Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Bias on campus

Is there groupthink on America’s campuses? No, I can’t believe it! All this emphasis on lack of intellectual diversity is so surprising to me. All these articles, all these studies showing bias and even intellectual harrassment at our institutions of higher learning, have moved

Jeff Jacoby to opine for the Boston Globe.

Discussions - 15 Comments

I have just read Both Jacoby’s article, and also the report that he cites from "The American Enterprise." As an academic, I would like to make a couple of points:

Jacoby frightens his readers with the following statistics:

"Of 658 students polled at the top 50 US colleges, 49 percent said professors ’frequently comment on politics in class even though it has nothing to do with the course.’ 48 percent said some ’presentations on political issues seem totally one-sided,’ and 46 percent said that ’professors use the classroom to present their personal political views.’"

One of the benefits of a liberal education is the experience that students have analysing and thinking critically about the way information is presented. In fact, Jacoby is telling us (a) that 51% of students did NOT agree that professors comment on politics when it is irrelevant to do so, (b) that 52% of students did NOT agree that some presentations seem totally one-sided, (c) that 54 % of students did NOT agree that professors use the classroom to spread their own political views.

In other words, more than half of students polled disagreed with Jacoby’s thesis!

Another point: Why, all of a sudden, are you complaining about the lack of diversity on campuses, or anywhere else? What is the name of this website, after all? How is the ideological diversity at Ashbrook? Got a lot of lefties, there? If you want to see more "red" representation, visit your local Klan meeting, or your local school-board meeting. The "reds" will be the ones trying to keep Darwin out of their kids’ tender little minds, or "Catcher in the Rye" on the pyre, where it belongs. Which brings me to my third point:

Liberals are not against religion, and you all know it. We are against the intrusion of religion into government and vice versa. If evangelists are successful at opening up that Pandora’s box, why can’t they see that they open it for ANY religious group that wants to force its views into our private lives? Liberals are just as religious as you are. We just don’t allow our faith to dictate what your children learn, and we don’t demean our deities by suggesting that they lead the cheer as we attack our political enemies. Religious freedom protects both our constitution AND our religious practices.

Finally, a true liberal arts education is one that is open to ideas. It teaches an abhorrence for gross distortions of the truth, for gross generalizations, and a desire for an accurate understanding of the complex workings of the world. True educators know that facile, two-word solutions fall short unless their real aim is to manipulate those who are too lazy to think, or too intimidated to make their own choices. This is why fascist and totalitarian leaders love their dumbed-down slogans, and why they encourage their supporters to wield simplistic labels (Liberal, Counterrevolutionary, feudal, Jew, intellectual) like a sledge. This is why you find more liberals in adacemia than you will find conservatives. Not because they are left, but because they are open to ideas, and they value the free expression of those ideas.

In other words, more than half of students polled disagreed with Jacoby’s thesis!

Huh? If 52 percent of those polled disagreed with the statement that their professors were cattle thieves, would that be something to be proud of?

Heh. Good point, Dr. Moser.

One thing that I think many conservatives need to be careful of (well . . . anyone for that matter) when attempting to promote political diversity in university faculties is hiring the best professors no matter what the political affiliation. If universities begin to cut out exceptional applicants because they are left-leaning (or right-leaning for that matter), they are limiting themselves. However, part of education is diverse opinion and viewpoints . . . which makes an interesting problem . . . that I don’t know how to solve. Would you trade diversity for exceptional faculty?

I’m just curious. Are there any left-leaning political science faculty at Ashland? If not, is the Ashland University Political Science department really exhibiting the diversity that many of the bloggers here are calling for at other univerisities??? Just a thought . . . :-D


I’m sorry, I failed to read your entire post before posting my opinions. I have a few things that concern me about your post. You make very, very obvious generalizations in your post for someone who wants to fight for open-mindedness. When you say things like "Liberals aren’t against religion", you need to realize that some are. You also state that liberals are "open-minded" . . . not all of them. And please don’t speak for all liberals. Especially religious liberals. As much as I agree with you on some of your points, please be clear next time to clearly state that that is what they are: your points, not some widely accepted liberal platform.

And please don’t suggest that conservatives are not open-minded or care about freedom of expression. I kind of caught that vibe from your post and I’d like to point out that that is a "gross generalization". I have met several conservative faculty and students involved in the Ashbrook Center who are very open-minded and care very much about the freedom of expression. They believe that they are changing America for the better with their policies just we think we are changing it for the better with ours. So, don’t belittle them by saying things like that . . .

All in all, though, I was pleased to see another left-leaning voice participating in discussion on this blog. Keep it up. :)

Reply to John Moser-

John, Your question regarding cattle thieves might be relevant if I had originally presented Jacoby’s data in order to support my own argument. But it was Jacoby who presented his percentages to support his image of this doomsday scenario in which students feel that their professors are biased.

I was merely pointing out that his data support an alternative view -- which is that the majority of students did NOT support his argument -- more effectively than they support his view.

And, while 51%, or 52% may not be much, sometimes it can be alot. Recently, it was enough to reelect a president, for instance. I find that many of GWB’s supporters feel that 51% constitutes some sort of a mandate. We might ask him your cattle thief question......

"Fung" should read the ACTA press release, to which I linked in my post above on the NLT page. He or she would find that 68% of students surveyed had heard professors make negative comments about President Bush and 62% had heard professors praise Senator Kerry. In addition, 74% reported positive comments about liberals and 47% heard negative comments about conservatives. Now, I realize that no survey can tell the whole story. It is certainly possible and perhaps even appropriate for a professor to praise and blame political leaders and ideologies in a non-ideological manner. It is possible, for example, to be an "equal opportunity offender," taking both sides to task for failing adequately to address a particular issue or engaging in negative campaigning. So it’s possible that some of the date reported by ACTA reflects students hearing professors criticize both parties and candidates in an even-handed way.

"Fung" is correct to observe that the data suggest that a smallmajority of professors honor the expectation of even-handedness. The problem is that a substantial minority does not. If we were talking about a small minority--say 10%--I’d say that it goes with the territory. And if it were likely that the offenders were evenly distributed between liberals and conservatives, then I’d say that fair-minded liberals and conservatives ought to be vigilant about abuses in their own camps, not casting stones until their side was without sin. But the evidence suggests that the vast majority of the abuses on a vast majority of the campuses occur on one side of the spectrum.

This is a cause for concern for two reasons. First, it affects the quality and directionality of the education American students--especially at elite institutions--receive. Second, it runs the risk of alienating Americans from not only those institutions--it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if market pressures were brought to bear in such a way as to get us to clean up our own messes--but from American higher education generally. For better or worse, American colleges and universities are among the principal transmitters of "civilization," and certainly of critical reflection on civilization. If they fritter away this status, as it seems to me they are in the process of doing, no one but the barbarians will be better off.

I’d have to say that Fung’s point about Jacoby’s stats trumps John Moser’s (about the cattle thieves).

As to whether "liberals are against religion," I don’t think that most/many liberals are. Actually, I know more than a few liberals who consider themselves religious and/or even attend church regularly (and no, not all of them are Unitarian Universalists!!! - only one). It’s crazy how conservatives have become so great at playing the victims lately!!!

And I also must give credit to Fung for pointing out the obvious eyebrow-raiser in all of this. An official college-based think tank blog called "No Left Turns" hardly seems to be an open invitation for any liberal/left-leaning students wishing to study Poli Sci and the like at AU. And the blog appears to be moderated (or at least led) by professors who teach classes, no?

Imagine the conservative furor over a "No Right Turns" blog from a college/univ. (in Massachusetts, perhaps)!!

Reply to Matt -

Thanks Matt, for the welcome, and for the reminders. Certainly, I cannot speak for all liberals, nor about all conservatives. In fact, however, there is some very mean-spirited stuff on this blog. And much of it is directed at liberals as a group, and it makes me angry. In fact, your admonition to me to remember that there is some heterogeneity in both groups is the first such note that I have read (in this forum). Ironic, given that we are writing in this particular context, that one liberal should remind another to rise above the mud-slinging!

Reply to Joe K.

Joe, Let’s remember that, when 68% of students report that they have heard a message, that is very different from 68% of professors sending that message.

Put another way, at the end of one average year, I have taught about 250 students. The same is true for most of my colleagues. You can see, I am sure, where this is going. If the student:professor ratio in a class is roughly 30:1, why are only half of the students reporting this lamentable exposure to left-wing locutions? Given the radical take-over, and subsequent harrassment that is described in this blog, students should ALL report exposure to our ideological reeducation efforts!

Finally, is anyone going to answer my question (and Matt’s) regarding the level of diversity at Ashland? When writers like Jacoby lament that the academy does not look like America, I wonder if he means some kind of homogenized, melting pot America, or does he mean that there is some place in America where the reds and the blues are distributed exactly 51% to 49%? Last I looked, Harvard doesn’t look like Queens, and East L.A. doesn’t look like Hays, Kansas.

I suppose that I should be happy that "Fung," is returning, if only to throw more grenades. We’re clearly at least somewhat entertaining.

In my last comment, I was trying to be nuanced, but I clearly didn’t fully succeed in communicating my intention. Yes, students sometimes, or often, misperceive what goes on in the classroom. And if the ACTA survey were the only piece of evidence there were, I’d be hesitant to hang my hat on it. But it seems to me that it adds to a larger picture, assembled painstakingly by folks like Daniel Klein, Karl Zinsmeister, and David Horowitz. I discussed some of this in "Surviving the Blue Academy," over on the main Ashbrook site.

I’ll let the Ashland people speak for themselves, so I’ll only describe my institution, which is probably 70-30 D-R overall. My department (which I chaired for 9 years) is diverse (probably 4-3 D-R). I’m one of the R’s (big surprise!), but all the D’s were hired on my watch. They were the best people for the job, in part because they didn’t seem to be ideological hacks. I want to be surrounded by smart, interesting people. I don’t want to work in a place divided into camps, where folks assume that if you’re not with them, you’re against them, where they make assumptions about what you must believe because of your political preferences (Fung, you’ve engaged in some of that), and where they regularly use their classrooms to promote their views, to the exclusion of all others.

I will now conform to the blue prejudice about red-state people by saying that I have to go get ready for church.

Finally, is anyone going to answer my question (and Matt’s) regarding the level of diversity at Ashland?Sure, I’ll take a stab at it. The Ashbrook Center is not Ashland University. While Ashland is hardly Berkeley, if one did a survey of AU faculty I’m certain that the breakdown would be similar to that of Oglethorpe (which Joe has described above). Just try to find a conservative in English, the arts, foreign languages, sociology, etc.

But even if it were different, and this place were like Hillsdale, which is almost entirely conservative, what exactly would that prove? Is Ashland as influential an educational institution as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, etc., etc.? That’s like denying that the newspaper industry is liberal by saying, "Sure, the New York Times is liberal, but the Ashland Times-Gazette is conservative!" (it isn’t, by the way). I’d be interested in seeing a total count of all the graduates from "conservative" schools like Hillsdale and the University of Dallas, and see how they line up with the numbers of those who have graduated from all the Ivy League, small private liberal arts colleges, and state universities across the country.

I would say that Joe’s efforts at nuance pay off nicely. I have decided to follow his lead, and to refer to him, instead of replying to him. It does seem to add a certain element of disdain when he refers to me, as though I represented some sort of mosquito that refused to "shoo." I suppose.

Joe has misunderstood my last point. I never, ever argued that students misperceive what goes on in the classroom. What I said was that, when a classroom consists of, say, 50 students, then those 50 students may all report on the actions of one professor. Thus, if those 50 students hear one professor say something mean about our nice president, then 50 students will report that they have heard a professor being mean to the president. That is very, very different from another state of affairs in which 50 professors are being mean to the president.

So far, these reports that I am reading all seem to reflect the former state of affairs, and not the latter.

Second, Joe suggests that "Blues" have a "prejudice" against "Reds" and their religiosity. I am not sure if Joe means "prejudice" or "stereotype." A prejudice would indicate that Joe believes that Democrats actually dislike Republicans because Republicans are believed to be religious. A stereotype would indicate that Joe believes that Democrats believe that all Republicans are religious.

I am glad that Joe doesn’t want to work in a place divided by camps, characterized by assumptions based on political preference.

Let me be perfectly clear. These things are all distinct:
(a) hating religion, (b) hating people who are religious, and (c) hating the interference of government in religion, and the interference of religion in government. The last one is the only pertinent hatred in which I engage, and I vehemently reject any effort to lump that adherence to Consititutional principle with prejudice or stereotype.

Fung: My mistake. I should have said stereotype. The sermon was fine, by the way, linking the birth of Christ to the last supper (we were celebrating communion, as we do on the first Sunday of every month).

And yes, I didn’t fully grasp the import of your interpretation of the survey data. But now that I think I do, I still disagree with it. Given the size of the population surveyed and the size of the sample, I think it was very unlikely that correcting for multiple references to the same experience would reduce much the magnitude of the response. Also, the survey didn’t purport to report the percentages of faculty engaging in the behavior, but rather the percentages of students reporting the behavior. A few people teaching big classes would influence student perceptions more than lots more people teaching tiny classes. We can’t infer anything from the bare report of the data about the numbers of faculty engaging in the behavior (and I doubt we could infer anything if we saw a comprehensive account of the survey). All we can say is that this is what students say they experienced. I’d argue that some of the students may have misunderstood what the professor was doing (which would tend in the direction of an "over-reporting" of professorial "bias," for want of a better term) and that some might not have experienced it as bias, because it conformed to their own predilections (which would suggest that the survey could well under-report professorial "bias"). Perhaps the survey isn’t so helpful after all, since the phenomenon it’s trying discern is fraught with such complications. It remains the case, however, that there are vastly more reports of inappropriate politicization of the classroom on the left than on the right. This may be because folks on the left are more likely to do so than folks on the right. (I think that that’s at least somewhat possible, but this is not the place to examine the intellectual/theoretical origins of the self-conscious and frank politicization of knowledge.) There may also be more reports of liberal than conservative politicization of the classroom because there are more liberals than conservatives in the academy. Anyone care to disagree with that contention at this late date?

Time to hand Christmas lights on the trees outside. Query to my Ohio friends: are there still parts of your state where people have electric candles in the windows year-round? I remember seeing that on a couple of trips through central Ohio to see friends at Kenyon. I found it charming, as did my wife when she experienced it herself.

Merry Christmas, Joe, to you and yours.

Joe K:

I don’t currently live in Ohio, but I have family in the Ashland Co./Wayne Co. area, and yes, there are some homes that do have the single (almost always white) electric candles in every window. I think at some point in the ’80s it became trendy to decorate for the holidays in the style of what people see in Colonial Williamsburg; the trend mostly faded, but some people held on, and then also made it a year-round thing. I don’t like it much, as it makes the same/similar lights at Christmas-time feel LESS special (imagine a secular agnostic like myself saying so!), plus it’s also rather wasteful of energy.

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