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May 20, 2012

The Coming Decline of the Academic Left

                                    By Ron Lipsman

indoctrination.jpgIt is no secret that what passes for an education at most of the nation's colleges and universities is suspiciously akin to indoctrination. An asterisk: With the exception of a few areas--specifically, climate and the environment, certain fields within biology and medicine, history of science and the interaction between science and public policy--the rot that infects the rest of academia has been averted in science and engineering schools. A student who seeks a higher education in the unsullied areas of science and engineering can obtain truly the finest technical education that can be found on our planet at innumerable universities throughout the United States.

But when surveying the remaining disciplines in academia, as well as the administrative structures that direct the nation's academic enterprise, one can say that today's students are subject there to an unsubtle, mind-numbing, conformist indoctrination. Numerous polls conducted in humanities and social sciences departments--at elite, state and minor universities--reveal a stunning skew between liberals and conservatives at least as distorted as 90%-10%. The inherent bias spills over into classroom presentations, selection of curricula, and grading. Moreover, it has been thus for at least two generations.

The consequences of this warp in the political spectrum in academia are well known. The students are taught, with conviction and certainty, that:

  • The United States is a deeply flawed nation--stained by a legacy of slavery, discrimination against women, genocidal policies toward the indigenous population, unjustified foreign wars, homophobia, and persecution of minorities.
  • America's unfair system of rapacious capitalism creates unacceptable distortions in income distribution, punishes low-income workers in favor of well-heeled corporate moguls and unscrupulous entrepreneurs, and needlessly subjects the economy to convulsive upheavals such as the 2007-08 financial crisis.
  • The US ignores environmental concerns and is the world's leasing abuser of fossil-fuel sources of energy.
  • The US's adherence to Judeo-Christian religious principles and values is no longer--if it ever was--appropriate, and a secular, humanist ethic should rightfully take its place.
  • There is no meaningful American culture; American exceptionalism is a myth; and America is not a "shining city on a hill" or a beacon of liberty. Rather it is a multicultural society in which different value systems have equal merit, just one more country among the nations of the Earth.
  • The Constitution is as antiquated as the Bible; neither provides a roadmap for the country's destiny.
  • The notion of rugged individualism is nonsense; we strive for a society of equals, guided by a benevolent and powerful government that wisely charts a proper course for our citizens.

In short, the only thing exceptional about America is that it has resisted the transformation that European nations have undergone into social welfare states. The above interpretation of the "true" nature of America is widely taught at American universities--sometimes subtly, more commonly openly--as if it is gospel. More insidiously, despite the university's reputation as a place where a student is exposed to numerous different ideas, the "wisdom" encapsulated above is passed on as if it is irrefutably established truth, and students risk grade and opprobrium if they challenge it. This smells more like indoctrination than education to me.

Employable Only in Leftist Milieus?

However, the nation's colleges might be on the cusp of a major crisis that could pose a serious challenge to the leftist domination of campus. It is my purpose here to explain why and what the consequences might be. Actually, the ingredients of the crisis are well known:

  • The graduates of our social sciences and humanities programs are increasingly found wanting in the workplace. Unless they can find employment in a leftist dominated milieu (e.g., government, academia, public sector union, media conglomerate), the American business world finds them ill-equipped to function successfully in what remains of the US entrepreneurial society.
  • The costs of a university indoctrination--er, that is, education--have skyrocketed. In light of the previous bullet, consumers-- i.e., the students' parents--find it increasingly hard to justify the expense.
  • Intense criticism of the faculty is on the rise: they can't teach; or what they teach is garbage or propaganda; they're too busy with their "research"; and they are overpaid.
  • Administrative policies make no sense--multiculturalism trumps achievement, political correctness outweighs impartiality.
  • Most damaging, our universities, after a prolonged period of indoctrination, return students to their parents in a form that parents cannot recognize--their opinions, values and behavior have been altered beyond repair. (To be fair, it is encouraging that a not insignificant percentage of college grads manage to resist the brainwashing on campus).

How are the leftist dominated American universities responding to this crisis? Simple answer: the same as the leftists running our government--namely, double down on the very policies that have caused the crisis in the first place. In this strategy, there is an eerie resemblance to the tactics of the Obama administration. Exactly as our federal government is bankrupting itself by its unsustainable tax and spending profligacy, university presidents keep raising tuition and fees in order to vigorously pursue their expansive and flawed policies. The addiction to spending is the same in both enterprises, but universities can't print money like the feds. So instead they hike tuition, beg for more financial assistance from federal and state governments, and prostitute themselves in the search for corporate and government grants. As for the tyrannical, leftist mindset that dominates the humanities and social sciences, it grows more and more entrenched.

But people are fed up. In the same way that frustrated citizens rose up to challenge the profligate spending of federal and state governments, parents and students will rise up to protest the out-of-control spending and leftward drift of the nation's universities. Let's call it the Stench Revolution--a revolt against the foul propaganda that emanates from leftist humanities and social sciences departments. The conservative political revolt in America against the decades-old leftward drift of the nation--typified by the Tea Party--has resulted in some signature successes: more robust and influential conservative think tanks (Heritage, Cato, Manhattan Institute); talk radio; Fox News; grassroots public organizations like Americans for Progress or the Club for Growth. I predict that an analogous movement will occur in regard to academia. The result will be the growth of conservative academic online sites (like this one), more balanced professional organizations like the NAS, more Hillsdale and Grove City Colleges, more public figures like David Horowitz and Dennis Prager who expose the treachery on campus. It will be a long, laborious process, but there is no alternative if traditionalists wish to restore our universities to their former state as bastions of truth and knowledge disseminated objectively.

----------------
Ron Lipsman is professor emeritus of mathematics and former senior associate dean of the College of Computer, Math & Physical Sciences, University of Maryland.



Comments (42)

Wayney Stanard:

Three cheers. Nail hit squarely on head.

Tcat:

This is an overly optimistic view of universities reaping what they have sowed. The facts remain, employers still expect the college degree. Your predictions will only occur if and when their are reputable alternatives to a 4 year degree.

I could see your predictions happening if students could take the free online courses offered through MIT or Khan Academy and then get the credentials through some other organization. Employers are still going to look for a reputable credential to tell them this person actually knows something, because they are not going to interview the 600 applicants to find out who has the real education.

Hieronymous Braintree:

"The United States is a deeply flawed nation--stained by a legacy of slavery, discrimination against women, genocidal policies toward the indigenous population, unjustified foreign wars, homophobia, and persecution of minorities."

Um, I can't stand PC but exactly what in this paragraph isn't true? Are you claiming that we didn't own slaves? Are you claiming that we didn't commit genocide against the American Indian? Isn't it true that women weren't allowed to vote until the 20th century? Do you think the Spanish-American war was justified? The Mexican war? How about Vietnam? What about our second foray into Iraq? I'm still waiting to see those WMDs. As for persecution of minorities there was Jim Crow and laws which prevented male Chinese immigrants from marrying. Speaking as someone who used to be taunted as gay despite being a practicing heterosexual I can attest to the reality of American homophobia. The PC jerks are right on all of these counts. The problem is their refusal to accept the magnitude of genuine change.

Paul Krugman who isn't exactly a screwball being a Noble laureate and everything, has made virtually every claim you deride regarding the unfair edge enjoyed by financial elites. He also appears to have had no trouble at all handling his critics. If I were a zombie, his would be the first brains I'd eat.

The US, last I checked had 4% of the world's population but used 25% of its oil.

I don't want to go into every single point as this post is characteristically too long already. However, just because the liberal left has gone screwy doesn't mean that a lot of stuff they say isn't on the money and anyway righteous stupidity in the other camp does not prove the intellectual correctness of one's own camp.

Intellectual tribalism isn't any better when practiced by the right.

Bingo.

jasond:

Good article. I hope your predictions come true.

red:

Attending graduation was an adventure. The school of "Social Justice" was very large, many little graduates eager to change the world. A recent alumni giving an address where her major achievement was bringing "vagina monologues" to the Catholic university. Meanwhile parents are rich enough to rent skyboxes in the sports venue in which the graduation ceremony took place.

cowgirl:

I home schooled my son from sixth grade to his senior year in high school. I used Abeka Academy curriculum from Pensacola Christian College. Praise God that He caused a strife in our lives that led to home schooling. Amen.

My son is presently in horse shoeing school learning a trade while attending a Junior College to then transfer to UC Davis. His ultimate goal - A Large Animal Vet. My hope, that his Christian education and his education goals once completed can help him influence the thinking of the next generation. Praise God - the glory is His.

jetty:

My oldest will be starting school this Fall. We will not send him to a public school, though. Instead we have chosen to send him to a private Christian school that shares our values. My father's generation saved to put their kids through college. We are spending that on our children now. By the time they are 18 they will have a solid foundation and anti-liberal worldview. And if they get scholarships to study engineering somewhere, wonderful. If not, they will learn a trade and start working.

Bob Scrivens:

I am sympathetic to these opinions, but they are just that: opinions. Are there citations to back up these claims? If I start using these arguments -- intense criticism of leftist academics is on the rise, social science grads are increasingly found wanting in the workplace, and so on -- then a reasonable response of "prove it" ought to be expected. Facts, figures and sources, please.

Wildblackberry1:

Thank you for this insightful article! I'm a public school teacher and you have spoken the truth!!!

jms:

I have a daughter in 6th grade. I'm so thankful that she doesn't have to go to college now. I can only hope that some of what you hope for plays out over the next six years.

Hermit:

Perhaps one way to show how badly our public schools (K-12) and contemporary universities have failed us is to look at High School final exams from fifty and a hundred years ago. Those exams require skills in grammar, English Composition, literature, algebra, geometry and logic that are far beyond the abilities of today's college graduates in the Liberal Arts.

"The Coming Decline of the Academic Left"

COMING? It's already here. Thhink Eastern Europe in Aug 1989. Maybe October.

D.B. Wells:

It is time to start the long march through the institutions of the Left.

AllenS:

Today's students being subjected to an unsubtle, mind-numbing, conformist indoctrination starting in high school. The fact that it's in higher education doesn't surprise me at all. Know any high school teachers? Take a look at Wisconsin and the recall of Governor Walker. Leading the charge are public school teachers.

Stan:

There is a huge shortage of workers of all kinds in the oil fields.

Rob in Mass:

One more foundational institution of American freedom and prosperity destroyed by the left. Imagine the breathtaking scope of the damage that has been inflicted here. No foreign enemy could dream of wreaking this kind of devastation. Education power structure delenda est.

D. S. Gruntled:

Also consider how technology threatens the power of classroom tyrants. Disintermediation is the great power of the internet and being intermediaries is the only skill owned by lefty collectivists.

I love the recent trend where a parent put a recording device in his son's bookbag and recorded teachers cursing and verbally abusing the children. Or threatening them with arrest if they criticize Dear Leader.

These tools help expose, and publicize, the sheer buffoonery of lefty academics.

Edward J. Quinn:

This article should have been written about 40 years ago, and been a guide to understanding what is going on with academia, and their treacherous indoctrination of our youth. I agree with this article 100%. And unless parents no longer care how much they will spend on their childrens "education", or what they will take away from the experience, or even if they will become "unemployable" except to be another part of the problem of leftist utopian garbage, They must wake up, I'd advise a copy of this be given to every person thinking of a college education, but it should also be distributed to every parent from primary schools onward, as it does not just begin in college or universities, but permeates every form of indoctrination from kindergarten onwards.

crypticguise:

Excellent piece! There is little doubt in my mind that the left-wing academics and administrative hacks are going to experience a serious downsizing in the next ten years.

A New American Revolution is beginning.

jim2:

The graduates of our social sciences and humanities programs are increasingly found wanting in the workplace. Unless they can find employment in a leftist dominated milieu (e.g., government, academia, public sector union, media conglomerate), the American business world finds them ill-equipped to function successfully in what remains of the US entrepreneurial society.
You might want to expand on the consequences of the above, especially that these folk will ever increasingly be the ones in government (thus, the ones in charge of regulating the technical and entrepreneurial sectors they refused to join), the media (thus the ones crafting the public presentation of all sectors), etc.

Diggs:

From your lips to God's ears.

Valerie:

A very good synopsis of what's wrong with our "education" system. The Leftist entrenchment in higher ed must end.

jvermeer:

I'm not sure even the hard sciences are so pure. The old communist cell system in Hollywood had, as a goal, a little bit of propaganda in every product. I purchased an independently produced guide to the math software program MathCad. The author is a global warming fanatic and included in each chapter some reference to the danger of global warming.

Miriam:

The shift is already taking place, by the growth of non-traditional colleges. While this shift was based on cost and convenience, nonetheless, it has broken the monopoly (both economic and ideological) that the left/traditional academe (brick and mortar institutions) had on a college degree.

P.S. Note that I said 'college degree' and not 'college education'. Nowadays, many people go for a degree - not an 'education'. This is not a bad thing, in my humble opine.

Bravo!

Alan Bloom made this relevant point in his classic
"Closing of the American Mind":

The students who are most susceptible to indoctrination are those whose parents are divorced.

Ralph Gizzip:

The radicals of the '60's that were disrupting college campuses and occupying administration buildings are still disrupting college campuses and occupying administration buildings. It's just that they're on the other side of the desk now. It's taken aver 40 years to get to this point and it'll take another 40 years to change it back.

Meremortal:

The central question is: How long will it take to throw off the stultifying chains of leftism? Will it require a generation or more of suffering or will America awaken this fall and start the recovery process?

The way back to living in freedom and porsperity will require pain due to 50 years of profligate programs that were not properly funded, could not be properly funded and should never have been implemented. The latest and worst hangs over our heads now, the yoke of Obamacare.

The tentacles of govt are everywhere now, and cutting them back will be a long-term struggle. The time to start is now, the battle will only get more difficult with time.

Richard:

In the early 70's, I got caught up in a post graduate degree program in the social sciences. Not only was the leftist conformism a concern and the arbitrariness of the peer review system a worry but the fact that these fools, who were 8 to 10 years older than me, has already sucked up all the career opportunities. They had, to use Tyler Cowen's phrase, picked all the low hanging fruit. A PhD. in that field would be totally useless outside academia. So I left with an M.A. and later taught part time in the Community Colleges.

Curtis Hinsley:

I have taught American history, history of technology, history of science, history of anthropology, intellectual history, and humanities for 38 years in both private liberal arts colleges and public universities in both the eastern and western United States.
Politically I see myself as an independent.
So let me be absolutely clear:
There is simply no truth to this article. It is a lie, a fabrication -- a sadly popular and familiar one -- driven by a well-orchestrated ideological agenda. It has been fomented and developed over the last several decades, occasionally citing, to be sure, actual instances of "liberal" bias in the academic world, and drawing from these relatively rare events absurd generalizations. I have taught thousands of undergraduate students and worked closely with dozens of faculty across many disciplines and many political persuasions, and I can say with clear certainty that this notion of so-called liberal indoctrination in our colleges is garbage. Simply garbage. It does not deserve any further publication or consideration.

Gary from Jersey:

The question is what to do with two generations of students who have no clue about the real world. They are unprepared, angry, self-satisfied and most likely burdened by college loans they will repay for the rest of their lives. Their loss as productive citizens spells real danger for them and the rest of us.

John Kroll:

With odds like 90% to 10%, one would be pretty discouraged about turning things around very soon. However, my observation is that there precious little in today's liberalism that engenders courage. When the odds get down to say 75% to 25%, I think things could start changing quickly.

Today's social science graduates are well trained as community activists and Occupy Wall Street protestors. With a bit more training, they could perform admirably in the roles that Obama friends Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dorn performed during the Vietnam War era.

Finally, today's university graduates could serve unswervingly as concentration camp guards, when that industry is revived by ideological purists who are truly serious about maintaining an atmosphere of political correctness.

Dave the Science Knave:

Not only did I not really see much of it, as a natural science BS and later PhD, but until I talked to friends who were not engineering or natural sciences students, I could not believe this kind of stuff really happens. Where, I wondered, was there time. Call me Naive Dave the Science Knave...

My advice- pick a major such that not telling the truth will blow up or fry all your professors' lab equipment. That keeps them honest.

Carina:

I agree up to the point where you think the students will protest. Instead, the merely will lose interest.

The near and medium term future will be that those places will price themselves out of business because they cost too large a chunk of lifetime earnings to consider(word is getting round that student loans are mill stones...) and online universities will begin to offer affordable degrees.

Already there are good places to study informally and for free, check out khanacademy.com -- this format is very popular already and the kids using this site now will be comfortable with studying this way. Also note the MIT courses that were free were a huge success.

Song to hum along to whilst pondering all this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxE6WHILNsk

sestamibi:

"Most damaging, our universities, after a prolonged period of indoctrination, return students to their parents in a form that parents cannot recognize--their opinions, values and behavior have been altered beyond repair. (To be fair, it is encouraging that a not insignificant percentage of college grads manage to resist the brainwashing on campus)."

And also to be fair, since "Moreover, it has been thus for at least two generations" it is also true that a not insignificant percentage of college grads' parents hold the same views, since they were brainwashed a generation ago.

The Left has been phenomenally successful in its "march through the institutions". I'm afraid that ultimately armed resistance will be necessary to contain them.


Mkelley:

My boss's daughter just graduated from a famously left-wing college in our state with a degree in "women's studies". He had to endure a graduation ceremony with snide comments about Mitt Romney, and now his daughter is working at a Subway store.

DocinPA:

Just stop giving out federal student loans to anybody going into these majors. Make them get the loans from private sources or pay cash. That'll put a stop to this crap real fast.

C. Philips:

I have heard several times that employers who used to hire general liberal arts majors are now rejecting humanities and social science majors in favor of science majors. But I have only seen anecdotes; does anybody know of stronger evidence?

Brandon F.:

So let me get this straight: Liberals hate America because of the oppressive actions of its government, and they are mistakenly obsessed with the idea that government is the solution to all problems.

Perhaps what you really mean is that liberals don't like it when the government employs conservative policies and would like the government to employ liberal policies. You know, just like conservatives want it the other way around. Conservatives don't want government out of people's lives, they want government to do conservative things, like interfere in the lives of families headed by gay people.

Btw, college graduates are having trouble getting jobs because the economy stinks, not because of the politics of their professors. Does the economy stink because the majority of university professors are liberals? No. It stinks because financial institutions developed bizarre financial instruments that hid the inherent risk from the investors they sold them to. That sounds like fraud, enabled by poorly regulated capitalism. Good thing there was social safety net for those banks.

In any case, thanks for a few good laughs. Nice to know the spirit of Alan Bloom lives on. I'll remember that when I include him, as I always do, when I next indoctrinate my students (I mean, teach a humanities course).

David George:

An unfortunate fact of life is that many college instructors and professors have never had to earn a living in the real world. They live in an incubator where ridiculous ideas and theories can thrive, because they never have to survive the tests of reality. I am reminded of the statement, "This idea is so ridiculous that only an 'intellectual' could take it seriously."

18 & 19 year olds, having little real world experience themselves, are particularly susceptible to the kind of mindless skepticism and cynicism that their teachers profess. Why, for example, shouldn't we stop making weapons and give the saved money to The Poor?

Moreover, they are at a point in their lives where they WANT to jettison the "middle class values" that their parents have tried to teach them.

So they end up wasting a hundred thousand or more after-tax dollars on an "education" that prepares them for nothing in particular, and then complaining about having to pay off student loans for the next couple decades.

It is a wonder that so many of them figure things out and become more-or-less productive citizens.

Jim V:

Richard and C. Philips are clearly living in the ivory tower. C. Philips claims that students aren't finding jobs only because of teh economy. He teaches humanities, so we can all assume that he doesn't read the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times or even the more left wing Economist. If he had, he would see that poll after poll of business managers and owners have stated that they can no longer hire these students because they are so unprepared for the workplace (despite being told that a college degree - any college degree - would get them better jobs). They lack basic skills and, most damning, they lack what these managers consider "critical thinking skills." Critical thinking skills - that is supposed to be the most basic of skills that a student is supposed to leave college with. Instead, what they leave college with is the ability to only "think critically" of people whose political or cultural perspectives their professors hated.

As for Richard, I have three masters level degrees and have spent much of my adult life in academia as a student. He is either the most naive man ever to live on this planet or is not the independent he claims to be. No one can sit in a humanities course today with 90% of the professors in academia and come away with his conclusions about non-bias in the ivory tower.

The fact is that both of these professors need to read "Academically Adrift" and other fine studies that have come out in the last 5 years that unequivocally state the case for the failure of the modern university (and today's faculty) to do its job. The students are failing to learn, the political bias has increased and the cost has clearly outweighed the benefit for the vast majority of students.

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