Friday, December 03, 2004

Intellectual Harassment

Jeff Jacoby today discusses the incredible liberal bias present on our University Campuses, where ideological diversity is mostly nonexistent. This is a problem that is not new, but was first documented by William F. Buckley back in 1951 when he wrote about his experiences at Yale. Jacoby notes:

So, for example, at Cornell, of the 172 faculty members whose party affiliation was recorded, 166 were liberal (Democrats or Greens) and six were conservative (Republicans or Libertarians). At Stanford the liberal-conservative ratio was 151-17. At San Diego State it was 80-11. At SUNY Binghamton, 35-1. At UCLA, 141-9. At the University of Colorado-Boulder, 116-5. Reflecting on these gross disparities, The American Enterprise's editor, Karl Zinsmeister, remarked: "Today's colleges and universities . . . do not, when it comes to political and cultural ideas, look like America."

When it comes to real diversity--diversity of thought--America's colleges and universities are uniformly bullshit-colored. Students who do not toe the liberal intellectual line are punished, excluded, and generally harassed. Newspapers that have articles or advertisements that go against current political thought disappear from campus. Dissent is crushed and humiliated. Censorship and discrimination are rampant. Saddam Hussein or Yasser Arafat would have been emotionally very comfortable as the Dean or Provost at many university campuses.

I have been on many academic faculties over the years--UCLA, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas, and University of Michigan. I can speak personally about the conformity of thought that is expected of faculty in the political arena. The term "liberal cocoon" is nowhere more applicable than on the university campus, where most faculty cannot even imagine that anyone could possibly have political views different from theirs. It is truly revolting to think of sending young minds to learn from the people at these places.

When I was a student, we were in the midst of Vietnam protests on the University campuses. My own university--UC Riverside--was small, but vocal in their protesting. I remember having some reservations about the Vietnam war, but I chose not to participate in the closing down of the campus. During one particular protest in the winter of 1970, I attempted to get to my Greek Literature class and was stopped by a mob of angry students and faculty. When I refused to participate in "solidarity", I was picked up by about a dozen students an summarily thrown into the closest fountain, with my books, notes and papers. While they laughed and cheered, I removed myself from the fountain, disheveled and wet, and-with as much dignity as I could muster- gathered my belongings and walked away. "Try going to class now!" someone jeered. Well I did go to class; and sat shivering and dripping while the only teacher I knew who was still teaching that day somberly discussed Achilles' hubris in the Iliad with me and one other student. He never asked me any questions about what had happened, but I think he knew. When I left, the Professor gravely thanked me for coming to his class.

I was less humiliated than furious by my fellow students' behavior; and I starkly remember the complete and total intolerance with which my dissenting views were greeted. I thought then, as I think now, that THEIR free speech and my tolerance of it ended when they assaulted me and tried to "drown" my free speech. I was perfectly content to let them do their thing, but they had no intention of supporting my freedom to go to class. This was my introduction to true intolerance. And now this type of intellectual harassment is the norm on many campuses.

I also think frequently about that Professor of Greek Literature, more than 30 years later. I think of him as exemplifying the absolute best of academia. Because he believed in ideas and the free expression of ideas--and isn't that the highest ideal of academia? Teaching class that day showed that he cared about the content of my mind and wanted to encourage me to think. His simple act of treating me with dignity and being in class for anyone who wanted to learn had a profound influence on me.

Now I am a professor and regularly teach students. When asked my opinion of current political matters I give it without apology, despite the many shocked expressions that I have had to contend with ("You support Bush?? How could you possibly?). I then try to remind students that they are here to learn to think, not to conform; and not to keep their thinking "inside the box". Some students appreciate my honesty and to their credit will ask me the reasons why I think the way I do. I can see them considering that there are people who think like me in the world. Hopefull it is an eye-opening experience for them. Of course, some students just see me as an aberration or someone just like their parents. Most of the time I try to keep politics out of the learning equation entirely.

Academic freedom is not only meant to protect professors; it is also supposed to ensure students' right to learn without being molested. When instructors use their classrooms to indoctrinate and propagandize, they cheat those students and betray the academic mission they are entrusted with. That should be intolerable to honest men and women of every stripe -- liberals and conservatives alike.
"If this were a survey of students reporting widespread sexual harassment," says ACTA's president, Anne Neal, "there would be an uproar." That is because universities take sexual harassment seriously. Intellectual harassment, on the other hand -- like the one-party conformity it flows from -- they ignore. Until that changes, the scandal of the campuses will only grow worse.

Let me be clear. I am talking about freedom of thought and speech and there is nowhere those concepts should be more sacred than on a university or college campus. I am NOT talking about the Dixie Chicks or Susan Sarandon'sor Hollywood actors' rights to free speech. Of course they have a right to free speech, but if they can't take the consequences of losing money because people like me don't like what they say at concerts or in movies and won't pay to see them, then they should keep their mouths shut. Free speech means you can talk, but I don' t have to pay to listen. Yet, these same people who whine about how people don't like what they're saying, would fully approve of the situation on campus--where ONLY their views are tolerated and promulgated.

If Academia wants to really be the learning environment they proclaim themelves to be, dedicated to the free and open discussion of ideas --even politically incorrect ideas--then they must not tolerate the crushing of dissent by faculty with political agendas. They must crush "political correctness" and tolerate viewpoints different from the majority with open minds. That is what intellectual freedom is all about. And if your feelings are hurt by my free speech--frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

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