February 16, 2000

February 16, 2000 | Commentary on Education

Putting the "Liberal" in Liberal Arts

As a college senior who chose to attend a "conservative" school, I always knew that most of academia was, well, liberal. But I didn't realize until recently just how hard it is to find anyone to the right of Ted Kennedy on an American campus.

This might sound odd, given the lip service many professors pay to "diversity." But consider the evidence. In a recent issue of Policy Review, professor Paul Kengor examines the political makeup of the social science departments at some of America's top colleges and universities. Stanford University, for example, has 22 Democrats and just two Republicans in its history department. Cornell University has 29 Democrats and no Republicans. But the most eye-opening figure is from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Of the 190 professors polled in the social science and humanities departments, 184 are Democrats and only six are Republicans.

A broader survey of 800 professors from 40 universities taken in 1996 found that 37 percent considered themselves liberal, 43 percent called themselves moderate (perhaps some timid liberals hiding here), and 17 percent called themselves conservative. Still another survey found that 88 percent of "public affairs" faculty -- who train students for careers in government -- considered themselves liberal. The other 12 percent called themselves moderate.

The "hard" sciences do not appear to have the imbalance of the social sciences and humanities. Professor Lewis Feuer of the University of Virginia has observed that most campus opponents of Western culture tend to come from "soft" academic disciplines, such as journalism and political science, which lack the objective "reality checks" of subjects such as mathematics. "What emerges," he writes, "is a smug, unexamined, and unchallenged consensus that dismisses dissent as a rude intrusion."

Critics will say the imbalance of political views among professors doesn't prove anything -- and that conservatives are paranoid when they claim education has given way to indoctrination. Unfortunately, conservatives appear to be right. Just look at a sample of some current course offerings. At Cornell, students can enroll in "The Sexual Child," whose instructor, Ellis Hanson, told Accuracy in Academia that the aim of the course is "to undermine preconceived notions about what a child is, what sexuality is, and what it means to love or desire a child." Required reading includes such classics as "How to Bring Your Kid Up Gay" and "Child Loving." One can only imagine the pride -- or more likely horror -- in a mother's eyes when her son or daughter brings home an "A" in this course.

The list of politicized courses goes on and on, including UCLA's "Gay and Lesbian Perspectives in Pop Music," Dartmouth's "Gender, Jocks, and Justice," and the University of Connecticut's "White Racism" (so much for promoting racial harmony).

Not to be outdone, Princeton University has hired a "bioethics" professor whose ideas on infanticide are provocative, at the very least. Peter Singer has actually said "newborn infants, especially if unwanted, are not yet full members of the moral community," and therefore it's defensible to kill them. Despite vehement protests -- including one by former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes, a member of Princeton's Board of Trustees -- Singer's appointment was endorsed by Princeton's administration, which referred to his doctrines as "mainstream."

In fact, the American Association of University Professors praises politically correct courses as expressions of academic freedom. In truth, they are examples of academic absurdity. Bradford Wilson, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, believes such politicization of higher education "erodes the intellectual habit of openness to differing points of view," because administrators make clear by the courses they offer exactly that only certain views are acceptable. In the name of diversity, they are actually enforcing a rigid orthodoxy. As the Singer example shows, students can openly debate the merits of infanticide, but question affirmative action? Never.

A college education is supposed to produce freethinking people equipped to form sound opinions, something the Founding Fathers said was essential to preserving democracy. Instead, many of today's students are being programmed to hold the views of their professors -- which, in the current academic environment, gives new meaning to the "liberal" in Liberal Arts.

Kelly Sullivan is a former intern at The Heritage Foundation.

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