Monday, October 18, 2010

Restoring academic balance

Over at the National Review’s academic blog Phi Beta Cons, the political scientist Robert Weissberg offers a solution to the problem of the American university’s ominous and increasing Leftward tilt. The solution is not, he says, to institute “ideological affirmative action,” recruiting and hiring and promoting more conservative scholars “so students encounter intellectual diversity.” Aside from its other drawbacks, such a solution “mimics the Left’s subordination of truth to ideology.”

Instead, the solution could not be more simple: “hire truth-seekers,” regardless of their ideology. Over time the ideological proportions of the university will even out. And whatever imbalance remains will be unimportant, because the faculty will share a commitment that transcends ideology—what F. R. Leavis called “the common pursuit,” of truth.

While I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments, Weissberg’s proposal is shockingly naïve. And for the very reason he noticed earlier: “the Left’s subordination of truth to ideology.” The falsification and suppression of anomalous data by climate scientists who wished to sustain the case for global warming suggests that even the sciences have begun to be infected by the virus that spreads throughout the university when it is organized and run by the Left. But if the Left subordinates truth to ideology, and if the Left dominates the university (which means that it controls hiring and promotion), how will the hiring of truth-seekers ever come about, except in the fond dreams of conservatives?

The truth is that the academic system has been corrupted from top to bottom by Leftist ideology. Imagine a smart and well-read young conservative with a passion, say, for George Eliot and her contemporaries, who enrolls in a good university with the intention of majoring in English and eventually becoming a literary scholar. At first, mistakenly assuming that the university encourages intellectual diversity and dissent from consensus and the correction of error, he tries to raise objections when his professors reduce his favorite books to the hunt for red ideology. After a string of B’s, he tries to swallow his doubts and master his professors’ methodology, while nevertheless remaining true to the spirit of his favorite books. He continues to get B’s.

He is undeterred, however, especially when he scores exceptionally high on the Graduate Record Examination. So he approaches a few of his professors to ask for letters of recommendation. They gladly agree to write on his behalf, but their letters are lukewarm at best, full of subtle warnings about him at worst. Because he has cheerfully signed away his right ever to view the letters, he never learns that his professors have betrayed his trust and their profession.

Somehow, though, he is accepted by a first-rate graduate program at an elite university. The same thing that happened on the undergraduate level happens in his graduate courses. He watches with rising disgust as sycophancy is rewarded with A’s, while skepticism is regularly marked with a B. Still, he presses on. He approaches a highly regarded specialist in the nineteenth-century novel. She flatly refuses to direct his dissertation. She just has too many students right now, and even though every single one of her students is a woman, she sees no reason to make room for a man—especially one who got a B in her seminar on Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Eliot’s Early Fiction.

Eventually the graduate director convinces a brilliant young assistant professor—the only man hired in the department in the past three years—to take on the young conservative’s dissertation. Proposal after proposal is turned down, until finally, wearily, the young conservative agrees to write on a subject suggested by the brilliant young assistant professor: Fraternal Intimacy, White Homoeroticism, and Imagined Homogeneity in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century English Novel.

Do I need to go on? By the time he finishes his dissertation and goes on the job market—he applies for jobs in queer theory and sexuality studies—the young conservative has learned either to camouflage his true convictions or to abandon them. Either way, assuming the extreme unlikelihood that he is hired and promoted, he must spend the rest of his life at odds with himself and his greatest strengths.

Weissberg’s proposal to “hire truth-seekers” is broken-backed from the outset, because it fails to account for the corruption of the system. The Left has succeeded in its long march through the institutions. There is no longer any way, I am afraid, to reform academe from within. It must be fundamentally transformed.

And to descend to practical realities. The transformation of the university must begin with the destruction of the principle that makes its corruption possible: namely, the principle of faculty governance. The only way to restore ideological balance and intellectual diversity to the American university—the only practical way to insinuate more truth-seekers into academe—is to take away the faculty’s power to determine curriculum, set hiring priorities, and fill job openings.


A. J. said...

What I don't understand is they the Right doesn't activate its vast financial resources and start its own university. Surely wealthy conservatives could scrounge up a few billion to start anew?

Why do conservative wealthy alumni keep supporting leftist schools? This happens at Yale, A&M, and other top schools--wealthy conservatives give, give, give and the moochers take.

Rand Careaga said...

Is my irony detector miscalibrated here?

nicole said...

What I don't understand is they the Right doesn't activate its vast financial resources and start its own university. Surely wealthy conservatives could scrounge up a few billion to start anew?

This, in fact, has happened. Liberty University, Ave Maria University, Bob Jones...