[Paleopsych] Inside Higher Ed: The New Repression of the Postmodern Right

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The New Repression of the Postmodern Right
2005 Feb. 11

    By [18]David Steigerwald

    Last week, Ohio became the latest state where legislators introduced
    an "Academic Bill of Rights for Higher Education."

    The [19]bill seeks to impose on all private and public colleges and
    universities an administrative code allegedly designed to prohibit
    political and religious discrimination. It calls on the institutions
    to guarantee student access "to a broad range of serious scholarly
    opinion" and expose them to "a plurality of serious scholarly
    methodologies and perspectives." It insists that students "be graded
    solely on the basis of their reasoned answers" and prohibits
    discrimination on the basis of "political, ideological, or religious
    beliefs." Faculty members would be forbidden from using their
    classrooms "for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or
    antireligious indoctrination"; and they would be barred from
    "persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom ...
    that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no
    legitimate pedagogical purpose." The bill extends its dubious
    protections to all student organizations, to the hiring and promotion
    process, and even to "professional societies formed to advance
    knowledge within an area of research."

    I have to guess that the vast majority of college faculty and
    administrators find this legislation baffling. Surely most honor the
    ideals of impartiality in dealing with students as part of the air we
    breath; it goes without saying that these principles are the
    foundation of the university. So, at least here in Ohio, we're
    scratching our heads and wondering why the State Senate should be
    wasting its time considering legislation to fix something that isn't
    broken and correct a problem that doesn't exist.

    But, of course, the oh-so-neutral language of the bill only hides its
    profoundly ideological purpose. The Ohio bill is just a knock off from
    David Horowitz's war against higher education. Here, at least, there
    is no doubting the motives behind the bill. One of its main sponsors,
    his quotes crying out for placement in a Sinclair Lewis novel, told
    the Columbus Dispatch that the bill was necessary because "80% or so
    of [college faculty] are Democrats, liberals, or socialists or
    card-carrying Communists." When asked for evidence that these radicals
    were corrupting "young minds that haven't had a chance to form their
    own opinions," as he described college students, the senator contended
    that, after months of investigation, he heard of a student who claimed
    to have been discriminated against because she supported Bush. One
    second-hand rumor is all he had after three months? His standards of
    evidence wouldn't get him through one of my introductory American Civ

    Given the intellectual dishonesty behind the bill, it is only
    reasonable to wonder what political forces are lurking behind it and
    whose agenda it is fulfilling. Horowitz long has found his calling in
    attacking the academic left, and he was prodded to obsession several
    years ago when some of his attempts to place ads opposing slavery
    reparations in various college newspapers were rebuffed. These
    incidents led to the establishment of the Students for Academic
    Freedom, a remake of the '60s-era Young Americans for Freedom that now
    claims 135 chapters. Spurred on through the heated atmosphere of the
    presidential election, Horowitz's now-organized obsession is finding
    sympathetic support among right-wing radicals in the various state
    wings of the Republican Party. Apparently, now that they can't attack
    John Kerry or gay marriage, the right-wing media machine and its
    followers in state governments have trained their sights on a
    next-most favored whipping boy, the university professor.

    As parts of a larger ideological war, the Ohio bill is the political
    equivalent of a frat boy prank. It can do no good. It can do
    considerable harm, but only in the unlikely possibility that
    responsible people take it seriously. Any amateur can look at the bill
    as it stands and see what a sloppy piece of work it is. Nowhere does
    it define what constitutes "a plurality of serious scholarly
    methodologies," how "indoctrination" is to be measured, or how
    discrimination is to be detected.

    When a Dispatch reporter asked the bill's sponsor what constituted
    "controversial matter" to be barred from the classroom, he didn't
    exactly narrow things down: "Religion and politics, those are the main
    things." There goes any discussion of Thomas Jefferson in my history
    classes, or Martin Luther King or -- well, pretty much any discussion
    of anything. The bill discriminates because it applies only to
    "humanities, the social sciences, and the arts," and leaves, thereby,
    those card-carrying Communists in business departments free to
    continue denouncing the evils of compound interest. And yet it is
    simultaneously so broad that the state's Bible colleges would have to
    shut down entirely. If this bill passed, we would either have to
    ignore it completely or stop teaching.

    The sloppiness may well be intentional, since the goal isn't good law
    but political intimidation. The most plausible outcome is that the
    bill will die a quick but noisy death: After hearings in which radical
    right-wingers get headlines by blasting academics, college presidents
    pledge to promote fairness and the bill dies. Meanwhile, red-baiting
    students will get the not-surprising impression that they can level
    charges against any professor who makes the slightest polemical point,
    or, more important, who utters a disconcerting truth. Students who
    aren't satisfied with an administrative response are likely to sue.
    The university will waste precious money in either administrative or
    legal costs, and any atmosphere of robust and critical thought that
    now exists will dissipate as many instructors take the line of least

    Not the least curiosity here is that the very same people who, 10
    years ago, ridiculed the campus speech codes as "political
    correctness" now want to impose the most extreme sorts of speech codes
    through force of law and outrageous intimidation. The very people who
    howled about the debunking of the great Western traditions of free
    speech and critical reason are now engaged in a frontal action that
    can only squelch free speech and establish a radical subjectivity as
    the rule of the day.

    After all, anything any student wishes to find discriminatory, under
    the law, could indeed be removed from the classroom; education would
    devolve into whatever pandered to the individual bias of every
    student. Truth, that noble thing conservatives always say they seek,
    will become the same degraded thing that it has become with the likes
    of Limbaugh, Fox News, and Horowitz: mere "spin." The radical right,
    it seems, has learned well from the postmodern left.

    David Steigerwald is associate professor of history at Ohio State
    University and director of the history program at Ohio State's Marion
    campus. His latest book, Culture's Vanities ( [20]Rowman & Littlefield
    ), is, incidentally, a critique of much that passes for academic
    leftwing thought today.


Legislating Professional Ethics

    The legislation proposed by Iowa is wrongheaded, but not for the
    reasons given by Professor Steigerwald. It is an attempt to write the
    principles of a profession into law. The problem is that observance of
    professional ethics and compliance with statutes are different

    But Professor Steigerwald is wrong when he says that the proposed
    legislation addresses a problem that doesn't exist. I have spoken to
    or corresponded with a number of people who have experienced
    university courses which were not about the topic in the syllabus, but
    about social advocacy, and which took a familiar sort of broad-brush
    criticism of modernity as a foregone conclusion.

    Gertrude Himmelfarb, in "Academic Advocates,"
    [21]http://www.mugu.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/himmelfarb-advocacy cites
    specific examples:

    "I let my students know," one professor declared, "where I'm coming
    from, and also that they're free to write papers which disagree with
    positions I've taken in class. But those papers had better be very,
    very good because I'll read them with a more critical eye than the
    ones I agree with." "Neutrality," said the head of a women's-studies
    department, "is not something I want to encourage in my students" --
    or in the classroom, where she declines to present the views of

    "This notion of advocacy," Himmelfarb writes, "is as intolerant of
    others' opinions as it is indulgent of one's own."

    As I understand it, courses taught with this attitude are
    unfortunately not unusual, and in them students who present a
    well-supported and reasoned argument in support of a warranted
    viewpoint may find themselves graded down if that viewpoint does not
    accord with the instructor's own. Such courses reward conformity
    rather than intellectual integrity.

    Norm, at 11:45 am EST on February 12, 2005

Academic Bill of Rights

    The question here is not whether or not professors hold political or
    ideological biases--of course they do. And the question isn't whether
    or not those biases are reflected in their courses and teaching
    styles--of course they are. The question is whether or not it's the
    job of a legislature, administrator, or student body to limit or
    restrict what we do in the classroom (or worse, to litigate against
    it). Academic freedom is a fundamental principle of higher education,
    and a "bill of rights" can't be used to justify a campaign of
    discontent that arbitrarily narrows the definition of "free inquiry."
    As an educator, I maintain the right to introduce any subject matter,
    theory, or discourse that informs my principle subject (in my case,
    literature). Politics, religion, sexuality, race & gender, economics,
    biology, etc., all find a place in my discussion of Herman Melville. I
    do agree that my job is to open up the dialogue and entertain diverse
    ideological views on the subject--but it isn't my job to pander to or
    insulate students from views that they (or their parents or their
    congressmen) find offensive. As with many conservative causes these
    days, there seems to be some confusion over the fundamental purpose of
    a "bill of rights": to expand freedoms and civil liberties, not to
    restrict them.

    John Martin, Instructor at Wake Forest University, at 1:27 pm EST on
    February 13, 2005

    The legislation is certainly a mess and calls for the creation of some
    sort of review board and other bureaucratic mechanisms to maintain
    "ideological balance." What's really interesting, however, is the
    impact such a law could have on the curriculum. Most universities are
    much more conservative than the Right imagines. I will watch with
    fascination as progressive and labor groups sue to alter the curricula
    in MBA programs. How will medical schools cope with demands for the
    broader teaching of alternative healing methods? Economics departments
    will have to rethink their offerings in order to present much more
    "balanced" analyses of market economies. What a mess.

    Joel Wolfe, Assoc. Prof. at Rice University, at 10:01 am EST on
    February 14, 2005

    I assume that this article relates to the editorial letter that
    appeared in The Chronicle in the November 18 (?) issue relating to the
    takeover of universities by the left-wing. Our campus is so concerned
    that Faculty Senate has initiated a campus-wide "dialogue" on the
    subject of lack of diversity--I see a course in Creationism in our
    future, and no School of Chiropracty! The sky, it would seem, is
    falling, and we, the latter-day progeny of Abbie Hoffman and Company,
    have adopted Jacques Derrida as our lexicographer! My own view is that
    with conservatives running business, politics, and co-opting
    Christianity, "liberals" need somewhere to "be." Why is anyone
    concerned about The Academy--is the Right afraid that their children
    may be infected by "radical" ideas? Plus ca change, etc.

    James V. Carmichael, Jr., Professor at The University of North
    Carolina at Greensboro, at 12:51 pm EST on February 14, 2005

    Two quick points: First, the instructors most affected by this law
    will be untenured faculty. Second, culture war issues can have a lot
    of indirect impact. In Ohio, if the balanced content law passes,
    balanced content might become a factor in state higher education

    Aaron Lercher, St. Andrews Presbyterian College, at 5:33 pm EST on
    February 15, 2005

    I find the comments that equate conservative beliefs with
    chiropractic, creationism, etc... to be part of the reason that state
    legislatures are open to the wrong-headed ideas of the Academic Bill
    of Rights.

    People should be concerned with the monolithic Leftism that controls
    academia. More than a few of my students have remarked about the
    pervailing belief among their professors that conservative politics is
    a symptom of `backward' or `Neanderthal' thinking. (Lord knows that
    they aren't going to argue with the person that controls their grade!)
    Most have no problems with the fact that academics are liberals, but
    they do complain that caffeinated screeds regarding the evils of Bush,
    et al are part of their non-related lectures on French poetry and the

    If colleges are going to expend their resources on diversity,
    diversity of the intellectual sort should be their first concern.

    T. H. A. Edwards, Lecturer at SUNY, at 7:37 pm EST on February 18,


   18. mailto:info at insidehighered.com
   19. http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=126_SB_24
   20. http://www.rowmanlittlefield.com/Catalog/SingleBook.shtml?command=Search&db=%5EDB/CATALOG.db&eqSKUdata=0742511960
   21. http://www.mugu.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/himmelfarb-advocacy

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