Friday, October 22, 2004

The Gotten Goat

Is there a left wing bias on American college campuses? Have people like Mike Adams and David Horowitz, who make careers out of fighting the extreme leftism practiced on U.S. campuses, got me fooled? I don't tend to think so. I don't work on or for a college, and it's been many moons since I've taken a college course, so my point of view may be rough. However, from what I've garnered, universities are similar to NPR. About half the stuff NPR broadcasts is invaluable, knowledge rich goodness, about a quarter of it is worth while but left leaning, and roughly the last quarter (depending on whether or not it's an election year), is absolute, looney left sludge.

It was with this mindset that I read Dr. Degenaro's (aka "Lefty Bill". "Mr.Degenaro's fabulous left wing blog" won't fit on my sidebar) posting about a David Brooks column where Mr. Brooks (lightly) impunes academics for being such lackeys for the left. I put forward the following ideas as to why colleges are left leaning:

1) Academics spend so much of their mental energy on their particular field that they cannot focus properly on anything outside of that field. (Stephen Jay Gould is a great example of this. Despite being quite intelligent, he believed in communism, an ideology that's such a bad idea that it would be laughable were it's history not so horrific).

2) Academics are group thinkers. It doesn't take a genius to see how conservatives are treated on college campuses. It should be no surprise that many choose to be a lefty instead of being labeled a sexual harassing Nazi.

3)Academics work in a sheltered environment (again, for lefties) that distorts their view of the real world. (i.e. when was the last time, if ever, that academia had to produce something that didn't go in a book?)
To be sure, I intentionally overstated my points since I know nothing gets an academics goat like insinuating that their field is near worthless. Why would I do this? Well, firstly, I'm a jerk, and secondly I think I'm projecting (I work in the IT infrastructure support field). As well I was hoping to goad Dr. Degenaro into telling me his own theory as to why there is a left leaning bias on American campuses.

Much to my surprise (well, no. we're talking about a man who thinks the New York Times is a right wing rag mag), Dr. Degenaro states that my points are incorrect primarily because there are no left leaning issues at all! At this point, I decided not to abandon my half baked points so quickly. Lets see if my inferior intellect can see where we're going here, it's time to do a mild fisking of Dr. Degenaro's rebuttal:

Yes, Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at M.I.T (and easily the most renowned linguist in the world).
I've heard that Mr. Chomsky is a genius in his field, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he is a raving lunatic. Lets dig deeper:

I'm not sure how Stephen Jay Gould is a "great example" of ignoring the outside world to focus on one's own field. On the contrary, Gould used his extraordinary intellect to comment on a diverse array of social issues.
Again his "extraordinary intellect" wasn't enough to keep him from believing in a thoroughly discredited and evil system of governance. So was he a political idiot, or was he evil? I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Neither am I sure what you mean by "they cannot PROPERLY focus on anything outside of that field." It sounds like you mean: "they come to conclusions that differ from my own opinions."
When someone comes to a conclusion which is pro-communist/fascist/extremely racist I'm not obligated to treat them seriously just because they differ from my own: those ideas are crap, through and through. Howard Zinn could write a 5,000 page thesis on how space aliens keep the sky from turning pink, but that doesn't mean I have to take him seriously and then begin to wonder where pulls those weirdo ideas from. (Maybe he's correct in a way. Howard Zinn's hatred of America runs so deep that he can't even properly focus on his own field.)

To suggest that those who differ with you only think that way due to "groupthink" is the worst kind of argument ad hominem: 'you're just a liberal because you're scared to stand up and be a conservative.' Really? Is that your best argument against Noam Chomsky?! That he's been plowed by his colleagues?
Well, I think Noam Chomsky is a plower, not a plow-ee. This point may not be well formed, but the point I'm shooting for is not necessarily coercive knucklebusting, but the ghetto effect. If a certain field of work has a reputation for a certain mindset, then people who work in that field will already have a predisposition to that mindset, or will at least adopt some of it's tendencies to make going to work every day a little more bearable. For example, I know of field in which I have absolutely no experience, whose workers have a reputation for being video gaming, porn surfing, anti-social layabouts. All these characteristics may not apply to every member in this mystery field, but I know from experience (or at least from what someone else told me) that, like most stereotypes, it's mostly true. Anyway, continuing on...

Here at Miami [Ohio], we've recently hosted lectures or presentations by Pat Buchanan, P.J. O'Rourke, and the Bush twins.
You mean this Pat Buchanan? That'd be like the Republicans saying they invited an avowed Marxist when they invited Zell Miller to the convention. Universities may bring in a P.J. O'Rourke, but then feel they're in the clear to invite child pornographers to work at the school. It's all the same thing, just different points of view!

Sheltered? Some in the private sector exist in cubicles, working on individual computers. Here's what my "sheltered" academic life looks like: I interact with three separate groups of students each semester (15-23 in each group)....
Further, part of my tenure requirements...
The myth of the sheltered academic is just that: a myth.
Tenure?!? Tenure?!?! Maybe someone can write and tell me how I'm supposed to get tenure at my manufacturing company that is always threatened by the onerous regulations placed upon it by the bureaucracies that Dr. Degenaro and his colleagues push. Academics are sheltered in the sense that their point of view has no bearing on how effective their 'business' is run. People do not have to live (at least not long) under their ideas, etc. It's a lot easier to have an idiotic idea when your only check is the ass slapping of your fellow like minded colleagues. As well, the staff at colleges suffer from a similar strain of liberal tendencies to that of other public service unions. If you work at a university (particularly a public one) , your vote will tend to go toward the most left leaning group, because that will be the group that will ladle the most gravy onto your organization. Continuing...

Things that academics have produced that didn't go in a book: vaccinations for deadly diseases, editorials for local op-ed pages, workshops for K-12 educators, intellectual forums and debates, recitals and theatrical performances.
Again, the point I presented is kind'a unfair, but I was attempting to press the point that universities hardly have the same concerns as the many small manufacturers that they can't wait to screw over (see a theme here?). Engineering and other such university departments certainly specialize in the methods of making 'stuff'.

Anyway, as far as the points presented, from what I've heard, vaccines are usually co-developed with a corporation who wants to use cheap grad student labor to develop medicines; that is, before the lefties killed them off. As for the rest...well...ugh. My mom has told me about those workshops for K-12 educators and I have four letters for you C-R-A-P. Of course she's forced to go to these by the state, so the sheltered, group thinking, short sighted liberals who run them have no impetus what so ever to provide a worthwhile product that's been exposed to real world situations.

(Sidenote: As irony would have it, years and years ago my wife-to-be took some classes at the university Dr. Degenaro teaches at and I had the honor of sitting in two different classes in the middle of the term. The first was some English class of some sort where the idea of population control was discussed (?!?). This class was quite reasonable compared to the (anti) American 'history' class I later attended where the professor spewed nothing but vile left wing hatred for the founding fathers the whole friggin' class time. My wife-to-be tried to get me to go to a different class where they were going to have a trasvestite come in and speak, but I took a pass.)

(Update 10/25/04: more here )


bdegenaro said...
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bdegenaro said...

Thanks for the thorough response. There are lots of interesting points here. I'll address a few of them. The debate over campus leftism often conflates two separate (though, admittedly, related) issues: whether more professors lean to the left (they certainly do) and whether colleges are "biased" (in my experience, they are not). Productive discourse on the topic acknowledges this distinction, posits a definition of bias, and then presents an argument.

Here's why I think making the distinction is important. Most folks who teach at the local public schools here in southwest Ohio are Ohioans. Does that mean they have some kind of Ohio bias that is harmful toward their students? Not necessarily...although *if* they graded down children wearing Michigan Wolverine gear, that would seem to consitute a "bias" of sorts. Silly example, no doubt, but the point is there's a difference between having a characteristic--even overwhelmingly--and being "biased."

Here's another example. While in graduate school I worked as a maintenance guy at my local YMCA. Of the executives/administrators, the lifeguards, the coaches, and the maintenance/cleaning staff, I didn't meet a single gay person. They were all straight. Does that meet they were heterosexist? Again, not necessarily...although if the employees all sat around constantly making gay jokes or making plans to go out gay bashing, that would constitute a form of "bias."

I think these two examples illustrate why the term "bias" needs a careful and critical definition. Does "bias" mean creating a hostile environment? Does "bias" mean that judgment has been somehow clouded? Does "bias" imply a lack of well-roundedness? All potentially valid defininitions, and I could list lots of other possible definitions, but my sense is that a productive argument about this issue should probably lay out and explain the basic terms.

Back to the composition of college faculty...yes, more lean to the left. Is that in and of itself a problem? A capitalist, free-market, and/or anti-affirmative action ideology would suggest that it is not. The market has spoken. You have suggested that those who critique this political economy are improper commie loonies--are you now saying that other interventions are necessary to affect demographic change? If so, does that logic hold for other lines of work (in the public sector, private sector, etc)? Does that hold for other identity markers besides political affiliation (race, sexual orientation, gender, etc)?

You're right: you needn't respect other points of view. You have a right to partake in name-calling. And certainly folks from all points on the political spectrum engage in emotional ad hominem discourse. Such discourse serves various legit. purposes: keeping up the esprit de corp, bonding with like-minded, letting off steam. Sometimes, though, the name-calling *replaces* substance, and then the level of discourse plummets. Bill O'Reilly is an obvious example that comes to mind. But on the left, Al Franken and Paul Begala lean toward hackery that sometimes plays loose with evidence and facts. Works both ways. It's never an effective way to reach beyond like-minded audience members. Okay, you think members of my profession are worthless. That's fine, but saying it--even loudly or repeatedly or vigorously--doesn't compell.

Back to the bias issue...I mentioned in our eariler change that Miami has recently hosted Pat Buchanan, PJ O'Rourke, the Bush twins, Ann Coulter. We have chapters of College Republicans and the Campus Crusade for Christ. At the U of Arizona (where I taught as a TA) and now at Miami, the student populations have been overwhelmingly conservative and republican. Teaching argument classes, rhetoric classes, introductory and/or remedial writing classes, I have heard my students espouse far-right positions with regularity and without hesitation or fear of retribution. I've given As to compelling, well-researched, articulate papers arguing that labor unions have outgrown their usefulness and that the federal government has grown bloated. I've given Cs and Ds to flawed, poorly done papers supporting affirmative action and arguing against the Iraq war. I don't know of any of my colleagues who do otherwise.

I haven't done much research on the political climate of college campuses, although I follow the higher education press pretty closely. Mostly, though, I can only speak anecdotally. If bias in the context of this debate means creating an environment that's unfair or unwelcoming toward conservative students, than in my experience colleges aren't lefty-biased.

Now, you referenced, ir I recall, the presence of a transvestite speaker at Miami. And you invoked Mike Adams, who frequently cites examples of colleges discussing gay-lesbian issues/teaching gay-themed literature/etc. I guess I don't see gay issues as being fundamentally "liberal." A close friend of mine is a gay man and a serious republican. I mean, he's a free marketeer, a fiscal conservative, a proponent of small government and tricke-down economics, a Reagan-worshipping capitalist. My sense is the Log Cabin Republicans had a significant presence at the GOP convention this year (just as pro-choicers like Schwartzenegger and Giuliani and Barbara Bush had a significant presence there). I don't think any political party owns homosexuality. Nor *should* any party own gay-lesbian issues. This, too, constitutes a conflation of two separate issues. A course in Gay Literature, for me, isn't evidence of a "lefty bias."

There's more to respond to, but I need some sleep. Thanks again for the thorough response.

Evil Sandmich said...

My big problem with this is that I posted a way long post, but it was still well short of the information needed to make the arguments whole. I finally made myself hit the 'Publish' button while leaving about half the material I'd written out. I don't want to write a book on this subject, so let's touch upon the main points and see where that leaves us:

1) As a generalization, are the people who make up the collegiate staff left leaning? You affirm this is the case. I'll agree to disagree on the 'why' for the time being because I don't feel like writing a book. (Though I'm sure Horowitz has something.)

2) Does the bias come through in the education? At the very least, one must acknowledge the anecdotal evidence published by the likes of Adams and Horowitz. This is not to say that college educators are uniformly biased, but for the people in an institution who have that much of a slant and not let it through in their jobs would require some saintly self restraint. (As a note, my update link went to such a bias story. The appearance of these stories is hardly a rarity). As well, despite the way the left sopped up every drop of Mike Moore's vile, only the most overwhelming evidence would be required to cross any threshold on this topic.

3) Is there a solution to either? Well, solving #1 would go a ways towards solving #2, but as my update link points out, education has turned into a liberal ghetto where conservatives are persona non grata. Both points will be irritants to conservatives for quite a while.