July 17, 2006

"A gift to all those who want to malign liberals as America-haters and to portray the academy as a hotbed of left-wing lunacy."

Cathy Young has a piece in The Boston Globe about what she calls our "academic follies" at UW. As you remember from earlier posts here, Kevin Barrett, a part-time instructor hired to teach this fall will be inflicting his idiotic 9/11 conspiracy theory on any students foolish enough to sign up for his course. (Note to students: You have the power to strand Mr. Barrett in an empty room.)

Cathy writes:
Defenders of the course say that academic freedom is at stake. But does academic freedom really protect the teaching of what Farrell politely calls "unconventional" views? How about a course expounding on Flat Earth theory and presenting "compelling evidence" that the moon landing was faked? Or, better yet, how about a course called "Germany: History and Culture," in which the instructor presented his "unconventional" view that the Holocaust is a myth and Hitler was a misunderstood great leader?
This is a crucial point. Farrell's invocation of academic freedom only works if he would apply it in a viewpoint neutral way. But how can we believe that he would?
Mir Babar Basir, a recent University of Wisconsin graduate and former president of the Muslim Students Association, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Barrett had many supporters, which was not surprising since "Madison is fairly liberal." But what exactly is 'liberal" about the belief in bizarre conspiracy theories? If one wants to promote tolerance toward Muslims and counter the stereotypes that equate all Islam with terrorism, denying the link between Islamic fanaticism and Sept. 11 is hardly the way to go about it.

No one knows if Barrett's nonsense will persuade any of his students. One thing, however, is clear: His course, and the university's lame defense of it, are a gift to all those who want to malign liberals as America-haters and to portray the academy as a hotbed of left-wing lunacy.
To be fair, I think most liberals and lefties around here -- not that I'm talking to everyone -- just want to keep their distance from this character. The strategy is to move to a high level of abstraction and talk about academic freedom. I'd like to see them use their free speech to say some more robust things and to engage with the horror that ordinary citizens feel when they see something this repulsive being taught at what they think they should be able to embrace as their public university.

The official reaction from the provost must feel snooty and elitist: You people need to appreciate abstract principles. But when the tables are turned, for example, in the case of affirmative action, the university will say exactly the opposite: You people naively refer to abstract principles, but you don't understand the subtle, contexualized problem.

It's no wonder people get so mad at us. And it's no wonder right wingers find rich raw material to exploit. Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are watching us?

84 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

"....Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are watching us?...."


Because most of the professors are out of touch with a normal life.

Dawn said...

35 square miles surrounded by reality.

Joe said...

And isn't his course called an Intro to Islam? Like having an Intro to Christianity course using the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a text.

John Thacker said...

Another thing that chafes right-wingers and others is when FIRE has to sue in order to get UW-Madison and Eau Claire to allow RAs to lead voluntary Bible studies in their room. While there are arguments that an RA-led Bible study, even if voluntary, might pressure students, I sort of put it on the same level as the idea that the university letting a 9/11 denier teach a class means that it's endorsing that speech.

When it looks like a double-standard it irritates even more, because the universities look like hypocrites. (Not that being a hypocrite on free speech depending on how you feel about the content is that unusual on any side.)

knoxgirl said...

what exactly is 'liberal" about the belief in bizarre conspiracy theories?

Everything, when the conspiracy makes Bush the bad guy... when it comes down to it, the idea is so seductive they can't bring themselves to condemn it.

It really is pathetic that they're letting this crap pass as legitimate course content. I would be extremely pissed if I worked or went to school at UW...

Dave said...

Yeah I'd have to agree with Young here. Your university's failure to get rid of this idiot is reason enough to malign the academy. Throw in Cornel West, et al, and, well, the academy looks none too bright these days.

Even if some of my favorite bloggers are academics.

The academy does itself no favor by aligning itself with loons from the left or right.

Jim Gust said...

Why is the faculty helpless to stop this person? Don't they see this will only get worse and worse?

Ms. Young is perfectly correct. Ward Churchill, now this. The general public can reasonably believe that Universities are incapable of self governance. Accordingly, don't act surprised when the politicians decide to do it for you.

Kent said...

"....Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are watching us?...."

You ask it as if Barrett were a kind of cancerous growth on liberalism, arising from some set of spontaneous mutations that have nothing to do with liberalism itself.

Like you, I don't believe the moonbattery of Barrett reflects sane liberal thinking. But I do believe that the inability of liberals to respond effectively to this moonbattery is inherent in the nature of the Left. For example, to the Left, free speech and academic freedom are sacred absolutes. Offensive (or merely brain-fevered) speech not only is not subject to any prudent limits, but demands to be given a forum.

I think there is also a lack of intellectual self-confidence in academia. That is, the Left has lost confidence in its own intellectual roots, which leaves it helpless in dealing with "alternate viewpoints" that are asserted with enough confidence, whether or not they are sane.

Does the academic Right have a corresponding problem with wingnuttery? Since I am unacquainted with any university dominated by the Right, there's no example to examine, so it's hard to reach any definite conclusions. The continued popularity of Coulter, Malin, and Horowitz suggest that the possibility cannot be ruled out, though all these characters have been sharply criticized by saner conservatives.

Dave said...

"I am unacquainted with any university dominated by the Right"

Bob Jones University, Oral Roberts University, BYU, Hillsdale College, etc., etc.

(The first two are much different than either BYU or Hillsdale. But it is not true that no university is "dominated" by the right.)

brylin said...

Clueless Farrell is handing a political gift to Wisconsin Republicans.

brylin said...

Ann said: "Note to students: You have the power to strand Mr. Barrett in an empty room."

Note to Bush-hating students: You have the power to support the University of Wisconsin's attack on the BusHitler!

Another Old Navy Chief said...

Kent: You said "For example, to the Left, free speech and academic freedom are sacred absolutes. Offensive (or merely brain-fevered) speech not only is not subject to any prudent limits, but demands to be given a forum."

The Left and Academia does NOT really believe in and defend "free speech" for all. They use the coercive tool of PC speech codes, both formal and informal, to stiffle speech that does not fit into the narrative they want to hear.

ronin1516 said...

Well, BYU is not "dominated by the right". What it is, is socially conservative, where the students, faculty, staff have to live up to the honor code. Except for on the subject of homosexuality, folks are free to discuss and teach anything. The only ones who get in trouble are the folks who try to say things like the Mormon Church isnt Christian, or that there is some kinda conspiracy running the Church etc.
Of course, they are a bit conservative, and os, you wont see any Nicholas Digenova, or Robert jensen or Barrett, or other America-haters, or outright lunatics teaching there.
BTW, I am not a BYU alum, but a U-Michigan alum, the same place where the U-W Madison's Provost went to school at.

Abraham said...

I also think it is totally unfair for the faculty (of which our host is one) to put the burden on the students for getting them out of this mess. Isn't it rather inconsistent to, on the one hand, argue that the faculty are powerless to do anything because the proper way to combate loony ideas is to critically respond; and on the other hand, argue that the correct thing for the students to do is to copmletely ignore and attempt to marginalize him? If it's good and proper for the students to pre-evaluate his material and reject it, why is it bad and wrong for the University to do the same thing? In my opinion, the students should be blameless whatever happens, and the repeated suggestions that the University is powerless but the students are not sounds, to me, like transparent evasion of responsibility.

Dave said...

ronin: "dominated by the right" I realize is a bit of an overzealous description of either BYU or Hillsdale but it is nonetheless true that both campuses are much less liberal than is the prevailing norm of America's campuses.

Insofar that these schools' culture is at odds with that of the academic culture generally, it seems fair to say that they are not exactly bastions of liberalism.

I make no moral judgment as to that condition (at least as it applies to BYU or Hillsdale.)

Bissage said...

Here's a minor quibble. Cathy Young wrote that "If one wants to promote tolerance toward Muslims and counter the stereotypes that equate all Islam with terrorism, denying the link between Islamic fanaticism and Sept. 11 is hardly the way to go about it."

Maybe it's not the best way, or even a reasonably effective way, but it is a prevalent way.

Doesn't it reflect the very essence of propaganda in general? Your leaders are your enemies. We are your friends.

I heard Barrett employ this precise structure on the Michael Medved radio show: Islam is a religion of peace, therefore, no true Muslim person would ever commit such atrocities as occurred on 9/11. The Jihadis are not Muslims. The world of Islam is morally superior to the United States government.

Whatever else Barrett might be, he is a propagandist.

RogerA said...

Generalization caveat applies below:

While I do believe that the academy "in general" tends to be more liberal than conservative, the academy is a huge entity--There are the Wests, the Rushtons, the Shockleys and a few other cranks. But all in all, representing the academy in terms of the likes of Barrett and the others I mentioned, is overstating the case against the institution.

Editor Theorist said...

Speaking from across the pond, the US university system is without question the best in the world (for a large nation).

One of the things that makes the top US universities the best is that they are not run purely by the state and faculty. As well, they are significantly influenced by constitutencies such as the students and their parents (by their fees), and the alumni and benefactors.

Over time, I believe that these countervailing forces will swing back the pendulum away from excessive tuition fees, political indoctrination, and faculty self-indulgence.

If students (and their parents) do not wish to be propagandized by extreme liberal views, they will choose colleges accordingly. For example, they could choose scientific and technical schools, where this is not usually a problem.

We can see that Harvard is currently being punished for pressuring President Summers to resign by losing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of benefactions, as well as alumni annual donations.

It might take a decade or so, but competition in the US university educational marketplace will probably sort these things out.

Glenn Howes said...

ronin1516 said...
Of course, they are a bit conservative, and os, you wont see any Nicholas Digenova, or Robert jensen or Barrett, or other America-haters, or outright lunatics teaching there.


Unfortunately, this is not true. One of the leading "Scholars for 9/11 Truth" promoting this lunacy is a lecturer at BYU. Jeff Farrer

Simon said...

"The Left and Academia does NOT really believe in and defend "free speech" for all. They use the coercive tool of PC speech codes, both formal and informal, to stiffle speech that does not fit into the narrative they want to hear."

Quite; academic diversity at major universities is essentially a question of which flavor of left you prefer, something that has been statistically demonstrated over and over again. But the bottom line is that this is precisely the narrative they want to hear. Ann, having been on the receiving end of attacks from the Kossacks and their ilk, how can you seriously ask why liberals don't seem able to counter this idiot: they support what he's doing! Even if they don't agree with his methods, they have adopted a "total war" approach where anything that can be used to discredit the Bush administration is fair game and should be used. This is the party that wants your vote; you have a standing invitation to find a comfy home in the other one. ;)

Simon said...

"Over time, I believe that these countervailing forces will swing back the pendulum away from excessive tuition fees, political indoctrination, and faculty self-indulgence."

Over how much time? Campuses have been the bought-and-paid-for subsidiaries of the left since at very least the 1960s, and while there are a few pockets of resistance -- and even the occaisional heretic who still believes in independent judgement, such as our hostess -- there seems little evidence of a pendulum swing. How many conservative or Republican professors are there at U-Wisc? At Harvard? At UCLA?

PatCA said...

"Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are watching us?"

Because there is an oppressive culture of political correctness that silences them. Some faculty have commented here--I salute you. It was a grad student though who wrote an op-ed against him. I would like to hear from him in six months to see what, if anything, happened as a result of his speaking out.

As other commenters have pointed out, free speech exists on campus only for pre-approved narratives.

vorare said...

"Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are watching us?"

Judging from some conversations I've had, it's because many sane liberals consider the conspiracy theories "fake but accurate." That is, they don't agree that there was a conspiracy to cause 9/11, but they do agree that there was a conspiracy to exploit 9/11. Many are unwilling to condemn the former because they're afraid it would be perceived as also condemning the latter.

Jeff said...

What's the hubub all about? Isn't this part of the Design for Diversity?

The prevailing academic taste for "free speech" reminds me of the old joke: I like both kinds of music: Country AND Western. The academic version semmes to be: We like diversity of speech: leftist AND far-leftist!

Elizabeth said...

Bob Jones University

Good example. Not only does the right tolerate it, and not engage in vigorous condemnation of that university's race policies, the right's politicians get on their knees every presidential election cycle and kiss Bob's ring.

There's sickening crap on every extreme.

jeff said...

Strand him in an empty room, and the taxpayers still fund his paycheck.

This is acceptable?

the pooka said...

Man, do I get tired of hearing the poor, put-upon conservatives moaning about lefties in universities.

Last time I checked, you folks had the Congress, the White House, the federal judiciary; a majority of state legislatures and governorships; and majorities of members of business and the wealthy, the military, and the clergy. Nearly all of the conservatives in these positions of authority were educated in the very universities you claim have been in the hands of radical lefty-loonies since the 1960s. Yet, consistent with the prevailing Grover Norquist scorched-earth perspective toward the left ("if there's a live liberal anywhere, it's one too many"), the fact that university faculties are predominantly Democratic is apparently cause for great alarm and extreme action.

Here's the thing: I've been a professor -- tenured and untenured, at both private and public universities -- for a decade or so. At no point have I seen a person's political ideology have anything to do with any part of the graduate admission, grading, hiring, publication, tenure, or promotion process. The academy is (somewhat paradoxically, if one is to believe the "tenured radicals" rhetoric) among the freest employment markets in the U.S., with lots of potential for mobility and a few scholars changing institutions like underwear. Moreover, the vast majority of us could be making more money, and have equal job security, in the private sector (I am certain our blogmistress falls into this category). In other words, we are where we are because we want to be.

I encourage all my smart undergraduates (whose political leanings I rarely know and never care about) to go get PhDs and enter the academy; my colleagues do the same. I do this because I think it is a wonderful, rewarding way to spend one's life. Some of these "kids" take my advice; most (to the benefit of Patton Boggs and Proctor & Gamble) do not. If there is selection into the academy going on, it is self-selection, of the sort that merito-capitalists like myself (lest we forget, one can be a capitalist and a liberal) support, and should support. (cf. another of Ann's recent posts).

Now, let the caterwauls from the right commence.

Lou Wainwright said...

I'm a UW engineering Alum, and that's the department I'm dissapointed in. This idiot's arguments aren't political, they're technical. He's claiming that 'experts' say that the collision, explosion, and fire couldn't cause damage sufficent to bring down the buildings. Since the vast majority of structural engineers who have looked at the event have reached the opposite conclusion I would expect that group to stand up against this idiocy. As was noted in another post, this is not (just) an issue of political free speech, it's about whether lecturers should be allowed to teach material directly contrary to existing scientific knowledge. You shouldn't be able to teach that thousands died due to three mile island, that the moon landing was faked, that we don't need to conserve oil because cold fusion will solve our energy needs, or that the earth is only 6000 years old.

Now, a discussion of why people want to buy into wild theories even when there is a ton of contrary evidence, that would be a valuable course for UW to offer.

Ann Althouse said...

Jeff: In terms of dollars, I think paying his salary is much, much cheaper than funding the litigation would arise out of firing him. (I assume the UW would win, but there would be a lawsuit almost certainly, and it would be costly, but perhaps worth it.) I think the provost approach is to encapsulate Barrett and wait for him to pass through the system. It's a one semester, part-time position, for which he is being paid $8,000 or so.

Ann Althouse said...

Lou: "Now, a discussion of why people want to buy into wild theories even when there is a ton of contrary evidence, that would be a valuable course for UW to offer."

Yeah, and Barrett is the last person who is qualified to teach that.

dick said...

So you are saying that just because it is cheaper to just let him pass through,you think it is OK for the university to let this nut teach his class and for students to pay their fees to attend his class. If I were a resident of Wisconsin, I would most certainly not want to see any of my money or any of my children's money go towards funding anything to do with this guy. The university screwed up by hiring him; the university should own up to it and fire him. The residents of the state should not have to have anything to do with the process.

Internet Ronin said...

There's sickening crap on every extreme.

You can say that again, Elizabeth! And BJ U (don't you just love those initials? ;-) is a great example of that. Instead of saying it again, however, drop by the Hallelujah thread and listen to a few of the performances. Good stuff there.

While I'm being agreeable today, I think Pooka is right about the high degree of student self-selection that goes on, as well. In fact, I agree with enough of Pooka's post to not quibble about any of it for once ;-)

Young's piece is spot on, from my point of view, too.

Simon said...

"Man, do I get tired of hearing the poor, put-upon conservatives moaning about lefties in universities. Last time I checked, you folks had the Congress, the White House, the federal judiciary; a majority of state legislatures and governorships; and majorities of members of business and the wealthy, the military, and the clergy. Nearly all of the conservatives in these positions of authority were educated in the very universities you claim have been in the hands of radical lefty-loonies since the 1960s."

What does any of that have to do with whether or not conservatives are discriminated against on campus?

By the way, your figures aren't correct. Even assuming that it can be said in some meaningful sense that the judiciary is susceptible to control by a political party, and that the GOP "controls" the Federal judiciary in some meaningful sense, or for that matter that the GOP genuinely controls the Senate, given that the rules of that body (in my view, unpopularly in my party, appropriately) reserves immense power for the minority, your state figures are way off. The GOP commands majorities in both chambers of a state legislature in only twenty state legislatures (only five more than the Dems), and in eight of those states, the GOP-controlled legislature is checked by a Democratic governor.

To claim this amounts to hegemony is a little silly, and in any event, still has nothing to do with the point for which you cite it as evidence.

Theo Boehm said...

The principle of academic freedom is very important. It’s been one of the reasons that “…the US university system is without question the best in the world (for a large nation).”

I plead guilty to wanting to move to a high level of abstraction in these discussions. Since living through Governor Reagan’s jihad against UC those many years ago, I’ve been ranting to anyone who would listen, about incredibly important academic freedom is; how it’s really about free speech; how, even if one disagrees, the right to freely teach and discuss ultimately benefits society, etc., etc.

Cathy Young’s piece and this discussion have brought me up short. Ann is right. This argument sounds snooty and elitist, no matter how one tries to frame it. And I don’t see anything persuasive that could be said by responsible leftists among UW faculty members.

You have just handed politicians an Issue. Politicians love Issues. Issues are their food. Think vultures and dead carcass.

How does Governor Green sound?

Been there, done this.

Buddy Larsen said...

Given the choice of a "gift to all those who want to malign liberals" and no Kevin Barretts, I'd take the 'no Kevin Barretts' and do without any gift-receiving.

Mike said...

Ann: Good point regarding the cost of paying him vs. the lawsuit to fire him. However, if that's really the reason for the UW's present course of action, I think the right thing for them to do is to say so explicitly. First of all, it would be the truth, and secondly, I think it would go a long way to defusing this for most Wisconsin residents (who will see the wisdom in paying $8k vs. $1M).

Bissage said...

"I think the provost approach is to encapsulate Barrett and wait for him to pass through the system."

Now, that's a picture!

(Who ... does ... number two ... work ... for?)

Mike said...

I tried posting this, but I think Blogger lost it. Let me try again.

I have felt all along that firing is not necessary. It must be within the rights of the UW to not allow him to teach this topic (the 9/11 stuff) based on: i) irrelavancy to the course, and ii) his lack of credentials regarding his engineering "evidence". He couldn't credibaly sue the UW under those circumstances, could he?

Elizabeth said...

Strand him in an empty room, and the taxpayers still fund his paycheck.

What university would pay someone to instruct a course in which no one enrolled? It's ludicrous, and I don't believe it would happen. If no one enrolls, the course would be cancelled. No course, no contract.

Kevin S. said...

Academic Freedom does not require every loon an opportunity to sing in a lecture hall; at the "who is teaching the class" level, it allows persons demonstrating expertise in a given discipline--presumably because of those persons' exemplary ability to engage in academic (i.e., reason-based) thinking and mastery of the subject matter--to teach class in a manner that promotes free inquiry and academic thought and protect the professor and the class from the moods, politics, and style of the day. The gatekeeping function of the hiring department/university is supposed to ensure that the teachers are neutrally qualified as serious thinking academic experts. But that gatekeeping function does not appear to have operated very well here....

I think a disproportionate amount of attention has been focused on the question of whether Barrett should be allowed to teach this class as opposed to studying how people like this--conspiracy theorists/propagandists (as opposed to intellectual/academic thinkers)-- are being recognized and hired as qualified experts to teach.

Danny said...

Here's a link if you're interested in keeping up with how many students are enroll in his class.

tjl said...

The Pooka said;

"I've been a professor -- tenured and untenured, at both private and public universities -- for a decade or so. At no point have I seen a person's political ideology have anything to do with any part of the graduate admission, grading, hiring, publication, tenure, or promotion process."

What about Larry Summers? It wasn't even his political ideology, which we may assume to mirror that of the Clinton administration in which he served. A single remark at an academic conference was sufficient to destroy him, because that remark called into question one of the core beliefs of PC orthodoxy.

Anthony said...

Somewhat on topic, I had a friend from college (UW-Madison!) who was a born-againer and quite an intelligent guy -- EE, comp. sci. etc.). But after graduation he gradually drifted into what I thought was the loony right camp. Absolutely hated Clinton et al. Anyway, he was pretty big on the 1990s conspiracies, notably how OK City was really a plot by the Clintonistas in order to Take Away Our Guns. He pointed me to lots of web sites demonstrating how the Murrah building could not have been taken down by a truck bomb but was really done by controlled explosives (gee, sound familiar?). There were apparently some structural engineers on faculty at whatever universities expounding this theory, although I don't know if they ever actually brought it into lecture halls. You can probably web search it.

Anyway, he eventually latched onto many of the current Bush conspiracies as well, so it's not strictly a left-wing phenomenon; there are no doubt a lot of generalized anti-government/anti-corporate types buying into this as well.

The Drill SGT said...

Mike/Ann

On your 8k versus 1,000k cost argument.

Don't you think that the long term cost to your UW will be much greater than 1,000k when alummni donations not received, state funding not received and the increased cost of recruiting both students and faculty is factored in?

I don't know what the NPV of all those long term costs is, but it's a lot bigger than 1,000k IMHO. It's just not visible now, so you can defer thinking about it, if you wish.

Christy said...

I am listening to all those Hallelujah tunes as I've read this comment thread. Nice, iRonin! I think I like the Wainwright the best.

Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church have a lot to answer for. We all grew up abhorring that Galileo's voice of truth was quieted by the more powerful voices of his time and we are determined that it must not happen again.
Unfortunately, in our determination to have no more Galileos we imbue every lone or minority voice, even the flat earthers, with the shroud of Sienna.

The problem is that we forget the end of the story. Ultimately Galileo won. Truth will out. We also forget that it was not a debate among natural philosophers, aka scientists, but between theologians and a scientist. No other scientists were involved.

Barrett's evidence isn't convincing to anyone who understands these matters. But even those who don't believe him feel morally righteous by ensuring his voice is heard and respected. Galileo's legacy ensures this.

The Pooka, interesting about the self-selection idea. I was one of those kids never expected to leave college. When my heat transfer professor took all us nuclear engineering students to see a power plant under construction and he couldn't tell which was a pressurizer and which the steam generator, I decided then and there I wanted to live in the real world. Self-selected right out of academic life.

vw: cxdciii = 110 from 500 + 103 = 507 = dvii The path may not be straight, but eventually we get there.

Mike said...

Sgt: I think spending $1M (for example) to eliminate 1 week of his 9/11 lectures rather than pay him $8k smacks of zealotry of a different kind. However, this strategy requires the UW to state explicitly: i) we disavow his theory, ii) we screwed up hiring him, iii) we're fixing the hiring process in the Dept. that hired him.

If they said that, then I'm with them. As UW faculty, I don't want them handing over buckets of money to this guy if they can get out from under this for $8k. But they have to be up front about it.

Stephen said...

“Last time I checked, you folks had the Congress, the White House, the federal judiciary; a majority of state legislatures and governorships; and majorities of members of business and the wealthy, the military, and the clergy.”

1. We definitely don’t have the clergy or judiciary.

2. We have businesses and the wealthy, but this is not as lopsided as you think.

”Moreover, the vast majority of us could be making more money, and have equal job security, in the private sector (I am certain our blogmistress falls into this category). In other words, we are where we are because we want to be.”

Depends on the department - In law? Yeah. When you get to an area like Barrett, (the departmental studies areas), what do you think he’d be doing if he wasn’t at a university?

I mean, maybe he could work as a consultant or something along those lines, but do you really think he’d last long if he spouted this stuff in the course of his work?

Nearly all of the conservatives in these positions of authority were educated in the very universities you claim have been in the hands of radical lefty-loonies since the 1960s. Yet, consistent with the prevailing Grover Norquist scorched-earth perspective toward the left ("if there's a live liberal anywhere, it's one too many"), the fact that university faculties are predominantly Democratic is apparently cause for great alarm and extreme action.

I went to a somewhat liberal school for undergrad and then a very, very liberal school – the backlash effect exists. I know a ton of people who entered the latter as moderate Democrats and were merely pushed rightward by the whole thing. Because of that, I’m not that worried about Barrett.

I still think you ought to be, because, freedom of the academy aside, the guy’s manipulating you. Defend him all day long, but $20 says this guy was looking for a credential of respectability and is now going to milk it for everything it’s worth.

I might even be willing to stand up for Barrett if I thought the man was really interested in intellectual inquiry, but after watching him debate I doubt it.

Defend academic freedom, but when you stick out your neck for this guy – realize that if he had his choice this is somebody who would mold his department so that it just advocated his viewpoint, not put it up for debate. (If you disagree with me on this, count the conservative profs in studies departments in a major state university on your right hand and see if you have enough fingers left to hold up a cup of coffee.)

I don’t think a candidate for an open professor slot will have “staffer for a Republican Congressman” on their CV and then wind up having their application tossed into the garbage by a committee because of it.

Despite what I said, I do agree with you on the point you mentioned. I agree there’s self-selection.

The thing is there’s self-selection in two areas you’re not accounting for. In the “X Studies” departments, where Barrett’s involved, there’s self-selection where possible candidates who you could be getting for grad school have ideologies that are opposed to the entire premise of the department. A lot of scholarly work here is now based on the whole idea of Orientalism. You’re going to have a department that isn’t just studying the Middle East, but is studying it on the basis that previous western scholarship on these regions was biased towards a western point of view and needs to be corrected. You’re not going to get conservative undergrads applying for graduate work in that field.

If a lefty prof who’s in a Middle East Studies Department merely wants to study the Middle East, I’m sure he’ll eventually hire a conservative. If he buys into the whole Orientalism notion – he ain’t gettin’ any.

The same happens in more mainstream areas. History by itself is not an ideological area, but if the focus on hiring is not in generic history, but in these sorts of fields, you’re not going to have many Republicans showing up to your office.

Beyond that, self-selection among the rightwing occurs nowadays just because it’s taken so much for granted that academia is dominated by the left that they don’t even bother with it. I know that was the case with me.

Sure, we have the Congress and we have a lot of positions of power, but conservatives don’t like the situation for a few reasons:

1. We’d like to go into academia.

2. I’d like to have argued about politics more in undergrad. I was able to debate with other students. I may have even actually had professors who were amenable to it – but why take the risk? Say you have only one prof in college who docks your grade because of it. Another person who you’re competing against (who decided to keep his mouth shut) will not have had this problem. When the two of you apply, who gets into a better grad/law school?

3. Republican politicians in power were educated at the schools we complain about, but far less than they used to be. I don’t have a link to the piece with the specific stats on this, but if you compare the number of people in the Bush administration with an Ivy League degree, it’s less than a fourth. If my memory isn’t failing me here, during the Bush Sr. years, it was about half. I’d argue one reason, is that top schools do a good job of training you to be a leader on the left . . . and, if you’re on the right, you better have learned this stuff on your own, because you’re not going to learn the main aspects of Reagan’s successes and Friedman’s privatization of Chile in class.

JohnK said...

"Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are watching us?"

Anne,

Maybe that is because there aren't any good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals. I keep hearing about how people like this clown aren't representative of the university culture. But, the fact that you have to ask this question makes me think that perhaps they don't exist.

BeckyJ said...

Man, do I get tired of hearing the poor, put-upon conservatives moaning about lefties in universities.

Speaking as an academic, I suggest you watch "Brainwashing 101" (www.brain-terminal.com) from Evan Coyne Maloney before you get it set in stone that there is absolutely no left bias in academia.

In addition, I'm wondering how you would account for the instances of student newspapers by students & faculty on Cal's campus, or why a faculty member in Kentucky encouraged her students to engage in acts of vandalism. Or why a librarian at OSU Mansfield was charged with sexual harrassment for recommending some books. I could go on and on.

BeckyJ said...

...student newspapers getting stolen by....

D'oh!

Elizabeth said...

BeckyJ,

My college newspaper experienced one of those thefts you mention. Some student group snatched up the bundles as they were delivered around campus, stuffed them with David Duke for Governor ads, along with his map of an ideal America-split between areas for Caucasians, Jews and Others--and then returned them to the delivery areas. If only we could blame that on liberal bias!

Power Lifter said...

To a mother of a soon-to-be high school senior, the academy does appear to be a "hotbed of left-wing lunacy." I would encourage every tuition-paying parent to watch these issues and vote with their pocketbooks. It is a sad day when our premier universities support this kind of idiocy.

Are you saying you think he will be gone after this one semester? What makes you think that? The university and faculty seem to be saying that they respect and support this point of view. What next - do they support teaching incorrect math formulas, dangerous chemistry experiments, structurally weak engineering - it makes just as much sense as what they are supporting with this guy.

Birkel said...

Ann,

I asked it before and I'll ask it again:

Why doesn't the university set the class size to zero? Why don't they demand all the intellectual property created in the course of teaching this class be given to the university, as is their right?

IOW, why doesn't the university take the responsibility to
a) honor his contract
and
b) keep him in a broom closet somewhere in Madison?

JohnK said...

"My college newspaper experienced one of those thefts you mention. "Some student group snatched up the bundles as they were delivered around campus, stuffed them with David Duke for Governor ads, along with his map of an ideal America-split between areas for Caucasians, Jews and Others--and then returned them to the delivery areas. If only we could blame that on liberal bias!"


First of all Elizibeth, breaking down American by caucasians and Jews and others sounds a lot like what many in the far left would advocate. Second, are the people who did this rewarded with jobs and tenure on college campuses the way equally offensive people like Ward Churchill are on the left? No, I don't think so. Whoever stole those papers are part of the lunatic fringe and not part of the mainstream right. When people do equally offensive things on the left, rather than being condemed as being part of the lunatic fringe, they are embraced and apologized for in the name of "academic freedom".

JohnK said...

One other thing Elizibeth, how do you even know that the thefts were done by anyone associated with the campus? Maybe they were just moron thugs who have no connection to the school. Again, when the people who stole the newspapers are rewarded with jobs and tenure because of their extreme views come back and whine about right wing bias on campus.

knoxgirl said...

Second, are the people who did this rewarded with jobs and tenure on college campuses the way equally offensive people like Ward Churchill are on the left?

this really is the material point. It's not that you can't find ANY isolated incidents of right-wing whackjobs. It's that they are outnumbered by about a million by the left-wing ones on our campuses. Any attempt to make it sound like the problem is equal across the political spectrum can't be taken seriously.

brylin said...

Lou Wainwright said: “I'm a UW engineering Alum, and that's the department I'm disappointed in. This idiot's arguments aren't political, they're technical. He's claiming that 'experts' say that the collision, explosion, and fire couldn't cause damage sufficent to bring down the buildings. Since the vast majority of structural engineers who have looked at the event have reached the opposite conclusion I would expect that group to stand up against this idiocy. As was noted in another post, this is not (just) an issue of political free speech, it's about whether lecturers should be allowed to teach material directly contrary to existing scientific knowledge.”

That’s it: “directly contrary to scientific knowledge.”

And the UW engineers including Grand Pooba engineer and provost Patrick Farrell are silent?

John(classic) said...

Is there are a course at the UW that covers the technical evidence that it was done by hijackers flying planes into buildings?

just curious...

Internet Ronin said...
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PatCA said...

Which is it, pooka: are you supporting Barrett just because the right does not, or are you admitting that his POV on 9/11 is the leftie view?

Simon Kenton said...

On the lefty academy, here is Jeremy Freese, an acquaintance or friend of our hostess, with the sort of half-humorous, half-truthful statement that corroborates much:

"Besides, the open secret that I didn't appreciate when I got into this business is that, at many (most? virtually all?) places, sociology counts on lazy, lost, last-resort-looking and otherwise low-achieving students as an important source of revenue--which isn't to say we don't strive hard to lure bright students as well, as long as they aren't too politically conservative--and that's a kind of systematic bargain that in the aggregate makes abuse and publicized incidents like this every once in awhile inevitable." (emphasis supplied).

Kirk Parker said...

Ann,

You ask, "Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are watching us?" That's a good enough question as it is, but imo it would be even stronger if you asked, "Why don't the good, serious, scholarly, sane liberals and lefties at the University of Wisconsin speak to the citizens who are their ultimate employers?

Having a right to free speech and free inquiry is nowhere near having a right to demand the public support you while you do so...

Simon Kenton said...

Picking on him, a bit, I suppose, but here's another from Jeremy Freese.

"For the record, I also think it is a healthy thing for taxpayers to support the idea of government supporting work (of various kinds, not just 'sciencely-minded') that seeks to criticize the social system."

Right. You people ought to want to support me critiquing your social system. In fact you ought to put in some other layers to support me critiquing your system, that you can also pay for.

I think most of the people making remarks of this sort are genuinely surprised by the rage they evoke.

Elizabeth said...

First of all Elizibeth, breaking down American by caucasians and Jews and others sounds a lot like what many in the far left would advocate.

Stunning. If you know anything at all about the American Nazi movement, you'll know that this map is part of their dogma. Name one, just one, "far left" advocate of racial homelands in America. Put up, or shut up.

You, and knoxgirl, also completely missed the point. BeckyJ listed student newspapers being stolen in her litany of offences of the left. Ranting about jobs and tenure is just a red herring, so avoid having to acknowledge that yes, tyrannical acts occur on both sides of the spectrum.

Elizabeth said...

It's that they are outnumbered by about a million by the left-wing ones on our campuses.

I guess it's easier to hold onto your beliefs if you can just make shit up to support them. Those are some amazing stats, knoxgirl; got some sort of proof?

knoxgirl said...

oh please.

You trying to act like there's as much right wing nonsense on campuses as left-wing would be like me trying to say that there are an equal number of liberal homophobes or right-wing christians as conservative ones.

you are being disingenuous. "stats" indeed

knoxgirl said...

Lots of commenters on here demonstrate that faced with a situation like this, liberals lash out *not* at the nutjob from their own ranks who caused it, but--that's right--the conservatives who have the nerve to complain about it.

This thread answers Ann's question nicely.

Rob said...

Though I dislike all of the generalized comments on here about "liberals" and "conservatives" I think there may an equivalent analogy some on the left are looking for.

Listen to religious radio sometime if you want to hear "conservative" nutbaggery. On a random flip through the stations yesterday I heard someone analogize the movement to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment to the struggles the abolitionists had during slavery.

I guess my point is I think we can let there be an enclave of "conservative" silliness in the religious sphere and "liberal" silliness is the liberal acts sphere of education without getting in a huge huff about it. In the end this guy is a blip on the radar. Hopefully, this MSM driven division of American into red and blue will be a blip as well. I don't think we're as different as we all think.

Elizabeth said...

knoxgirl, you want to pull numbers out of your ass and not be called to account for them. There's some rightwing "nonsense" for you; and it's nice how you go from 9/11 denial to "nonsense." The depth and breadth of your thinking is "liberal bad."

If you've read any of the posts here on Barrett, you've seen my opinion on him and his being allowed to teach. Still, you pull that rightwing nonsense out about liberals just wanting to lash out at conservatives. You conveniently ignore the conservative comments taking off from Barrett and seeking to build the "liberal bad!" case, tangentially, as they always do, because that's the sum of their worldview. Your comments are a fine example of how shallow partisan discourse can be.

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
knoxgirl said...

I guess my point is I think we can let there be an enclave of "conservative" silliness in the religious sphere and "liberal" silliness is the liberal acts sphere of education without getting in a huge huff about it.

exactly.

knoxgirl said...

elizabeth:

ok, I give up. You're right. All those right wing Ward Churchills out there are a real bummer.

And I'm outraged by the left-wing virulent opposition to gay marriage. If I say it enough times, I guess I could convince myself it's true.

????

knoxgirl said...

oh, and you wanted examples/stats/whatever. At the University of Dayton, receiving an English degree I experienced:

An American History professor who taught us from books written by Tod Gitlin;

Another American History professor who repeatedly asserted that Nixon was the *worst* thing ever to happen to the U.S.;

A Mythology teacher who basically turned what should have been a Classics course into a Men's Studies class;

An Art History/Film professor who inserted politics into the lectures.

Numerous English teachers who turned various courses into gender/race politics classes.

A sociology teacher who basically turned Sociology 101 into "Why you should vote for Clinton 101."



***To be fair, my teachers in the Graphic Design department at the University of Tennessee here in Knoxville never brought politics into class.

Kent said...

Well, BYU is not "dominated by the right". ... Of course, they are a bit conservative, and os, you wont see any Nicholas Digenova, or Robert jensen or Barrett, or other America-haters, or outright lunatics teaching there.

I wish this were true. Remember that Steve Jones (of cold fusion and 9/11 conspiracy theory notoriety) is tenured in the physics department. In my opinion, he's as big a lunatic as Barrett, and I'm saddened to say that he seems to have the support of many of his physicist colleagues. (The engineering college, on the other hand, is less than supportive.)

I was always proud to be a BYU alumni. But Steve Jones is rapidly eroding that pride.

As to the broader question of whether BYU is dominated by the Right, my impression is that the average professor is well to the left of the average student. Perhaps that still puts them well to the right of most of their colleagues from other universities. It would be nice if it were true; academia would benefit from having some more conservative points of view. Diversity and all that.

TW Andrews said...

Regarding the cost argument, I would imagine that the University would be perfectly within their rights to say to him, "We're going to pay you as stipulated in your contract, but your course has been cancelled."

The university doesn't have to deal with the removal of this guy, but also avoids providing him a forum for his lunacy.

Elizabeth said...

knoxgirl, except for the "why you should vote for Clinton" seminar, I'm not sure what that the other things you list are as egregious as you assume them to be. Gitlin is leftwing; so? Writers take positions. Nixon? Maybe not the "worst" thing ever, but a bad thing nonetheless. You don't expect history professors to interpret events in history? Don't we debate the worth and value of various presidencies? I'm not sure what your "men's studies" remark means, so I can't comment, but I'm not surprised that race, gender and politics come up in a literature course. After all, literature is about the big themes of human experience. Encountering politics in an art/film class isn't surprising either, unless you mean the professor was lecturing you on what your political positions ought to be on specific issues. I can't take these examples on their face as proving anything other than that you have a predisposition to see evil liberalism lurking in every corner.

knoxgirl said...

Elizabeth, I was an English major, and a History and Women's Studies minor and very liberal at the time. I was not at all hostile to the stuff I was being taught; quite the contrary. I liked most of these professors and sought out their courses.

You are accusing a lot of commenters on here of reducing arguments to liberals=bad. If you don't see any of the instances I cited as problematic, I think you could also fairly be accused of refusing to see a bigger picture.

I gave you some pretty compelling examples. You discounted them all out-of-hand. I think I finally see where you're coming from, and I'm done.

Elizabeth said...

knoxgirl, your examples are too vague to make any judgments, which is why I question them. You're using shorthand, little bumpersticker descriptions that may mean something to the reductive "liberal-bad" folks, but I simply to need to know more. Don't blame me for not following your lack of detail and information.

Elizabeth said...

knoxgirl, I also question your sense of fairness. I didn't dismiss your examples out of hand; rather, I replied to each in some detail. And I certainly did see one of the instances as "problematic," and noted in one other case that while I couldn't be sure what you meant, I could see a possible problem.

But, hey, whatever; don't let accuracy get in the way of a good snit.

Theo Boehm said...

Hey, knoxgirl, don't feel so bad. Not only did I have to read articles by him, but I took a class taught by Todd Gitlin all those many years ago at UC. He was an entertaining lecturer. I would do it again if I didn't have to pay for it, as I virtually didn't at the then-low-cost UC. I'm not sure I would want my kids wasting my money thus in the modern world of extortionate tuition, but it was fun upon a time. My attitude was why not take a class just because the professor was full of merde?

I'm sorry to say I experienced the equivalent of every one of your examples and more, probably before you were born. Of course I found myself alarmingly in an Ursprung of modern academic leftishness, the University of California. You live in the latter days, when campus radicalism has lost its bright freshness, and has become instead a thin, shabby, dark, controlling thing--much like the ageing Boomers who were its midwives.

My wife, a Berkeley grad, says that if she limited herself to taking classes only from those of sympathetic political views, it would have been thin gruel indeed. Her best language instructor was a raving Italian radical, who taught them The Communist Manifesto in Italian. Great fun in the day. And now she’s a George Bush voter.

And so, knoxgirl, don’t be offended by all the crap you’ve had to put up with. There’s much, much more coming. But take heart. It needn’t get to you, just as it has never gotten to me or my wife.

knoxgirl said...

thanks... at the time I ate that shit up. It's in retrospect, when I look at the courses where I could have come away with so much more had I simply been taught a few more facts and information, that I get bitter. alas...

Ann Althouse said...

Knoxgirl: I completely wasted my chance at undergraduate education too. You should have seen the Residential College at the University of Michigan in 1969.

Tibore said...

Wow... this topic never dies. Some info from another website regarding Barrett (Honest! I just tripped over it, I didn't go looking for it on purpose):

http://screwloosechange.blogspot.com/2006/07/could-these-people-get-any-more.html

Editor Theorist said...

Knoxgirl and Ann Althouse: Given the high and rising costs of tuition, and the observation that nonsense seems concentrated in the arts, humanities and social sciences - its surprising that more people don't avoid these subjects and gravitate towards the natural science options. Maybe they are duller and tougher subjects to study, but at least undergraduates wouldn't be wasting their time and money.