The many left-liberals who
insist that "all education is political" should have no problem with
Colorado's decision to hire a professor of "Conservative Thought and
Policy." After all, many universities already have openly Marxist or
generally leftist programs -- such as Social Thought and Political Economy at
my university. All these politically "engaged" professors surely have
no grounds on which to protest if and when conservative activists start
claiming -- not equal time, since that would require the restructuring of huge
numbers of humanities and social science programs throughout the country -- but
even a little time, a small slot here and there. Still, I find it hard to
celebrate Colorado's move, since I consider politicization a corruption of the
very notion of education, as has been amply demonstrated worldwide throughout
the past hundred years. Thus, although I recognize the appeal of
tit-for-tat hirings in universities, I
deplore the practice. Far better would be the insistence of university programs
that studying political ideologies and promoting them are quite different
things. Thus, I would much rather see serious universities begin to question
the very existence of all those little and big leftist programs rooted in
identity politics, grievance collecting, and general grandstanding. Political
passions should never drive university programs or faculty hiring.
Patai is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
There is fundamental
miscalculation in designing a conservative studies professorship as a voice for
conservative views, rather than as a forum in which to study a historical
phenomenon and a contemporary political movement. Both components of
conservative philosophy and politics deserve to be studied and analyzed on
their own merits. Conservatism can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives,
some sympathetic and some critical. Indeed, since this appointment has been
structured as a visiting professorship, it would be possible to use it to
expose the campus to a variety of approaches over time. Unfortunately, the
position appears to be designed to correct a perceived imbalance or right a
pedagogical wrong. Worse still, that stance apparently mirrors donor political
wishes, leaving the appointment vulnerable to outside political influence, a
serious violation of the university's independence and its academic freedom.
Neither outside ideological influence nor contractually mandated ideologically
conformity are acceptable in academic appointments. Meanwhile, the right-wing
conviction that students are only exposed to progressive views ignores the
politics of agriculture, business, economics, engineering, or medical faculty,
among others, who are often more conservative.
Nelson served as president of the AAUP from 2006 to 2012.
Good luck to Steven Hayward!
I hope he brings some fresh breezes of thought to CU/Boulder. But American
academe's deep, dysfunctional, intellectual pluralism problem won't be solved
by one-shot, temporary, expedients. The academic monoculture will only be
changed when the ideological roadblocks now entrenched in university hiring processes
have been circumvented. This will require systemic reforms in higher education
Private on-line higher
education follows corporate rather than guild governance models. This gives it
much more freedom than most conventional universities possess to respond to
pent-up consumer demand for a greater variety of intellectual products. While
the growth of this sector is not ideologically driven, some increase in
academic viewpoint diversity is likely to be one of its byproducts.
Making meaningful changes in
the hiring process within traditional academe remains a daunting challenge -
the fate of all sorts of deeply invested cultural projects hanging in the
balance. Formally recognizing the academic propriety and positive intellectual
value of rival schools of thought inhabiting, and interacting, within the same
institution, each with a substantial degree of hiring autonomy, would be a
giant step toward it.
The competitive pressures
resulting from a possible bubble-like collapse of the higher education market
might push some universities in this direction as a means of differentiating
their appeal from those of rivals. Although it doesn't get near to being
systemic institutional change, Boulder's hire of Dr. Hayward at least counts as
a baby step down this path.
H. Balch, former president of the National Association of Scholars, is director
of the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization at Texas Tech
bringing a conservative in just because he's a conservative--a kind of
affirmative action--begs the question of just what does it mean--from a scholarly
or public-philosophical view--to be a conservative. But it turns out that
what it means to be a conservative is an intense bone of contention among
conservative scholars and intellectuals.
What about the conservatives who don't think Steve's really a
conservative? The most famous attempt to "brand" American
conservatism with definite philosophical and literary credentials was Russell
Kirk's The Conservative Mind. But Steve's outstanding scholarly mentor,
Harry Jaffa, spent a lot of his life trying to discredit Kirk's brand of
conservatism as not really conservative and not really American.
Some Kirkians, meanwhile, call "Straussians" such as Jaffa and
Hayward "Jacobins"--or French and revolutionary or the opposite of
conservative. Steve is quite comfortable with bragging that he's all
about conserving the American, revolutionary, natural-rights tradition.
For the Kirkians, revolutionary tradition is an obvious oxymoron.
Some conservatives (including many Kirkians) have a very traditionalist concern
for the primacy of devotion to a particular place over abstract
principle. That leads them to be pro-Agrarian and anti-industrial.
They often end up thinking that techno-America is a wasteland that grows, and
so they become environmentalists. But Steve joins the libertarians in being
quite skeptical of all "environmentalist" public-policy claims, and
he has a corresponding faith in American technology as part of our proud
tradition of devotion to individual rights and individual ingenuity.
But Steve doesn't hold a Randian belief that human beings should be evaluated
only according to their creative productivity. He's also big on the study
of philosophy and the thought of the American Founders and all that for their
So here are my great questions: Does a professor of conservatism
represent himself, or does he represent being a conservative in a more general
sense? Can he teach what he really thinks or believes, or does he have to
represent all or some of the various and conflicting kinds of conservatism in
America? Is he the diversity, or is a representative of conservative
Peter Lawler is a professor of government
at Berry College. This is a brief version of a piece
from his blog Big Think.
Has it really come to this?
If the donors thought this was a good idea, and if Hayward thinks he might do
good - well, let's see what happens. Still...it's depressing. I have questions,
not answers. Is the solution to ideological lockstep a dissenters' ghetto?
What's better: total banishment, or being corralled off in a corner of your
own? And are those now the only options? When a university hires a scholar
whose title indicates his expertise in ideas it considers heretical, is it
taking a brave step toward intellectual diversity - or making a sneaky move
that, by placing upon him what amounts to the mark of Cain, will only serve to
reinforce the enshrinement of its orthodoxy? Will Western-civ teachers now feel
even more justified in omitting certain texts from syllabi, on the grounds that
students can read those materials, if they wish, in a "Conservative Studies"
class? But how do you teach any ideas properly without bringing them together -
examining them against one another? Could that be the real objective here - to
provide an excuse to avoid readings and discussions, in "regular" humanities
courses, that might disrupt the work of indoctrination?
Bawer is the author of several books, most recently The
Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the
There's nothing inherently
wrong with the field of conservative studies, or professorships in it. As the
author of two books about conservatives (Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh), I'd
certainly be happy to see more jobs available to study conservative ideas.
Unfortunately, this particular job appears to be nothing more than preferential
hiring for right-wingers, and this kind of explicit political discrimination
with little regard for academic values is wrong. Talk-show host Mike Rosen, a
member of the hiring committee, told the Washington Times that no liberals or
even independents would be allowed in the job (or, one presumes, the lecture
series). This kind of suppression sends a message not only to applicants, but
also to potential students who may feel silenced in the classroom if they fail
to toe the conservative line. If, like me, conservatives believe that political
discrimination is wrong in academia, then they must uphold this principle for
all appointments. Just as Women's Studies must be open to men, and Black
Studies must be open to non-blacks, conservative studies must be open to
K. Wilson is co-editor of Academe Blog
and founder of College
Steven Hayward is exactly
right in saying, ""I think a lot of people are watching this around
the country," and he is clearly appreciative of what amounts to the question of
donor intention as well: "Other possible donors want to see if this
actually adds something serious that is missing from the intellectual
Donor intention is a
complicated matter. The problem has
always been that whatever the intentions may be, they are executed by someone
else. On balance, I would say that the intentions are more often successfully
executed, but not always fulfilled. This is because the evolution of fields,
particularly in the humanities and social sciences address controversies over
facts, values and interpretations.
Hayward's challenge will not
be about what he teaches but rather about the intensity of focus on his
delivery and its reception by students.
If he is in the seat of teaching authority for a mere year, then he
might as well be a visiting MOOC. My
simple view is that if teaching matters, then it matters that students and
teachers develop the potential for lifetime relationships. Outside this framework is where all the
business takes place, well and fine, but not the stuff of the vocation of
B. Imber is Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology at Wellesley and
Editor-in-Chief of SOCIETY.
The idea of "the Remnant," a
recurrent theme in conservative writing, draws force from the Bible and the
stories therein about what leadership must do to recover a disintegrated
culture after surviving a catastrophe. For many of us, higher education, particularly
in the social sciences and the humanities, has suffered through just such a
catastrophe in the United States. Steve
Hayward's appointment to a term position in a pilot project in conservative
studies at the University of Colorado offers a glimmer of hope at one
place. Steve, a fine intellectual and a
good man, will have three years to polish any number of pebbles in preparation
for their eventual dropping into the pond.
Yet restrain the applause.
Already the opposition--on and off campus--is gearing up to twist the
Colorado experiment into a cause célèbre to ensure that this one vulnerable
position at a public university becomes neither academic trend nor enduring
edifice. Thus, for the Remnant, the task
remains to formulate a far more ambitious plan of recovery. New technologies have opened the door to
grand possibilities--perhaps something along the lines of a Liberal Arts
University of America--if only we have the wit to see them and the imagination
to seize them.
L. Paquette is co-founder of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of
Western Civilization and Professor of History at Hamilton College.
Steven Hayward's appointment
should dishearten the champions of traditional liberal education for a number
of reasons. For one, it signals the almost complete absence of ideological
diversity in the fields in which such diversity matters most, namely, history,
political philosophy and contemporary American politics. Apparently,
conservative professors are so toxic there that they can only enter the
university through a grant from wealthy donors.
More troublingly, the fact
that Hayward's appointment is contingent on his conservative bona fides
indicates that the politicization of the university is complete. The most
sensible critics of academic bias are not concerned that leftists have taken
over our universities, but rather that any political agenda has seeped into our
classrooms. A respectable liberal arts
program need not have a partisan character, as neither conservatives nor
liberals hold an exclusive claim on respectable instruction. To that end, we
should strive not for ideological balance but for rigorous and fair-minded
scholarship. This is a daunting task,
however, and the University of Colorado-Boulder clearly prefers to dabble in
gimmicks rather than face it head-on. Thus, though we should only wish him
well, Professor Hayward's appointment is a symptom of, rather than a remedy to,
the failings of American higher-ed.
Bellin is assistant editor of Minding the Campus.
Creating academic posts specifically designated for
conservatives is a bad idea. It sounds like what might appeal to
successful business people or entrepreneurs accustomed to buying what they
believe they need or want. But good teachers and researchers are not
properly assessed by their political orientation.
Indeed, I thought this was the substance of the charge against today's academy
- that it is dominated by politically motivated criteria, invariably of a
liberal or leftist orientation. If that's the charge, then I agree with
Accordingly, formally designating "conservative" faculty positions is not
the way to address this problem. The most important quality of a good
academic is not his or her political views or conclusions, but their
disposition and character. I'm not talking here about how they treat
their pets or their children. I'm talking about how they frame questions
and indeed what questions they ask - of themselves and of the world around them.
And how vigorously they assess the evidence - especially the counter-evidence -
relevant to those questions. In my experience, "objectivity" is not best
understood as an end point or a destination, but as a process - as posture
toward evidence and toward the world. Academics for whom objectivity is
not defined by where their research ends up but more by how they get there, in
my experience, make the best colleagues and the best teachers. This
is admittedly a rare quality in academic life today, but it has probably always
been in short supply. But it won't be abetted or enhanced by committees
looking to fill designated "conservative" posts.
Peter Skerry is Professor of Political
Science at Boston College.
idea of a visiting professor of conservative thought is perfectly acceptable on
academic grounds, just so long as the selection criteria do not include,
formally or informally, any requirement that the appointee be conservative.
That, at any rate, is how matters should function in an ideal academic
world. In the world we live in, however, the creation of this
professorship had everything to do with hiring an individual who would teach
conservative thought from a conservative perspective. To put it more bluntly, I
suspect that everyone involved in this process knew that the person chosen must
be a conservative. As objectionable as a professorship so defined may be in
theory, under prevailing circumstances it is justified in practice. If the
University of Colorado is like so many other top-tier universities,
conservative voices and the conservative perspective are scarcely to be heard.
This is no accident, but a result of discrimination that runs so deep that its
proponents are usually unaware of their own prejudices. University faculties in
the arts and humanities are liberal fiefdoms, pure and simple. This regrettable
situation is not likely to change soon.
forget the ideal world. With the appointment of Steven Hayward, students at the
University of Colorado will be able to learn from one of the most engaging
minds of our day. They will profit immensely from this opportunity, and who
knows but that Professor Hayward's colleagues, if they admit him to their
circle, may also learn a useful lesson in open-mindedness.
James Ceaser is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.
(Photo: Steven Hayward. Credit: University of Colorado.)