Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Lefty Profs

Orin Kerr's post about "Radicals in Higher Education" at The Volokh Conspiracy has drawn 138 comments (and still counting). Here's the post:
Last week, Sean Hannity expressed the following concern on Hannity & Colmes:
Kids are indoctrinated. They’re a captive audience. What can be done to remove these professors with these radical ideas from campus?
Michael Berube responds here.
Professor Bérubé also responds with a comment, in which he replies to some of the early comments and offers a link to his lengthy defense of academic freedom. (Which I may bother to eviscerate someday.) But the real issue isn't academic freedom, it's the one-sided political tilt that prevails in the academy.

My own comment:
Professor Bérubé protests too much. I have no time for Sean Hannity, but the essence (if not the tone) of Hannity's question deserves a thoughtful reply. The usual appeal to academic freedom is no more than an effort to deflect attention from the intellectual bankruptcy of leftist academic cant. I have not noticed that Americans are better off for having been subjected to such cant. It took me a few decades to outgrow my own "indoctrination" at the hands of the mostly left-leaning faculty at a State-supported university. And I suspect that my alma mater was far less to the left when I went there in the Dark Ages of the late 1950s and early 1960s than it is today. As for the bias evident in Professor Bérubé's own port-side emissions, I had this to say a while back about a piece Bérubé wrote for The Nation:
Michael Bérubé [is] a professional academic who is evidently bereft of experience in the real world. His qualifications for writing about affirmative action? He teaches undergraduate courses in American and African-American literature, and graduate courses in literature and cultural studies. He is also co-director of the Disability Studies Program, housed in the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State.

Writing from the ivory tower for the like-minded readers of The Nation ("And Justice for All"), Bérubé waxes enthusiastic about the benefits of affirmative action, which -- to his mind -- "is a matter of distributive justice." Bérubé, in other words, subscribes to "the doctrine that a decision is just or right if all parties receive what they need or deserve." Who should decide what we need or deserve? Why, unqualified academics like Bérubé, of course. Fie on economic freedom! Fie on academic excellence! If Bérubé and his ilk think that a certain class of people deserve special treatment, regardless of their qualifications as workers or students, far be it from the mere consumers of the goods and services of those present and future workers to object. Let consumers eat inferior cake.

Bérubé opines that "advocates of affirmative action have three arguments at their disposal." One of those arguments is that
diversity in the classroom or the workplace is not only a positive good in itself but conducive to greater social goods (a more capable global workforce and a more cosmopolitan environment in which people engage with others of different backgrounds and beliefs).
Perhaps Bérubé knows the meaning of "capable global workforce." If he does, he might have shared it with his readers. As for a workplace that offers a "cosmopolitan environment" and engagement "with others of different backgrounds and beliefs" I say: where's the beef? As a consumer, I want value for my money. What in the hell does diversity -- as defined by Bérubé -- have to do with delivering value? Perhaps that's one reason U.S. jobs are outsourced. (I have nothing against that, but it shouldn't happen because of inefficiency brought about by affirmative action.) Those who seek a cosmopolitan environment and engagement with others of different backgrounds and beliefs can have all of it they want -- on their own time -- just by hanging out in the right (or wrong) places.

Alhough Bérubé seems blind to the economic cost of affirmative action, he is willing to admit that the practice has some shortcomings:
Affirmative action in college admissions has been problematic, sometimes rewarding well-to-do immigrants over poor African-American applicants--except that all the other alternatives, like offering admission to the top 10 or 20 percent of high school graduates in a state, seem to be even worse, admitting badly underprepared kids from the top tiers of impoverished urban and rural schools while keeping out talented students who don't make their school's talented tenth. In the workplace, affirmative action has been checkered by fraud and confounded by the indeterminacy of racial identities--and yet it's so popular as to constitute business as usual for American big business, as evidenced by the sixty-eight Fortune 500 corporations, twenty-nine former high-ranking military leaders and twenty-eight broadcast media companies and organizations that filed amicus briefs in support of the University of Michigan's affirmative action programs in the recent Supreme Court cases of Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).

Stop right there, professor. Affirmative action is "popular" because it's the law and it's also a politically correct position that boards of directors, senior corporate managers, and government officials, and military leaders can take at no obvious cost to themselves. Further, those so-called leaders are sheltered from the adverse consequences of affirmative action on the profitability and effectiveness of their institutions by imperfect competition in the private sector and bureaucratic imperatives in the government sector.

As I wrote in "Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action," here's how affirmative action really operates in the workplace:
If a black person seems to have something like the minimum qualifications for a job, and if the black person's work record and interviews aren't off-putting, the black person is likely to be hired or promoted ahead of equally or better-qualified whites. Why?
* Pressure from government affirmative-action offices, which focus on percentages of minorities hired and promoted, not on the qualifications of applicants for hiring and promotion.

* The ability of those affirmative-action offices to put government agencies and private employers through the pain and expense of extensive audits, backed by the threat of adverse reports to higher ups (in the case of government agencies) and fines and the loss of contracts (in the case of private employers).

* The ever-present threat of complaints to the EEOC (or its local counterpart) by rejected minority candidates for hiring and promotion. Those complaints can then be followed by costly litigation, settlements, and court judgments.

* Boards of directors and senior managers who (a) fear the adverse publicity that can accompany employment-related litigation and (b) push for special treatment of minorities because they think it's "the right thing to do."

* Managers down the line learn to go along and practice just enough reverse discrimination to keep affirmative-action offices and upper management happy.
I reject Bérubé's counsel about academic freedom as utterly as I reject his counsel about affirmative action. Academic freedom seems to be fine for leftists as long as they hold the academy in thrall. More parents would send their children to schools that aren't dominated by leftists if (a) there were enough such schools and (b) the parents could afford to do so. But the left's grip on the academy seems to be as secure as the grip of the labor unions on the American auto industry -- and you can see what has happened to the auto industry as a result.

As I wrote here,
The larger marketplace of ideas counteracts much of what comes out of universities -- in particular the idiocy that emanates from the so-called liberal arts and social sciences. But that's no reason to continue wasting taxpayers' money on ethnic studies, gender studies, and other such claptrap. State legislatures can and should tell State-funded universities to spend less on liberal arts and social sciences and spend more on the teaching of real knowledge: math, physics, chemistry, engineering, and the like. That strikes me as a reasonable and defensible stance.

It isn't necessary for State legislatures to attack particular individuals who profess left-wing blather. All the legislatures have to do is insist that State-funded schools spend taxpayers' money wisely, by focusing on those disciplines that advance the sum of human knowledge. Isn't that what universities are supposed to do?
For another view, let us consult Katherine Ernst's City Journal review of David Horowitz's The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Some choice bits:

The Professors profiles scores of unrepentant Marxists, terrorist-sympathizers (the number of profs expressing utter hatred for the US and Israel is astounding), and the just plain nutty working in today’s American academe. . . . The hostility to the free society, venomous racism—it’s open season on whites and Jews, apparently—and total disregard for objectivity of these far-left-wing ideologues add up to a travesty of the idea of higher education.

These academics—whose radicalism is widespread in today’s university—are “dangerous” not because they hold such beliefs, Horowitz argues, but because they replace scholarship and the transmission of knowledge with classroom activism and the ideological subjugation of paying students. . . . Horowitz is clear: everyone “has a perspective and therefore a bias.” Academics, however, have an obligation “not to impose their biases on students as though they were scientific facts.” Academe’s left-wing establishment—which first conquered its turf during the sixties countercultural movement—is so sure of its intellectual supremacy over conservative dolts and their military-industrial-complex buddies in the White House and corporate America, that it believes it’s obligated to spread the left-wing gospel to unsuspecting students. They need to save the world from the war-mongering criminal class running the country, after all!

Stories of indoctrination run through the book, from the education instructor who required her students to screen Fahrenheit 9/11 a week before the 2004 presidential election, to the criminology professor whose final exam asked students to “Make the case that George Bush is a war criminal.” (The prof later claimed the request was to “Make the argument that the military action of the U.S. attacking Iraq was criminal,” but he had conveniently destroyed all his copies of the original exam.) Once again, the academics’ own words do the loudest talking. Saint Xavier University’s Peter Kirstein: “Teaching is . . . NOT a dispassionate, neutral pursuit of the ‘truth.’ It is advocacy and interpretation.” . . .

Faux-intellectual academic fields like “Peace Studies” are now the latest fad gobbling up university capital. Basically, they’re advocacy platforms for college credit. “Why, if the Joneses want to spend $40,000 for Bobby to study ‘Marxist Perspectives on Fema-Chicana Lit,’ by all means, let them,” some might respond. Yet as The Professors warns, the craziness has inexorably spread to fields that once held sacrosanct the pursuit of objective knowledge. Members of Horowitz’s 101 teach economics, history, and English Literature, among other standard subjects.

Many of The Professors’ profiles offer outrages matching those of Ward Churchill, the infamous 9/11-victims-were-Nazis prof. The lunacy that was Professor Churchill, it’s worth remembering, enjoyed adoration for decades within academe until the public caught on. It may be wishful thinking, but if Horowitz’s book reaches enough hands, there could be some long-overdue collegiate shake-ups this year.

Let us hope so. "Academic freedom" is not a license to waste the money of taxpayers, parents, and students on propagandizing. Academics -- like politicians -- aren't owed a living, in spite of their apparent belief to the contrary. It isn't a violation of "academic freedom" or freedom of speech to say "The junk you teach is worthless, and besides that you don't teach, you preach. Begone!"

Related posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech (a collection of links)