It's Personal: Confronting the Academy's Leftism

Lately, there has been so much news about the academy’s leftism going insane, it would take about ten consecutive articles to rehash all that’s happened in the first half of 2014:

  • crazy professors assaulting pro-life teenagers
  • literature professors with no political background inveighing against Israel
  • homosexual witch-burners wielding FOIA requests
  • zombies shouting down panelists in chilling unison
  • deans and provosts with no background in law enforcement judging rape cases
  • commencement speakers axed to please petulant faculty subcultures.
All of that’s just your average Wednesday.  We could go on and on.

You know it’s bad when Nanny State Bloomberg has to read Harvard graduates the Riot Act over liberal bias on college campuses.  (I don’t think his speech was actually as good as Laura Ingraham seems to think it was, but that’s just me.)

But let’s climb out of the rabbit hole for a moment

Life is too short, and if you are an American Thinker reader, you know the deal already.  I will not bore you with the catalog of vanities coming out of academe.  Every year it gets worse, and yet there is no rock bottom.

Nonetheless, in the spirit of never surrendering, I am going to go about answering a basic question that has to haunt people who still care about the future of higher education in our homeland: how can this be?  How did the academy get this bad?  In gaining greater clarity about how such intellectual dereliction became possible, one might increase the tiny possibility that we can still change it.

It might be more comforting to quote some towering villains in intellectual history (Marcuse, Derrida, Foucault, Spivak, etc.) or cite a massive global conspiracy, but the truth is, it’s so much smaller and more irritatingly inane than all of that.  Put simply, the academy got this bad because the people running it became, as individuals, small-minded and cliquish and invidious.

To understand the big picture of leftist academic perfidy, you have to understand, first of all, the little picture: the parochial experience of the average university department.  It is in this cell that all the ruinous behaviors fester.

The Academic Department

Whether it’s science, business administration, or English, it’s roughly the same daily grind.

Imagine having to report to work every day so you can deal with ignorant people who think they’re geniuses.

You show up, and they all talk down to you as if you are a moron, even though you know much more than they do.  You try to speak up, politely at first, and eventually not so politely, but it doesn’t matter.  They will not let you talk.

If you force your way into the conversation, they will literally ban you from public venues; you will be blocked from listservs, deleted from the department newsletter, and prohibited from getting on meeting agendas.  Should those tactics fail, you may be accused of hurting the feelings of some protected group or bullying an innocent Eddie Haskell, so there will be a real gag order placed on you for months while diversity attorneys investigate.

They give each other awards, laugh at each other’s jokes, and carry on blithely as a social club that would be elitist, if it weren’t for the fact that their scholarly acumen doesn’t actually rise much higher than the average blog on the Huffington Post, which as it turns out, some of them write for.  Nothing is more ordinary and predictable than HuffPo, Salon, Mother Jones, or The Nation, but don’t tell them that.  They’re part of a bustling coterie of brainiacs.

The people you work with hate you because they assume you hate them – not based on any real evidence, but simply based on their presumptions about you because you are different from them – and since they won’t let you talk, you never have a chance to explain yourself.

If you breathe the wrong way, they have a right to feel offended, yet they can insult everything you hold dear and recklessly denounce groups you are affiliated with, and you never have the right to feel offended.  Ever.  You are the 1%, and they are the 99%.  And not in a good way – it’s not like you are the robber baron and they are the powerless masses.  It’s more like you are Emmett Till and the office is Money, Mississippi in 1955.

The Social Landscape of the Academic Department

Your colleagues fall into three basic categories.

  1. The Good: Thirty percent are good people who want to do the right thing, but you can’t really reach them because all the other people in the department cloud their view of you like so much fog.  Since these are the people who everyone knows are principled, your adversaries will do everything in their power to thwart any real friendships between you and them, lest they see you for who you really are and come to defend you.
  1. The Cowardly: Then there are the 45% who just don’t want any hassles.  They may be somewhat nice to you, but once you’ve been labeled as the bad guy, they will avoid you like the plague.  You can expect the occasional pleasantry from them, but they will never risk anything to help you, and helping you is always a risk because of the third category.
  1. The Ugly: Lastly, about 25% of the department is composed of unscrupulous sadists.  Naturally, they hate you and will never change their minds about you.  Almost always they have some terrible past full of suffering that licenses all kinds of professional terrorism against others.

When you first start working there, the differences between these three categories mean a lot.  You forge some bonds, build some bridges.  Eventually, after getting savagely attacked and finding nobody to stand up for you – and after having to hire lawyers to keep your job – the distinctions of good, cowardly, and ugly lose all meaning.  They all melt into one gigantic puddle of sludge that you know you must sidestep.  If you step in them, you will sink.

They fear for their safety.  They believe that your continued existence in their midst might not only irritate them, but also harm them by exposing them to murderous plots by a military-industrial complex, Tea Party gunmen, or Christian zealots with torches.  If not you directly, then perhaps people you know might be tempted to drop by the office and commit illiberal genocide while they are in the neighborhood.  This explains why the police will keep an eye on you but will not help you when you get death threats, vandalism on your office door, or racist e-mails.

Welcome to my world

That’s what it is like to be the only outspoken conservative in a college that has thousands of left-wing faculty members.  It isn’t the political persecution that makes the experience so awful, though of course that is a problem.  It’s worst when it boils down to basic personal conflict.

The overarching dynamic is denial.  None of your colleagues can acknowledge that they are biased, since their bias is, first and foremost, the absolute conviction that their ideologically narrow and highly controvertible assertions are actually impartial and foolproof understandings of reality.  They do not even like to be called leftist; once in a while, in the heat of an argument, they might even fib about having once admired William F. Buckley.  (“Prove it,” I say.  “Show me one thing you published that ever praised him.”  No proof materializes.)

When I say they are ignorant, I’m not simply mirroring their condescension.  They almost never interact with anyone who disagrees with them on anything beyond minor cosmetic differences, whereas I can rarely be in the same room on a college campus with anyone who agrees with me.  Any idea I entertain is immediately vetted under the most scathing scrutiny from relentlessly hostile inquisitors.  Any idea they entertain is met with effusive affirmation and enshrined as expert consensus within minutes.

I have to understand the ideological camps to which I belong and the ideological camps to which they belong, none of which overlap.  Meanwhile, they have no critical outsider’s view of their own camps, which they do not even realize are camps of thought (they think they are merely intelligent and drawn to others who share their intelligence.)  Nor do they have any knowledge whatsoever of the camps outside of their fenced and sheltered academic world.  They don’t know of any right-wing academics except as two-dimensional caricatures lambasted in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  They have a strong aversion to Fox News but most likely never watched it, except when it’s excerpted by Jon Stewart.

They think the New York Times is a serious newspaper in everlasting pursuit of truth.  They believe what they hear on NPR and Democracy Now.

There was once a time when leftists were challenging orthodoxy and unearthing perspectives that had been censored and marginalized.  They were fighting the Man.  But seriously, how long ago was that?  Many departments no longer even have any of the hippies who shook things up in the 1960s.  Now you have a lot of people born in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, who possess none of the courage once required of the left, but all of the arrogance, funding, institutional cover, and tenure that they inherited by aping those aging hippies until the latter retired and passed the baton to them.

The saddest thing about working around a lot of leftist academics is that they are truly incapable of seeing themselves for what they are.  They believe they are neutral.  They think they have a diversity of viewpoints already.  Because they quarrel with each other over picayune differences, they don’t see the suffocating lockstep nature of their beliefs.  Worst of all, they think they are kind and benevolent people.

Quo vadis?

When we see the famous footage of a “feminist studies” professor stealing a teenage girl’s protest sign and then assaulting her in an elevator, it is so hard to fathom that the academy could have fallen so far.  It is easy to see the animalistic behavior and infer that nothing can be done.  I detect a small hint of gratuitous pleasure felt by conservatives in perusing sites like Campus Reform and partaking in the commonplace but ultimately futile exercise of “outrage porn.”

Our media hubs like FOX News encourage this self-satisfying stasis because they tend to focus on conservative students who are wronged by leftist faculty.  Rarely discussed are the few faculty who are conservative or center-left with a working conscience.  It is true that conservative students need our support and sympathy.  But most of those students are not going to work in higher education.  They’d be crazy to go into academia as it currently stands.  So as much as we need to rally behind them, doing so will never change the left-wing bias that eats away at American universities.

The monstrousness of the American academy is really an aggregation of all the mundane frictions that come from interacting with personalities who have, through a convergence of multiple social forces, fallen into a rut.  If there is ever to be a Reconquista of the academy, it will have to be carried out in the very place where we few conservative academics do not want to go: interpersonal relations.

I say, go there.

If you are reading this and you are, like me, a beleaguered and exceedingly rare rightist professor sticking it out behind enemy lines, you should feel a tremendous weight on your shoulders.  Nothing is going to improve unless you – and I – gird up for the worst kind of everyday battles.  We must fight the emotional and psychological warfare of department gossip, water-cooler snubs, committee dust-ups, mailroom subterfuge – all of it, the nasty, the sleazy, the venal, the incestuous, the soul-crushingly small and petty.  We must remind our colleagues, constantly, that we exist, even if it drives them into hysterics and triggers ever escalating forms of backlash against us.

If we give up and hide, if we start skipping department meetings, if we hide ourselves under bushels, we end up making the problem that much worse.  Conservative students won’t know there is another way of seeing our disciplines. Conservative readers won’t see any examples of people with their traditionalist tendencies dedicating themselves to scholarship.  And leftists will feel comfortable and utterly unchallenged – the way they feel, when they turn most dangerous.

Robert Oscar Lopez edits English Manif.

Lately, there has been so much news about the academy’s leftism going insane, it would take about ten consecutive articles to rehash all that’s happened in the first half of 2014:

  • crazy professors assaulting pro-life teenagers
  • literature professors with no political background inveighing against Israel
  • homosexual witch-burners wielding FOIA requests
  • zombies shouting down panelists in chilling unison
  • deans and provosts with no background in law enforcement judging rape cases
  • commencement speakers axed to please petulant faculty subcultures.

All of that’s just your average Wednesday.  We could go on and on.

You know it’s bad when Nanny State Bloomberg has to read Harvard graduates the Riot Act over liberal bias on college campuses.  (I don’t think his speech was actually as good as Laura Ingraham seems to think it was, but that’s just me.)

But let’s climb out of the rabbit hole for a moment

Life is too short, and if you are an American Thinker reader, you know the deal already.  I will not bore you with the catalog of vanities coming out of academe.  Every year it gets worse, and yet there is no rock bottom.

Nonetheless, in the spirit of never surrendering, I am going to go about answering a basic question that has to haunt people who still care about the future of higher education in our homeland: how can this be?  How did the academy get this bad?  In gaining greater clarity about how such intellectual dereliction became possible, one might increase the tiny possibility that we can still change it.

It might be more comforting to quote some towering villains in intellectual history (Marcuse, Derrida, Foucault, Spivak, etc.) or cite a massive global conspiracy, but the truth is, it’s so much smaller and more irritatingly inane than all of that.  Put simply, the academy got this bad because the people running it became, as individuals, small-minded and cliquish and invidious.

To understand the big picture of leftist academic perfidy, you have to understand, first of all, the little picture: the parochial experience of the average university department.  It is in this cell that all the ruinous behaviors fester.

The Academic Department

Whether it’s science, business administration, or English, it’s roughly the same daily grind.

Imagine having to report to work every day so you can deal with ignorant people who think they’re geniuses.

You show up, and they all talk down to you as if you are a moron, even though you know much more than they do.  You try to speak up, politely at first, and eventually not so politely, but it doesn’t matter.  They will not let you talk.

If you force your way into the conversation, they will literally ban you from public venues; you will be blocked from listservs, deleted from the department newsletter, and prohibited from getting on meeting agendas.  Should those tactics fail, you may be accused of hurting the feelings of some protected group or bullying an innocent Eddie Haskell, so there will be a real gag order placed on you for months while diversity attorneys investigate.

They give each other awards, laugh at each other’s jokes, and carry on blithely as a social club that would be elitist, if it weren’t for the fact that their scholarly acumen doesn’t actually rise much higher than the average blog on the Huffington Post, which as it turns out, some of them write for.  Nothing is more ordinary and predictable than HuffPo, Salon, Mother Jones, or The Nation, but don’t tell them that.  They’re part of a bustling coterie of brainiacs.

The people you work with hate you because they assume you hate them – not based on any real evidence, but simply based on their presumptions about you because you are different from them – and since they won’t let you talk, you never have a chance to explain yourself.

If you breathe the wrong way, they have a right to feel offended, yet they can insult everything you hold dear and recklessly denounce groups you are affiliated with, and you never have the right to feel offended.  Ever.  You are the 1%, and they are the 99%.  And not in a good way – it’s not like you are the robber baron and they are the powerless masses.  It’s more like you are Emmett Till and the office is Money, Mississippi in 1955.

The Social Landscape of the Academic Department

Your colleagues fall into three basic categories.

  1. The Good: Thirty percent are good people who want to do the right thing, but you can’t really reach them because all the other people in the department cloud their view of you like so much fog.  Since these are the people who everyone knows are principled, your adversaries will do everything in their power to thwart any real friendships between you and them, lest they see you for who you really are and come to defend you.
  1. The Cowardly: Then there are the 45% who just don’t want any hassles.  They may be somewhat nice to you, but once you’ve been labeled as the bad guy, they will avoid you like the plague.  You can expect the occasional pleasantry from them, but they will never risk anything to help you, and helping you is always a risk because of the third category.
  1. The Ugly: Lastly, about 25% of the department is composed of unscrupulous sadists.  Naturally, they hate you and will never change their minds about you.  Almost always they have some terrible past full of suffering that licenses all kinds of professional terrorism against others.

When you first start working there, the differences between these three categories mean a lot.  You forge some bonds, build some bridges.  Eventually, after getting savagely attacked and finding nobody to stand up for you – and after having to hire lawyers to keep your job – the distinctions of good, cowardly, and ugly lose all meaning.  They all melt into one gigantic puddle of sludge that you know you must sidestep.  If you step in them, you will sink.

They fear for their safety.  They believe that your continued existence in their midst might not only irritate them, but also harm them by exposing them to murderous plots by a military-industrial complex, Tea Party gunmen, or Christian zealots with torches.  If not you directly, then perhaps people you know might be tempted to drop by the office and commit illiberal genocide while they are in the neighborhood.  This explains why the police will keep an eye on you but will not help you when you get death threats, vandalism on your office door, or racist e-mails.

Welcome to my world

That’s what it is like to be the only outspoken conservative in a college that has thousands of left-wing faculty members.  It isn’t the political persecution that makes the experience so awful, though of course that is a problem.  It’s worst when it boils down to basic personal conflict.

The overarching dynamic is denial.  None of your colleagues can acknowledge that they are biased, since their bias is, first and foremost, the absolute conviction that their ideologically narrow and highly controvertible assertions are actually impartial and foolproof understandings of reality.  They do not even like to be called leftist; once in a while, in the heat of an argument, they might even fib about having once admired William F. Buckley.  (“Prove it,” I say.  “Show me one thing you published that ever praised him.”  No proof materializes.)

When I say they are ignorant, I’m not simply mirroring their condescension.  They almost never interact with anyone who disagrees with them on anything beyond minor cosmetic differences, whereas I can rarely be in the same room on a college campus with anyone who agrees with me.  Any idea I entertain is immediately vetted under the most scathing scrutiny from relentlessly hostile inquisitors.  Any idea they entertain is met with effusive affirmation and enshrined as expert consensus within minutes.

I have to understand the ideological camps to which I belong and the ideological camps to which they belong, none of which overlap.  Meanwhile, they have no critical outsider’s view of their own camps, which they do not even realize are camps of thought (they think they are merely intelligent and drawn to others who share their intelligence.)  Nor do they have any knowledge whatsoever of the camps outside of their fenced and sheltered academic world.  They don’t know of any right-wing academics except as two-dimensional caricatures lambasted in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  They have a strong aversion to Fox News but most likely never watched it, except when it’s excerpted by Jon Stewart.

They think the New York Times is a serious newspaper in everlasting pursuit of truth.  They believe what they hear on NPR and Democracy Now.

There was once a time when leftists were challenging orthodoxy and unearthing perspectives that had been censored and marginalized.  They were fighting the Man.  But seriously, how long ago was that?  Many departments no longer even have any of the hippies who shook things up in the 1960s.  Now you have a lot of people born in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, who possess none of the courage once required of the left, but all of the arrogance, funding, institutional cover, and tenure that they inherited by aping those aging hippies until the latter retired and passed the baton to them.

The saddest thing about working around a lot of leftist academics is that they are truly incapable of seeing themselves for what they are.  They believe they are neutral.  They think they have a diversity of viewpoints already.  Because they quarrel with each other over picayune differences, they don’t see the suffocating lockstep nature of their beliefs.  Worst of all, they think they are kind and benevolent people.

Quo vadis?

When we see the famous footage of a “feminist studies” professor stealing a teenage girl’s protest sign and then assaulting her in an elevator, it is so hard to fathom that the academy could have fallen so far.  It is easy to see the animalistic behavior and infer that nothing can be done.  I detect a small hint of gratuitous pleasure felt by conservatives in perusing sites like Campus Reform and partaking in the commonplace but ultimately futile exercise of “outrage porn.”

Our media hubs like FOX News encourage this self-satisfying stasis because they tend to focus on conservative students who are wronged by leftist faculty.  Rarely discussed are the few faculty who are conservative or center-left with a working conscience.  It is true that conservative students need our support and sympathy.  But most of those students are not going to work in higher education.  They’d be crazy to go into academia as it currently stands.  So as much as we need to rally behind them, doing so will never change the left-wing bias that eats away at American universities.

The monstrousness of the American academy is really an aggregation of all the mundane frictions that come from interacting with personalities who have, through a convergence of multiple social forces, fallen into a rut.  If there is ever to be a Reconquista of the academy, it will have to be carried out in the very place where we few conservative academics do not want to go: interpersonal relations.

I say, go there.

If you are reading this and you are, like me, a beleaguered and exceedingly rare rightist professor sticking it out behind enemy lines, you should feel a tremendous weight on your shoulders.  Nothing is going to improve unless you – and I – gird up for the worst kind of everyday battles.  We must fight the emotional and psychological warfare of department gossip, water-cooler snubs, committee dust-ups, mailroom subterfuge – all of it, the nasty, the sleazy, the venal, the incestuous, the soul-crushingly small and petty.  We must remind our colleagues, constantly, that we exist, even if it drives them into hysterics and triggers ever escalating forms of backlash against us.

If we give up and hide, if we start skipping department meetings, if we hide ourselves under bushels, we end up making the problem that much worse.  Conservative students won’t know there is another way of seeing our disciplines. Conservative readers won’t see any examples of people with their traditionalist tendencies dedicating themselves to scholarship.  And leftists will feel comfortable and utterly unchallenged – the way they feel, when they turn most dangerous.

Robert Oscar Lopez edits English Manif.

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