The Campus, the Election, and the Implications

November 30, 2004

       The insular and self-congratulatory world of academe awoke to a shock on the morning of November 3, 2004.  Not only did the overwhelming majority of professors not vote for George W. Bush, few of them rubbed shoulders with anyone who had.

       The scenes on many campuses on the morning after the election were reminiscent of literary illuminati Pauline Kael’s oft-quoted remark upon learning that Richard M. Nixon had trounced George McGovern: How could Nixon have won?  I don’t know anybody who voted for him!

       Parents who send their children, at obscene costs and financial hardship, to be educated in such an environment certainly should be asking what their children are learning in institutional settings where diversity is a shibboleth, but political homogeneity and conformity are the norms.

       Recent studies funded by the National Association of Scholars reveal the preponderance of Democrats over Republicans on the American campus.  At Stanford, for example, there are seven Democrats on the faculty for every one Republican, and at Berkeley the number rises to over nine to one.  In fields in the social sciences and humanities the disparity jumps even higher.  The American Anthropological Association notes thirty Democrats for every one Republican. 

       Roger W. Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, claims that these numbers are meaningless because the political affiliations of professors have little consequence for what they do in the classroom.  If Mr. Bowen truly believes that, he probably also takes at face value the statements of the Ayatollahs in Tehran about the intentions of their uranium enrichment programs.

       As someone who spent nearly four decades in the ranks of the professorate, I can tell you that everything from what goes on in the classroom, to what textbooks are chosen, to who gets on what university committees, to how students are admitted, is a function of ideology.  And the enforcement of ideology on a captive audience of students is most poignantly witnessed in what Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate call, ”The Shadow University:” those changing values programs–imposed in residence halls, orientation sessions, compulsory lectures, and ”sensitivity sessions”– where students are taught not how to think but how to adopt appropriate ideological norms and ape the political behavior of the faculty.

       Some of my former students captured the essence of one of these sessions by satirically noting, ”I’m a liberal Democrat, card-carrying member of Amnesty International who is against the death penalty—and you damn well better be one too if you want to survive here.” 

       Among the tools in the academic inquisitors’ black bags is the speech code.  Although federal courts have repeatedly struck down speech codes as unconstitutional, they remain both on the books and enforced in hundreds of universities.  Often they are renamed in a strain at implausible denial with such euphemistic titles as “decency codes.”  Rarely, if ever, has the draconian and amorphous content of these codes been enforced against someone at the left end of the political spectrum. 

       Timothy Garneau, a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, found out what it is like to run afoul of these codes.   Posting a humorous flyer to express his frustration with a slow moving dorm elevator, Garneau opined that freshmen women should take the stairs and lose those fifteen pounds that tend to plague first-year women students.  The University’s kangaroo judicial system came down on Garneau with a vengeance reserved for serious crimes. He was evicted from his residence and ordered into psychological counseling. 

       The university’s outrageous reasoning is that only someone who is mentally ill would poke fun at women.  But we should be equally outraged knowing that someone with a therapist’s license could easily be found on any campus to take such reasoning seriously.  Famed Soviet scientist Zhores A. Medvedev’s depiction of the Soviets’ use of the label of ”mentally illness” and their mobilization of psychiatry to coerce political acquiescence has parallels in what routinely takes place on American campuses.

        There is a somewhat, only somewhat, just ending to Garneau’s  story.   The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education publicized Garneau’s plight and the university, faced with the antiseptic of disclosure and a possible lawsuit, withdrew its unconstitutional charges.  Still, Garneau spent three weeks living out of his car, had to be relocated to another dormitory and has been sentenced to extended disciplinary probation.  His sentence for using his First Amendment Rights is reminiscent of Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s story of the Soviet citizen who remarkably was found innocent by a political tribunal and was then summarily sentenced to five years in the Gulag.  In shock, he asked how it was possible to be found innocent and still be sentenced.  Comrade chairwoman, without missing a beat, stated that in her courtroom the penalty for being found innocent was five years.  

        One can contrast Timothy Garneau’s experience with that of the Jihadists at San Francisco State University.  As Lee Kaplan has reported, when members of the General Union of Palestinian Students verbally and physically attacked College Republicans for exercising their rights to distribute campaign literature in behalf of President George W. Bush’s reelection, SFSU decided to prosecute not just the Jihadists, one of whom threatened to blow herself up, but also the College Republicans who were, according to police reports and witnesses, totally on the receiving end of the attack.  Clearly, at SFSU, the immediate penalty for being a Republican and being attacked is to be indicted along with your attackers.

       These outrages are a result of the insular, intellectually-homogenous political mindset that governs our campuses.  It is why professors’ political affiliations do matter.  It goes a long way toward explaining why Republicans and conservatives find the campus an inhospitable environment and, certainly, not a place to attempt to launch a career.   And it is why the general public should hold public colleges and universities accountable to their own hypocritical cries for diversity–beginning with breaking the left’s ideological stranglehold that grips the campus. 

      Are we really expected to believe that disparities in the political affiliations of college faculty are a consequence of Republicans and conservatives being intelligent enough to run governments but simply far and away too stupid to teach a freshman course in political science?

Cases: University of New Hampshire: Eviction of Student for Posting Flier