links to an interesting article by KC Johnson
regarding the response in some quarters to recent studies showing a liberal slant in academia. While the comments to the article make what seem to be valid critiques of the methodology of the study, some of the responses--both those cited by Williams and those that came out in comments--are just crazy.
Once before, I blogged
on an article in favor of a more ideologically diverse academic sphere that was so bad it made me want to run away from the position as fast as I could. Fortunately for everyone, now there is a leftist counter-balance, an argument against a more diverse academic sphere that is equally horrific in its explication.
The author of this "argument" is Montclair State Professor Grover Furr. Though rather lengthy (not that I have the right to complain about that), it basically comes down to the rather novel core that Liberal = Good and Conservative = Bad. Well, when you put it like that, hell yes we want more liberals! Why didn't I think of it before?
Of course, Professor Furr's "logic" only makes sense if you subscribe to a few of the logical leaps (to put it mildly) he makes along the way.
Ideologically, most college faculty are trained to use evidence, and to entertain and discuss differing viewpoints. This is congenial to "liberalism", and even more so to to Marxism, but not to certain dogmatic strains of thought, and modern "conservatism" is among the latter.
During the past 30 years or so the limits of acceptable opinion in the American academy, especially in the humanities and social sciences, have been greatly expanded. This in turn has meant that graduate students have been increasingly exposed to viewpoints that were formerly considered "taboo." It also means that subjecting traditional beliefs to scrutiny and doubt is far more common in higher education than it was a generation ago. This is itself a "liberal" ideology.
Most college faculty feel threatened by those who show any inclination towards censorship, especially in teaching. Those who advocate various kinds of censorship these days are overwhelmingly "conservatives."
I won't claim to be an expert on Marxism--my particular brand of liberalism leans more towards Deconstructionalism, Critical Theory, and Post-modernism. However, it seems rather odd to claim that Marxism is particularly open to differing views. Marxism is a totalistic philosophy--it claims class struggle is the root of all
conflict and all social structures. Thus, it is inherently unreceptive to differing views of how the world came to be as it is--not just conservative claims of "objective merit" or the "invisible hand," but also liberal explanations like structural racism, sexism or tribalism. This isn't to say that Marxism hasn't informed many liberal social theories--it has, and it should, because it was an interesting (if in my view ultimately wrong) development in the philosophical field. But most modern liberal theories can't co-exist with Marxism all that easily, considering that they don't view class as the breeding ground of everything wrong in society. One also might note that the continued presence
of true-believer Marxists represents pretty good prima facia
evidence of their stubborn refusal to face the facts--after all, Marx was pretty much dead wrong in his predictions of how the world would respond to capitalism (let alone his claims that it was "inevitable").
Professor Furr's allegations of censorship is also rather peculiar, considering that he specifically argues that a minimization of conservative viewpoints is a bona fide goal colleges should strive towards ("...we can never have too few
'conservatives.'"). I think that skirts pretty close to the edge of censorship. But regardless of whether it is or is not, conservatives can make a pretty good case that liberals are no strangers to the censorship mentality. Black Liberal Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy has noted the actions of liberal groups targeting purveyors of "hate speech,"--sometimes correctly, sometimes overzealously. Liberal Law Professors Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, and Charles Lawrence III all have advocated for campus speech codes. We can debate the merit of these proposals--we can even debate whether they're advocating "censorship." But it certainly is a close enough call that Furr's sweeping claim that "conservatives" are the main proponents of censorship has to be called into question.
Furr continues in his semantical quest which assures conservatives can only represent evil:
In my experience, there is considerable prejudice among academics against certain ideas that are strongly associated with the Republican party -- to its shame, I may add -- and so could be called "conservative."
Support for racism -- the Republican Party depends upon racism for success in national elections; support for dogmatic religious beliefs; for strongly authoritarian views of almost any kind, including "my-country-right-or-wrong" jingoism; for naked, unbridled exploitation; for knee-jerk anti-radicalism and anti-communism; in culture, for "tradition for the sake of tradition" -- these attitudes and ideologies, all of which are strongly associated with conservatism and the Republican Party, are rightly abhorred by most academics, who have excellent material reasons to identify with the "little guy."
And the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are themselves highly ideological. Lots of blue-collar workers would call themselves "conservative" if asked certain questions (e.g. about war, patriotism, homosexuality, etc.), but would have to be classified as "liberal", in fact, "radical", if asked about social policies (whether public employees should have the right to strike; about 'right-to-work' laws; the desirability of minimum-wage laws, etc.).
The blatantly distorted picture Furr draws of conservatism qua
conservatism should be obvious by itself, but it is all the more ironic because, in his comment to the article itself he protests that Professor Williams "dishonestly equates 'liberal' with 'Left', an absurdity that lumps John Kerry with Marx or Lenin." Yet he seems utterly untroubled grouping "conservative" with "reactionary right." It is of course true that there are quite a few conservatives who (in effect if not in rhetoric) support these atrocious positions--and certainly one can find plenty to criticize in the modern Republican party. But a basic knowledge of Political Science would dictate that the views and positions of a party
should not be presumed to represent those of all the parties members--especially in a two party state. Thus Furr makes his claims either a) knowing full well that many self-described conservatives would not support many of the policies he says they do (when's the last time you've heard a conservative say "I support naked, unbridled exploitation"?) or b) is so incredibly unaware of the world surrounding him that it is amazing he could have picked up his Ph.D. without getting run over by a truck on the way to the ceremony.
I suspect the former, though, because of his laughable efforts to group many conservatives into "liberalism"--at least when they say what he likes. For example, I don't think "right to strike" counts as a "radical" position anymore. What would happen if a conservative said that he considers himself a radical environmentalist--but based on his readings of economics he is convinced that the free market (mixed with, say, tax subsidies for environmentally friendly research) is the best way to fix the problem? I'd say he's wrong and misguided, perhaps. But certainly he isn't advocating "naked, unbridled exploitation." Is he actually a liberal, albeit one strayed from the path? I don't think we can play word games like that. Furr's claims only make sense if conservative is defined as in alignment with its most extreme wing--a claim that is akin to (and roughly as bad as) saying that all liberals are communists (which, as noted, Furr complains about!). If we agree there is such thing as a moderate conservative, or--perish the thought!--there are stalwart conservatives who still aren't racist, then there exists a vein of legitimate discourse that is as yet unfilled in colleges and universities.
At best, all I'm getting out of Furr's claims is that we should make Ms. Ann Coulter into Professor Ann Coulter. Okay, no argument. But should we chuck Professor Eugene Volokh on the street? I think it is rather absurd to call him a minion of evil. Indeed, this liberal wishes there were more professors like him.