October 6, 2009
Swimming Upstream: The Life of a Conservative Professor in Academia
I have been a faculty member at a major State University for 40 years. Several years after my arrival, I voted for George McGovern. Eight years later, I voted for Ronald Reagan. In those eight years, my family and I experienced several traumas that caused me to reevaluate -- and ultimately, drastically alter -- the political, cultural and economic axioms that had governed my life.
Within months of buying my first home in an excellent neighborhood, within walking distance to the University and, most importantly, located in a district with an outstanding local public elementary school, my five year old son was forcibly bussed to an inferior school, many miles away, in a horrible neighborhood in order to satisfy the utopian vision of a myopic federal judge. This betrayal of my fundamental rights was undoubtedly the greatest shock to my political psyche.
Another was a Sabbatical year spent living and working in Jerusalem, during which time the UN issued time the infamous "Zionism is racism" resolution. I was able to observe firsthand that the standard propaganda about Israel and Zionism that was promulgated in America and elsewhere -- almost exclusively by those on the Left that I had formerly supported -- was nothing more than bald-faced, hateful lies. This and other events in the 1970s caused me to rethink everything that I had taken for granted since adolescence about how the world worked.
I emerged from the exercise as an enthusiastic conservative. Thus I was no longer your average faculty member who adhered to the liberal party line, but instead one of a tiny cadre who completely disagreed with the leftist mentality that dominated the thought of campus faculty and administrators.
The overwhelmingly liberal atmosphere on campus is well known. In the one place in society at which there should be diversity of thought, exploration of conflicting ideas and a propensity to challenge conventional wisdom, we have instead a mind-numbing conformity of opinion and a complete unwillingness to entertain any thought or idea that deviates from the accepted truth. That conformity encompasses:
- The legitimacy of virtually any program that promotes the interests of minority and female faculty, staff and students, even if the program is blatantly racist or sexist -- justified by a belief that America's past unjust treatment of blacks, American Indians and Japanese-Americans, and its unfair treatment of women render such discrimination necessary and lawful.
- A multicultural mentality, which preaches that America's Eurocentric, white, Christian heritage is responsible for colonialism, imperialism, racism and sexism, and that its replacement by a culture that "celebrates diversity" will transform the US into a more just and humane society.
- A distrust of free markets and democratic capitalism, and its severe limitation in favor of a centralized, government-controlled economy that will redistribute the wealth of America more fairly.
- A denigration of religious belief and its replacement by the "worship" of secular humanism, with mindless environmentalism occupying a central place in the new religion.
Not being in sync with any of this, how did I cope? Not so well, actually. First of all, it took me a long time to recognize and accept that the university atmosphere I knew as a student was gone. Initially, I was too busy pursuing my career and building my academic resume to notice what a fish out of water I had become.
My epiphany came about 20 years ago at the inauguration of a new campus president. In his acceptance speech, he said many things that seemed bizarre to me, but the comment I recall most vividly was his insistence that he would create a world-class university by building "excellence through diversity." His point seemed to be that by substantially increasing the number of minority and female faculty, staff and students (and consequently decreasing the number of white males), this would of necessity make us a great university.
I always thought that the best way to build a great university was to attract the brightest, most innovative and productive faculty and students -- regardless of their hue -- but I realized at that moment, as the applause for his idea rained down, how out of step I was.
What did I do? To my eternal shame, I ducked. Oh initially, during a painful, but relatively brief period, I contested the new campus consensus. People quickly, but politely, informed me that my ideas were retrograde and that I would be well advised to get with the program. In fact, I was passed over for an administrative position I coveted and for which I was far more qualified than the individual selected. Realizing that my resistance was damaging my reputation on campus, I more or less clammed up and spent more than a decade trying to ignore the poisonous atmosphere.
This less than noble strategy proved effective and eventually I achieved a high administrative position in which I adhered to policies and shepherded programs that were diametrically opposed to my fundamental beliefs. For years I tended to my bleeding tongue because I was constantly biting it during meetings to prevent myself from blurting out my true feelings about the bigoted ideas that constituted the consensus of the folks at the table.
But as I began to near retirement, I decided there was no point in maintaining my forced silence any longer. As I had 15 years earlier, I unburdened myself and let fly my misgivings about the liberal campus hegemony. What happened this time? Here come three novel observations:
- 1. To my surprise, my "retrograde" conservative opinions were not met with calumny or derision, but rather with smiles and amusement. "Oh, that's just Ron being Ron," it was said. I wasn't viewed as a threat to the campus philosophy, but rather as some kind of queer duck to be tolerated at best, ignored at worst. This was certainly more pleasant for me than being told to shut up and get your head straight as I anticipated. But it was also incredibly frustrating that colleagues didn't take me seriously. The impression I had was that they felt there was no reason to take my ideas seriously because I was so obviously wrong that no right-thinking person could be swayed by my arguments.
- 2. My second observation is that I was not the only one failing to make waves. In fact, there were no waves whatsoever. There was no debate, no controversy; just the calm serenity of a campus at peace with its almost universally accepted mind set. I attribute this to three things. First, of course, anyone raising an objection was viewed, as I was, as hopelessly out of it and worthy only of being ignored. This has a chilling effect, perhaps even more effective than derision. Second, I suspect that those who believed as I did were still in lockdown mode -- for the same reasons as I was over the years. And third, I believe the liberal brainwash has been so effective on campus -- and in the national educational system in general -- that many in the liberal majority can't even fathom that there is anyone who doubts the legitimacy of their point of view.
- 3. My final observation is the following. The liberal hegemony exists in many quarters of the country beside academia -- e.g., the mainstream media, major foundations, law schools and the trail lawyers they produce, public school teachers, the Democratic Party, even big corporations. But none of these can maintain the atmosphere as effortlessly as campus profs and administrators. Politicians encounter opposition from their constituents; the media from its readers, listeners and viewers; trail lawyers from their clients; and corporations from their stockholders and consumers. But the educational establishment-both higher and lower-encounters little resistance. The students are ignorant, the parents are cowed, and Boards of Regents are cowardly. The ivory tower is alive and well in America and the intellectual product it presents is completely one-sided. What a tragedy for our nation and especially for its youth.