Published On: Mon, Mar 31st, 2014

Academia’s Gated Community

Long have the charges of insularity and liberal bias been lodged at academia only to be swatted away with the retort; “Where’s the proof?” Partial evidence can be found in A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in The University of California, a report written by the National Association of Scholars (NAS).

In 80 pages, the authors claim that the overwhelming liberal orientation of the faculty in California’s State University system has so politicized the classroom that educational standards have suffered as a result. (The ratio of liberals to conservatives is 5:1 in most departments and as high as 88:3 in the humanities.) Students are subjected to doctrinaire courses that teaches them “what to think rather than how to think” and denies them basic writing, reading and reasoning skills, setting them adrift “without measurable gains in general skills”. The authors further assert that this breakdown in critical thinking is not limited to California, but it is reflected in lecture halls and campuses across the nation.

University of California

University of California

The study was sent to the Board of Regents for remedial consideration since the authors conclude that administrators are as much at fault as faculty for the decaying standards and “a university that has allowed itself to become politicized to any significant degree is unlikely to be able to reform itself”.

Even though the authors have laid out their case carefully and thoroughly, rest assured, the Regents will ignore it. While the Regents are empowered by the California’s state constitution to enact reform, they neither possess the will nor the backbone to enforce it.

They don’t want to rock the boat anymore than an associate professor seeking tenure. Instead, they will claim the authors’ statistical data is based upon past studies and newer sources are circumstantial. But this only reveals how universities have become gated communities and their liberal bias is based more on a gentleman’s agreement than evidentiary data.

Port Huron at 50

Tom Hayden – Then & Now

By example, this week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Port Huron Statement – Tom Hayden’s manifesto that accurately pinpoints the radical shift in campus politics to the left. At a conference commemorating it at NYU, a veritable roll call of radical professors was present who, in practice, act like a co-op board to keep out undesirables. The journalist, Jacob Laskin, was there and his article on what transpired amplifies in anecdote what Crisis in Competence hints at statistically.

Noting the presence of graying ponytails and Che Guevara T-shirts in the audience, Laskin writes that the conference was an exercise in nostalgia and that the speakers on the panels, “included professors of women’s and feminist studies, Africana studies and post-colonial drama, Asian Pacific studies, and ‘alternative learning.’ All were united in seeing political activism as an important function of their instruction.” The emphasis on indoctrination over learning was revealed by speaker, Carol Sternhell, feminist writer and associate professor of journalism at NYU, whom Laskin notes, “first became interested in feminist politics as a student, [when] she was driven by the idea ‘that the fact that I’m a woman shouldn’t limit my opportunities.’ But she revealed that decades of feminist theory – including the feminist dogma that gender, rather than a biological fact, is ‘socially constructed’ – had changed the consciousness of her students. Now her students come to her with a different concern: ‘The fact that I have a vagina doesn’t mean that I’m a woman.’ The audience nodded approvingly.”

Apparently, if you think having a vagina makes you a woman, then you don’t belong at NYU.

The authors of Crisis of Competence cite similar examples of academic groupthink. The difference in Mr. Laskin’s example is how unquestioning the audience is in its consent. Obviously, not all professors think like this. In fact, most don’t. But enough think enough like this that no one raises a fuss. Instead, they go along to get along, leaving ideological gatekeepers like Ms. Sternhell to take charge.

This is how academia remains a liberal enclave without incriminating evidence. Unless you speak the same cryptic language as Ms. Sternhell (great name by the way), you feel like a stranger in a strange land. You are made to feel unwelcome and the winnowing process takes care of itself.

I used to speak this language and traveled easily among the islands of liberal academia. Wherever I went, there was Mother Jones in the bathroom or The Nation by the bed. In the mornings, whichever girlfriend I was with, would reach over and turn on NPR’s Morning Edition. We spoke the same lingua franca and made fun of those who did not. We sailed the same waterways, docked in the same ports, and sang politcally correct shanties till dawn. But when I began to ask uncomfortable questions like “Is universal healthcare really deficit-neutral?” or “Having a penis does make me a man, right?” the disapproving looks I got from friends and lovers alike left an indelible mark. The tranquil seas we had been sailing upon became tempest-tossed and I learned something about living with liberals in close quarters: “When in doubt, keep your doubts to yourself”.

In the end, I jumped ship and swam through shark-infested waters toward conservatism. Bruised and tattered, I washed ashore alone. For a time I was disoriented, thinking I heard sirens calling me leftward on the wind. But I moved inland, fortified with the knowledge that other conservative castaways had come before me, leaving a well-beaten path through the brush. Yet, it saddened me to look back and see my liberal friends drifting further out to sea. They are good people and it seemed unnecessary that politics should undermine our friendship.

But read Crisis in Competence and you’ll see how ideological pursuits can corrupt normal discourse. As the report concludes; “Under the influence of a politicized academy, national political life becomes more bitter and divisive, not less.”


About the Author

- Robert Maley has worked in publishing, banking and – as incongruent as it may seem – the theatrical world. After many years of living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he now resides in the more pastoral setting of Virginia. A playwright with an MFA from Columbia University, he has had several plays produced off-off-Broadway. Presently, he is a critic of the Cultural Marxism to which he once allied, especially as it pertains to the arts, faith and academia.