Taking Back the Academy
Twenty-five years ago, Allan Bloom published a book called The Closing of the American Mind, which made a series of stark arguments about what seemed to be happening in higher education. The left was taking over at elite colleges. After Bloom's lachrymose lamentation, there seemed to be a boom in conservative alarms about the ideological lopsidedness of the academy. Some scholars, such as Dinesh D'Souza, David Horowitz, and, to a certain extent, Victor Davis Hanson, rose to national attention on the issue of liberal academic malfeasance.
Since American universities also train and credential K-12 teachers, not to mention journalists and most media professionals, there was a foreseeable death spiral for conservative thought. Liberalism was destined to attain a frightening monopoly over the culture.
Now that we're 25 years after Bloom, what has been the result?
Conservatives get a big fat F
In part because conservatives focused too much on controversies at elite colleges and then withdrew into well-funded think-tanks, their concerns remained somewhat parochial in dissemination, discussed only in the company of the already wealthy.
Poor and middle-class children born in 1987 are largely unaware that there was ever controversy about what they learned in elementary school, when Clinton was president; in high school, when Bush was president but their teachers hated him; in college, when Barack Obama's supporters taught them ostensible critical thinking, liberal arts, and professional skills; or in graduate or professional school, which they have attended or will continue to attend entirely under Obama's presidency.
In 1998, when I began graduate school, my adviser pulled me aside and said this:
Bobby, I understand that you are religious. But you must never, ever tell a soul about your true beliefs, especially regarding abortion and homosexuality. You will never work in this field if people know what you think.
I followed that advice for ten years, tailoring my dissertation to look progressive and writing for very left-wing journals. I was quiet about my conservative Christianity until 2008.
One thing that prompted me to come clean with my views, however, was the controversy provoked in 2005 by David Horowitz. Horowitz sought to use state legislatures to intervene in cases of political bias on college faculties. The defensive reaction from the professoriate was to say that liberal bias didn't actually exist, that it didn't truly affect the ideology of students, or that bias wasn't that harmful because tactful, prim conservatives could rely on a working meritocracy.
To counter Horowitz, liberal professors began a veritable love affair with "libertarians," whom they often relied upon for statements such as this one, from Sita Slavov:
Writing in "Scaling the Ivory Tower," ... Michael Munger observes that while bias certainly exists, the actual discrimination that results is much less severe than conservatives and libertarians imagine.
Typically, Munger says, "when I ask for evidence of the supposed bias [in publishing articles], the biasee has not one instance of rejection. He didn't write any papers because he had convinced himself that bias would prevent publication anyway." ...
I can personally attest that, despite the liberal bias, I was happy in academe[.]
I only wish my story could be like this guy's. The moment I hung a small 8.5 x 11 placard saying "McCain-Palin" -- that was all -- inside my office (not on my door) in the fall of 2008, my life became hell. I've been boycotted by fellow faculty members, been kicked off-campus for events tied to university grants, had a colleague throw flyers at me, been stalked by paranoid professors videotaping me in search of evidence that I'm racist, been forced to turn over work e-mails to left-wing activists on the other side of the country, been sent racist e-mails, been vandalized, been passed over for early promotion despite a very strong file, been kicked off department listservs (twice), been deleted from the department newsletter (multiple times), been bashed on blogs, been accused of inciting anti-Latino racism, been called a gay-basher, been called an "embarrassment" by a senior colleague in an open letter to the dean...I could go on and on.
You can't trust the left on anything
The point is that I took the liberal professoriate's counterpoint to David Horowitz seriously, and I relied in good faith on the academy's commitment to free and open discourse. When you rely on that commitment, and you are seriously conservative (not merely moderate, or "Republican-leaning," as Sita Slavov says), you get driven out of the field.
I know what it is like to blacklisted -- far worse than what happened to people in the McCarthy era -- and it isn't funny. It doesn't merely have a "chilling" effect on scholarship. It turns education into a combination police state and brainwashing camp.
The opposite of blacklisting is also damaging to education: the deep love and respect liberals show to each other based on the flimsiest of accomplishments. At a dinner with a rare fellow conservative academic, my friend told me, "The hardest thing about being in this field is that we have to fight the human need for love and affirmation." Rightists get lots of boos and little applause. It is hard to report to work and not feel envious of the constant awards, blurbs, promos, kudos, endorsements, grants, sabbaticals, acknowledgements, ribbons, and gold stars that leftists give to each other for half-baked, lazy ideas. Luckily, religious traditions have given us many tips on overcoming envy, one of the deadliest deadly sins.
Don't give up on the kids!
I face 150 of today's products of leftist education every week. They are the people I teach in southern California. Despite all you have heard, they are a good-hearted, hard-working generation, but the fact is that they do not know very much when they graduate beyond the overconfident generalizations promoted by people like Corey Robin (who got a book published, complete with lavish praise, claiming all kinds of nonsense about conservatives).
Fifty years ago, when only 7.7% of the adult population received a four-year undergraduate degree, it would have been likely that the students I teach went directly to the work force and skipped college. Today, however, with most high school graduates enrolling in some level of college classes, and 27.5% of adults attaining a baccalaureate, they receive an education that's been stripped of much of its moral didacticism in order to be inclusive and welcoming.
Unfortunately, the decline in didacticism corresponds with an unraveling family structure. As American youth are getting fewer moral tips at home, they are also being force-fed loopy open-mindedness at school, which often backfires when they become adults and realize that Jesus's warnings about carnal temptations apply not only to the next world. Alcoholics, selfish pleasure-seekers, drug addicts, lonely promiscuous people, and partygoers with shallow friends are bound to be fairly unhappy in this world, too. Hence, a study by UCLA found that half of college students are lacking basic mental wellness and falling into depression and other emotional traps.
Unlike critics such as Walter Williams, Robert J. Samuelson, and Richard Vedder, I do not think that it is wrong for a large segment of the U.S. population to attend educational institutions in their late adolescence and early adulthood. The gut response to say, "Just don't send them to college" feels like more of the defeatist retrograde attitude that has caused the conservative withdrawal from the true educational battleground over the last few decades.
Embrace your inner regulator
If it were to function correctly, college education would be a rite of passage -- similar, perhaps, to basic combat training in societies with compulsory military service, only much longer. The fact that even elite colleges such as Yale receive non-profit status makes it fair for the public to intervene in their curricula. If the left is determined to bewail the lack of regulations imposed on for-profit corporations, then how can they get a pass on the failure to regulate corporations that claim gaping tax loopholes due to a non-profit status? Colleges are corporations, let us not forget.
When I went to basic combat training in my late thirties, I had a Ph.D. -- but rather than spoil me, the drill sergeants came down hard on me to show that I was nobody special. Such humility does a citizen good.
The leftism at the core of today's educational system has failed disastrously to do the one thing that leftism claimed as its raison d'être: equalize opportunities. Consider that yearly fees topped $50,000 at 151 colleges and universities this year. The most expensive list is also a who's-who of the American left, particularly its well-heeled wings. My students at CSU Northridge paid one tenth of that for one year in 2010-2011.
The difference between the opportunities for graduates from Sarah Lawrence, NYU, Harvey Mudd, Columbia, Wesleyan, and Obama's own University of Chicago -- all now among the top-ten most expensive colleges in the U.S. -- and what my students get is enormous. The college with the highest-paid graduates, according to CNN Money, is Princeton, home of Paul Krugman, who had this to say:
I believe in a relatively equal society, supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty. I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I'm proud of it.
As well as this:
The rich are different from you and me: they have more influence.
If you feel that something is not right about Krugman sitting at the most privileged college in America saying such things, your feeling is correct. Besides the blatant hypocrisy in his words, there is also a long-forgotten passage of the Constitution that applies here.
Since conservatives love the Constitution so much...
The framers of the United States Constitution worried about the creeping danger of a new aristocracy to replace the monarchy they had overthrown in the Revolutionary War. Hence, Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution posts this stipulation limiting the powers of the federal government:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
Unlike a law or medical degree, an undergraduate degree is a title issued to someone without a specific skill. It is a title, but of what? (As a Yalie, I get the right to say this.) The differential benefits claimed by Ivy League graduates are gateways to prestige and more money-making, but Ivy League undergraduates are not demonstrably better at anything than other people. These Ivy wunderkinder on Wall Street did, in fact, lead our country into the "greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression."
It is easier to win the upper hand when your opponents have betrayed themselves, as has the American left where education is concerned. The United States government is entangled in the whole left-wing aristocratic game, because these colleges receive tax breaks, federal grant money, and student loan guarantees. If there is any present-day trend illustrating the fears of the framers in inserting Article I, Section 9 into the Constitution, our system of higher education serves as Exhibit A. Groundless titles of nobility are harmful to democracy.
Right now, the left has its hands dirtiest because leftists run almost all of college education. (For instance, as reported in Inside Higher Education, only 4 percent of public doctoral institution presidents support Republicans, and not a single private doctoral university president sides currently with Republican policy.) The good thing about this horrendous situation is that conservatives, if they are smart about their rhetoric, can isolate and identify higher education problems as leftist problems, since there are so few conservatives involved in the colleges that are most blatantly violating Section I of the U.S. Constitution.