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Academic freedom in the paper

I wasn’t going to comment on this, but I found a copy of the op-ed in today’s Chronicle on FREE‘s site. The subject is academic diversity.

Every major university claims to celebrate diversity. And they are clearly sincere if we restrict the term to race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. However, if we include philosophical orientation and political party identification, such claims are decidedly disingenuous. Conservatives and classical liberals are rarely welcome — and Republicans are scarce.

Standard comments on the subject. Now, guess where Baden goes next. Go ahead, guess.

Got it? Ok, moving on:

“The jury on Marxism is still out.” Try to imagine how insulated, insensitive, and ignorant one appears when making this statement in public. Adults who agree that Marx’s ideas on class struggle remain relevant cluster in universities.

Those outside the academy hear denial and irresponsible idiocy, for the jury of experience returned its verdict on Marxism decades ago. For example, Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson stated, “Wonderful theory. Wrong species.” Eugene Genovese, a founder of the Conference of Socialist Scholars, noted, “The tyranny is built into the system…. We built a political movement that conquered a third of the world, with 100 million corpses to show for it.” University of Washington professor (and 2006 FREE Summer Scholar in Residence) Daniel Chirot noted of communism: once it was clear its “promise [of progress] was increasingly based on lies, its immorality became unbearable.”

Huh? My only explanation is that Baden was two paragraphs short and needed some filler. What does the fact that there are communists in academia have to do with the claim that academia isn’t diverse enough? It’s almost like Baden doesn’t think them worthy of academia. Isn’t that kind of bias what he’s arguing against?

Baden goes on to cite “How Politically Diverse Are the Social Sciences and Humanities?” It may be, as he says, one of the most careful studies, but it’s still based on only 17% of the 5,500 questionnaires the authors mailed out.

This disproportion is far more extreme in literature and the arts, while engineering is more balanced. Generally, the more subjective the field, the more collectivist or “liberal” its professors. The strong implication is that students receive a biased perspective. Horror stories of liberal intolerance to alternative ideas abound, get around, and bounce back.

Is that the implication? Are liberals more likely to be biased in the classroom? I don’t think so. We’re hardly to the point where we can make an assessment of bias from party affiliation data. We don’t have accurate enough studies. We also haven’t ruled out the effect of other factors. Maybe liberals are more likely than conservatives to seek university jobs or to even go into certain subjects. Other questions: is party affiliation really a good measure of diversity? Are all points of view equally valid? As for the last part, there are plenty of rumors. Horowitz has promoted plenty of these rumors. Many have turned out to be false or unfounded. I don’t think it’s a good idea to rely on that kind of spotty anecdotal evidence.

Baden then takes an unexpected turn and criticizes Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights.” His critique is basically that bias is so entrenched Horowitz’s idea will never work. Nothing really interesting.

Faculties are encysted and ever more culturally removed from the American mainstream. This creates tension as their views become known. Agitation for an Academic Bill of Rights is only an early sign of corrective efforts. Can we have intellectual diversity?

Why should academia reflect mainstream America? Are they supposed to study their subjects in depth and then magically arrive at what constitues popular opinion at any given moment? Maybe Baden doesn’t think they should (after all, libertarians aren’t exactly mainstream), but this is an argument that seems to come up a lot.

On the subject, Michael Bérubé’s very long post on the subject is a good read.

Categories: The Left
  1. March 14, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Edwin Meese and Ken Star using all that EXXON Mobile money to run judicial re-education camps to take our lands away from us, what’s not to like about that?

    You did notice another massive oil spill on the Northern Slopes, didn’t you?

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