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Re: It's not my imagination!

6/12/2004 12:43 PM
Michael TousekRe: It's not my imagination!
Liberals may not "own" the whole university, but they're overrepresented in the areas of academia that are most suited to the promotion of their ideology.  
In particular, liberals have a controlling share of influence in the humanities  
departments of most schools, which is important because the ideas that the humanities deal with are precisely the ones that provide the basic content of  
our larger social and political philosophies. While they're teaching about electron orbitals and pancreatic excretions in the colleges of physics and medicine, over in the humanities building they're lecturing about  
the rise of mercantilism and capitalism, or about the labor movement or the McCarthy era or the moral sensibilities of the Pilgrims and the  
Puritans, or they're digging up themes about race and class in  
nineteenth-century English literature or pondering the merits of Kantian ethics. An  
engineering professor would have to go pretty far out of his way to weave his  
worldview into his course material, but for his counterpart on the  
social-sciences side of campus it would be as effortless as breathing.  
Here's an extreme example to illustrate the point. I'll bet that if you  
had walked into the electrical engineering building at Leningrad U at the  
height of the Bolshevik era, you would have found that they were teaching  
exactly the same material that they were teaching at, say, Georgia  
Tech, despite being thousands of miles and a political culture apart. You  
would have seen exactly the same formulas on the board (albeit in funny  
cyrillic letters), the same diagrams, the same concepts, the same students  
sweating bullets and wearing pencils to the nub in order to keep up. Ohm's  
Law is Ohm's Law and that's all there is to it (it would be hopeless to teach  
Ohm's Law from the "critical perspective"). But, if you walked into a  
history class at Leningrad U, or a sociology class, or a literature  
class -- i.e. the classes that we call the humanities nowadays -- you would  
know instantly that you were in another ideological universe. This is because the subject matter of the humanities is the natural academic medium for the transmission of ideology.  
It isn't surprising that this would be the case. The "classical education" has always been centered around a particular grouping of subjects -- history, literature, languages, philosophy -- in large part because it's these subjects that contain the foundational ideas of our culture and civilization. When we reflect on these subjects (as opposed to electron orbitals or something), we reflect on the very things that give ideology its form and meaning. And it's the areas of academia that deal with these subjects that liberals have made into something of a stronghold for themselves.  
Note also that all students, regardless of their major, are required to take some number of these subjects and will therefore find themselves spending a significant amount of time in the humanities building during their first couple of years on campus. However, the reverse isn't true. All engineering students will be percolated through the humanities, but English majors never have to set foot in the Engineering building. The humanities have a monopoly of sorts, a unique access to the the total student body in its first and second years that the other departments don't have. So even if the engineering faculty happened to be brimming over with National Review-reading Reaganites, and even if they managed to weave something about the virtues of limited government into  
their lectures on bridge trusses and bi-junction transistors, their effectivenes would be limited simply by dint of their limited audience. But the humanities get a crack at everyone.  
It's also noteworthy that as you move up the heirarchy of universities, it becomes increasing the case that liberals rule the  
roost. I've seen informal polls taken of the faculty at the elite schools and  
it'll be like 23 out of 26 professors in the English department self-identify  
as liberals as well as 70% of the professors campus wide. I can't cite a confirming source for this right offhand, but anecdotes abound that seem to confirm that these sorts of ideological distributions are far from uncommon. The Lefty  
professor at the Ivy League school is a cultural archetype, and I  
don't think it's one that's particularly in dispute. The upshot is that the  
top-tier universities, the ones that graduate the people who wind up wielding  
a disproportionate share of power and influence in the world, have a distinct tilt to the left, and it's likely that their graduates will take a residue of that leftist tilt with them.  
[QUOTE]I'm not sure what that, specifically "own", is supposed to mean, and how it  
is deemed to express itself.[/QUOTE]  
A person might say something like "conservatives own the military" to express  
the predominance -- though not necessarily the universal presence -- of  
conservatives in the military. This would be a good way of looking at the  
word "own".  
Still, the word is too imprecise and broadbrush to serve as the basis of a serious argument.  
[QUOTE]Are the sports teams liberal? Is the engineering or medical faculty or  
veterinarian's college liberal? Are counselling services or the registrar's  
office liberal? Is the Senate council that meets and decides to raise tuition  
fees yet again liberal? Is the faculty union that bickers about their  
salaries, relative to the private sector, or the bargaining team for the  
university liberal? Are the support staff liberal? Are the folks in the  
faculty of management liberal? Are the accounting faculty and students  
liberal? Is the ROTC liberal?[/QUOTE]  
Liberals are the dominant species in the humanities faculties of most universities, which  
has special significance for the reasons I mentioned earlier. In the hard  
sciences I would guess liberals and conservatives share power pretty evenly.  
The sports guys are probably Republicans. Of the janitorial staff I'm unsure.  
[QUOTE](c) Assuming some liberal view does tend to dominate in some parts of some  
campuses, why exactly is that wrong?[/QUOTE]  
Liberalism is a dilute form of socialism, and socialism rests upon ideological premises that are antithetical to those of America's founding. Liberals have come to occupy the part of academia that is most suited to promoting ideology, and the ideology they promote is naturally that of liberalism. That the universities have become a distribution point for modern so-called "liberal" ideas is troubling to those of us who would prefer to see them promote the timeless and truly liberal ideas of our nation's founding. (I find the presence of liberals in government troubling for similar reasons.)  
"d) If it is the case that some sort of saturation of "liberal" views on campus exists, why would people seeking an education (and they're not all naive 1st year students) fall prey to them unquestioningly?"
Naturally all students on campus aren't first year students. What's important is that all students on campus once were first year students, and that it was at precisely this point in their academic careers that they were exposed to the liberal instructors of the humanities department. And like it or not, it's not hard to see how a nineteen year old freshman might be influenced by a professor who's two or three times his age and who has had decades to perfect his arguments.  
"And if they are generally that dumb, why should I value the opinion of one who thinks there is something wrong with things?"
Again, if a teenage student is influenced by the ideas of a professional intellectual, I don't think it's necessarily a sign of his being dumb. It's just the way it is: teachers affect those who they teach. It's the nature of the relationship. Obviously many students will have the intellect and the experience to recognize a professor's ideological slant and to discard or dispute the bits that don't ring true -- but many students won't, and for these there's a real chance that they'll absorb the slant without having really tested it.  
"I will grant you that there are departments and some campuses where "lefty radicals" make an exceptionally big noise, relative to their numbers."
I suspect that these radical types are only the visible tip of the iceberg. I think there's a larger culture of quite liberalism that exists underneath. The radical types wouldn't be able to make all their noise if there weren't some sort of sympathic infrastructure beneath them. I have a feeling that most universities, especially the elite ones, would find a way to censure an equivalently noisy activist conservative. The trend, though, is that lefties get away with it.  

Mark Hammer You present a good reasoned argumen... -- 6/13/2004 10:31 PM