K. C. Johnson Strikes Again

By August 26, 2005

The invaluable K. C. Johnson has an excellent op-ed in today’s Inside Higher Ed. K. C. does a wonderful job of collecting evidence that much of the ideological uniformity in higher education is not so much the result of “self-selection” but instead the product of an academic culture that uses ideology as a stand-in for intelligence or merit. His most interesting paragraphs relate how ideological uniformity is justified by a desire to create a particular academic orthodoxy on issues of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation

According to Montclair State’s Grover Furr, “colleges and universities do not need a single additional ‘conservative’….. What they do need, and would much benefit from, is more Marxists, radicals, leftists—all terms conventionally applied to those who fight against exploitation, racism, sexism, and capitalism. We can never have too many of these, just as we can never have too few ‘conservatives.’”

Furr’s remarks echoed those of Connecticut College’s Rhonda Garelick, who decried student “disgruntlement” when she used her French class to discuss her opposition to the war in Iraq and teach “‘wakeful’ political literacy.” Rashid Khalidi, meanwhile, rationalized anti-Israel instruction as necessary to undo the false impressions held by all incoming Columbia students except for “Arab-Americans, who know that the ideas spouted by the major newspapers, television stations, and politicians are completely at odds with everything they know to be true.”

To John Burness, Duke’s senior vice president for public affairs, such statements reflect a proper professorial role. The “creativity” in humanities and social science disciplines, he noted, addresses issues of race, class, and gender, leading to a “perfectly logical criticism of the current society” in the classroom.

At some universities, this mindset has even shaped curricular or personnel policies. Though its release generated widespread criticism and hints from administrators that it would not be adopted, a proposal to make “cultural competence” a key factor in all personnel decisions remains the working draft of the University of Oregon’s new diversity plan. Columbia recently set aside $15 million for hiring women and minorities—and white males who would “in some way promote the diversity goals of the university.” And the University of Arizona’s hiring blueprint includes requiring new faculty in some disciplines to “conduct research and contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the importance of valuing diversity.”

On the curricular front, my own institution’s provost, Roberta Matthews (who has written that “teaching is a political act") intends for the college’s new general education curriculum to produce “global citizens”—who, she commented, are those “sensitized to issues of race, class, and gender.”

Given such initiatives, it is worth remembering the traditional ideal of a university education: for faculty committed to free intellectual exchange in pursuit of the truth to expose undergraduates to the disciplines of the liberal arts canon, in the expectation that college graduates will possess the wide range of knowledge and skills necessary to function as democratic citizens.

It is becoming more and more difficult to argue that academic ideological uniformity is the natural result of conservatives simply choosing to pursue higher-paying careers. With viewpoint discrimination this explicit, the academy is simply begging for judicial intervention.

Schools: University of Arizona Duke University Connecticut College University of Oregon Columbia University