Last week I spoke at an elite private college in New England, which requires 1250 SAT scores for entry and $40,000 a year in tuition fees to attend. Before I spoke I met with the conservative students who had invited me and was told the following story by a young man who was a vice president of the student club and a junior at the school. In a political science course he had just taken, he wrote a paper on the Iraq war, which his professor was outspokenly against.
Why is the Iraq war, which is such a recent event and about which passions are so high, a subject of any undergraduate academic course? This was already, to my mind, part of the problem of today’s college curriculum. When I went to Columbia in the 1950s any event that wasn’t 25 years in the past was concerned too recent for academic inquiry, too open to what was then called “present mindedness, and considered an obstacle to reflective, academic thinking. Far too many of today’s tenured faculty are political activists first and teachers only secondarily, if at all. Their agenda is indoctrinating students in their own political prejudices, while their academic colleagues who are not activists or ideologues studiously refuse to notice the abuses that are going on.
The student, who was a political science major, had written a paper supporting the Iraq war in a class he had recently taken. When he got the paper back it had been graded “F.” On his previous paper he had gotten a “C-” which he accepted grudgingly at the time, not because he thought he deserved it, but because he couldn’t actually believe his professor was grading him for his political views and not his academic performance. But an “F” was ridiculous. No one at this elite college, which required high SAT scores for admission, got “F’s” unless they wrote their papers drunk — and probably not even then. This time he went to his professor and complained. Taken aback by the student’s passion in defending his paper, the professor conceded that maybe he had graded the paper unfairly. “I’ll give you a chance to rewrite it,” he said, “but you need to use the sources more.” Since the sources were universally hostile to the war in Iraq, the cue was unmistakeable. The student went back and changed every statement that represented a point view to its opposite. Thus, where he had argued that the conflict in Iraq was central to the war on terror he changed the relevant sentence to say that it was a “distraction” from the War on Terror. The entire structure of the paper he handed back remained the same. Only the conclusions were changed. He got an “A.” From then on he lied on the papers he wrote for this professor feeding him the leftwing conclusions he wanted to hear. The result was a series of papers the professor graded with an “A.”
Revolting as this story is, it is not the worst of what I witnessed that evening.