Phi Beta Cons

Off-Campus Watch

Most of the debate over political bias on college campuses has originated from off-campus conservatives, public commentators who’ve had enough of the arrogant tendentiousness of the professors. At the same time, many off-campus figures from the Left have joined in, and their reaction has often contained something about a “new McCarthyism.”
One of them is Gary Younge, columnist for The Guardian and The Nation. Younge wrote about the controversy in April 2006. Younge held off from the charge of McCarthyism because he didn’t see state power engaged with the question, but he did quote Ellen Shrecker on his threat.

“In some respects it’s more dangerous,” she says. “McCarthyism dealt mainly with off-campus political activities. Now they focus on what is going on in the classroom. It’s very dangerous because it’s reaching into the core academic functions of the university, particularly in Middle-Eastern studies.”

I don’t know of any follow-up demonstrating how these greater dangers have played out, but it is illuminating to follow further comments from Leftist commentators about other American conditions to see how clear and objective they are about historical matters such as the relation of McCarthyism to today’s movement. Here is Younge writing in The Nation this week on Black History Month:

So we do not need more white history, we need it better told. Settlement, slavery and segregation—propelled by economic expansion and justified by white supremacy—inform much of what the United States is today. The wealth they created helped bankroll its superpower status. The poverty they engendered persists. But white history does not mean racist history any more than black history means victim’s history. Alongside Blake, Milam and Bryant, any decent White History Month would star insurrectionist John Brown; the Vanilla Ice of the Harlem Renaissance, Carl Van Vechten; civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi, during the Freedom Summer of 1964; and Viola Liuzzo, murdered during the Selma to Montgomery march. It would explain why Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, why George W. Bush chose Bob Jones University to revive his presidential hopes.

A neat trio explains so much—”Settlement, slavery, and segregation”—and the selection of examples betrays well the victim-oriented mindset of the journalist. The feeding of such resentments is precisely what should not be brought to the examination of campus ideology. It’s hard enough getting a handle on how extensive the bias problem runs without such aggrieved attitudes poisoning the atmosphere. If this is history “better told,” then we may as well recognize that the debate over campus bias is stymied by a psycho-political world view that will not budge over the facts of the matter.