It’s what you don’t know. The New York Times published an article claiming that a “handful of studies” found evidence that university professors’ political leanings have no effect on students’ political orientation. However, the article leaves out as much information as the professors they discuss omit from their syllabi.
The one study the Times cites on its Web site from the “PS: Political Science and Politics” journal, (the others – or the “handful” – are conspicuously absent) is flawed. In that study, researchers only looked at a smattering of just political science professors (24 in total) during only one semester, and all but two were liberals.
Their findings and methodology discount the influence of academic group-think. In other words, the study doesn’t address whether or not the combined weight of dozens of professors in myriad disciplines, all liberal (7:1 in the humanities and social sciences at UC Berkeley, for instance) and all piling on material from a leftist perspective, affects a student’s political outlook.
It’s also important how you define “affecting a student’s political outlook.” The study looks at how students’ perspectives shifted from the beginning of the semester to the end, but that’s a statistical red herring, convenient for the leftists disseminating it.
The reality is that academic material, going back to high school, is monolithically skewed to the left. Therefore, measuring a one-semester shift in political perspective based on the instruction of even more liberal professors is fairly aimless. The study’s findings are not surprising: the students came in leaning left, consumed more leftist dogma and mostly didn’t shift.
The supposed conclusion is that the college demographic naturally leans left. That may be the case, but idealistic skulls full of mush only account for a small portion of this political puzzle, and such a finding doesn’t help understand what happens when these kiddies mature and screw their heads on tighter.
The reality is that university curricula are gerrymandered in such a way that students get nothing but a leftist perspective in whatever they study, and then go on with their lives only knowing about leftist ideologues, leftist critics and maybe that Vladimir Lenin wasn’t that bad. Although, it is not entirely the professor’s fault. Academic freedom is paramount; conservatives go awry by trying to get people fired.
The real problem is the university hiring process which excludes free-market or right-leaning thought: faculty are hired based on their field of research and how the administration thinks its selections can fit an ultimate educational standard, which is itself biased. Part of this, I suspect, is that coming out of the zeitgeist of the 1960s, people in academia simply chose a leftist perspective, thus limiting the pool. Nevertheless, there is a vacuum for conservative intellectuals to fill, and a stalwart group of liberals who form a bulwark around it.
The result is that most students never hear the conservative side of the spectrum. They are never taught the logic of strict constructionism, just that it is illogical, if it’s even discussed. Many never have the constitution or founding documents assigned as course material, let alone history of the founding era of America as a requirement for their majors.
For instance, I’m a history major and have not had to take a course on American civics; however, I have had to take a Chicano studies course to fulfill a requirement. Without my own intellectual drive, my knowledge of the most fundamental aspects of the founding and the ramifications of citizenship would be based almost exclusively on high school courses.
How are we supposed to train a truly informed electorate if, even at the highest levels of education, students are not being taught about our institutions? I guess there is some consolation. While distracted from important academic issues, students are learning plenty about Chicano activist Corky Gonzalez, who inspired the militant group the Brown Berets to attempt to subvert the same American institutions that the kiddies aren’t learning about (except that the institutions are racist, too religious and probably fascist).
When the kiddies finally sober up and start voting, they’re going to be working with everything they’ve learned in liberal curricula, and, more importantly, will be totally ignorant of the libertarian principles framing the constitution.
While I think professors should try their best to keep discussion open, I have come to respect ideologues. Still, if it’s only liberal ideologues telling kids things, from the gross exaggeration that the United States is an empire comparable to Britain or Rome, to the supposed egalitarianism of socialism and, with the more extreme professors, the notion that soviet communism or its nearest ideological counterparts are viable systems, then there is a problem.
There simply isn’t a wide enough range of intellectual discourse, but the answer is not government intervention; rather, conservative thinkers should apply their ideology to existing fields and slowly break into academia as the boomers retire, thus countervailing leftist curricula.
Let’s name names, just for fun: Dr. Lori Wilson showed her undergraduate environmental science students Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” for extra credit in winter quarter of 2007. Sitting in that course, I heard nothing but acclaim for the founder of the Internet, and, curiously, nothing about the scientists that question man’s role in global warming, such as Dr. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville. What are the chances that students will take another course with a professor like Roy Spencer to counter Dr. Wilson’s curriculum? 7:1 apparently.
Patrick Ross is a fifth-year English and history double-major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.