The telling case of a conservative journalist being thrown out of Cornell.
I still believe in the ideal of a liberal arts education—even if, in practice, I’ve become more than a bit disenchanted.
As an undergraduate some 20 years ago majoring in religion and philosophy at Wingate University—a small, Southern Baptist institution in North Carolina—I was fortunate to have been taught by genuinely dedicated teachers who saw to it that their students received the classical education in the liberal arts for which they signed up.
To put this point another way, my professors resisted the temptation—a temptation that’s all too common among the professoriate in the contemporary academy—to abuse their vocational privileges by preaching to, rather than teaching, their students. The classroom, my instructors seemed to realize, was not the proper venue in which to air their political and ideological predilections.
In pursuing my master’s degree in philosophy from Baylor University, I became increasingly aware of some of my instructors’ political views, but there existed a reasonable degree of intellectual diversity in the department. This latter fact, coupled with my professors’ unquestionable commitment to the welfare of their students, made my time at Baylor one of the most enjoyable periods of my life.
Sadly, however, I can’t say the same about the sentence I served at Temple University while working on my Ph.D.
To a man and woman, Temple’s philosophy department consisted of hard left ideologues. As hard leftists are wont to do, they wore their ideologies on their sleeves. For example, not long after I began my course work, during my second semester, I had a conversation with one of my professors that stopped before it began. Given that my area of specialization is political philosophy, this experience of mine was tremendously disheartening, for the person with whom I had this falling out was my political philosophy professor.
I was in her office, we were talking, and the topic of “inequality” arose. Once I suggested that perhaps some of these “inequalities” were due to bad decisions on the part of “the disadvantaged,” she quickly responded—and I remember this like it occurred yesterday—that if I insisted upon suggesting that people must assume responsibility for their poverty, that she wouldn’t be able to discuss this issue with me further.
Even as I recount this, all of these years later, I am almost as struck now as I was then by the scandalous degree of unprofessionalism and hyper-emotionality that my professor revealed. Her seminar will go down for me as perhaps the single worst course of my years as a college student, for it amounted to little more than an opportunity for her to promote her ideology—an ideology that she shared in common with virtually of all her students.
So why am I bringing all of this up? There are two reasons.
First, my experience at Temple marked a turning point for me. I had always heard of the phenomenon of “indoctrination” to which “conservative” critics of higher education were constantly referring, but I had never actually experienced it. Now I had experienced it. Consequently, having become painfully aware of just how severely a professor’s abuse of power can stunt a student’s intellectual growth, I’ve learned to empathize with students to an extent that wouldn’t have been possible prior to this momentous event.
Second, Jesse Watters, of Fox News, was recently thrown off of the campus of Cornell University. Watters randomly selected Cornell students and asked them whether they were aware that a whopping 96% of the university’s faculty political contributions went to Democrats.
A recent report in The Washington Times reveals what many of us have long known: Cornell, like Temple, isn’t at all atypical when it comes to academia.
The Times states that, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, at the nation’s 50 top liberal arts colleges, 47 professors have been recorded by the Federal Election Commission as having made political donations to 2016 presidential candidates during the third quarter of this year.
Of those 47 professors, only one of them—only one of them—gave to a Republican.
The facts render the verdict obvious: Academia is, by and large, a monolith, a bastion of leftist orthodoxy. That there exists far more intellectual homogeneity among academics—i.e. ostensibly intelligent human beings—than is likely to be found anywhere else; and that there exists this degree of homogeneity with respect to topics like politics, morality, and religion, topics over which there is perennial debate, proves that academics don’t just happen to agree.
This is bad, for in acquiescing in the mentality of the herd, academics betray their vocation, a calling to…think. Academics are expected to think beyond the clichés and stock phrases of the day, to challenge conventionalities. In not only promoting the PC Zeitgeist, but transforming it into a creed, an unassailable body of dogmata, the academic conformist in effect repudiates this calling.
So academics harm themselves. Yet they also undermine the university. The latter is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, a center of intellectual diversity. But insofar as they divest themselves of their own individuality, and discourage the cultivation of individuality in their peers, academic conformists preclude diversity.
Academic conformists, however, as well discourage the development of individuality, and, thus, the development of the ability to think, in students.
A recent survey—The 2015 Buckley Free Speech Survey—of 800 undergraduate students showed the following:
“By a nearly two-to-one margin, students said their school is generally more tolerant of liberal ideas and beliefs than conservative ideas and beliefs.” Only 36% of students polled held that their school was “equally tolerant of both.”
Over 60% of students think that “political correctness” is a problem on campus.
Fifty-three percent of students complained that their professors use class time to promulgate their own views.
Half of the students surveyed said that “they have often felt intimidated to share beliefs that differ” from their peers, and nearly half remarked that “they have often felt intimidated to share beliefs that differ” from those of their professors.
Seventy percent of students think that their school “should be doing more to promote diversity of opinion.”
This survey merely reinforces what has long been common knowledge to many of us.
And it should dispel any questions as to why Jesse Watters was thrown off of Cornell University’s campus.