Monday, August 15, 2005

Nat Hentoff on Academic Diversity

Nat Hentoff is the rarest of birds - a liberal who is pro-life and anti-PC. He is, in fact, a liberal in the traditional sense of the word. I usually don't agree with Hentoff, but I find his articles - both as a civil libertarian and a jazz critic - always thought-provoking.

Hentoff has this offering in today's Washington Times, and, as usual, he remains true to his goal of promoting freedom of all kinds:

The present domination by liberal opinion on many college faculties (often verging on this majority's intolerant orthodoxies) was revealed in a recent study, "Politics and Professional Advancement among Faculty," by Stanley Rothman, emeritus professor of government at Smith College; S. Robert Lichter, a professor of communications at George Mason University; and Neil Nevitte, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
As summarized in the June 24-26 New York Sun, the result of this study, confirmed in previous reports in the widely respected, nonpartisan weekly, the Chronicle of Higher Education, reveals that campus liberal professors "outnumber conservatives 5-to-1. It also concludes that conservatives get worse jobs than liberals."
In some of these classrooms, conservative students are intimidated into silence, ignored or occasionally ridiculed. Accordingly, although belatedly, the June 23 "Statement of Academic Rights and Responsibilities," led by the American Council on Education, may finally awaken college trustees and alumni to the degree of indoctrination instead of free inquiry that characterizes much of higher education, particularly in the more elite institutions.

Hentoff's solution?

I would think the clear answer is that college and university presidents and boards of trustees have to look deeply into how welcome their own campuses are to "intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas." The statement by the higher-education establishments is just words without accountability. Also, by doing more investigative reporting on freedom of thought on campuses, the media can also be of significant help to future students, faculty and the nation as a whole. We are engaged not only in a war against terrorism, but also in a war of ideas between those committed to freedom and advocates of its lethal opposite.

The prevalence of "political correctness" at many colleges and universities is far from over, but at least a beginning has been made to make freedom of thought part of the curriculum.

Quite frankly, I have no problem with college faculties being overwhelmingly liberal per se. The problem arises when professors subordinate their goal of the free and open exchanges of ideas to their political ideology. That's what's happening in colleges across the country, and it's damaging the product that the colleges are offering to their students. A college diploma should not just be a credential to get a higher-paying job - it should prepare it's owner to compete in the marketplace of ideas as well. Indoctrination is not the same as education, but the former is increasingly the result as young people pursue higher education.

With the cost of a four-year degree now well over six figures, parents and students alike have a right to get value for their money. But as long as undergraduate education remains the low man on the totem pole for publish-or-perish college professors, and as long as the public buys the myth that having a college education is the only way to get ahead, you won't see any change. But at least Hentoff is willing to discuss the problem of liberal othodoxy on college campuses. Most people keep trying to sweep it under the rug.

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