Schools of Social(ist) Work

America’s colleges and universities have become left-wing indoctrination factories. At least, that has long been a favorite conservative complaint. Today in the pages of the Weekly Standard we see another example of the “closing of the campus mind.” Why do so many conservatives seem to take such intense pleasure in the supposed leftist domination of American higher education?

Bearded weirdos...

Bearded weirdos…

In today’s Weekly Standard, Devorah Goldman shares her horror story from Hunter College’s School of Social Work. As a conservative, Ms. Goldman was asked politely not to participate in class discussions. She had to hold her tongue as she read anti-conservative textbooks. She had to hold her tongue as professors imposed racist, ideologically slanted ideas on her classes.

Goldman’s story of abysmally closed-minded universities seems to resonate among conservative intellectuals. As we’ve seen recently, some conservative academics have interpreted recent events as the death knell for conservative thinkers at mainstream universities. Elsewhere, critics have wondered if higher education as a whole has been irredeemably lost to true open-mindedness.

As a non-conservative who writes a lot about conservatism and education, these complaints raise two difficult questions for me.

  1. First, why do so many conservative thinkers seem to emphasize the leftism of colleges? That is, why do conservatives seem to take such bitter joy from an exaggerated assumption that they are no longer welcome in higher ed?
  2. Second, why don’t these conservative intellectuals recognize the long tradition of conservative laments about higher ed? In every case, it seems as if conservatives think higher ed has just recently switched over to the dark side.

Let’s take the second of these questions first. As Ms. Goldman’s story shows, every conservative complaint implies that the closing of the college mind is a recent phenomenon. But conservatives (and liberals, for that matter) have been protesting against the goings-on at mainstream colleges for almost a century.

In 1987, for example, Chicago’s Allan Bloom scored a surprise best-seller with his Closing of the American Mind. Bloom worried back then that universities had become nothing but indoctrination factories.

Even earlier, conservative godfather William F. Buckley Jr. began his long career with an indictment of the culture at his alma mater. In God and Man at Yale (1951), Buckley blasted the sneering secularism and lax morality of his school.

Some people think Buckley invented modern conservatism, but the same themes go way back. In the 1930s, for instance, Congressman Hamilton Fish excoriated leading schools as subversive breeding grounds for communists. Fish named names. Columbia, New York University, City College of New York, the University of Chicago, Wisconsin, Penn, and North Carolina, Fish charged in 1935, had become “honeycombed with Socialists, near Communists and Communists.” As I note in my new book, Fish and other anti-communist conservatives in the 1930s assumed that leading colleges had recently been hopelessly lost to left-wing collegiate cabals.

Back in the 1920s, too, religious conservatives warned each other that recent events had caused the loss of mainstream colleges. As I’m digging into in my current research, fundamentalists such as Bob Jones Sr. convinced themselves and anyone who would listen that 1920s trends had moved college into the enemy camp. Too many schools, Jones charged, attacked the faith of conservative students. As Jones put it,

I had just about as lief send a child to school in hell as to put him in one of those institutions. We are spending millions of dollars on education in this country, but if that is the kind of education we are going to have we would be better off without our universities and colleges.

In every case, each generation of conservative activist has implied that these lamentable changes were recent occurrences. In every case, conservatives suggest that higher ed “these days” has been taken over by left-wingers. If this is such a long and strong tradition among conservatives, why do they keep insisting it is a recent phenomenon?

And why do conservatives seem so eager to emphasize their own victimhood? I don’t doubt Goldman’s story. I can imagine that some teachers and some schools really do insist on an ideological conformity. But there are plenty of other schools that do not. Why don’t conservatives spend more mental energy trumpeting their own dominance of some forms of higher education?

Recently, for example, conservative academic extraordinaire Robert George praised his school’s new academic-freedom rule. Why don’t more conservative intellectuals join Professor George in proclaiming the continuing academic clout of conservative or conservative-friendly ideas?

Some might think that conservatism only dominates less-prestigious schools. Ms. Goldman, for example, would likely have had a very different experience at a less prominent school of social work. But as the case of Professor George makes clear, leading schools such as Chicago and Princeton have long served as congenial homes for conservative intellectuals.

Instead of tearing their hair and gnashing their teeth due to the supposed loss of higher education, why don’t conservative intellectuals celebrate their continuing influence at many leading colleges?

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Walker Takes on the Professoriate

Want to get elected president? If you went to middle school, you know how it’s done: Find an unpopular group and attack them. Last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tried to pave his path to the Oval Office by attacking lazy good-for-nothing university professors. It might backfire. Walker’s plan has a long and spotty record among conservative politicians and activists. But in general, it’s a safe bet that Walker won’t lose conservative support by standing up to the professoriate.

Get to work, nerds!

Get to work, nerds!

In his new budget proposal, Governor Walker made huge cuts to the University of Wisconsin. The university could make up the shortfall, Walker suggested, by having faculty teach more classes. In short, Walker told reporters, this was nothing more than the core conservative principle of efficiency. The cuts will make the university

do things that they traditionally have not done. Like I said, things like maybe looking at the use of faculty and staff a bit more efficiently like others have done in government in the last four years at both the state and local level.

Naturally, Walker’s proposal has raised hackles among Wisconsin’s academics. History professor John Sharpless argued that he works at least as hard as anyone else. And after all that, Sharpless complained, he will retire with a smaller salary than a Madison bus driver. Walker’s implication that faculty are a bunch of “fat cats who are getting rich off the taxpayer,” Sharpless said, amounted to nothing more than a “crock of cow poop.”

Poop aside, Walker’s attack on the professoriate joins a long tradition among conservative politicians. As I recount in my new book, throughout the twentieth century conservative leaders blamed a leftist academic elite for America’s cultural decline.

In the 1930s, for example, conservative anti-communist leader Hamilton Fish insisted that faculty at leading colleges had become public enemy number one. The faculties at schools such as Wisconsin, Fish charged, had been packed with “socialists, near Communists and Communists.”

University professors make an easy target. As we’ve explored in these pages, many conservatives assume that academic types are overwhelmingly liberal. Governor Walker may be banking on the fact that any attack on college professors will be seen as a win for conservatism.

Outlaw Colleges

Why do so many otherwise right-thinking Americans embrace leftist ideas?  For generations, conservative intellectuals have blamed the skewed perspective of American colleges and universities.

This morning in the pages of National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson offers a ten-point condemnation of the American higher educational system.

For those unfamiliar with the real history, it might be tempting to assume that conservatives turned against the higher-education system during the campus tumults of the 1960s and 1970s.  Free speech movements, hippies, sit-ins, campus radicals occupying dean’s offices…there was certainly enough reason for conservatives to look askance at campus culture in those years.  But conservative intellectuals and activists had worried about the state of higher education long before that.

In the 1920s, for example, religious conservatives worried that mainstream campuses converted faith-filled young people into atheists and skeptics.  As I describe in my 1920s book, the first generation of fundamentalists realized that college determined culture.  William Jennings Bryan, for example, often trumpeted the findings of James H. Leuba.  Leuba had studied the beliefs of college students, and in his 1916 book The Belief in God and Immortality, Leuba concluded that the number of self-identified religious believers declined during college years.  In speech after speech in the 1920s, Bryan used Leuba’s numbers as proof that college wrecked faith.

Bryan wasn’t the only one.  Throughout the 1920s, evangelist Bob Jones Sr. warned of the dangerous effects of typical college curricula on young people.  One of the reasons Jones founded his own uniquely religious school, he explained in sermons, was because too many young people became college “shipwrecks.”  He told the story of one hapless family who had scrimped and saved to send their beloved daughter to

a certain college.  At the end of nine months she came home with her faith shattered.  She laughed at God and the old time religion.  She broke the hearts of her father and mother.  They wept over her.  They prayed over her.  It availed nothing.  At last they chided her.  She rushed upstairs, stood in front of a mirror, took a gun and blew out her brains.

In the 1930s, too, conservatives fretted that college corrupted culture.  Beyond the ranks of religious conservatives, activists in patriotic organizations such as the American Legion warned that colleges had been subverted by anti-American socialist moles.  As I argue in my upcoming book, worries about the subversive state of higher education became a central tenet of their conservative ideology.  For instance, in 1935 New York Congressman, red-hunter, and American Legion co-founder Hamilton Fish attacked the state of higher ed.  He named names, including Columbia, New York University, City College of New York, the University of Chicago, Wisconsin, Penn, and North Carolina.  These elite schools, Fish warned, and many others, had become “honeycombed with Socialists, near Communists, and Communists.”  A less prominent American Legion writer echoed this sentiment.  “Colleges all over the land” Legionnaire Phil Conley warned in a 1935 article, had begun teaching “the overthrow of our government . . . through subterfuge and through destroying faith and confidence in our democratic institutions.”

Long before “The Sixties,” then, conservatives concluded that colleges and universities threatened to shatter the cultural cohesion that had made America great.  These days, too, conservative intellectuals often condemn the state of higher education.  Of course, just as with earlier generations of conservatives, today’s conservatives may find many different reasons to worry about what goes on in America’s campuses.  Publications such as Minding the Campus and from the National Association of Scholars offer conservatives forums for sharing their complaints about the state of higher ed.

In the pages of National Review Online, we read one summary of conservative complaints about college today.  Victor Davis Hanson calls the state of higher education criminal.  He damns “virtual outlaw institutions” that take students’ money mainly to line their own pockets and fuel the narcissistic lifestyles of fat-and-happy professors and administrators.  “If the best sinecure in America,” Hanson concludes,

is a tenured full professorship, the worst fate may be that of a recent graduate in anthropology with a $100,000 loan. That the two are co-dependent is a national scandal.

In short, the university has abjectly defaulted on its side of the social contract by no longer providing an affordable and valuable degree. Accordingly, society can no longer grant it an exemption from scrutiny.

Hanson offers a ten-point brief.  College can be saved, he argues, if these senseless traditions are subjected to radical reform.  First, abolish tenure.  Second, rationalize hiring.  Third, take ideological garbage out of the curriculum.  Fourth, add transparency to the admissions process.  Fifth, cut the fat out of administration.  Sixth, remove the useless teaching credential.  Seventh, add national competency tests for faculty.  Eighth, publish school budgets.  Ninth, eliminate expensive and unnecessary university presses.  Finally, open campuses to real free speech.

Taken together, Hanson suggests, these radical reforms promise to renew the promise of American higher education.  Without them, American students and their families will continue to be held at intellectual and financial knife-point by the highway robbers known as professors and administrators.

How bout it?  Have you experienced college strife?  For those readers who come from conservative religious backgrounds, did your college experience shatter your faith?  Or did college turn you from a patriotic youth into a skeptical adult?  And what about Hanson’s broader challenge?  Do colleges take students’ money and offer only a skewed ideological indoctrination in return?

 

Stomp on Jesus at College

Conservative thinkers and activists have long worried that the faith of young people would be threatened by the dangerous skepticism they learned in college.

A recent flap at Florida Atlantic University demonstrates the continuing worry over the anti-faith teaching on offer in American higher education.

In this story, student Ryan Rotela protested when instructor Deandre Poole told students to write the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper, then stomp on it.  According to reports, Rotela claimed to have been suspended from class for his unwillingness to complete the assignment.  The university later apologized.

The flurry of interest in this story among conservatives tells us something about their attitudes toward higher education.

Paul Kengor, for example, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, told Fox News’ Todd Starnes this sort of Jesus-bashing was typical of today’s higher education.  This sort of lesson “reflects the rising confidence and aggression of the new secularists and atheists, especially at our sick and surreal modern universities,” Kengor said.

This anxiety over the goings-on at “modern” universities has a long lineage.

In 1922, for example, William Jennings Bryan warned that even among rich and powerful families, college threatened students’ faith.  One of Bryan’s acquaintances, a US Congressman, told Bryan that his daughter had returned from college only to inform him that “nobody believed in the Bible stories now.”  Nor was this an isolated case, Bryan argued.  Other Congressmen and prominent clergy had shared similar stories.  Children had gone off to school, only to return with a set of values and ideas abhorrent to their parents.    [See William Jennings Bryan, In His Image (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1922), 120.]

Patriotic conservative activists in the 1930s shared these worries about the nature of “modern” schools.  In 1935, for instance, New York Congressman Hamilton Fish denounced the socialism and communism that had corrupted leading schools such as Columbia, New York University, City College of New York, the University of Chicago, Wisconsin, Penn, and North Carolina.  Such schools, Fish charged, had become “honeycombed with Socialists, near Communists and Communists.”

Conservatives have long worried about what goes on once America’s children go off to college.  What will students be asked to do at college?  What will they be forced to learn?  Will they be punished if they refuse to stomp on Jesus?

**UPDATES:  Juan Williams has offered a defense of the Jesus-stomp lesson at Fox News.  And the Texas Freedom Network Insider has reported that the instructor of the controversial lesson is a leader in his Biblical-Christian church, Lighthouse Worship Center Church of God in Christ.  Does that matter?