Thursday, November 27, 2008

Diversity In The University

Monday, November 28, 2005

David Horowitz has a point when he complains about the pall of orthodoxy at the present-day university. Too many departments have been taken over by people who think alike on controversial political issues. For example, if professors of Middle Eastern studies believe that western colonialism, American imperialism and Israeli militarism are the root of all problems in that area, and only teach that point of view, then their students are being cheated by this impoverished, even false view of the world.

However, Horowitz's proposed solution, an "Academic Bill of Rights," is a bad idea. Either it has teeth or not. If it doesn't, who cares? If it does, it could force professors to teach what they don't believe, which is bad for academic freedom (even if the profs hide behind this very freedom), and could lead to all sorts of useless complaints from too-easily aggrieved parties.

Nevertheless, when academics are actually asked to defend their positions to a greater public, as usual, they make a hash of it. A good example is the intellectual dishonesty seen in Russell Jacoby's LA Times commentary. Instead of taking on the student's bill of rights honestly, and admitting it tries to address a serious problem, Jacoby caricatures the situation. The only examples Jacoby gives are forcing professors to teach nonsense like astrology, intelligent design and Holocaust denial.

Jacoby, a history professor at UCLA, ends with the reminder "Truth itself is partisan." Glad to hear he believes that. But scary, if I were a student, that my history prof seems to think he's the one in full possession of it.


Blogger QueensGuy said...

I saw some research last month claiming that, despite the overwhelming liberal bias of college professors, they have essentially no effect on the political views of their students. I'm a wee bit skeptical, but then I can't think of a single one of my professors who ever convinced me of any political view.

4:16 PM, November 28, 2008  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

In my experience, students who already have well-formed (or even mosterately-well-formed) political opinions are not swayed by their professors.

But I have often seen students who are apolitical and uninformed adopt the views of a professor who strikes them as exciting and admirable.

This is even more common in high school. I was totally unpolitical in high school, and ended up adopting the views of some of my teachers, which stuck with me to a mild degree until my third year at UCLA when I started reading political stuff (beginning with Heinlein).

However, I suspect that the apolitical students who are swayed by professors generally remain at least half apathetic, and probably don't bother to vote.

(Then of course there are also students who suddenly become super-political in college, usually adopting some form of ideology or joining some crusade or movement. In my experience, this never happens because of a professor -- it happens because of a peer group or because of reading, or both.)

11:56 PM, November 28, 2008  

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