By David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | September 3, 2002
IN THE FALL OF 2001, I spoke at a large public university in the eastern United States, which will remain nameless to protect the innocent. It was one of more than 30 colleges I had visited during the school year and, as usual, my invitation had come from a small group of campus conservatives who also put together a small dinner for me at a local restaurant. Our conclave reflected the current state of conservatism in the American university. Not only were our numbers small, but there were no deans or university administrators present, and only one professor. Open conservatives are an isolated and harassed minority on today’s college campuses, where they enjoy little respect and almost no support from institutional powers.
Although I am a nationally known public figure-author of books that have been best-sellers and nominated for a national book award, a Fox News contributor and one of America’s 100 leading “public intellectuals” according to a recent study of the subject, at these dinners, which normally precede my campus speeches, the absence of administration representatives is wholly predictable. (In nearly 200 campus appearances, I can think of only two exceptions.) When I spoke at the University of Michigan to 1,000 students, there were three university vice presidents in the balcony, but none thought to introduce himself to me. Occasionally a professor will attend these dinners, but rarely more than one. My experience as a conservative is not unique. By contrast, if I were an anti-American, radical like Angela Davis, deans of the college would wait on me and professors would confer academic credits on students for attending my appearances. On many occasions my speech would be an official campus event.
Angela Davis-a lifelong Communist zealot with no noticeable scholarly achievement-is a celebrated campus figure (there is even an “Angela Davis Lounge” at the University of Michigan) and thus can be expected to attract the attention of like-minded peers now entrenched in university administrations. But the same disparity would be discernible between a less well-known leftist and almost any comparable conservative. It reflects the fact that while conservatives often make up a large proportion of the student body on American campuses-and in some cases even a plurality-conservative professors and administrators are notably hard to find. Not only are the overwhelming majority of college professors fashionably “liberal,” most faculties have a strong contingent of hard leftists whose views are extreme, and whose concentrated numbers make it possible for them to dominate (and even define) entire academic fields. These faculty activists are also available to be sponsors of an impressive array of radical campus political groups, which-if the university is large enough-may receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from general student funds.
Among those invited to the dinner was a silver-haired history professor, who served as the faculty sponsor of the club inviting me. This man represented a dying breed of faculty conservatives who had become tenured in an era when hiring committees were not yet applying a litmus to exclude those whose political views were not suitably left. The transformation that followed was succinctly described by the distinguished intellectual historian, John P. Diggins, at an annual meeting of the American Studies Association in Costa Mesa, Calif., a decade ago. Diggins told the assembled academics: “When my generation of liberals was in control of university faculties in the Sixties, we opened the doors to the hiring of radicals in the name of diversity. We thought you would do the same. But you didn’t. You closed the doors behind you.”
Diggins’ observation provides the template for what has happened to American universities in the last thirty years. The liberal academy of the 1950s and 1960s, whose ideals were shaped by Charles Eliot and Matthew Arnold and whose mission was “the disinterested pursuit of knowledge” is no more. Leftists tenured after the 1960s first transformed these institutions into political battlegrounds and then redefined them as “agencies of social change.” In the process, they first defeated and then excluded peers whom they perceived as obstacles to their politicized academic agendas.
Some years ago a distinguished member of this radical generation, Richard Rorty, summarized its achievement in the following words: “The power base of the left in America is now in the universities, since the trade unions have largely been killed off. The universities have done a lot of good work by setting up, for example, African-American studies programs, Women’s Studies programs, Gay and Lesbian Studies programs. They have created power bases for these movements.” Rorty is a professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia and one of the nation’s most honored intellectual figures. He is also an editor of the democratic socialist magazine Dissent and a moderate in the ranks of the left. That such an intellectual should celebrate the conversion of academic institutions into political “power bases” speaks volumes about the tragedy that has befallen the university.
On the occasions of my campus visits, I am always curious to discover the local circumstances that conspire to create a situation so otherwise inexplicable in an open society. How, in particular, does an institution that publicly promotes itself as “liberal” and “inclusive,” as dedicated to “diversity” and the “free exchange of ideas,” devolve into such a political monolith? The conservative history professor who had come to dinner was obviously a senior member of his academic department, which was really the only status a conservative faculty member could have, since the hiring doors had been closed nearly a quarter of a century earlier. So I asked how conservatives like him were treated by faculty colleagues.
Catching my drift he replied, “Well, they haven’t allowed me to sit on a search committee since 1985.” He was referring to the committees that interview prospective candidates to fill faculty openings. “In 1985, he continued, “I was the chair of the search committee and of course we hired a Marxist.” “Of course,” I said, knowing that for conservatives who believed in the traditional mission of academic inquiry, diversity of viewpoints would make perfect sense. Others might be guided by different imperatives. Their very dedication to “social change” would commit them to an agenda, which is about power, and which inspires them to clear rivals from their path.
The professor went on: “This year we had an opening for a scholar of Asian history. We had several candidates but obviously the most qualified one was from Stanford. Yet he didn’t get the job. So I went to the chair of the search committee and asked him what had happened. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘you’re absolutely right. He was far and away the most qualified candidate and we had a terrific interview. But then we went to lunch and he let out that he was for school vouchers.”
In other words, if one has a politically incorrect view on K-12 school vouchers, one must be politically incorrect on the Ming Dynasty too. This is almost a dictionary description of the totalitarian mentality. But there is more than dogmatism at work in the calculation. The attitude also reflects the priorities of an entrenched oligarchy, which fears to include those it cannot count on to maintain its control.
A certain focus on control is normal for bureaucrats in any institution. But in an institution like the university, whose very structures are elitist, there are few natural limits to such political agendas. Outside the hard sciences and the practical professions, what is the penalty for bad ideas? There is none. Once a discredited dogma like Marxism is legitimated through the hiring process, there is no institutional obstacle to its expansion and entrenchment as a “scholarly” discipline.
The structural support for ideological conformity is intensified by the introduction of overt political agendas. These agendas were originally imported into the university by radicals acting as the self-conscious disciples of an Italian Marxist named Antonio Gramsci. As an innovative Stalinist in the 1930s, Gramsci pondered the historic inability of Communist parties to mobilize workers to seize the means of production and overthrow the capitalist ruling class. Gramsci’s new idea was to focus radicals’ attention on the means of intellectual production as a new lever of social change. He urged radicals to acquire “cultural hegemony,” by which he meant to capture the institutions that produced society’s governing ideas. This would be the key to controlling and transforming the society itself.
To illustrate how ingrained this attitude has become and how casually it is deployed to justify the suppression of conservative ideas, let me cite an e-mail I received from a professor at Emory University. The professor was responding to an article I had written about the abuse of conservative students by administrators at Vanderbilt and the exclusion of conservatives from the Vanderbilt faculty. He was not especially radical, yet he did not have so much as a twinge of conscience at the picture I drew of a faculty cleansed of conservative opinions. “Why do I and other academics have little shame here?” he asked rhetorically, then answered the question: “We are not the only game in the marketplace of ideas. We are competing with journalism, entertainment, churches, political lobbyists, and well-funded conservative think tanks.”
In other words, contemporary academics see themselves not primarily as educators, but as agents of an “adversary culture” at war with the world outside the university. But the university was not created-and is not funded-to compete with other institutions. It is designed to train employees, citizens and leaders of those institutions, and to endow them with appropriate knowledge and skills. Because of its strategic function as an educator of elites however, it can be effectively used in the way Gramsci proposed to subvert other institutions too.
There is an organic connection, for example, between the political bias of the university and the political bias of the press. It was not until journalists became routinely trained in university schools of journalism that mainstream media began to mirror the perspectives of the adversary culture. Universities have become a power base of the political left, and the Emory professor’s argument only makes sense, really, from the vantage of someone so alienated from his own society as to want to subvert it. His suggestion that universities somehow “balance” conservative think tanks of the wealthy is patently absurd. “Well-funded” conservative think tanks may stand in intellectual opposition to subversive agendas, but what wealthy think tank can compete with Harvard, its centuries of tradition, its hundreds of faculty members, its government subsides and its $18 billion, tax-free endowment?
Academics who are not self-conscious radicals may also harbor resentments against the larger culture and be inspired to seek like-minded colleagues. When they are imbued with a sense of social mission that requires ideological cohesion, the result is an intellectual monolith. How monolithic? Last spring I organized college students to investigate the voting registrations of university professors at more than a dozen institutions of higher learning. The students used primary registrations to determine party affiliation. Here is a representative sample:
• At the University of Colorado-a public university in a Republican state-94% of the liberal arts faculty whose party registrations could be established were Democrats and only 4% percent Republicans. Out of 85 professors of English who registered to vote, zero were Republicans. Out of 39 professors of history-one. Out of 28 political scientists-two.
How Republican is Colorado? Its governor, two Senators and four out of six congressmen are Republican. There are 200,000 more registered Republicans in Colorado than there are Democrats. But at the state-funded, University of Colorado, Republicans are a fringe group.
• At Brown University, 94.7% of the professors whose political affiliations showed up in primary registrations last year were Democrats, only 5.3% were Republicans. Only three Republicans could be found on the Brown liberal arts faculty. Zero in the English Department, zero in the History Department, zero in the Political Science Department, zero in the Africana Studies Department, and zero in the Sociology Department.
• At the University of New Mexico, 89% of the professors were Democrats, 7% Republicans and 4% Greens. Of 200 professors, ten were Republicans, but zero in the Political Science Department, zero in the History Department, zero in the Journalism Department and only one each in the Sociology, English, Women’s Studies and African American Studies Departments.
• At the University of California, Santa Barbara, 97% of the professors were Democrats. 1.5% Greens and an equal 1.5% Republicans. Only one Republican professor could be found.
• At the University of California, Berkeley, of the 195 professors whose affiliations showed up, 85% were Democrats, 8% Republicans, 4% Greens and 3% American Independent Party, Peace and Freedom Party and Reform Party voters. Out of 54 professors in the History Department, only one Republican could be found, out of 28 Sociology professors zero, out of 57 English professors zero, out of 16 Women’s Studies professors zero, out of nine African American Studies professors zero, out of six Journalism professors zero.
• At the University of California, Los Angeles, of the 157 professors whose political affiliations showed up 93% were Democrats, only 6.5% were Republicans.
• At the University of North Carolina, the Daily Tar Heel conducted its own survey of eight departments and found that, of the professors registered with a major political party, 91% were Democrats while only 9% were Republicans.
In an ideological universe in which university administrators claim that “diversity” is their priority, these are striking facts. How can students get a good education, if they’re only being told half the story? The answer is, they can’t.
The present academic monolith is an offense to the spirit of free inquiry. The hiring practices that have led to the present situation are discriminatory and illegal. They violate the Constitution, which prevents hiring and firing on the basis of political ideas and patronage laws that bar state institutions from servicing a particular political party. Yet university administrators have not shown any inclination to address this problem, or to reform the practices that perpetuate it. Nor have self-identified “liberal” professors who are themselves the source of the problem. If there is to be reform, it will have to come from other quarters.
his article is taken from our booklet “You Can’t Get a Good Education If They’re Only Telling You Half the Story.” Copies of the full booklet are available for purchase now by calling 1-800-752-6562; and on FrontPageMagazine.com‘s online bookstore.
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