The Coming Decline of the Academic Left
by Ron Lipsman
The following was originally published at mindingthecampus.com on May 20, 2012, and is reprinted with permission.
It 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 U.S. ignores environmental concerns and is the world’s leading abuser of fossil-fuel sources of energy.
- The U.S.’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 U.S. 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.