website, and other organizations, including FIRE and ACTA joined in. Eventually, the Virginia Tech board and the president backed down. But after the furor subsided the president and other officials made clear that their commitment to a comprehensive diversity regime at this state university was unchanged. Now comes a new document, a “Strategic Diversity Plan,” for Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. I got this one by internal leak as well, but it has subsequently been posted publicly. Should anyone much care what is happening at this large and pretty ordinary university in southern Virginia? I suppose the taxpayers of Virginia should have some interest. But the matter does seem to deserve a some broader attention if for one reason: it is about as well-documented a case as we are ever likely to see of a university in the grip of a race preference ideology attempting to enforce that ideology over everyone and everything in its reach. Nothing is too large (creation of whole new departments), or too small (flyers to be inserted in packets for job applicants) to escape the diversiphiles at Virginia Tech—and they propose to fund their whole enterprise not with line items in the budget, but with a fixed percentage of the whole budget! Ashley Thorne and I have pored over the “Strategic Diversity Plan” and “fisked” it, i.e. added a critical commentary inside the original text: http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?Doc_Id=1133. Last week we summarized the developments leading up to this new plan: http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?Doc_Id=1131. It’s hard to say whether this sort of effort on our part has any practical benefit. Virginia Tech and a great many other colleges and universities are scudding along with their racial preference regimes (and other forms of diversity that likewise debase the academic mission) without serious public opposition. But I do like the idea that we have paid attention and not just let this stuff settle in as though it made good sense and wise policy.
Via Campus Reform, I read an interesting post today on a blog called Hugo Schwyzer. The author, an anonymous "community college history and gender studies professor, animal rights activist and Episcopal youth minister with a passion for Christ, chinchillas, trail running, poetry, gender justice, country music, and reconciling contradictions," writes about his realization that some of the most engaging and articulate students he has taught have been politically conservative. Of course, his admission is tempered with lots of qualifying remarks to his liberal colleagues ("Not for one second will I concede the intellectual superiority of conservative ideas or values"), but he sees conservative students as the ones filling the good role of "counter-cultural rebelliousness" on campus today. Even through his bless-your-heart condescension, the professor clearly enjoys his repartees with such students. He views conservative students who "come from turbulent and impoverished backgrounds," and "'ought' to be reliable Democrats," but "become infatuated with the Republican gospel of stern self-reliance and the 'up by your bootstraps' mentality" as misguided and ultimately arrogant. But he still loves having them in class.
That's what Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig said at the recent Educause conference. "You Geeks Have to Become Radical, Militant Activists" for the sharing of ideas, he commanded. Now that companies like Lessig's Creative Commons are making "Share Alike" licenses, will intellectual property become a thing of the past? See also my article "Open-Ended" on open education.
Brown University this fall added Chinua Achebe to the faculty of its Africana Studies Department. Achebe is a prominent postcolonial writer from Nigeria who has called Joseph Conrad a "bloody racist" and claimed his classic work, Heart of Darkness, celebrates the dehumanization of Africans. Achebe believes this reflects a widespread, deep-seated atttitude by Westerners toward Africa. This is all the more alarming because the university says Achebe is the first of many hires it plans to make, in order to expand Africana Studies, according to the Brown Daily Herald. As the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity points out, it's not like the University has been ignoring Africana Studies:
At the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity, we have to wonder what could possibly lead Brown administrators and faculty to think they have neglected Africana Studies. Brown has a Department of Africana Studies with 14 full-faculty members—not counting seven visiting and affiliated professors. In addition, Brown has the Third World Center, The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the Africa Group Colloquium, and the university recently sponsored the Focus on Africa speaker series as well as the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. All are related to Africana studies.
For the full press release click here. The Providence Journal also ran a story in today's paper about this issue and the Ocean State Policy Research Institute has been blogging about it as well.
Ron Lipsman writes at The American Thinker on the life of a conservative faculty member. Unlike some, he came to the university (he does not identify his institution) as a liberal but became conservative through experience. He then finds, as many do, that his views leave him marginalized and, in pursuit of an administrative post, Lipsman stuffs his opinions for about 15 years. Now at lower cost to himself as he approaches retirement, he is speaking out. At the end he identifies three novel observations that, in my experience, are not so novel. First, he says that he is largely ignored when he speaks out, that the faculty said "Oh, that's just Ron being Ron." After a time that is, however, how most of us are treated. Only when you wish to seek a new post in the university do your views come up. Indeed, a way for the university to marginalize you is to put you on a committee to get a blessing that something is "OK because the conservative guy was on that committee and he didn't squawk (loudly)." (See my post from 2005 on tokenism.) Lipsman also observes that there are not enough people making waves, including himself. I hope this isn't true -- I think NAS, FIRE, et al. are making waves! But there is the fact that in the 6+ years of my blog I've had several co-bloggers, many of whom were also conservative faculty at St. Cloud. They have all left; there are few others willing to take up the cause. We have known about the chilling effect of political correctness for years; ice does not make waves. His last observation is that the liberal hegemony exists in many places, but seems easiest in academia. But where else does tenure exist? Stanley Kurtz has noted that "tenure turns into an incredibly efficient tool for enforcing political conformity" when controlled by one elite. That is, tenure is the means by which the hegemony perpetuates. Lipsman's article does not provide us with something new, but it does provide those unaware of our campuses today with a useful summary.
It seems that you had better be very very careful of what you say and to whom you say it at the College of William and Mary, where the administration has recently instituted a new "Bias Reporting Team," complete with its own web page. Among the features of this newest academic venture in promoting "tolerance," "diversity," and "respect" on campus is an Orwellian system of anonymous accusation and secret investigations, the maintenance of elaborate data bases, and an extensive administrative mechanism, in which the college president will be directly involved. Although "Bias" is very briefly and vaguely defined, there is an exhaustive elaboration of the ways in which it can be reported to the "Bias Team." Anyone uncertain as to whether an incident constitutes "bias" is strongly encouraged to inform the "team," which will then determine if it's the real thing. The "bias" web page doesn't seem to provide for instances of fraudulent, frivolous, or malicious allegations, and the rights of anyone accused aren't elaborated either. Although a small disclaimer declares, "William and Mary values freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas," we aren't at all reassured.
"The Social and Political Views of American Professors," a working paper released recently at a Harvard symposium by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, is being vigorously spun by its authors as a new, sophisticated take on the intellectual alignments of American academe, undercutting exaggerated claims by conservatives of liberal/left hegemony. But if defenders of the academic status-quo expect Gross and Simmons's discoveries to rescue them, they're in for a crushing disappointment.