Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Gitlin on Horowitz: Two former SDSers face off

Here, via Political Theory Daily Review (a sort of "Arts & Letters Daily" for political theorists; check it out if you haven’t before), is Todd Gitlin’s reaction to David Horowitz’s drive for an "Academic Bill of Rights," which I’ve discussed here and here.

Here’s Gitlin:

Is there a left-liberal-multicultural atmosphere at elite institutions? Undoubtedly, though the surveys on which conservatives rely probably misconstrue its pervasiveness. Academics do flock together and sometimes abuse their power. The even more intractable problem is that conformity, both the faculty’s and the students’, is self-fulfilling, lending itself to the enshrinement of the smug, the snug, and the narrow. Much of the muffling, as always, is the product of peer pressure, which is as real at liberal arts colleges as at military academies. When fundamentals go unquestioned and dissenters are intimidated, those who prevail get lazier and dumber.

How deep is the silence? Hard to know. Much cited in conservative columns is a 2002 survey by the student newspaper at Wesleyan University, according to which a full 32 percent of the students felt “uncomfortable speaking their opinion” on the famously liberal campus.

Whatever that means exactly, the pop-psych language is telling. Since when is higher education supposed to make you feel comfortable, anyway? In a largely unexamined triumph of marketplace values, college has come to be seen as a consumable product. Parents invest through the nose hoping for practical payoff. What follows is grade inflation, epidemic cheating, scorn for a common curriculum, and an all-around supermarket attitude. Consumer choice—embrace whatever turns you on, avoid what- ever turns you off—is elevated to a matter of high principle. But weren’t conservatives supposed to be fixing our minds on higher values?

Here’s the contradiction inherent in this right-wing crusade. In their sudden sensitivity to the comfort of minorities—ideological ones, in this case—the advocates of legislative intervention on campus speech discard one of the virtues that conservatives have long embraced: the insistence on standing strong. They tend to cast students as frail, helpless victims of “abuse” who need institutional muscle to defend them against forces of evil they dare not confront on their own.

Yes, encountering and dealing with arguments with which you disagree makes you stronger. This shouldn’t be just a conservative virtue, and leftists who value it should go out of their way to encourage genuine intellectual diversity on campus.

Discussions - 7 Comments

So true. I would be one of those...I attended a small liberal arts college in Minnesota where the majority opinion was liberal. I loved the classes that challenged me with my values and opinions. I just wish there could have been more representation of conservative views. But then I much of that has to do with the administration? Who hired these people? When is a private college allowed to hire those it "supports" in politics and "virtue", and when should it be thinking outside the box about the value of equal representation? I had the majority of my value system established before I entered college--I have my parents to thank for raising me right--but the strength of my values was developed in the challenges set before me.

Should parents really shell out between
$100,000 and $200,000 to have their embattled children made stronger by struggling against ideas that seek to undermine all the values they have been taught and with post-modern, post-colonial relativists who undermine the concept of truth itslef? If my children are indoctrinated with a love of freedom, self-government, virtue, and objective truth, I don’t mind spending that much money for reading books and listening to lectures.

I think if I had to do it all over again, I might go to a cheap college and read all the great books myself...but then I probably would not have. Ideally I think I would do college on the cheap and go to as many seminars as possible. In particular Mike Caro’s institute of Poker... You don’t really understand human nature or yourself until you play poker. A ten thousand dollar buy in to the WSOP would certainly be an educational experience...joining the army might be an educational experience... going out and working, traveling... there is a lot of good education to be had especially for the price people would pay to go to an ivy league school. But sometimes education is all about the education you didn’t have to receive, and altougth Mark Twain says: Don’t let school get in the way of your education, your future employer might not see it that way.

So in the end an education is really just about what you want to do with your life.

Academics are of course correct when they say that their job is to make students uncomfortable--to introduce them to ideas to which they’ve probably never been exposed. The problem is that the prevailing assumption among too many academics is that their students are all conservatives, and making them uncomfortable means exposing them exclusively to left-wing material. How many academics would, for instance, think of assigning Gobineau, or Mussolini, or Hitler to their students?

Making students, conservative or liberal, uncomfortable is not the problem. Forced conformity to a set of political litmus tests is the problem. All students should be made uncomfortable and kept uncomfortable. But that is only possible when there is a broad political diversity on campus. If the academy is "left-liberal-multicultural" (which Gitlin admits) and if there is forced conformity on campus (which Gitlin asserts) that is a double whammy against all students and even to the vast majority of instructors.

Also, I doubt Gitlin has any evidence of peer-pressure conformity at military academies. That is just a doctrinaire cheap shot. I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1969. The forced outer conformity forced the midshipmen to develop inner nonconformity which is a lot less superficial.

I’m not sure that the purpose of education is to make students uncomfortable. The purpose of educators should get students to recognize, appreciate, and love the good, the noble, the beautiful, the virtuous, and the true, and to reject the converse. Since humans seek the fulfill their desires, passions, and self-interest over what is truly good, this probably will make most uncomfortable, but if they are already habituating themselves to what is good, we should help them on that journey seeking truth.

The issue is not primarily professors who stiffle dissent. Rather it is administrators who are creating the intellectually oppressive environment at many universities.

Some of my colleagues have little pink "safe zone" triangles on their doors. Imagine what would happen if I put up some kind of sign that indicated I was "heteronormative."

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