Tuesday, January 26, 2016

 Commentary by James Shott

Colleges are infected with liberal foolishness to a higher degree than ever before. It seems the most popular activity in colleges today is being offended. Many students are offended by such dastardly threats as contrary opinions, and males standing up while talking to seated females. This is the nature of things at too many campuses these days.

“Trigger warnings” are required to warn students of potentially “troubling class material,” and “microaggressions,” which are words and phrases that offend someone, even when the speaker intended no offense, are a really big deal.

A Harvard Law School dean has compared microaggressions to sexual assault and violence, and the University of California lists things that are just too horrible to say, including threatening phrases, like "everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough" and "America is the land of opportunity." Rough stuff, that.

Such terrifying things slip by traditional, older Americans unnoticed, but cripple younger folk. These hallmarks of modern American liberalism have grown from the seeds that sprouted the belief that feelings are more important than anything, and that everyone deserves a trophy for merely showing up.

Americans who graduated from the school of hard knocks are amazed and bemused at the hypersensitive nature of our once-tough culture, and wonder how this could have occurred. Our education system, at all levels, played a big role.

As these changes occurred they were accompanied by, and perhaps abetted by, the liberalization of the college professoriate.

The Daily Signal published an article discussing a UCLA Higher Education Research Institute study that documents the increase in liberal professors. “During the past quarter-century, academia has seen a nearly 20-percent jump in the number of professors who identify as liberal,” writes Natalie Johnson. “That increase has created a lopsided ideological spread in higher education, with liberal professors now outpacing their conservative counterparts by a ratio of roughly 5 to 1.”

In 1990 only about 41 percent of professors identified themselves as “liberal” or “far-left,” but by 2014 the percentage had risen to 60. Over that same period those identifying as “conservative” or “far-right” fell from 18 to 13 percent.

In 2011 liberal profs reached their highest point at 63 percent, while conservatives reached a high of only 22 percent, in 1993. At the other end, liberals never fell below the 41 percent mark, while conservatives were as low as 12 percent in 2011.

In a perfect world this political imbalance should make little difference. After all, what difference does it make if your math professor is a Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated with a party, a Trotsky-ite or whatever? Math is math, right? Biology, music theory, graphic arts, English grammar and most other subjects are not political in nature. And in an atmosphere where professors merely guide students in learning their subject, it wouldn’t matter. But what if for some strange reason it became trendy for professors to inject a bit of political proselytization into their lectures and lessons?

But isn’t secretly and deliberately indoctrinating young people with ideological attitudes while they think they are only studying how to write a proper sentence, determine a standard deviation, or studying the War Between the States fundamentally dishonest, you may ask? Yes, it certainly is. But bias isn’t always deliberate, according to Matthew Woessner, an associate professor of political science and public policy at Penn State Harrisburg.

He said this ideological imbalance “raises critical questions of whether students are getting a balanced education—not because there’s some conspiracy to block out conservative ideas, but merely because the people who are teaching are either not familiar with or don’t embrace conservative ideas.” Even when faculty attempt to present an issue in a balanced and impartial manner, he said, personal biases naturally bleed into material.

The UCLA study reflects that this liberal tilt among professors has had an effect, with data from 2009 showing that the number of students who said their political views were “liberal” or “far left” grew by 9.2 percent from their freshman year to their senior year.

Daniel Klein, a professor of economics at George Mason University, cast more of a cloud on the collegiate atmosphere, opining that the reported 5-to-1 ratio is “not very meaningful” because the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have become “exceedingly troubled.” Instead, Klein suggested that the imbalance between faculty members who vote Democratic compared with those who vote Republican is closer to 9-to-1 or even 10-to-1.

Ideally, there would be relative equality of liberal and conservative ideology among faculty. Woessner, however, suggests that equal numbers of liberal and conservative professors really isn’t necessary for higher education to work well, so long as a sufficient number of faculty hold different views “to create a space for enough conservative ideas that students are exposed at least nominally to these other perspectives,” he said.

It is critical for colleges and universities to work much harder to even out the ideological divide if higher education is to regain credibility for delivering a balanced education. No group should want that more than the professors themselves, who should prefer a reputation of integrity as opposed to one of having a finger on the scale.

Cross-posted from Observations

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