Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Russell Jacoby on conservative PC

Inside Higher Ed pointed me to this article by Russell Jacoby.

He "magisterially" dismisses evidence of left-wing bias on college campuses (the studies are flawed; faculty Democrats aren’t really leftists; what about disciplines like business and engineering; the return rate on questionnaires wasn’t very high; and so on). He also repeats the tired arguments that conservatives are anti-intellectual and would rather make money than teach English, despite the fact that there are no even flawed studies that demonstrate this. Perhaps common sense tells him so. Well, common sense (backed up by numerous studies of varied quality) tells me that there isn’t much intellectual diversity on many high-prestige campuses and that even smart conservatives are sometimes either denied tenure or not offered jobs there.

His best line (a pretty good one) is this:

If life were a big game of Monopoly, one might suggest a trade to these conservatives: You give us one Pentagon, one Department of State, Justice and Education, plus throw in the Supreme Court, and we will give you every damned English department you want.

He thinks professors should be subversive, challenging their students. And he thinks that the various movements inspired by David Horowitz, about which I’ve posted before, most recently
here, will make college campuses blander places.

I don’t want bland; I want lively. But I don’t equate liveliness exclusively with leftism or liberalism. Peter Schramm is lively; Allan Bloom was lively; I’m (kinda) lively, even though I was once described by a president of my university (not the current occupant of that office) as "to the right of Attilla the Hun" (a bad line that Jacoby also uses), if not necessarily of Schramm the Hungarian (a bad line that only I use).

Jacoby assimilates the activities of liberal and leftist professors to a tradition that goes back to Socrates. Well, Socrates was eager to have all sorts of interlocutors. And while he questioned authority, he also cared about the truths that could be found in old books. Socrates is no conventional conservative, but he would also be a questioner of liberal pieties. And he famously didn’t spawn or support any political party, though he did leave his unphilosophical sons to be educated by Athens. And I’ll leave you, dear readers, to chew over the import o that final observation.

Discussions - 2 Comments

I think Jacoby’s point about the English Department, while funny, tells us a lot about the contemporary academic Left. First, they KNOW they own the university, and second they aren’t real happy that that’s about all they own. What we have here are professors who are SCARED that their hard-won control over university governance might be challenged. I’m pretty sure they see academe as the last redoubt of their power in American culture. I’d be sorry about that (given that political balance is a valuable thing), but so many of them have become doctrinaire to the point of uselessness. We need some fresh thinking in the academy.

Joe and Ed-

Of course the Left is getting tired of your assertions, and of course our rebuttals sound repetitive! You keep citing these same flawed studies, then making great leaps in logic, without any recognition that the studies ARE in fact flawed, and that the leaps in logic ARE illogical. As I have pointed out before, the fact that (say) 100 students are exposed to liberal professors is NOT the same as suggesting that there are 100 liberal professors.

I, for instance, have many classes with more than one student in them. I also have a beard. So, if I teach 300 students in a year, then 300 students may report that they have been taught by professors with beards. That is not the same as reporting 300 professors with beards.

The next great leap is to suggest that the Democrats who have been so craftily exposed are somehow forcing ideology down their students’ throats, and that the disciplines they have studied and contributed to, are some front for a Left-wing reeducation initiative.

Finally, Ed, some of us are scared, but not because of a challenge to any ownership claim. I am very concerned, maybe scared is the right word, about what seems to me a generally reactive social-political disdain for the social sciences, academia, and of intellectualism reminiscent of 1950’s America, of 1930’s Germany, and of 1980s Iran, to name a few. In place of empiricism, collegial discourse, and intellectual curiosity, I perceive slogans, dumbed-down talking points, and thinly veiled hatred of anything non-traditional. That scares me, when it accompanies nationalilsm, outgroupism, and scapegoating. I’m remembering that there were people suggesting to the Jewish intellectuals in Germany, the Kurds in Iraq, and Western-educated professors in Iran, that they, too were being defensive and paranoid.

Does that sound tired and repetitive? Prove me wrong. Make war on poverty, or ignorance, or inequality, or exploitation of the weak, or abuse of children, or something real and harmful. Stop spreading this crap, and do something useful!

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