Sunday, February 27, 2011

Liberal Academia

The Washington Post realizes that if its conservative subscribers get any less educated than they already are, they will not be able to read even the simplistic swill that this newspaper is feeding them. As a result, it decided to dial back its hate campaign against the commie hippie latte-swigging tree-hugging college professors. Now it is trying to convince its readership that getting a higher education might not deal such a serious blow to their children's Republican convictions. A clumsy article trying to argue in a very impotent way that college campuses are not all that liberal appeared in The Washington Post recently. It's titled "Five Myths About Liberal Academia" and can be found here in case you really enjoy bad writing.

Whatever bill of goods that The Washington Post is trying to sell to its conservative readers, the truth is different. Unless we are talking about a student who has been brainwashed to the point of not having a single thought of their own, college education will end up broadening their horizons and demonstrating to them that any conservatism is unnatural, meaningless, and unintelligent

To the contrary of what many conservatives fear, progressive professors don't use the classroom to voice their political convictions. We simply don't need to. When I come into the classroom, looking chic, fashionable and professional and begin to share my knowledge with the students, my way of being is the best argument there could be against female subjection. I don't have to proclaim feminist slogans in the classroom. I bring my point across just by existing. In the same way, I make my students reconsider their dislike of immigrants. And of intelligent, knowledgeable, educated people. The list can be continued ad infinitum. (The dislike of people who use expressions such as ad infinitum could be added to the list).

Every literary text we read in class, brings the students closer to progressive values. For some unfathomable reason, there don't seem to be that many great writers who advocate accepting things the way they are, resisting all change, and trying to revert to some imaginary paradisaical moment in the past where things used to be perfect. 

We teach our students to think for themselves, identify gaping holes in any argument (such as the above-mentioned article in The WaPo, for example), to analyze and operate with facts. We are not always successful, of course, but when we are we end up creating more open-minded, intelligent, progressive people.

Conservatives exist on campus, of course. They are treated by everybody with compassion. Not because of their political beliefs, but because they are those hapless academics who never manage to publish anything. The conservative academics' CVs are very light on publications not because, as The WaPo article suggests, there is some bias against their so-called ideas in liberal publishing houses and journals. Rather, the very nature of research calls for the creation of something new, for progress, for a rejection of old certainties. A piece of research is always judged, first and foremost, on the basis of whether it contributes anything new to the understanding of the subject. The definition of a conservative is "Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change." It is self-evident, I believe, why this kind of person will not be able to transform their area of expertise in any significant way by their research.

Conservative forces in this country might manage to push another Republican president into office in 2012 by the sheer force of their mass hysteria. That, however, will not stop things from changing, progressing, transforming. Theirs is a losing battle, which is why their rage is so virulent.


Canukistani said...

“Unless we are talking about a student who has been brainwashed to the point of not having a single thought of their own, college education will end up broadening their horizons and demonstrating to them that any conservatism is unnatural, meaningless, and unintelligent.”

Not necessarily. Let’s take the case of the current Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker who was at the centre of last week’s Wisconsin controversy. According to the Marquette Tribune:

“Walker attended Marquette from 1986 t0 1990, but never attained a degree. His sophomore year, Walker ran for president of the Associated Students of Marquette University (ASMU, the former title for Marquette Student Government). He was accused of violating campaign guidelines on multiple occasions.”

And according to the Journal Sentinel:

“Walker declined to release his transcripts, but his campaign said he had a grade-point average of 2.59, in the C's. He had just established status as a senior when he left after four years of mostly full-time coursework at Marquette University. Walker’s supporters - and even some of his detractors - say it shouldn't matter that he didn't attain a degree.

"There are tens of thousands of people with master's degrees who don't have the common sense God gave a rabbit," said state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), who has a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"Whether you spend two, four (or) six years hanging around a classroom has no bearing on whether you can hold elective office. . . . Anybody who knows Scott Walker knows he could take six months off and sit in a boring classroom and it wouldn't make him one whit more qualified."

Some unsubstantiated rumours said that he was expelled for cheating although he stated that he left after four years of full time study without finishing because he had a job offer. He also said that he thought a copy of the Arizona law SB 1070, illegal immigrant bill, might be good for Wisconsin.

Jonathan said...

That's a limit case: a student who attends college but tries not to learn too much, deliberately scraping by with a minimum effort and then not even graduating.

Anonymous said...

I have never considered the Liberal Academia to be that Liberal.

I work in a Liberal Arts College, and students at my school majoring in Political Science and Global/International Studies usually read Samuel Huntington's The Clash of CIvilizations in their first year seminar. These students are not encouraged to read that book with a critical distance.

I know many, many conservative professors in my field who managed to publish copiously.


Clarissa said...

My friend, the people you mean are only "conservative" when compared to you and me. :-) If you compare them to the rest of the population, they will be precisely those pinko commie latte-swigging, etc. :-)

Clarissa said...

" students at my school majoring in Political Science and Global/International Studies usually read Samuel Huntington's The Clash of CIvilizations in their first year seminar"

-Poor students.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am naive and I still need to find out how deeply conservative the rest of the population is.
My work experience in the US "liberal" academia, however, made me realize that under their liberal accoutrements, pinko latte-swigging organic food lovers are often deeply conservative individuals.

I ask my students what they think about Huntington and their common answers are that they "do not know" or that they "find it interesting."


eric said...

"Liberal academia" was always a myth, much like the "liberal media", to drum up populist support for conservaitve policies. But colleges have always taught Hobbes, Adam Smith, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Yeats, Heidegger, Aristotle, Burke, Confucius, Pound, Popper, Kerouac, W.V.O. Quine, etc., etc.--writers who have influenced or in some way were sympathetic with conservatism. Even this leftist reads and admires them. I grew up in a conservative household, and just through life experience, and the fact that I had to read and think alot in college, I was led to the realization as to just how banal and insipid contemporary American conservatism really is, with its mishmash of market fundamentalism, rural theocratism, militaristic jingoism, rabid anti-intellectualism, and brazen racism and sexism.

@anonymous--not all of America is deeply conservative; it's about evenly divided, pretty much by region (the further south you go in this country, the more consevative people tend to be, save New Mexico).

Anonymous said...

Anon, I'd disagree. I knew many conservatives at my university (it's Kentucky, what can I say?). They were different than uneducated conservatives in that they could and would befriend, work with, respect, and even engage their liberal counterparts. Many of them had "liberal" leanings on certain issues. One of the most conservative guys I know was open to my point of view, and even changed his mind on some issues after hearing my insights. Some of my favorite professors in the political science department were the openly conservative ones--they were fun to engage with, allowed and encouraged open and respectful debate, and didn't tolerate uninformed opinions, from either side. Those professors challenged me to think.

I miss them all very much. I don't get much of that respectful engagement, the willingness to entertain new ideas, and the willingness to change their minds on issues once further educated on them. You just don't get that outside academia. Sigh. I'll stop reminiscing now.