Phi Beta Cons

Losing in Principle Is Not a Fix

Although I might have the minority opinion here, I believe that a legislative-mandated academic bill of rights would be, in the long run, counterproductive to the conservative mission of establishing a core curriculum of Western ideas as the foundation of American higher education. Conservatives want American academia to employ rigorous standards in composing an intellectual canon composed of “the best that has been thought and said.” Conservatives generally believe in objective standards and, accordingly, accept the concept of an academic core. On the other hand, many liberals and leftists, particularly those who are skeptics, relativists, or subjectivists, reject even the possibility of establishing an objective canon.
Historically, it was the academic left’s battle for “intellectual diversity,” beginning in the 1960s, that fought and defeated the traditional idea of an academic core curriculum. The result is today’s plethora of ethnic studies and gender studies centers and the fact that on most campuses today, there are more course offerings in ethnic studies than there are in traditional core courses.
In Texas, an academic bill of rights is pending before the Texas Legislature. It’s called the Texas Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 (SCR 3) [See link here]. Unfortunately, SCR 3, like most academic bill of rights legislation, would ultimately increase politicization of the classroom, not decrease it. Almost any legislative measure to mandate diversity — whether diversity of race and ethnicity, or beliefs and ideas – must involve some benchmark or quota. College administrations would have to monitor each social science, liberal arts, and humanities professor and classify that professor and his courses as either liberal or conservative — or somewhere in between — in order to ensure “intellectual diversity.” This entire process would be an “open sesame” to ramped-up politicization of a university’s professors and courses.
Yet, by utilizing objective standards in its formation, a Western core curriculum by definition rejects the notion of diversity for its own sake. Just as a faculty or student body that is disproportionately white or Asian-American doesn’t necessarily suffer from a “lack of diversity,” a canon that objectively rejects post-structuralism or Marxian economics doesn’t necessarily lack “intellectual diversity” because it includes few course offerings in those areas. Conservatives who support the concept of an academic bill of rights aren’t appreciating this point.   
Additionally, the academic bill of rights here in Texas, SCR 3, makes no distinction between public and private universities. Why would conservatives want private, Christian universities here in Texas like Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, or Texas Christian University to be more philosophically “diverse”? Why should these schools feel encouraged to hire more secular or Muslim professors to “balance” their Judeo-Christian curricula? If passed, an academic bill of rights certainly implies that these schools should feel encouraged to broaden their “intellectual diversity.”
And at public universities like the University of Texas, why would conservatives want the College of Business Administration, for example, to “ensure intellectual diversity” in its capitalist-based marketing and accounting classes, for example? The argument here is that mandating diversity for ideas isn’t any better than mandating diversity for ethnic groups. 
Additionally, the rationale behind most academic bill of rights legislation is predicated on the highly-dubious assumption that an under-representation of a particular philosophic viewpoint is necessarily the result of bias against that perspective. But this notion is as much a non sequitur in the curriculum as it is in the racial and ethnic demographics of a student body or faculty. Although we have all been taught otherwise, a jury of 12 whites trying a black person for murder may or may not be racially biased. On the other hand, a second jury of seven whites and five blacks might be incredibly biased, although it’s certainly much more racially “diverse” than the first jury. In short, a lack of diversity, either in racial demographics or viewpoints, doesn’t necessarily establish or constitute bias.
Like most conservatives, I realize how distant is the establishment of a western-based core curriculum. And I also recognize that academia today, disproportionately liberal, opposes the creation of a Western canon. Yet, an over-representation of liberal and leftist professors at a college doesn’t necessarily mean that the college is “biased” against non-liberals, just as a disproportionately white faculty isn’t necessarily biased against minorities. In short, the term “bias,” whether in racial or ideological matters, shouldn’t be employed promiscuously. 
Consequently, absent conclusive evidence, there is no reason to believe that liberal and leftist bias is the primary reason for the dearth of conservative ideas and professors in American universities today. The painful truth is that there appears to be far fewer highly-qualified conservatives who seek university careers than liberal ones. Even more damning, in the free marketplace of ideas, liberals and leftist ideas are currently defeating conservative ideas fair and square.
If conservatives ever realize their goal of a western core curriculum in academia, it will be because they stopped blaming liberal bias for the lack of conservative ideas in the ivory tower and began successfully rebutting liberal and leftist viewpoints in the free marketplace of ideas. There is no substitute for this critical process. Academic bill of rights proponents don’t appear to appreciate this truth.

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