Assassinating the Intelligensia

By Meryl Lipman of Portland, Oregon.Describing herself, Meryl says, "I am a refugee from Beverly Hills, California, who arrived in Oregon via Washington DC, Copenhagen, Moscow, Minsk, Seattle and Dubna (Russia). I make my living as a Soviet-area specialist, academic professional (PCC), freelance writer and skydiving coach and in my spare time I'm pursuing a masters degree at PSU." Previously, Meryl contributed A new progressive revolution?

A few weeks ago the World Affairs Council’s Young Professionals met in the upstairs room of a Portland brew pub to ponder the definition of “civil society.” The conversation wandered like a Bedouin, touching on questions of health and elder care and personal freedom vs. social order. But by the third microbrew all had agreed on one thing: a civil society cannot exist unless critical thought is promoted, from kindergarten through the university level.

The subject came up again last weekend at PSU, where a panel of academicians spoke calmly but urgently on the matter of “Academic Freedom Under Siege.” Unbeknownst to most of us, the neo-conservatives have been taking a mighty swipe at academia, that last American bastion of critical thought. They’ve targeted female, foreign and minority professors, “outing” them as leftist liberal intellectuals. If you don’t believe it, check out a popular new web site, www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

Like any other “Bushism,” the title is a gross misnomer. Instead of opening a discussion of academic freedom, the site has created a forum for conservative students to rail against faculty and “inform on” controversial professors who criticize the US policy in Iraq. The site also suggests that legislative funding for public universities should be linked to the promotion of “equal” agendas, including those of the Christian right, who feel disenfranchised by the liberal bent on most campuses.

These rumblings can be heard at Portland Community College where one Christian student expressed frustration that her American Sign Language instructor taught the class signs for “Gay” and “Lesbian” but would not teach the signs for “God” and “Jesus Christ.” The instructor did teach her the signs, but not on class time. Bob Liebman of the PSU Sociology Department says, “equal time is (indeed) part of academic freedom.” He just laments the informant mentality and warns that funding cuts based on political agendas would weaken the role of the college/university as a safe place for the exchange of ideas.

Lauded as off-campus learning institutions, museums have also come under fire. Take, for instance, Roseburg’s Douglas County Museum. The hullabaloo started in February amidst controversy over the resurrection of a city center fountain. From 1908 to 1912, the Greek goddess Hebe hovered above the three tiered cascade (or, at least her statue did before it was mysteriously pulled down by a team of horses). Hebe, the goddess of youth, was a misunderstood creature, often shown bare-breasted and later associated with Wicca. Douglas County Museum Director Stacey McLaughlin decided to host an exhibit on the beleaguered goddess in conjunction with women’s history month (March). This way, people could discover the history of the town’s public art. But, in the minds of appalled Roseburgers, Hebe’s Pagan leanings constituted an anti-Christian endorsement by a public institution. The exhibit was pulled by county commissioners, which caused one museum advisory board member to cry “censorship!” Two months later the commissioners called for the embattled McLaughlin’s resignation, on trumped-up charges of failing to share a building access code with them. She has refused to resign.

Christopher Zinn, Executive Director of the Oregon Council for the Humanities calls Oregonians to heed this warning: public funding has become – and will become - more and more tied to partisan politics. He says the National Endowment for the Humanities has come under recent scrutiny and academicians are being ruined if they do not agree with the Bush administration and powerful conservative lobbies.

At an October 2004 “Rethinking the Humanities” conference sponsored in part by the NEH, Zinn says he and his colleagues were invited to Aspen and subjected to what was, in his opinion, a “three day indoctrination session. They conveyed the message that academic humanists think seditious thoughts,” he says. “They also charged academics to work more closely with business and faith-based organizations because ‘that’s where the people are.’” If they failed, conference organizers said, the humanists would risk being “left behind with all the other liberal intellectuals in the universities,” according to Zinn.

Academics are alarmed at one more censure of campus life, the shift in international enrollment after 9-11 and subsequent obstacle courses set up for foreign students wishing to obtain student visas. For American students who cannot afford semesters abroad, a foreign presence on campus may provide their only direct exposure to other cultures. Additionally, international students and their families pump over $13 billion dollars into the US economy each year, spending $130 million in Oregon alone. Citing red tape, high fees and rude treatment by embassy officials, many foreign students have opted to learn in such “competitor” countries as Germany, England and Australia, who have launched aggressive marketing campaigns to capture US market share. By discouraging foreign student visitors, we are losing our share of a very lucrative market, not to mention the passion and intelligence of people who often graduate, settle in their host country and contribute to its economy.

Hostility toward intellectuals is nothing new among power-hungry regimes. Take, for example, the Khmer Rouge, who, emulating Stalin's model, murdered thousands of doctors, lawyers, philosophers, writers and university professors a mere 30 years ago. As for Stalin, the “intelligensia class” was among the first groups targeted in his Great Purges of the 1930s and 40s. Survivors (and those with the foresight to flee) came, in large part, to America, where they found thriving academic and scientific communities. With the exception of the McCarthy era, the US has always been a refuge for inventors, innovators and progressive thinkers. Although the NEH, acting under the influence of the current administration, cannot be compared to the tyrannies of Stalin and Pol Pot, we would be wise to watch this issue closely. Otherwise, the result could be similar: a brain drain, or dumbing down of American higher learning, which would leave us struggling for generations to regain the civil society we have lost.

Comments

  • K. Sudbeck (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Colleges, the last bastion of critical thought. I think you meant to say colleges are the last bastion of unfettered liberal hegemony. If it was about critical thought, than Harvard, Yale and Stanford would not ban military recruiters. These universities would debate and discuss with their students their opinions about military recruiters. Instead, Harvard, Yale and Stanford censor and restrict military recruiters, somehow I don't see how that fits into the critical thought process. If colleges were the last bastion of critical thought, than Ann Coulter could present her ideas on the world without fear of having food thrown at her or being called names. Is that manner in which the colleges these days teach their students how to debate ideas. I don't see critical thought as the goal, I see colleges imposing restrictions on conservative academic freedom. What does the Center for Campus Free Speech have to fear? Isn't the goal free speech and critical thought for colleges? No, more like radical liberal hegemony is the goal.

  • Becky (unverified)
    (Show?)

    K. Sudbeck makes a valid point. Liberals and progressives don't realize it but conservatives and Christians really do feel that their ideas are suppressed on college campuses.

    That said, I think the real problem here is that people have apparently still not evolved past our superstitious beliefs. There is an insecurity that comes with our knowledge that there is "something else" out there that we can't see or explain in concrete terms. We each, in order to feel secure, become very solid in our own explanations of that "something else." I'm speaking, of course, of religion. If facts contradict that which makes us feel more secure, we don't tend to respond well. I think many Christians on campus have not ever seen a lot of the facts that undermine their beliefs before and do not know how to respond to them. Instead, they retreat into a defensive mode, gripping their belief systems as tightly as they can.

    I'm going to say something that people will probably find shocking, but this is how I see it. If the human species is to continue with its forward progress, we have to overcome superstition, but we're not doing a very good job of heading ourselves in that direction. The talented and gifted among us, our educators, artists, musicians, etc., are having fewer children, so the gene pool for those traits is being overwhelmed. Further, in their respect for multi-culturalism, they are perhaps too respectful of the superstitions that are holding back the evolutionary progress of the human race.

    Far too little attention is paid to such books as "Who Wrote the Bible" among many others that give factual history, pulling back the curtain of mystery that allows people to continue to believe in their pet superstitions. A number of excellent books are out there which, when taken together, thoroughly dispute every aspect of Christianity, for example. But we aren't allowed to teach this intelligent, factual information in our schools even though it rightfully belongs in a social studies class. Instead, we are allowing the creation of more superstitious fundamentalists, who are gaining in power and threatening to plunge us back into the Victorian age - or worse.

    If we ever want to protect freedom of thought and evolve to a higher intellectual, spiritual and creative level we absolutely must work to undermine this culture of superstition rather than being so respectful of it - and I'm not just speaking of Christianity here. I understand that religion has been an excellent balancing force in society for all of recorded history, helping people control themselves and treat each other with more civility. But today it seems to have taken a new twist, with fundamentalists believing they can do all kinds of evil in the name of God, or do whatever they want and then simply be forgiven. Worse, many Christians now are so certain that Jesus is coming soon to save them that they are disengaging from holding their elected leaders accountable, figuring that the evil they are doing was foretold and unstoppable.

    Why can't we teach, at least at the college level, some intense classes in intelligent, factual thought, recognizing there is an unknown spiritual force in the world and teaching about the various ways many cultures have developed to explain that force? Why can't we de-mystify religion? One can still be respectful of that unknown force and treat other members of one's society well without the belief that a God figure of one kind or another is looking over one's shoulder. If more of society focused on studying science rather than ancient religious texts and their myriad meanings and applications, we would advance much more quickly. And if we didn't have superstitions blocking our creative and curious thinking, we would also advance more quickly.

    That's how I see it, anyway.

  • afs (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "Liberals" don't supress conservative thought on college campuses. Logic supresses conservative thought on college campuses. The more a person learns to apply critical thinking skills to information they recieve from the environment they are in, the less likely they are to be conservative in their politics. It's logic and critical thinking skills that neo-conservatives want removed from US college campuses.

    You cannot teach "some intense classes in intelligent, factual thought, recognizing there is an unknown spiritual force in the world." Why? Because spirituality is not factual material. That's not a statement that attacks faith. Spirituality and faith is an all-together different animal than science. All the major religious traditions teach that that you have to leave what's factual behind and accept spiritual truths based on a leap of faith. What is a leap of faith? It's a leap beyond the world of fact and evidence.

    That said, intelligent design is pseudo-science that tries to codify that leap of faith beyond facts as a branch of science. It's not. You can never claim that a premise based on making judgements that science cannot support with evidence and the scientific method becomes a science becasue you handle everything after the original non-scientific leap of faith in a manner that looks like it's logical. The original leap of faith required to even begin to discuss intelligent design makes intelligent design simply a religious faith that is a little more logical than most faiths in investigating itself.

  • Gregor (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I don't think the lack of military recruiters prevented Dubya from joining the Air Force and staying out of Vietnam. It's didn't stop John F. Kerry from fighting in Vietnam either, or John F. Kennedy from fighting in World War II.

    Please note: The Founding Fathers were radical, guns in your face liberals.

  • Gregor (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Perhaps there should be a thorough study of Christiantity in the colleges. One that displays the horrid history of the Catholic Church through the Inquisition so we will better understand the simmering inquisition in this country right now.

    But what would really be choice, might be a study of the Holocaust in the earliest days when the Nazis were sending teachers and professors to the labor camps. Before the gas chambers, the life expectancy was three months. Gas chambers merely hastened the ultimate goals, that final solution. 12 million perished, six million were Jews. Maybe we should talk about those other six million once in awhile.

    PS - And maybe we should stop accepting this polarity of Christian or not, as though we all have to be held to only that standard.

  • Anthony (unverified)
    (Show?)

    afs wrote: "The more a person learns to apply critical thinking skills to information they recieve from the environment they are in, the less likely they are to be conservative in their politics."

    I think if afs received more information from the environment he or she is in, he or she might be less inclined to hold this quasi-religious belief.

  • Sally (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I look forward to a PBS Buckley debate reprise vis-a-vis: "Logic supresses conservative thought on college campuses. The more a person learns to apply critical thinking skills to information they recieve from the environment they are in, the less likely they are to be conservative in their politics."

    Any bets on the outcome?

  • (Show?)

    It's interesting--but not surprising--that a post extolling critical thought in the public schools would be instantly hijacked by a right-winger claiming that conservatives are "oppressed" at the university level. This is the last frontier for righties, the one area over which they have not gained control. For them, open debate is tantamount to oppression.

    It's an absurd point, so let's put it aside. What I'd like to make a pitch for is MORE religion in the schools, but overtly. Religion is perhaps the key feature driving social and political change across the globe, and it's crazy that we don't have comparative religions courses in the schools. Why sneak creationism--err, intelligent design--in the bio classroom? Teach it as what it is, a religious belief. I'm a Buddhist, and we have that whole reincarnation thing, which is easily as hard to swallow. Fire that in alongside creationism and let the critical thinking begin!

    The agenda of sneaking Christian views in as fact, not belief, is covert proselytizing. Putting religious instruction on the curriculum both educates kids about an important subject (imagine!), but it also defangs the hidden agenda of the theocons, who pay lip service to diversity even as they're trying to suppress it.

    Great post.

  • Andy from Beaverton (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Hey Gregor!

    You have start fact checking more often. The lack of military recruiters had nothing to do with GWBush staying out of Vietnam. It's called the reserves. The reason why he didn't go to Vietnam is he flew 105's. 105's were used to defend against any Soviet attack and were also being slowly removed from the Air Force. It was not worth it to retrain GWBush on another plane.

    The only reason why JFKerry went to Vietnam was after asking for and receiving 4 student deferments, he was turned down on the fifth deferment.

    JFKennedy was a stud and enlisted drirectly into the Navy.

    What does "Please note: The Founding Fathers were radical, guns in your face liberals." have to do with the subject of "Assassinating the Intelligensia"? If the founding fathers were liberals, why are the current crop of liberals so afraid of guns? The definition of a liberal has changed so much over time, I don't think you can say they are like today's liberals.

    When are you going to respond to my last post to you at Al Franken in Portland? I would like to know why you are using incomplete quotes in a misleading way.

  • (Show?)

    Jeff, I agree that the problem is the conversation that is happening below the surface. One of the most disturbing things about the 2004 election was that the "values" issues now widely identified as playing a major part in the election were not discussed in the public square. Rather, there was a specialized marketing effort focused on very particular voters that was not subject to public discussion and scrutiny. That, in my mind, is truly subversive.

  • Gwynn (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I have to agree with a previous poster about sneaking Christian beliefs into schooling. Having a comparative "World Mythology" class would be the only answer. Comparing every tale of creation, judgement, resurrection, etc. from Greco/Roman, Sumerian, ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Native American, Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, (sheesh, I could go on 4 ever) to the tales in the bible would be interesting. We all have to hear ideas at one point or another we dont agree with and its up to us whether we make a big deal over it or shake it off. Its nothing more than another case of the Religious Right wanting control.

  • Gregor (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Yeah, Dubya realized from experience there were whole bunches of guys in the Reserves staying out of the fight. Not this time. Not on his watch.

  • Miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I certainly qualify as a member of the intellectual class, and I have no love for the right but I think I understand the cultural conflict and political attack against "elite institutions" of learning.

    The university and academic world is a fiercely competitive environment. It's communitarian values are quite minimal. It is, to some degree, a meritocracy. It a system of ritualized discrimination based on achievement. It is mired in the constant judement of human intellect, human capability and human worth. It is a world of CRITICAL thought. It assesses ideas critically... but it also assesses human beings critically... raises them up, and casts them down and out.

    In contrast the premier institutions of the right, the churches, are arguably much more inclusive (issues of homophobia, serious as they are, aside).

    Sadly, the religious right begins from a position of community, and articulates ideas that support a certain vision of social solidarity, regardless of intellectual coherence

    Sadly the "left" and "academia" begin from a position of critical thought and can be cruel to and exclusionary of people who don't measure up.

    Yes, I think this is FAR more true of academic institutions than it is of right wing social institutions. The average human experience of being in a university as a student or a professional is profoundly alienating. One is judging and judged at every moment. One is always at risk of being found inadequate.

    The great failure of academia and universities is a communitarian failure. The very habbits of mind that are their strength are bound to reject people and leave a legacy of alienation.

    I know that right wing institutions can reject and alienate too but when you add it all up, when you ask "what's the matter with Kansas", I think you have a story of a right wing communal success, an achievement of social solidarity on the right, while on the left you have a massive communal fragmentation, a love of ideas and thoughts that supercedes a love of human beings.

    That's my experiene of life. I remain a communitarian leftist and an intellectual, but convinced that critical thinking and communal solidarity are opposing values that are seldom well reconciled.

    I think I can well understand those who are unable to live in the tension between them and choose the communal satisfactions of right wing life.

  • Anthony (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Jeff,

    I don’t know about conservatives being “oppressed” but your image of universities as simply some kind of noble redoubt against the advancing barbarian horde is a bit rich. Fair-minded liberals ought to be able to acknowledge that American universities are chock full of radical leftists (at least in the humanities) and that conservative ideas get short shrift. I experienced this myself as a student in the 90s. As far as the academy being the “last frontier,” that’s just ridiculous – and a bit paranoid. Many of the professions have a very clear liberal bias, including the influential profession of journalism (of which I happen to be a member). Regarding “open debate,” I think you need to recognize that professors simply exclude consideration of conservative ideas, and that conservative speakers have had a very time even getting on campus. When they have been invited for events, those events have often been disrupted in very uncivil ways, sometimes verging on violence.

    I agree with your proposal to have more religion in the schools, and I even share some of your rationale for it. I can’t help observing though that it’s interesting and even surprising that a post on the theme of academic freedom should “hijack” the discussion to focus on the excess of Christian influence in our schools. I’m with you and others about keeping science and religion clear (though some posters here clearly don’t understand the impact of value on the interpretation of fact), but however baneful the efforts of anti-evolutionists may be, the academy (including primary and secondary schools), far from being corrupted by Christian belief, has been the scene of ill-disguised contempt and undermining of Christian beliefs and values. And I’m not talking about the areas where science and religion are reasonably argued to conflict.

    Now, forgive me for talking off topic, but on a chummier note, I’m wondering whether you could recommend the best beer spots in Portland. I’ve wanted to write you directly, but I don’t have your e-mail. Maybe we could even have a pint some day and talk about Emma.

  • Gonzo spelling teacher (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Miles:

    I certainly qualify as a member of the intellectual class...Except where proofreading is concerned:

    It {"is" omitted}, a system of ritualized...

    constant judement

    The very habbits of mind

    That's my experiene of life

    Careful with the hubris. You are setting yourself up for a great fall.

  • miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Ouch. Guilty as charged. Excuse: hasty typing.

    Your critical spelling skills have overwhelmed me, cast me out, and alienated me. :-)

    However I don't know what hubris you might be refering to. My remarks were intended in all humility.

  • (Show?)

    An idea: Could it be possible that there's a less-paranoid explanation for why university faculty members are largely politically liberal?

    It seems to me that super-smart conservatives (and yes, they do exist) are more likely to gravitate toward career pursuits in the corporate arena.

    Could it just be that simple?

  • Sid (unverified)
    (Show?)

    While the creme-of-the-crop Indians and Chinese choose now to stay in their own countries to study and contribute to advancements in scientific principles and critical thinking, Intelligent Design philosophers and their Creationist allies are successfully holding Kangaroo Court trials (see Kansas) against evolution and, thus, science as a whole.

    Let's see how far this gets us in the new competitive global economy.

  • (Show?)

    A,

    ... but your image of universities as simply some kind of noble redoubt against the advancing barbarian horde is a bit rich. Fair-minded liberals ought to be able to acknowledge that American universities are chock full of radical leftists (at least in the humanities) and that conservative ideas get short shrift.

    I believe there's some projection going on there. I voiced no opinion as to the makeup of universities. Universities are chock-full of thinkers, and they tend to be strong advocates for their position. I think that's the reason universities exist. Is there a cabal that prevents right-wingers from gaining purchase in the halls of academe? If that's your claim, you gotta come up with the evidence. Otherwise, it sounds like you're just looking for some kind of quota system to ensure places are reserved for righties on English faculties. ;-)

    Beer places? Oh man, that's a biggie. Email me (the link here is my actual email) and we'll chat. Beer is the great equalizer. In the shadow of a towering IPA, there are no liberals or conservatives, only enthusiasts.

  • Anthony (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kari,

    There's probably something in what you say. But at the same time, the academy can be a hostile place for conservatives. One young professor friend frequently shares with me the utter saturation of liberal views at the university where he works in the humanities faculty. He has also shown me many e-mails circulated among the faculty that support his allegations. He's on his way to getting tenure and has decided that expressing his political views open would be career suicide.

    I'm sure his experience is fairly typical in humanities faculties. No doubt many proud people simply choose another career rather than remain mute about their views. In some cases, depending on area of inquiry and philosophical framework, some may realistically believe that they don't have a chance of being given an opportunity to pursue study of what they want, or within the theoretical framework they think appropriate, and just bail out in search of greener pastures.

  • iggi (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "I think you need to recognize that professors simply exclude consideration of conservative ideas, and that conservative speakers have had a very time even getting on campus."

    come on, let's stop dancing around here. the reason they don't get serious consideration is because they are close-minded, bigoted idiots with very little factual representation.

    Fundamentalists and conservatives don't need higher learning to justify what they believe. the real issue is that they don't want people getting a liberal education because, in their mind, that invalidates their wacky belief systems.

    if you're so worried about it, start your own damn universities. Neo-Con U or Great Pink Pixie in the Sky College or whatever you dipshit Fundie/conservatives want...then you can have Anne Coulter come and spout dribble whenever you feel like it.

    yeah, yeah, i'm full of hate...just like all liberals.

  • Anthony (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Jeff,

    What's the projection?

    The experience of my friend, described above, is evidence (he is not in the English department, as it happens). I'm not claiming a "cabal" per se, but there are departments and faculties all over this country that are so skewed to the left that even what I would consider very respectable conservative views (such as do get a hearing in the news media) are very unwelcome and could hurt one's career, were they known. I'm not saying this is universally the case -- there are certianly many aggressively fair-minded liberals in the academy too -- but it's a general hazard in the profession. My friend worked at two universities in the Northeast, and both were characterized by the same political atmosphere. The university where I was a student had, like just about any university, a preponderance of liberal professors, but the departments I studied in didn't seem quite so hostile to political "dissidence." One was actually run by a very charasmatic professor who was conservative. He did, however, run into a lot of opposition from people in other departments frequently enough.

    Do you doubt the claims of a dearth of conservative speakers on campus? Are you unaware of cases of such speakers' presence being the result of protests that were often uncivil? Have you not heard of conservative speakers' appearances being cancelled for security reasons? Assuming those concerns on the part of the administrators were legitimate, what does it say about the spirit of tolerance and debate among the students (and perhaps also some elements of the faculty)? I saw this happen at my alma mater, and have heard it happen at many more. Just recently there has been a rash of physical assaults against conservative speakers (the pie-throwing incidents).

  • Sally (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "yeah, yeah, i'm full of hate...just like all liberals."

    Oh, I get it, iggi. Your whole post was a parody!

    "The average human experience of being in a university as a student or a professional is profoundly alienating."

    Miles, I would agree that universities draw for the professorial class in them people given to solitude, perhaps, and who in some profound way prefer ideas and thoughts to people. But most people also form their fastest and longest-lasting friendships as university students. So I don't think your post captures that.

    "It seems to me that super-smart conservatives (and yes, they do exist) are more likely to gravitate toward career pursuits in the corporate arena.

    Could it just be that simple?"

    I wouldn't so much have thunk so, but you are in good company, Kari, with this line of thought.

    "The most logical explanation for any political bias in some parts of the professoriate in my view is that the sort of persons with the skills to be in a major academic liberal arts department could also be successful in business, lobbying, law, advertising and other well-paying professions. And it is the corporate world and its lobbying appendages that have the marked bias, to the Right. Someone who has academic skills but is a Republican would just have enormous opportunities and could easily become a multi-millionnaire. In contrast, academics on the Left would not be welcome in corporate boardrooms or at a think tank funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, and wouldn't be comfortable in such a position."

    http://www.juancole.com/2004/11/shock-of-week-liberals-in-liberal-arts.html

  • (Show?)

    Although Anthony and I disagree on a host of issues, I won't join Iggi and others in dismissing his charges of liberal bias in the humanities. I've seen it right here on this blog repeatedly.

    College professors have just as much trouble as janitors when it comes to listening with an open ear to ideas that don't fit their dogma.

    Conventional wisdowm and articles of faith are not exclusive to fundamentalist christians. Here are a few unassailable beliefs:

    Anyone concerned about immigration is a racist. Anyone not favoring full gay marraige is a homophobe. Anyone not in favor of total disarmament of civilians is a gun nut. Critical though must lead to a repudiation of religion. Anyone asking that members of academia be held to a standard of measurement or presuming to question school expenditures is greedy, selfish and hates the kids.

    I just finished reading Freakonomics and recommended it in a comment. The fact that there was no response (and my own experience in writing here) leads me to believe that writing that criticizes extant dogma kinda flies right past minds that don't even see true critical thought as worthy of attention if it challenges their own belief systems.

    I do believe that most here (Left and Right) make the attempt. I'm just saying that certain fact based information when presented seems so outlandish that it doesn't even penetrate past "known" dogma.

  • Sally (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "Do you doubt the claims of a dearth of conservative speakers on campus? Are you unaware of cases of such speakers' presence being the result of protests that were often uncivil?"

    Frankly, if Ann Coulter takes a pie, and Michael Moore takes a bow, I think it proves only that critical thought has given way entirely to ideology and ideologues, not intellects of any stripe.

  • Sally (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Posted by: Pat Ryan | May 13, 2005 11:59 AM

    First sentence, last paragraph excepted, I could not agree more.

  • Gonzo spelling teacher (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Miles: the academic world is a Meritocracy? Maybe the same way the U.S. Army is a meritocracy. Ironcially, neither academia nor the armed services are a viable option for larger numbers of our citizens.

    Surely you don't believe that tenure conveys intellectual greatness. What about the many intellectual giants that toil behind a computer screen, a police badge, or a bandsaw? They may be absent the tenacity (or money, or roll models, or patience) to fit their square pegged genius into the round hole of academic achievement; yet, their raw intellect may exceed your own. Is Prof. Churchill intellectually superior to Al Franken? Which is the comedian; which is the astute political observer?

    Surely you do not believe your PhD or station in academia conveys any true measure of human capability or worth?

    It is mired in the constant judgement of human intellect, human capability and human worth.

    The notion of intellectual superiority implies elitism and classism that progressives typically abhor. That is what I mean by "hubris"! 30 days hard labor for you, Comrade!

  • David Wright (unverified)
    (Show?)

    One point that seems to have been glossed over here (emphasis mine):

    [A] civil society cannot exist unless critical thought is promoted, from kindergarten through the university level.
    All this fretting over lack of critical thought at the university level is way too late in the game, I think. We've got to get kids started actually questioning, and reasoning for themselves based on available evidence (whatever the topic), very early on in their educational careers.

    Of course, that's not helped by a predominant popular culture that does not value intelligence in the first place. I'm not saying that you have to be smart in order to be able to reason well -- nor that all smart people do reason well -- but when cognitive abilities are not highly valued in society, it's no wonder that kids don't find it important to develop them.

    Of course, getting good grades is valued. But nobody likes or admires the kid who "blows the curve" in class. Nobody likes a know-it-all. The social cost of demonstrating knowledge, intelligence, and superior reasoning skills is awfully high, and this certainly acts as a disincentive for kids to stand out or think for themselves.

    And getting good grades doesn't necessarily have anything to do with really understanding the material or being academically outstanding. My high school valedictorian was widely derided by our class (at least, the kids in the AP-level courses) for taking the easiest possible route to that 4.0 GPA.

    Heh... but at least I'm not bitter...   :-D

    Anyhow, I don't have the answer here... but I do think that the problem is much, much bigger than just a "liberal bias" in higher education. Having a President who "don't cotton to no book larnin'" and simply does not read newspapers is a terrible shame -- but I think it's a reflection of our society as a whole.

    By the way, side note here -- please tell me that those who put "critical thought" and "Ann Coulter" in the same post were exhibiting a finely-tuned sense of irony...   ;-)

  • Modest Gonzo (unverified)
    (Show?)

    David Wright: thank you for your thoughtful contrast to iggi/Gregor. How about a cultural literacy test before anyone can post on a blog? That might improve the quality of the debate, assuming I can be on the curriculum committee.

    Sadly, I believe kindergarden is too late for the at risk population. How about an incentivized course of parenting classes in advance of obtaining a license to procreate? Those who procreate without proper credentials will not receive their tax breaks. It would certainly be less draconian than China's "one child" policy.

  • (Show?)

    A--

    What's the projection?

    In my original comment, I mentioned only that the charge of liberal bloodletting on campuses was absurd. You countered that I held an "image of universities as simply some kind of noble redoubt against the advancing barbarian horde." I may or may not, but that's pure projection on your part.

    (In fact, I don't. The liberal-domination-of-colleges meme is a conservative one, and I don't think college professors spend any time thinking about it. I work in a university [researcher, not professor], and we do not sit around rubbing our hands together imagining how to dispell this barbarian horde. Beyond the pages of the Washington Times, there is no horde.)

    You then site "evidence" of a single individual to justify views of this strange liberal cabal who oppress the innocent conservatives. But even if liberals did dominate college campuses, and even if the did talk loudly about MoveOn ads, and even if they did describe the president as a horse's ass (all of which I'm certain happens), so what? That's not oppression, that's intellectual freedom. And isn't that at the heart of conservative thought? (It sure passes for it when conservatives rally around a male boss says something lewd to his female suborniate.)

    If there this kind of oppression happening on college campuses, you have legal recourse (thanks to liberals). If conservative professors aren't getting jobs or promotions because they're conservative, that's what the US courts are for (until some wingnut GOP Senator removes the right to sue in the case of discrimination).

    Otherwise, what's happening is life. Women and minorities and the disabled have fought for generations to be treated equally. They never got politeness, just respect. Conservative white men howl like babes with owies when they find themselves in the minority.

    Tough luck boys. Buck up.

  • (Show?)

    (And to the spelling teacher, please, let's not subject the above comment to any kind of test. I'll get only a c-.)

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The first post on this thread came in at 6:19 this morning, and there are already 31. What a rapid response, almost like it was “organized”. I note that much of the discussion was immediately hijacked by our conservative regulars.

    Kari - consider changing the name of Blue Oregon to "Blue Oregonians shouted down by Red Oregonians".

    On Issue - I am one to attempt to find reality before commenting. My reality comes from my life's experience. I find the contention that Universities are liberal bastions somewhat outdated.

    Perhaps when I was at the U.O. from 1970-74 it was a "liberal" place. We were protesting the Vietnam War on a regular basis. But contradicting that was the heavy presence of what were then called “Jesus Freaks”. You could hardly walk from class to class without some long-haired fellow with a paperback Bible asking if you, “knew Jesus”. It was tolerated then – what liberal bastion?

    Due to a combination of hard work, good luck, and dedication; my wife was able to return to the U.O. School of Journalism in 1999 to complete a degree she started in 1972. She was there for two school years. I was often able to go over on Friday afternoons, and sit in on some of her Friday classes. I was often the oldest person in the room. One required class was “Women, Minorities, and the Media”. The students of this class included some of the most racist, sexist, fanatically religious people I have ever seen. Many of the classes were long arguments where the professor would present studies, data, and various forms of information only to have some of the students attack it from their mainly religious perspectives. What liberal bastion?

    So, I have to question the beginning point, that Universities are liberal bastions. I don’t question that they are under attack. Our entire society is under attack. We are being remade into something the world has never seen before – and I’m not sure yet what to call it. Elements look like theocracy. Elements look like oligarchy. Elements look like totalitarianism. Sometimes I think that George Orwell underestimated what could come to pass when he wrote 1984. As dark as that book is, reality looking darker.

    My response to this is to not care so much about what it is called, but to fight it. The Country that my father fought for in the Pacific in WWII is rapidly disappearing. The Country those of my generation learned about in school: the freedoms, minority rights/protections, rule of law, freedom of the press, balance of powers, and loyalty to these principals – is on the line these days.

    Attacks as described here on University free speech (also an article in today’s Oregonian on the editorial page), and even museum staff, are signs of the intolerant and anti-American values time we are in. These attitudes and acts are inconsistent with “my” America.

    And the conservatives think patriotism doesn’t apply to liberals like me!

  • afs (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Timing is everything :-) Noam Chomsky from earlier today at the Zmag blogs...

    Academic Freedom & and Systems of Power Posted by Noam Chomsky at 07:49 AM

    "Take Latin American studies. There’s a professional association (LASA) and many outstanding specialists. In the 1980s, Central America, particularly Nicaragua, was the Big Story.

    After all, we even had a National Emergency called by the brave cowboy Leader hiding in the White House in panic because the Nicaraguan army was only two days driving time from Harlingen Texas. Typically, when the Leader declares priorities, it reflexively becomes the Big Story for the media. That reflects the internalized understanding that the task of “objective media” is to serve power interests, not popular interests.

    A very dramatic example today is Social Security vs Health care. The Dear Leader has declared that destroying (called “reforming") Social Security is the priority, so the media declare it the “hot topic,” and focus on it, reflexively. They read the polls that show that health care is by far the most serious popular financial concern, with an “astounding” 6% (the word is that of the quite conservative Gallup analysts) saying they are satisfied with it. But that doesn’t matter—though it takes scarcely a moment to understand Bush administration priorities, adopted reflexively by the media (which, to be sure, allow some criticism, but that is hardly the point).

    Same in the 80s. Central America, particularly Nicaragua, was the “hot topic.” There was a spectrum of opinion allowed. In the national press (where the studies are in print, if you want to check), the spectrum for Nicaragua ranged from hawks (step up the war and destroy the devils who don’t follow orders) to doves (violence isn’t working well, so we have to turn to other means to restore “regional standards” and return Nicaragua to the “Central American mode”—that is, the standards and the mode of the US-run terror states that were carrying out vast slaughters, torture, and every imaginable form of barbarism). Usually, when some region becomes the “hot topic,” the media can turn to the universities for “experts” who will say what is required. In this case, it didn’t work. The scholarly profession knew too much about the topics, and commonly had concern for the people they worked with and studied. So they were mostly frozen out, and the media and journals of opinion had to create a new cadre of “experts” who would say the right thing—sometimes in rather comical ways. The leading Nicaragua scholar, Thomas Walker, sent op-eds regularly to the NYT. None appeared. That continues, when he distributed an op-ed on the recent ludicrous claims about the “democratic elections” in El Salvador. Frozen out. To take one interesting example, the official pronouncement from Washington was that there was no election in Nicaragua in 1984, by doctrinal fiat.

    The press reflexively went along. It therefore had to freeze out the report of a LASA delegation consisting mostly of specialists with direct experience in Nicaragua, who did a detailed on-the-spot investigation of the background and the election, and agreed with international observers (including the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group, a very hostile Dutch government delegation, etc.) that the election was quite fair by general Latin American standards, and the most carefully observed in history. All had to be suppressed, because there couldn’t have been an election—obviously, or the US terrorist war and rejection of diplomacy would not be “legitimate.”

    All of this remains totally suppressed, as we have just witnessed during the appointment of a condemned international terrorist, John Negroponte, to be the first counter-terrorism Czar, eliciting no ridicule, even attention. This is only one of many examples of the phenomenon, in the case of Latin American studies.

    In Middle East studies, there has been a complicated mixture, but it is somewhat the same. That’s why the profession is under such severe attack by dedicated totalitarians who are not satisfied with near-total control and insist that it rise to 100% (in the name of “academic freedom,” the typical totalitarian gambit, satirized by a long line of commentators from Pascal to Orwell). The claim is that the profession is biased against Israel. That’s very easy to test: run a poll asking whether faculty in the field believe that Israel should have all the rights of any state in the international system. I suspect it would approximate 100% Yes, which is why the studies aren’t undertaken: they would give the game away. For the totalitarian state-worshipping mentality, “anti-Israel bias” means unwillingness to adopt the US-Israeli claim that Israel should have vastly greater rights than any state in the international system, including an abstract “right to exist”—a notion apparently concocted in the 1970s to bar diplomacy, when the US and Israel were alone in blocking international efforts to reach a diplomatic two-state settlement in which Israel would be granted “only” the rights of every other state.

    There are other cases, but by no means all. Depends on the particular history of the profession, its relation to power systems, state and private, and many other factors.

    Take archaeologists… Biblical archaeology began as an effort to demonstrate the historical validity of the Biblical record. After a very long period, these efforts began to crumble, in substantial measure the result of work of Israeli archaeologists. That has led to plenty of turmoil in, and around, the field, with slanderous denunciations of scholars as anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, etc.

    I think one can detect tendencies, which are not too hard to explain: insofar as regional studies involve engagement with the populations, it’s quite likely that they’ll depart from doctrinal orthodoxies imposed by power systems. But these are tendencies. There’s a lot of variety…

    … The sciences will die unless they encourage independent inquiry, challenge to established beliefs and authority (in particular, by young people), and concern for truth. Those factors exist, but with less force, as we move from the hard sciences to disciplines where understanding is more shallow and human affairs are more directly involved, so outside pressures of institutional power structures play a greater role. The Pentagon was quite content to sponsor researchers who were organizing resistance against the Vietnam war and facing possible long prison sentences, because they understand, as the saner (and often most reactionary) parts of Congress do, that a free enterprise economy has to be avoided as strictly as democracy, and that costs and risks of R&D have to be socialized with eventual profits (maybe after decades in the dynamic state sector) transferred to private tyrannies. That’s one illustration of how external pressures are often much less in the sciences—but that’s a more complex story too, as we see clearly as the mix of R&D shifts from science towards engineering: direct military R&D is the clearest illustration.

    As for English Egyptologists, as far as I am aware they were mostly apologists for empire a century ago, just as even the most outstanding figures—like John Stuart Mill—often were. An interesting history is American anthropology, which did not really begin to recognize the enormity of the crimes committed against the indigenous population, or even elementary truths about them, until quite recently: probably a result of 60s activism… Worth a careful study (probably there are some)."

    http://blog.zmag.org/index.php/weblog/entry/academic_freedom_and_systems_of_power/

  • afs (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Timing was too good to be true... the publication date of the piece was 5/10.

  • (Show?)

    Steve, you wrote, 'What a rapid response, almost like it was “organized”. I note that much of the discussion was immediately hijacked by our conservative regulars.'

    I think that what we've discovered is that this topic is a very high priority for the extreme right. It doesn't get much media attention, but they're hard at work at it.

  • Chris (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I think the best thing for instructors to do is to avoid preaching at all costs. I teach Public Administration, which is fraught with leanings toward politics, since politics drives the bureaucracy. But generally, students are smart enough to take down shoddy ideas voiced in the classroom, of their own accord, and regardless of whether the ideas are liberal or conservative. They don't allow irrational clap-trap from classmates, and students can be much more blunt to each other than a professor can be, and students have the virtue of getting away with the bluntness.

    So there's no need for me to stand up there, as an instructor, and voice one opinion or another. It might take some time for them to get to a carefully reasoned answer--sometimes a painfully long time (for me)--but they do get there. Most of the time, anyway. The ones that do not get there, well, you can't save everybody. Throw all the ideas out there, in a honestly free academic environment, and the cream will separate.

  • K. Sudbeck (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "The first post on this thread came in at 6:19 this morning, and there are already 31. What a rapid response, almost like it was “organized”. I note that much of the discussion was immediately hijacked by our conservative regulars."

    The Republicans in the Senate should prove that not much is organized amongst the conservative side of the isle. I am an Oregonion serving in the military, living in Texas. So I get up early to start, and I have a 2 hour timezone edge. As we say in Naval Aviation, first to the whiteboard, wins the fight(regardless of what actually happened). The first up sets the tone. So, like in debate class, someone gets to go first. Unless you see a C. Sudbeck in the posting, only he and I are organized and the rest is chance. I do like this board, because of its civility(on the most part). Besides, if you got a good arguement, you might win some of us conservative critical thinkers over.

  • Sally (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "I think that what we've discovered is that this topic is a very high priority for the extreme right. It doesn't get much media attention, but they're hard at work at it."

    It gets a lot of attention in the blogosphere and activist sphere. The case of Ward Churchill that shocked many people on "any" side. Even prior to that, I believe it has been David Horowitz who has particularly spearheaded this movement. But a study reported in the Washington Post in March lent it some backbone.

    College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds

    By Howard Kurtz Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, March 29, 2005; C01

    College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined, a new study says.

    By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

    The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

    "What's most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field," said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. "There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It's a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you'd expect to be dominated by liberals."

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/03/28/AR2005032801069_pf.html

    Now, why this is, or what it means, or that anything "should be done" about it is another issue entirely, and some interesting conversations have gone on about, too, such as the one I posted for you from Juan Cole, who has written others, some to do with a witchhunt against a particular professor of Middle East studies back east. From what I have gathered, this is quite a different case than that of Mr. Churchill.

    As to Mr. Bucknum, he has previously objected not just to the views of non-Democrats, but to their expression here. I figure it's your site and it's your choice how to open or close the gates, either technically or with the intent expressed.

  • (Show?)

    Steve, a follow up on the large number of inbound comments on this one. Turns out that this article has been linked from BuzzFlash.com, a very high-traffic news wire site.

  • C. Sudbeck (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I find it highly interesting that you see my brother as an "organizer" (or is he my brother?). I am fairly new to this site and all I can see from the many postings so far that our so called "intelligensia" have burned through what is left of their brain cells to label and pigeon-hole each other. This is done in an attempt to categorize each other so they can attack each other. If people firmly believe in their value system and the right to speak their mind, then they would be willing to die for it. Whining about a professor who said "God" or "Poop" is nothing but mental masturbation. This is a country where free speech is a right and if you do not defend this right and just say "ooooh, government conspiracy this and Bushism that" it's time to pack your bags and move to North Korea. People are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, not that I agree with these wars, but they are defending the ability for you to sit in your brewpubs and bemoan the fact that you can't stand up for yourself.

    As Will Rogers said "I am not a member of an organized political party, I'm a Democrat"

  • frustrated (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I read with interest the things written here. I am from the Blue part of the Red state of Ohio (which coincidently lost all of its military bases to the Red part).

    I am having trouble being optimistic that history isn't repeating itself. Right down to the persecution of a female accused of promoting witchcraft when protecting an institution of knowledge. (reference, Douglas County Museum Director Stacey McLaughlin and Hypatia of Library of Alexandria).

    While I agree that critical thinking leads one towards being a "progressive", it is the faith-based who have the zeal to act against their own (and our) self interests.

    In 400 AD, Cyril was part of the political crowd trying to establish their form of reality around Christian beliefs. At the same time, Hypatia and her colleagues were perfecting Euclidian geometry and figuring out distances and orbits of planets. Hypatia's reality didn’t fit well with Cyril’s reality. Most of the academia then, as now, were accused of being biased against Christianity. Some teachers converted, Hypatia was murdered. However, this is just a side note because what was really lost were centuries of knowledge and progress we have come to know as the Dark Ages.

    Historians have wondered why Hypatia, who was undeniably intelligent, didn’t run away. I am beginning to know how she felt. Where could she run to? Where can we run to?

    Cyril became a saint and those following in his footsteps are zealously trying to reestablish his form of reality. What is to stop history from repeating itself?

    Signed, Frustrated

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)
    (Show?)
    <h1/>

    Real brief: 'Liberal' (leftism) is one core concept: The good all all, combined from each. 'Conservative' (rightism) is one overriding premise: The good of one separate, (person or association). Leftism is the sensibility in inductive cogitation, which is right-brain process. Rightism is the selectivity in deductive cogitation, which is a left-brain process. (Everybody is both liberal and conservative.)

    Spritual sensation (carried to the cognition 'abstracting' regions) comes from deep interior processors bussed on the brain stem -- such as the amygdala, hippocampus, lateral geniculate nucleus.

    And, the body's limbic ether ebbs and flows with endocrinal emotions.

    I feel, I believe, I think left, I think right, refer to the special uses of 4 different 'minds' in each of us. Definitions in anatomy may be simplistic, and perhaps testable with brain scans, ( research trend sample [pdf]), however, in this case it does serve to accord with comment points along this thread where communication fell apart for lack of shared definitions, (of 'leftist,' 'rightist,' 'theist,' 'psychic').

    - - - I think the prospect as provided in the headline of this thread is directly proportional to evoking it. BlueOregon free 'focus-grouping' the latest nationalistic rightist Rorschach ink blot, some arbitrary word combination, (innocent for being arbitrary), "N.L.P.," as Thom Hartmann says, here to be shot down, punched up, refined for Frank Luntz if he's watching.

    And, it gets BuzzFlashed -- a news, blog, mailbag, editorial submissions server service. The anti-Drudge. The O. is gonna crap golf balls.

    Well, it is well written. But unmoving. It never asks for the order, as sales says. Is this assassination mentation devilment (rightist provocation) calling recruits or calling disputes? Author, author: pro or con?

    Maybe the lack of active voice, ('inactive' voice?) in reading -- no call to arms, waiting for it, waiting for it, then at the last: nothing ... is the moment I felt I entered a hall of mirrors. Where lies is truth, truth is lies, pro is con, con is pro. and counter-counterpoint is the point. The reality is -- (that of all the blog joints in all the world she had to wonder in this one), that anyone in the world can show up at any oasis, on any stage, from any time zone.

    Dear Prudence, won't you come out today Dear Prudence, greet the brand new da-ay-ah-hay-yay. -- Beatles

    <h1/>
  • James (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Sites like "students for academic freedom" were created to ensure one's right to intellectual diversity. You should see the case of the Bucknell student who was sent to counseling for "hate barriers" because he was passing out leaflets for a black conservative speaker for the college republicans. Its about nitwit professors abusing the vanilla extract drop-amount of beauracratic power they have to force political views on students. A lot of the complaints recently centered around teachers bashing the free market, pushing union agendas, criticizing the Iraq war and the President IN AN ANTHROPOLOGY CLASS, and the usual slandering of campus republicans as Nazis and bigots. Academia, even at the highest levels, is an institution struggling to justify its existence and relevance to anything on a daily basis.

    Miles sez:

    "The university and academic world is a fiercely competitive environment. It's communitarian values are quite minimal. It is, to some degree, a meritocracy. It a system of ritualized discrimination based on achievement. It is mired in the constant judement of human intellect, human capability and human worth. It is a world of CRITICAL thought. It assesses ideas critically... but it also assesses human beings critically... raises them up, and casts them down and out. "

    I found this to be the most amusing. I've had the pleasure to serve in an infantry squad where less than half of the people were high school grads, and I attended a liberal arts college afterwards. College is no more of a "meritocracy" than the military. Its another rubber-stamping, pat on the back, circle-jerk, beauracracy that does just as much to discourage academic achievement than encourage it. I remember business classes where any statement that attacked Wal-Mart was "insightful, well researched", and any statement defending the free market system in America was "ad-hominem", or, at best, "well, that may be true in some cases, but..."

    great discussion

    btw, this theme of "attacking the intellectuals" is on about every other lib website and journal of opinion in existence.

    got to love those thoughtful, generous liberals. Always using the broad brush to paint conservative institutions. Ever go to DU? Try to even politely disagree with someone and see how fast your user ID gets revoked.

  • James (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Sites like "students for academic freedom" were created to ensure one's right to intellectual diversity. You should see the case of the Bucknell student who was sent to counseling for "hate barriers" because he was passing out leaflets for a black conservative speaker for the college republicans. Its about nitwit professors abusing the vanilla extract drop-amount of beauracratic power they have to force political views on students. A lot of the complaints recently centered around teachers bashing the free market, pushing union agendas, criticizing the Iraq war and the President IN AN ANTHROPOLOGY CLASS, and the usual slandering of campus republicans as Nazis and bigots. Academia, even at the highest levels, is an institution struggling to justify its existence and relevance to anything on a daily basis.

    Miles sez:

    "The university and academic world is a fiercely competitive environment. It's communitarian values are quite minimal. It is, to some degree, a meritocracy. It a system of ritualized discrimination based on achievement. It is mired in the constant judement of human intellect, human capability and human worth. It is a world of CRITICAL thought. It assesses ideas critically... but it also assesses human beings critically... raises them up, and casts them down and out. "

    I found this to be the most amusing. I've had the pleasure to serve in an infantry squad where less than half of the people were high school grads, and I attended a liberal arts college afterwards. College is no more of a "meritocracy" than the military. Its another rubber-stamping, pat on the back, circle-jerk, beauracracy that does just as much to discourage academic achievement than encourage it. I remember business classes where any statement that attacked Wal-Mart was "insightful, well researched", and any statement defending the free market system in America was "ad-hominem", or, at best, "well, that may be true in some cases, but..."

    great discussion

    btw, this theme of "attacking the intellectuals" is on about every other lib website and journal of opinion in existence.

    got to love those thoughtful, generous liberals. Always using the broad brush to paint conservative institutions. Ever go to DU? Try to even politely disagree with someone and see how fast your user ID gets revoked.

  • Miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    How amusing that some folks are troubled by the idea of academia as a meritocracy (even when my point was that meritocratic organizations are disruptive of social solidarity and community, and that academia might therefore be inherently inhospitable to some of the POSITIVE values found on the right precisely as a result of academia's commitment to meritocracy.)

    Be that as it may, I think that it is self evident that the process of grading, and the process of peer review, and the process of tenure granting are all imperfect "meritocratic" systems that attempt to evaluate the intellectual merit of ideas and individuals, based on an evaluation of individuals' work product as critical thinkers.

    They are imperfect because they can be distorted by toadying, social connections, obeisance, etc. Yet these academic and career filters are the social instantiations of the idea of critical thinking. They are designed to draw conclusions about the worth of ideas, and about the relative ranking of people who express and critique ideas, based on their work over time.

    James, if you didn't experience that it sounds like you attended a really lousy academic institution, of which I'm sure there are many. My condolences. Sounds like you and your fellow students deserved better.

    Gonzo says:

    "Surely you do not believe your PhD or station in academia conveys any true measure of human capability or worth?"

    You are correct. I don't believe that. Such things convey only one's ability to meet the standards of an imperfect system which includes meritocratic and other elements too. Shades of gray.

    Gonzo says: "The notion of intellectual superiority implies elitism and classism that progressives typically abhor. That is what I mean by "hubris"! 30 days hard labor for you, Comrade!"

    I don't know which progressives you refer to, but certainly not the intellectual and academic progressives I know who generally believe that merit in thinking should be recognized in their classes and in their own careers.

    As to the equality of ideas, for example, I don't think that every idea about the origin of the species is equal, mutatis mutandis. There are good and bad ideas, and people who are more and less able to express, teach and invent them. This should be obvious. I'm afraid you are tilting at windmills.

    The original post's basic point is dead on target. Critical thinking is under attack, and the academic institutions which are the embodiment of independent critical thought are under attack.

    The conservative attack on THAT idea is perhaps symptomatic of the failure of academic institutions to be more broadly incoporative of all who pass through their doors... and I argued that that failure may be inherent in the nature of critical thinking.

    Sure Sally lots of people make their good friends at college... but lots of people get piss poor educations and learn only that they aren't good enough. Instead of being brought into the joys of critical thinking, they just get the criticism and the neglect and the social toadying part of the academic experience, and they wander out of college pissed off at the whole experience and ready to become soldiers in G.W. Bush's army doing battle against the enlightenment and making enraged conservative posts on Blue Oregon.

    (A simplification? Of course. But a useful one, I think.)

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)
    (Show?)
    <h1/>

    I find it useful, Miles. Well-worded. Could you go a little farther?

    What are "some of the POSITIVE values found on the right," which should be 'taught,' aren't being taught, and are barred to consider?

    I never do see your "meritocracy." The word came coined during the Army's invention and use of aptitude tests, (precursors and models of the SAT tests, which has been the be-all, end-all of college-age life-path forks -- supposed meritocracy), among the upwelling of WW II volunteer enlistments, to divide them into officer material and not.

    Your meritocracy-in-action examples as: "social connections, obeisance," and "the criticism and the neglect and the social toadying," are NOT "social instantiations of the idea of critical thinking" because they are not merit-based determinations, and therefore not meritocratic, and indeed, seem to me like forms of plain ol' garden variety politics. Seeing college as politics, (which would explain why we all see one partisanship rebuffed), instead of merits, does get us to agree in your description of the results: "<i<>my point was that meritocratic [I say politicratic] organizations are disruptive of social solidarity and community."

    If what the college bump'n'grind we have is (my) 'politics,' what do I think 'merit-ics' would look like? The answer may be in elaborating on your notice of "conclusions about the worth of ideas." Where, just to get it started I might propose the 'worth' of an idea is in its human, and humankind, scope. The more it helps, the better it's worth. You may have an idea that works for you and gets you into heaven, and if so bring it out because everybody wants to go to heaven, (but nobody wants to die), and if your idea helps others' lives it's critically worthy to be taught. Because this Catholic thing with one thousand years of torturing selected heretics, and invading crusades into foreign countries, and sodomizing altar boys when cockamamie celibacy denies women's equality -- that ain't working for me. What are some of your 'conclusions about worth of ideas'?

    A sorta partial answer at one point: "As to the equality of ideas, for example, I don't think that every idea about the origin of the species is equal, mutatis mutandis. There are good and bad ideas," while shading ideas in a spectrum from good to bad, begs the question: Could there be one idea (about the origin of the species) that is correct, that works for the most or all people, because it is true for all people, and being truly the idea that describes what happened and only one origin having happened, that that is why there is only one idea that can be correct? (Colloquially called 'reality'?)

    <h1/>
  • Miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Perhaps my remarks were ambiguous because of how I phrased them. My point was that social toadying and the like were genuine problems (that should be addressed) in a system that nonetheless sought to be meritocratic... not that they were examples of meritocracy!

    The positive values that I see on the right involve community and social solidarity... sorely lacking in the universities and everywhere that "critical thinking" is valued, in my experience.

    I subscribe to a belief in the existence of one reality Mr. T. However ideas may be measured not only by the extent to which they reflect that reality, but also (sometimes) by the extent to which they enable us to change reality.

    But sure, let's drink to the unity of reality.

  • James (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Well reasoned argument Miles, and I'd like to preface my response by acknowledging that you've answered my post with critical thought and care, and refrained from belittlement and obscenity, which is what I get on most other liberal blogs.

    That said, I think I understand your point about critical thinking in academia and how it can disenfranchise people. (See what can be accomplished when people stay on their topic and avoid ad hominem attacks against conservatives?) I joined Clinton's Army, mainly out of the desire to see Europe for a sustained period, not out of contempt for college (I was on the dean's list when I dropped college for the Army). It worked and I ran into many students from our "elite" colleges sitting in tourist traps like Amsterdam and Paris for their two-week exposure to the world before beginning suburban life. The liberal arts college I went to was mainly a music conservatory, and since I cant play "chopsticks" on a piano, I transferred to a business tech school called "DeVry", which I'm sure will draw ridicule from the academe left, but the Army's picking up the tab and I'm happy there. Miles, I think you could make a more effective argument if you could articulate how critical thinking is under attack as opposed to liberal hegemony is under attack. A lot of people confuse the two.

  • Frustrated (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Excuse me for inviting myself into the discussion.

    I agree that attacks against "critical thinking" is significantly different than attacks against the "liberal hegemony" and sometimes they are confused. However, I suggest there are times that the confusion is intentional.

    Using Creationists versus Evolutionists as a crude example. Often activities clearly intended to impede the exploration and further study of Evolution is presented as simply breaking into the liberal hegemony.

    I am heartened to hear that you agree to "drink to the unity of reality". But is that truly possible if basic foundations that form the reality differ to the point of conflict. When the "I think, therefore I am" crowd mixes with the "I have a sole" crowd a unity of reality is difficult to maintain.

    Even so, I too would like to see positive aspects of the right (e.g. community and social solidaridy) working in harmony with critical thinking.

    However, it is my pessimistic opinion even if such an arrangement could be accomplished when the critical thinking includes combining cloning with artificial intelligence, I believe it more likely the right-leaning colleagues will use their talents to organize a pitch-fork carrying mob rather than help prevent it.

    Still Stuck Being, Frustrated

  • W. Bruce Anderholt II (unverified)
    (Show?)

    MILES:

    mutatis mutandis?

    You been saving that up for a while haven't you? Do the words actually mean something in this context, or are you just going out of your way to sound pretentious?

    I may not be the only reader with rusty Latin, so an explanation might be in order. What does Mutatis Mutandis have to do with critical thinking or teaching evolution?

    Just to save the rest of you the trip:

    Mutatis mutandis: Latin term meaning things being changed which are to be changed. This phrase and the use of it may best be explained by an example. A proprietor of an estate fues his lands, and the feu contracts all contain the same general clauses, the same obligations on the feuars and confer the same rights. In such a case two of the feu charters are said to be the same mutatis mutandis, that is, they are the same, if (or when) the name of the disponee, the particular description of the lands feued, and other such-like particulars which are peculiar to each, are changed.

    ... feu (plural feus). noun. 1. right of use: in Scotland, a right to use land or property in return for an annual payment (feu duty) ...

    I also found this: Programme Description: Historical anthropology has been identified as a separate discipline within contemporary historiography for more than 20 years. The predecessor of today’s historical anthropology is mutatis mutandis what was referred to as history of customs back in the 17th and 18th centuries. That is, the history of something that lasts, as opposed to the history of unique events. The history of customs was, like historical anthropology today, the history of something that in itself never represented an event, i. e. movements rituals, indefinitely repeated reflections, views and knowledge or, in short, social practices. This history was also in contrast to the history of institutions and the history of decisions. Its classical reference was Herodot’s “ethnological” writing on the causes of the Persian wars, as well as the customs of Lydians, Persians and Egyptians. It was marked by names like Bodin, Pasquier, Guizot, Therry and, in Slovenia, Valvasor and Linhart. It existed for three centuries, from the 16th until the 19th, and was a pendant of the history of events and the history of institutions during that period. It was only at the end of the 19th century that the narrative history, or rather the history of events, overshadowed the history of customs. The reason being the political and, consequently, intellectual upswing, the basic characteristic of which was the increased dependence of intellectuals on the state government.

    It still doesn't seem relevant to your application of the term. Assuming it is relevant (and I've just crawlled out on the skinny branch to suggest otherwise)...You still sound like that prick on M.A.S.H. that Hawkeye and B.J. had to bunk with (Major Winchester, I think). You don't want that, do you?

  • Miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Bruce, I'm sorry to have upset you. But in your grammatical fury you seemed to have been driven to provide all sorts of long irrelevant quotes from the internets. However you missed a more useful reference, an online dictionary: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=Mutatis+mutandis

    One of the nice things about the English language is that it's open, accepting of other languages, the borrowing of other words. I used the phrase to mean approximately "in all its variations" or "having substituted new terms" or as you say, "things being changed which are to be changed" intending only to say that for fundamentalists arguing about evolution, you may freely substitute any other narrow minded group advancing any other uncritically considered position. Since you seem a real stickler for Latin usage, perhaps you would prefer... "As to the equality of ideas, for example, every idea about the origin of the species is not equal; every story of the origin of the universe is not equal; every belief about the permissible gestational age for abortion is not equal, mutatis mutandis. No, there are good and bad ideas." As far as my minimal Latin knowledge takes me, my error is roughly equivalent to using "etc." after a list that is only one item long. I leave it to you to imagine my regret over the upset this seems to have caused you.

  • miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Frustrated,

    I think that many academic institutions have the capacity to be more socially integrative without losing their focus on critical thinking, if they place a value on these issues.

    In contrast I doubt that the socially integrative institutions of the right have the capacity to integrate critical thinking.

    That's a reason that I am optimistic about the future. For example, many colleges are said to be making great efforts to focus on the social context of Freshman integration. Whether that is national trend or not, I'm not sure.

    I don't really think the "I have a soul" crowd is making an intellectual argument. They are articulating a myth of social solidarity, and so juxtaposing that claim with "I think therefore I am" is to mix up apples and silicon wafers.... different discussions about fundamentally different subjects.

    I think there are terms and means of social integration that are fully compatible with critical thinking, violate none of its tenets, and actually make a lifetime of critical thinking possible.

    I just don't think that our institutions of higher learning have spent much time valuing the social dimension or thinking through what it should look like in the 21st century and how it fits with the habits of mind that the university seeks to foster.

    <hr/>

    James,

    Thanks.

    I don't really see "liberal hegemony" in academia so I honestly can't distinguish something that I don't see from something that I have seen: "critical thinking."

    I see the liberal/left/progressive politics of academia as a consequence of modes of thought, to a much greater degree than it is the consequence of any arbitrary exercise of power or hegemony.

    Sure there is an academic self interested power structure, as there is in the corporate world. But other than its defense of its own prerogatives and power, what it defends in the realm of ideas tends to flow from values and beliefs about the nature of inquiry, and about how we establish truths.

    Miles

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)
    (Show?)
    <h1/>

    Now I am more lost, Miles, trying to find the intersection of your one statement and reality. This one: "The positive values that I see on the right involve community and social solidarity."

    In every instance I can think of, in all I've seen and read of history, the very essence of rightism is primacy of self. Individual rights. Looking out for number one. The private more, and more importantly, than anything of the community needs or the social mores. What interpretation am I missing in what you wrote?

    This is the 'no shared definitions' (of leftist and rightist) that I brought forward in my first comment, above. Leftism means a group interest. Rightism means one member's interest.

    In nested political arrangements, one player can change -ism's when the scale changes. Such that, Oregon's state interest is leftist around a group of individual towns and cities each rightist-ly vying for special dispensation. But Oregon's state interest is rightist vying for its own state's right in the group of united states exerting (federal) leftist interest. (In the next scale wider, the united states' nation would champion its own rightist interest in any conclave of a group of nations seeking the leftist combine of the group's power.) So a state's political partisanship can be leftist or rightist, depending on whether the political matter is between it and its parts or between it and what it is a part of.

    Community and social solidarity would be a rightist interest only in relation to a group of communities or socialities. Without that context, (which I don't read in what you wrote), ordinarily 'community' intrinsically carries a collected leftist interest in controversion with the rightist and individual rights interest of each of its elements.

    My definitions are so simplistic, but they have cleared my vision in viewing political matchups and led me through twisted contradictory political statements and on to a conclusion. In each issue, it seems some regard must be given in respect of the group involved and some regard must be given in respect of the individual member -- both sides are valid -- and when I stop wearing one label for all my political thinking, it becomes a matter of finding and deciding the 'good' balance between the two interests, (which two are always, invariably present).

    <h1/>
  • (Show?)

    I'm not really sure how it happened, but all the posts and their authors have become garbled in this thread. Looks like the commenter's name is attributed to the previous comment.

    Hmm...

    (Jeff Alworth)

  • Miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    So many ways to skin a cat. I was referring to the religious and church based side of the right, and it's capacity to create social solidarity in institutions that mobilize people to vote. Contrast that to the decline of unions on the left or the failure of universities to inculcate their values as broadly as they might.

    There is a common distinction between the religious and the libertarian right, and you are correct that there is a libertarian right also. But in Kansas and even in Oregon and nationally too I think the right is more about faith communities than libertarianism and economic individualism. Your point is well taken however.

    Miles

    (For me everything is in italics, but otherwise clear Jeff... someone slipped some errant html in I think)

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The rightwing does indeed embrace economic individualism [survival of the fittest, the rich deserve all they get] and social conformism [fundamentalist Christian morality enshrined in law].

    All together, there is nothing about the rightwing I find valid, positive, or worthwhile. They represent most of what I regard as negative in humanity.

  • Frustrated (unverified)
    (Show?)

    For me, this thread isn't inspiring a lot of optimism for the future.

    Miles countered... "many academic institutions have the capacity to be more socially integrative without losing their focus on critical thinking, if they place a value on these issues."

    However, this leads me directly to my point ("...a capacity...if they place a value..."). The focus on critical thinking causes other issues to take a back seat, this includes survival. Miles' quote betrays that social integration efforts will always be secondary to the main focus, critical thinking. "Socially integrative institutions of the right" are dedicated to group think. Creating their form of society is their focus, not a side line.

    The dividing factor is which of the two groups has more resolve. A lack of certainty is inherent in minds open enough for critical thinking. Consider a rallying cry for ideals embodied in the quote… "The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless." (from Plato's Apology)

    Compare this to "I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe- I believe what I believe is right." (George W. Bush, Rome 2001).

    While it may be interesting (and sometimes amusing) to watch people try to constrain reality into simple dichotomies (right/wrong, good/evil, etc.), the harm comes when people decide to create their version of this simplified reality.

    Academia can study it. Academia can understand it. Academia could probably even predict why and when a revolution will happen. However, academia lack the blind devotion needed to, as a group, kill or be killed. Academia lack the certainty to know what to believe, much less truly believe what they believe is right. Academia minds are trained to be open to doubt. When pitted against people who are resolved and certain of their actions, the result is inevitable.

    Please excuse this lengthy and pessimistic post, but I had to put my feelings (and frustrations) into words.

    Thankful, but Still... Frustrated

  • Jim B (unverified)
    (Show?)

    It never changes...Leonardo, Michelangelo, Galileo, the intelligencia of history were all persecuted at one time by the Church for "blasphemy" or other "unseemly ideas." These are just a few of the pioneers in art, science, etc. that have been persecuted, even put to death in certain circumstances, only to be found out later that their "liberal" ideas were right.

    The same thing happened in Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany. Those who spoke out against the repressive power base were destroyed. Among them, invariably were many gays and lesbians. The same thing is happening now. Of course, we have 9/11 to thank for flinging the doors wide open. Terrorism is now an excuse to let the government do whatever they wish to foreigners and their own citizens.

    Solidly behind it all is religious conservativism, so is it any wonder that the oppressed try to fight back in any way they can? It is a dangerous time now to be in the minority and be vocal.

guest column

connect with blueoregon