Phi Beta Cons

Inconvenient Candor

The Academic Left has recently begun a public relations campaign.  Its principal features are the assertions that the university is open-minded, non-ideological, and moderate; and that conservatives have falsely convinced much of the public otherwise, namely that the university is narrow-minded, dominated by “progressive” ideology that encourages the politicization of the classroom, and is, on the whole, far to the Left of the American people.   The public relations campaign needs to be taken seriously.  Look at the mischief that followed from the Left’s last great PR campaign, the one in the 1980s that launched “diversity” as a national ideal.   So do the Left’s current PR claims pass inspection?  A good way to tell is to listen in when a cross-section of professors in one discipline get together to talk shop.  That happened Friday in Philadelphia at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association. 
Scott Jaschik’s account on Inside Higher Education provides a tidy instance of the academic Left in a relaxed moment admitting things that other apologists for the Left deny.   A session on political engagement took for granted that everyone present was “liberal. ”  The task at hand, according to one speaker, Professor Nicholas Bromell, is for American Studies professors to catch up with “conservatives” who have succeeded in reaching out to Washington policy makers.  Why assume that all the members of the American Studies Association would be pleased to be classified as “liberals” in opposition to “conservatives”?   Apparently no one complained. 
Match this against the assertions by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons in their new report, The Social and Political Views of American Professors, which asserts that conservative critics greatly exaggerate the Left’s dominance in higher education.  Apparently Gross and Simmons weren’t thinking about American Studies.
Professor Bromell also inadvertently deflated Gross and Simmons’ carefully constructed notion that American faculty are, on the whole, more “moderate” than liberal.  Bromell, in Jaschik’s words,  opined that the a significant obstacle for “the academic left” is that “many feel that the Democratic Party is too centrist.” 
The conference in Philadelphia also turned into a forum for professors’ complaints “about the way some members of the public are trying to hinder their work.”  Parents, it seems, keep calling in “demanding ‘balance’” and sometimes “complaints are organized and intense.”   It doesn’t sound like the folks at the American Studies Association took these complaints as, in any way, merited.  Jaschik reported no soul-searching about the need to achieve balanced views in the classroom or hold back on politicized pedagogy.  Quite the contrary.  The conference featured show and tell stories, such as that of Professor Dana Nelson who is planning a “Democracy in Action” graduate seminar at Vanderbilt that will “mix books on democratic theory and participatory politics with actual community engagement.  Students will be required to do 20 hours of work in a nonprofit or activist group in Nashville…”   
A month ago, the AAUP issued a report Freedom in the Classroom that dismissed complaints about “indoctrination” in the classroom as airy nonsense, but allowed that conservatives had succeeded in getting some members of the public worked up.  The annual meeting of the American Studies Association carried that idea forward.   But note one difference.  The AAUP attempted to justify the flood of political views into the classroom as a contribution to opening students’ minds by challenging their preconceptions.  The participants at the American Studies Association dropped the pretense and more or less admitted they want to advance a progressive political movement.   

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