The Conservatives vs. The Academy

AlterNet has a story by Joshua Holland about the Right’s crusade against lefties on campus. As I saw with my experience with the conservative sniper that was trolling here not long ago, the conservative mission is to criticize everything that’s off their message. Holland describes this as “backlash” politics:

The backlash came about when traditional big-business conservatives, tired of facing the resentment of ordinary working-class Americans, stumbled onto ‘wedge’ social issues in the 1960s. They found that cultural battles could transform the populist anger of “regular folk” — long directed at “fat-cat” corporate elites — into a new cultural populism aimed at the liberal intelligentsia.

So a bunch of rich people like Richard Mellon Scaife and Joseph Coors started organizing to pushing these “wedge” issues. Thirty years later, conservative think tanks, newspapers, and cable news stations abound, and the change to the political landscape has been dramatic.

Rather than simply a resurrection of the Young Republicans of the 80s, the conservative cabal is bent on completely reshaping higher education, reshaping the way we debate ideas. To that end, heavily funded groups like William F. Buckley’s Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Young America’s Foundation, and the Leadership Institute have been formed to push the conservative agenda.

That money and expertise are directed at four distinct goals: training conservative campus activists; supporting right-wing student publications; indoctrinating the next generation of culture warriors; and demonstrating the liberal academic “bias” that justifies many conservatives’ reflexive anti-intellectualism.

According to Holland, “[Conservative] ideology isn’t built from the ground up with ideas but is a ‘horizontal’ argument — amounting to a never-ending laundry list of petty gripes and grievances.”

For a generation raised on the reactionary polemics of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, more intellectual brands of conservatism — those based on Hobbes, Hayek and Friedman — are often unrecognizable; they appear solidly centrist to today’s backlash youth. And once you’re convinced that the university is a virtual liberal re-education camp, then every slight and inconvenience of campus life becomes further proof of the malevolence of the Left.

In that spirit, whenever a liberal professor clashes with a conservative student or an arbitrary rule causes a conservative some inconvenience, the offense is tracked assiduously by professional watchdogs like David Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture or Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group founded by Lynne Cheney, issued a report about unpatriotic professors following 9/11, and another group, Accuracy in Academia, made waves in the 1980s when they offered the McCarthyite claim that their “research” showed there to be 10,000 known Communists among university faculties.

Says Holland: “the goal is not to promote diversity of opinion but to convince people that our nation’s universities have been hijacked by, as the title of one book put it, ‘tenured radicals’ who brainwash our youth with their crypto-socialist ideology.” That this has the side benefit of eliminating academics as sources for counter arguments isn’t so bad (if you’re a conservative) either.

In fact, liberal bias in the academy is a fiction based on the same sort of selective analysis used to “prove” bias in the media. While there are certainly plenty of liberal professors, never mentioned are inherently conservative departments like economics, right-leaning frats and student groups, the influence of campus ROTC or the fact that for every left-leaning Vassar or Oberlin there is an equally conservative Washington and Lee or BYU.

2 thoughts on “The Conservatives vs. The Academy

  1. Anyone who argues that the university is a breeding-ground for liberal opinion would be correct, but not for the reason that most would think. Instead, students today, as always, arrive at school expecting to find that their heads will be filled with wonderous knowledge of the arcane and delightful, when in reality they experience nothing but humiliation and degradation at the hands of a disinterested, money-hungry administration and an aging, tenured faculty with no reason to accept, let alone welcome, a change in the academic status quo. The resulting hatred of authority and disinterest for material perceived as stale and obsolete by the student therefore bears no resemblance whatsoever to an immaturely developed or naive political fantasy, but rather wears the grim aura of a belief forged in the harshest reality. Today’s ‘Liberals’ are not the hedonistic rebels of 1969–in fact, in many instances, it’s the unrealistic dreams of professors whose last major paradigm shift occured in that very same year of 1969 that are the target of scorn by a frustrated and alienated youth. As Jerry Farber puts it in his highly controversial article, the university is ‘WHERE YOU LET THE DYING SOCIETY PUT ITS TRIP ON YOU.’ At least in my experience (admittedly at a private college), this statement is all too true. When considered in such a light, what the student is presented with at college is actually the very definition of conservatism, of stagnation, of modern-day ‘Republican’ values. It is against this that today’s students rebel, in their own ways…openly expressing contempt for incompetent instructors in dining halls and classrooms, engaging in hobbies and pursuits that stimulate them outside of the standard curriculum in record amounts, and regarding the entire process as a business arrangement constructed to exchange large quantities of their money for an ‘auratic’ piece of paper that holds promises of future wealth and well-being.

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