Freefall of the American University
Jim Nelson Black
Jim Nelson Black is founder and senior analyst with Sentinel Research Associates in Washington, DC, and former executive director of the public-policy think tank, the Wilberforce Forum. He earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature and languages at the University of Texas at Arlington, and completed his final year of doctoral study and dissertation research at the Sorbonne, in Paris. He is a member of the National Association of Scholars and a former professor of English and world literatures at unversities in the U.S., Europe, and North Africa. In addition, Dr. Black has written six books on social and cultural issues, including his newest, Freefall of the American University.
"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle." With these words, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began their short dissertation on the rise of the working class and the fall of capitalism, known as the Communist Manifesto. The revolutionary ideas contained in that seminal work set out the principles of "scientific socialism," pitting the workers of the world, the proletariat, against the middle class professionals, merchants, and aristocrats identified by Marx as the bourgeoisie. "All previous movements," Marx said, "were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority."
In the summer of 1848, when that tract first appeared in London, all of Europe was in a welter of economic stagnation brought about by years of crop failures and civil unrest. Riots that broke out in Paris in early February led eventually to the ouster of King Louis Philippe and the establishment of a national assembly. A series of bloody clashes was finally put down in June by the military, and a republican government was organized with Louis Napoleon (the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) as the new French president. During that year, revolts also erupted in Austria, Prussia, Italy, and Hungary, but in each case the rebels were crushed. Thus, the Revolutions of 1848 came to an end, but that was not to be the end of the matter.
"In bourgeois society," Marx had said, "the past dominates the present; in Communist society, the present dominates the past." History, he argued, was only a record of the exploitation of the workers for the benefit of their masters, and the revolution would put an end to the past. A foreshadowing of what was actually to come in 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, was to be seen in Marx’s declaration that the communist enterprise would be an endless crusade to transform society, first by abolishing private property, then by redefining the family and transferring authority for the education of children from the home to the state. All this, along with appropriate industrial reforms, would lead to a worker’s paradise within the new classless, borderless society that would arise from the ashes of the old order. "The Communist revolution," Marx confessed, "is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas."(1)
Conflict and Change
While Europe struggled with all these things for the next seventy years, it was not until the 1930s, in the wake of the Great Depression when millions of American workers lost their jobs, that the threat of communism became a reality on this side of the Atlantic. By 1933, one American worker in four was out of work. The collapse of the New York financial markets combined with agonizing droughts across the Great Plains led to the dislocation of thousands of families and an atmosphere of widespread anger and resentment. A soft Marxism, like that of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, threatened greater chaos during much of that decade.
The New Deal programs of the Roosevelt administration forestalled most of the violence by providing jobs and subsistence for millions, but it wasn’t until the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939 that the Marxists’ hopes of revolution in America were dashed. The ideals of the Communist Manifesto didn’t disappear, however; they simply went underground where they would appeal especially to artists, writers, and intellectuals. Some of these people joined the movement, convinced that the bubble of capitalism would soon burst, as in 1929. Others were attracted by the mystique of revolutionary culture—the lure of dark secrets, clandestine meetings, hidden meanings, and subterfuge. Thus, many in the elite classes began to see the utopian society that Marx had promised as a reality yet to come, and they began to work toward that end.
But the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 brought a new reality. The entire world watched as the Soviet empire collapsed under its own weight, done in finally by capitalism and President Reagan’s threat of an unrelenting military build-up. The communist dream of world domination, it seemed, had at last disappeared. The subsequent fall of governments in Eastern Europe shocked many, and one by one the communist leaders of Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and a dozen more, were deposed and the former command economies were transformed into market economies. Meanwhile, Russia, under Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin, underwent unprecedented "restructuring" and "openness to the West." Those terms, popularized in the media as Perestroika and Glasnost, soon became not just bargaining chips of global diplomacy but the realities of everyday life in the East.
To be fair, these events involved a process of change that Marx had predicted, saying that when the process of dissolution begins, the real struggle will be a battle of ideas waged among the ranks of the intelligentsia. In the Manifesto he says:
Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the process of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole."(2 )
Alas, this is where we find the universities today, populated to a surprising degree by a generation of bourgeois ideologists schooled in the faddish Marxism of the sixties. These men and women, who cut themselves adrift from the common culture and traditional beliefs, have taken the reins of power in the schools and are now laboring to transform the basic structures of society from the bottom up. In this, I’m reminded of the often-quoted boast of Norman Thomas, a Princeton-educated Presbyterian minister and a founding member of the ACLU who was defeated six times in his bid for the White House on the Socialist Party ticket.
TheMost PC Departments
Departments to be especially wary of: Humanities (esp. English, which has thrown out "Dead White European Males" and instated "relevant" unknowns); all studies from race/gender/sexuality perspectives, such as Modern Ethnic Studies, Black Studies, Chicano or Hispanic Studies, Women’s Studies, Queer Studies. Don’t pay for a student to major in these; they’re mostly propaganda and ranting about "feelings" and mistreatment. No jobs await these graduates.
In 1952, no doubt, his words provoked only laughter, but today they offer a more somber warning. Thomas had once said in a candid interview that, "The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism, but under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without ever knowing how it happened." By 1970, both Thomas and Gus Hall, the perennial candidate of the Communist Party USA, gave up their quest for the presidency because, as they said, the two major parties had already adopted their platforms. But their legacy is with us still.
The socialism of the academy today bears the tell-tale markings of the type of society prescribed by Marx: it is a controlled economy, fueled by large outside interests, and devoted to a radical transformation of culture. For all that, the university is a place of intrigue and innuendo. There are so many rumors, factions, and internecine power struggles on the typical campus that it makes the court of Napoleon III look like a tea party. In this environment, where the quest for truth has long since been superseded by the clash of competing theories, the practical concerns of students and the demands of learning are often lost in the shuffle.
Among the most eye-opening statements in Professor Harvey Mansfield’s Wall Street Journal article about grade inflation is the observation that, "Our liberals own our universities. To be a conservative professor in America—and especially at the most prestigious universities—is a lonely life spent fighting down your indignation, perfecting your sarcasm, and whistling in the wind. Liberals are so much in charge that they hardly know it."(3) Liberal orthodoxy has subdued all contenders; political correctness, despite the intramural rivalries and general discord among departments and faculties, is the common currency on every American campus.
This is a fact that should be troubling for parents and alumni, but according to a recent national survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, the number of leftist faculty members on campus is still rising. Among the 55,521 faculty and administrators at 416 colleges and universities nationwide, researchers found that the number identifying themselves as either "liberal" or "far left" has grown from 42 to 48 percent in the past three years, while the number calling themselves "conservative" or "far right" remains a modest 18 percent. In the middle, unwilling to admit to either label, are the 34 percent who identified themselves as "middle-of-the-road" politically. In any case, the trend is clearly to the left, as it has been for decades, particularly among women faculty, where the number of "liberal" or "far left" professors has increased from 45 percent to 54 percent.(4)
The End of Truth
This steady drift to the left puts a majority of the faculty, especially in elite colleges and universities, solidly in the Marxist camp. But the real danger of the new "progressive" orthodoxy on campus is that leftist thought today holds no regard for truth. I hasten to say that this is neither a calumny nor a rhetorical flourish on my part but a simple statement of fact. Postmodernist theory which dominates the academy is founded on the idea that truth is relative and ultimately unknowable; and relativism in all its forms holds that, since all truths are equal and none is superior, "truth" is merely a political or preferential claim rather than a valid category of judgment. Further, the modern university’s devotion to policies such as diversity, tolerance, and multiculturalism has transformed the whole basis of judgment into a near sacred rite. As Bradford Wilson has said:
There is a deeper and far greater threat to freedom of speech, and even of thought, on the campuses… It is an orthodoxy that, in the name of diversity and multiculturalism, has elevated sensitivity over the love of truth, political consensus over disinterested inquiry, and intolerance of disagreement and contempt for "Western civilization" over political and intellectual pluralism. To accuse someone of not favoring diversity, Allan Bloom once said, is "enough to send him scampering with his tail between his legs." To think aloud, in a critical spirit, about diversity is impiety. To do so privately is to commit a sin.(5 )
When you examine the public record on organizations such as the Department of Education, American Association of University Professors, American Association of University Women, Modern Language Association, American Historical Association, American Psychological Association, and many others, along with the National Education Association and the unions and activist groups dealing primarily with primary and secondary education, you can’t miss the uniformly liberal perspective that informs and animates everything they do. For these progressives the past means next to nothing: as Marx expressed it, the present dominates the past. The central idea for university elites is the idea of change—for the sake of change. And as Senator Hubert Humphrey once said, nothing better defines the liberal view today.
The most singular responsibility of government is "to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America," and to mobilize the assets and resources of the nation to safeguard the interests of the people. The most important role of any government is to defend its citizens against enemies "foreign and domestic." Yet, when it comes to protection from dangerous ideologies and the anti-American brainwashing that infects our institutions of higher learning, the government of the United States has failed. It is true that some individuals and agencies have spoken out—most notably the National Commission on Excellence in Education which in 1983, under the guidance of New York University’s Dr. Paul Vitz, dared to point out the failures of public education. But, in general, our government agencies have joined sides with the academics and the professional associations to advance a liberal agenda. Not only have they failed to intervene in the debates that have allowed liberals to dominate the academy, but they are also complicit in the fraud that passes for education at all levels.
As serious as the corruptions described in these pages may be, it’s important to recognize that none of this could have happened without the complicity and silence of the individuals, agencies, and special-interest groups that surround and influence the universities. There are many willing collaborators. Administrators, faculty members, and academic institutes are abetted in their work by government bureaucrats and their agencies, teachers unions and guilds of various sorts, the mass media above all, and even by parents who either aren’t paying attention or don’t want to get involved in the battles raging in the schools. Without their silence and moral equivocation, the freefall of the American university could not have happened.
This is a point that emerged most clearly in my conversation with Dr. Dallas Willard, a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, and a distinguished author and lecturer in philosophy and ethics. "A few weeks ago," I said to him, "I met with a young man at Bowdoin College who told me that a couple of days after President Bush’s speech to the nation following 9/11, the faculty called a forum to review the speech and talk about the issues it raised. What surprised him, he told me, was the fact that the faculty members were horrified by what Bush had said while the students generally agreed that it was a great patriotic speech."
"It’s an example of what I call ‘the politics of contempt,’" said Dr. Willard. "This is now the main form of political thinking by those on the left. I have to admit that conservatives are not entirely without blame on this point, but the liberals have refined it to an art form. It’s accusation by innuendo, name-calling, and suggestion. If you look closely, you quickly discover that they don’t have any arguments, and that’s the center of the issue. What we have now on the faculties of most universities is people who are basically governed by the professional associations. Their most important contacts are not with students or even fellow faculty members, and certainly not with the administration, but with their professional associations."
"They’ve got to be published in the right journals if they expect to get tenure and be promoted," I said. "But does this mean that they care more about the colleagues they see maybe once or twice a year than they care about the ones they see everyday?"
"Absolutely," he said. "This is because the conditions of their success are tied to that. You see, the university no longer evaluates its faculty; it asks other people to evaluate them, and these other people are people who are considered to be the luminaries in their professions. Professionalism had not really taken hold in the American university system until the seventies. It hadn’t taken hold in the sixties, partly because the number of people involved in higher education in the forties and fifties was still so small. It wasn’t like it is now, but the GI Bill changed a lot of that. Things like avoiding the draft changed it, as well. One of the interesting things that happened in the sixties is that whole segments of the population that never would have thought about going to college before were suddenly coming in.
"When I started teaching at USC," he said, "the annual dinner for the American Psychological Association was about 10 to 15 people. They were the ones who were active. Now it’s thousands of people, and they don’t have the dinners anymore. When you go to the APA Convention in New York or Boston, you see these massive crowds. Faithfulness to things like truth and research and students and love for teaching is nowhere to be seen: it’s all about reputation and standing and how you’re evaluated by your peers."
The End of Teaching
I said, "It’s shocking to realize that even senior professors no longer consider teaching to be their primary objective."
"Yes, I agree," he said. "But it’s very interesting. The reward for faculty members who do good work is more research and less teaching. I once asked a group of senior administrators, ‘If the reward for good research is more research, then why isn’t the reward for good teaching more teaching?’ They didn’t really have an answer for that. It’s not what most professors are interested in."
"Several of the students I’ve seen recently," I said, "told me that part of the problem is that they rarely if ever see an actual faculty member. They see them sometimes for the first lecture, but then it’s teaching assistants and discussion-group leaders for most of the actual class sessions."
"Yes, and they’re not the quality of TAs we used to have," he said, "precisely because they’re not interested in the fundamental things: truth, honest research, and pouring their knowledge of the subject into their students."
"Professors have always chosen TAs because they see something in them," I said. "It used to be that professors would say, ‘I see something in that person that can be developed, and I want to guide them along and help them to become serious scholars.’ But that’s changed. And I suspect that many on the left are saying, ‘Aha! Here’s someone who will buy everything I say!’ So they set out to shape and mold that person into a perfect little clone."
"Yes, and that goes to the heart of the matter," said Dr. Willard. "No longer do you evaluate a person in terms of their arguments; rather, you evaluate their arguments in terms of their position. And if the position is wrong, if they’re not in some role that automatically confers distinction, then you don’t need to bother with them. So ad hominem attacks on people are now standard fare. They say, ‘You hold certain views, therefore you’re disqualified from serious consideration.’
"And that also means disqualifying outstanding people like Justices Scalia and Thomas, or even Chief Justice Rehnquist, because they hold generally conservative views. It’s outrageous, but that’s what’s happening."
Least PC Departments
Government (in some cases), hard sciences (not environmentalism), Math, and Computer Sciences are more objective majors for undergrads. Classes to seek out: Any course by a truly excellent teacher. Liberal professors who allow a "balanced" view to be presented are fine. Look for tips on student websites or in books that rate professors. Follow them to any subject or department; you will learn.
"Sociologically," he said, "this goes hand-in-hand with something that started in the 1880s but didn’t really take hold until the 1940s, and that is divorcing the universities from their religious foundations. In 1848, as George Marsden reports, two-thirds of the presidents of the state colleges were clergymen. The nineteenth century still valued the importance of religious instruction, and that’s why they chose people who were religiously trained to administer public education. But things began to change about that time and the primary battles were fought around people who were willing to put their minds away to protect their denominational distinctives.
"At the center of this," Dr. Willard said, "was what they called ‘The 39 Distinctives’ of the Anglican church, and there were some horrendous battles during those years as more and more professors began to resist loyalty oaths of one sort or another. You had to swear fealty to those 39 articles or you weren’t allowed to teach. Sometimes it was subtle and sometimes it was brutal, but it was a bad policy, and something had to happen."
"So was this going on in Britain and the U.S. at the same time?" I asked.
"It was a different denominational setting at Harvard and Yale than they had in Great Britain," he said. "It was important for the universities to divorce themselves from the church, but it was not necessary for them to throw the teachings of the church away in the process. Some of the reformers wanted to find ways to maintain a theological position, but they never managed to do that, so there was a wave of defections followed by a wave of institutions arising to combat that. Some of the most aggressive ones were not founded so much as institutions of higher learning as they were institutions for people who wanted to remain Baptists or Methodists or Catholics, or whatever."
"Sounds like they wanted to create their own alternative world," I said.
"Yes, it was an alternative world," he said, "but now that wave of colleges is on their way out."
"Which is not a bad thing," I said, "so long as they have the capacity to maintain both intellectual rigor and spiritual discipline."
"They have to do that," he said, "but the question is, How to do it?, and that hasn’t been solved yet in the university setting. James Davison Hunter’s book, Evangelicals in the Coming Generation, really tells that story. But if a college president who is a Christian reads that book, what’s he going to do? What’s he going to do about the situation that Hunter describes, where you have a faculty that is mostly Christian while many of the students simply don’t believe the things the school says they need to believe?"
"They don’t adhere to the school’s charter anymore?" I said.
"No, they don’t," he said. "So you have those two things sociologically: the divorce of the universities from the church and the loss of spiritual discipline, or any religious principles."
No Place for Truth
"America’s founding documents held that religion and moral instruction were essential for the maintenance of good government," I said, "and this, they believed, was why schools were to be established in every community—for the education and moral instruction of the children. But that idea is considered intellectual heresy these days."
He said, "It’s also why the first spelling books and copy books, like the McGuffey’s Readers, taught children how to read and write using Scripture verses for instruction and writing practice. They would say things like, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ and students would practice their penmanship by writing that phrase over and over in the copy books."
"Now we find ourselves in the position of having the words, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,’ carved over the gates of our great universities. At Harvard," I said, "they’re on the walls of the Widener Library, but nobody knows where they come from."
"Those words of Jesus," said Dr. Willard, "tell us what the university is supposed to be about. It’s the one statement, in fact, most often carved into the walls of universities around the world. But, as you say, few make the connection to the one who spoke those words.
"Sociologically, it was the divorce of the universities from the church," he said, "that led to the divorce of the intellectual enterprise from the church. I believe that was not necessary, but after the Civil War the country began to realize that the development of knowledge was an economic and political necessity. That’s when the German model of the research university first appeared in this country. The British model, which was designed to teach truth and train character, was put aside. So today every college wants to be a university and every university wants to be a research institution. None of them wants to be a knowledge university any longer. The idea of teaching students specific information has become a laughable proposition."
"No one wants to train the next generation in the values of the current generation," I said, "which means that the fundamentals of Western civilization are scorned and virtually forbidden on most campuses. I spoke to Donald Kagan at length about the controversy at Yale over the proposal from Lee and Perry Bass to expand the history curriculum. The faculty simply wouldn’t consider it, and the administration drug their heels so long the money went away. It was a total dismissal of the idea of Western civilization. The professors at Yale said, in effect, ‘How outrageous of you to ask us to put $20 million into a program that teaches the history of our culture!’"
"It didn’t make sense to them," he said, "and that’s the tragedy. That’s because the only moral model left is the model of the ‘rebel,’ and the rebel’s job is to attack hypocrisy."
"We tend to think so much has changed since the sixties," I said, "but in reality not much has really changed, because the only thing the Left had to offer when they took over at Berkeley and Columbia was invective, accusations, name-calling, and anger. They had nothing to go on but untested theories and empty rhetoric, and that’s what we see from leftist faculty members in university lecture halls to this day."
"The Marxist idea was that rhetoric is everything, and everything is political," he said. "And, of course, people like Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty are still saying that. Rorty famously defined truth as ‘whatever your colleagues will let you get away with.’ What they will let you get away with today depends on your rhetoric, and your rhetoric depends upon being an outsider or a rebel, and having that model. In the classrooms, people can morally pontificate ad nauseum, so long as it’s against traditional values, because that means they’re a rebel, they’re authentic, and there’s even the possibility they’re persecuted for their ‘courage.’ So that’s the standard, and then you get all the sub-rhetoric that comes out of the specializations. And that means you’re really okay because someone else in your area of specialization says you’re okay."
"If you pass muster at the APA," I said, "then, ‘You’re okay by me!’"
"Precisely," he said, "I think that’s the sociology on the issue of change."
"How about students?" I said. "How have they changed since the sixties?"
"One of the wonderful things about our students," he said, "is that they’re new, and they’re still young. But they’re tremendously gun-shy."
"The faculty member is like a super-parent," I said, "and if he or she doesn’t like..."
"Oh, no!" he said abruptly. "They don’t admit that. It’s the old in loco parentis principle. The model now is to deny in loco parentis while you practice it in the classroom. One of the things you have to understand about the present situation is that professors influences students’ thinking by their body language, intonation, by the things they assign and the things they don’t assign. They negotiate a position of objective distance but with authority over the moral context of the classroom. The university may have no use for religion anymore, but it teaches a morality that’s more rigorous than any Puritanism you’ve ever seen! All you have to do is get cross-wise with it and you’ll find out suddenly that you’re a bad person!"
Losing the Logic
After a moment of reflection, I said, "I was very disturbed by my conversation with a student at UCLA who told me his professor asked for a show of hands to see which students had voted Republican in 2000. When this young man raised his hand, the professor basically called him an idiot, and said, ‘How could you be so stupid?!’ I asked the young man if he was the only person in the room who had voted Republican, and he said, ‘No! I’m sure at least half of them did, but I was the only one with the guts to raise my hand.’"
"That’s exactly what happens," said Dr. Willard, "and that’s what I mean by their being gun-shy. If any student attempts to take a position that is not anointed by the faculty, they’re shot down immediately, and in such a way that they’re much less inclined to try it again next time. I was talking with a young woman a couple of days ago who said a professor asked if anyone in the class believed in Satan. As a Christian, she of course did, so she put her hand up, and she was the only one who did. Now, I know this person and she’s one of the brightest students at USC and the professor knew that, too. And he just about blew a fuse, and he started taking her apart bit by bit, and he wouldn’t let up. After class a large number of students came up to her and said, ‘We’re so ashamed that we didn’t stand up with you, but we knew what he was going to say and we just didn’t want to be attacked.’
"You see," he added, "the students discover very quickly that the system isn’t fair, and I think this is where students have to start suing professors. Your young man should sue that professor for abuse."
"I’m generally against grievance litigation," I said, "but I think you may be right about that. If no one stands up and says, ‘You can’t do that to your students!’ then it will never stop. And what makes me angry is that the students are paying the salaries of the people who are doing that, which means they’re paying to be abused!"
"The ironic thing," he said, "is that alumni and the public generally cannot believe that this is happening. They would never believe what’s actually being done in the classrooms at these large universities. But it’s not just that students are called idiots. It’s worse than that. Students are made to feel like idiots. Professors tell them that certain kinds of people are idiots, and if they just happen to be that kind of person, then they know where they fit in. So they learn to keep a low profile."
"The sad thing," I said, "is that those who are not critical thinkers are made to believe that the leftist notions being peddled by their professors are actually mainstream, so therefore if they want to fit in then they’d better believe that, too."
"There are courses on all these campuses called ‘critical thinking,’ run by the government," he said. "They aren’t critical thinking in any sort of logical or philosophical sense; it means criticizing all these people with whom you happen to disagree. You’re not learning to think, you’re learning ‘group-think,’ and it’s a fraud. It’s so ironic, because most of these people don’t know the first thing about critical thinking and wouldn’t recognize it if it ran over them in the middle of the street. The teaching of simple logic has disappeared."
"A professor at another university," I said, "told me he’d once asked the chairman of the art department why they no longer offered a basic survey in Art Appreciation. And the response, which shocked me, was ‘Who would teach it?’ More than likely it would have to be a junior professor, and he wouldn’t be qualified. Furthermore, professors today are so specialized in these tiny, esoteric subjects that they don’t have any sort of comprehensive knowledge of their own discipline. I think it would be shocking to most parents to learn that nobody on campus is qualified to teach the history of their discipline. That’s shocking!"
"Unfortunately, that’s true in every field," Willard said. "The one thing you do not learn in your field is the history of it. And one reason is because it would be embarrassing, because regardless what your field may be, what you would inevitably find is the deeply Christian roots of that discipline."
"Particularly the sciences," I said.
"And also the social sciences," he added, "which were basically founded in France by Christians—Claude Saint-Simon and others; Auguste Comte eventually took it over and made it atheistic, because he was looking for the "religion of humanity"—but no one knows this because the history of the disciplines has largely disappeared. I would have to say this is less true in philosophy than most other majors, due to the historical and empirical nature of the subject matter, but it’s still true.
"The other thing is that logic has disappeared, as well," he said. "There are reasons for this, of course. But think about the implications of that. Once history and logic are jettisoned, what guidelines do you follow? What goes into the curriculum? Political interest groups and career advancement are practically the only guides we have left for deciding what goes into the university catalog."
A Wake-Up Call
"If you pause to think about how the curriculum has been altered to favor certain politically correct perspectives and ideologies," I said, "you see why this would have to happen. Logic is like a fact of nature: logic gives you rules by which you can judge the truth or falsehood of any statement. If the faculty are afraid that what they want to teach can’t pass the test of truth, then the last thing they want is students who are trained in logic and have the ability to challenge them."
"That’s exactly right," he said. "I’m sure there are sessions at the Modern Language Association, the American Psychological Association, and the Comparative Literature Association, or whatever it’s called, where logic is attacked as a Eurocentric male conspiracy, and people like Derrida and the deconstructionists are behind it. Logic, they say, is oppressive, and prevents them from extrapolating beyond the range of the known. You don’t want to be restrained by something like logic, for God’s sake!"
"Destroy truth and you can do whatever you like," I said. "If God is dead, as Dostoevsky, Sartre, and others expressed it, everything is permitted. And basically that seems to be the point. If they can get rid of the natural laws, and especially the theology that restrains them, then they can do whatever they like with impunity."
"That was extended by Nietzsche and others to truth," Dr. Willard said, "because they came to see that it wasn’t enough just to get rid of God; they had to get rid of truth, too. And you have to think of reasoning only as rationalization. A lot of this stuff comes to a head in the nineteenth century. Nietzsche, especially in the literature department, is often regarded as ‘The’ great man on campus; I don’t think he wrote a thing that could pass as a Ph.D. dissertation in any philosophy department, but he is lionized by the academic elite.
"It’s pathetic, the kind of so-called reasoning that goes on in many departments," he added. "It’s basically in the form of telling stories, or meta-narratives as they’re called. Nietzsche tells little stories about how the slave morality of the Jews and Jesus triumphs over the noble morality of the people—there’s not a shred of historical reality to it, but it appeals to a certain kind of audience. He tells a story he’s invented out of whole cloth and people who want to believe that Christian morality is nothing they need to deal with will accept that story, and so much of the fascination with ‘deep interpretation’ and postmodernist theorizing turns out to be story-telling."
"What frightens me," I said. "is not so much the story, because ultimately lies will be shown up as lies. Unless, of course, you have de-educated the receiver of those lies to the point that they can’t question what they’re told. It seems like that’s where the public schools have been complicit in this whole ordeal. It almost had to start there so it could eventually work its way up through the universities. The point was to build a cadre of ignorant people who then end up teaching illiterates who have no knowledge of the facts. I believe that’s the only way they could sell some of these ideas; and what does frighten me is that they have done this over the past thirty years, so that today, from kindergarten through graduate school, the sources of truth have been turned upside down. Entire generations of young people don’t know the essential facts of our history or culture."
"And they think they’re educated because they’ve gone to school," he said.
"The only thing worse," I said, "is that a great many of them don’t even care. What troubled me most when I was teaching was not so much that students didn’t know much about the subjects they were studying but that they didn’t much care, and didn’t really want to know. We’ve always had people like that, but they never made it into the universities. Now suddenly we have students with no real interest in learning—let alone of doing responsible research of their own—ending up with teaching diplomas, masters degrees, and even Ph.D.s, who don’t have the basic educational attainment or study skills, and they end up being hired to teach our children."
"We had one guy a few years back who couldn’t read and he received his bachelor’s degree," Dr. Willard said. "He even started teaching. He had never been in a course where he had to read; all he had to do was listen and take multiple-choice exams, and fill in the blanks. He was smart enough to find ways to do that. He eventually wrote a book about his experience and how he pulled it off. He said he found ways to get other people to do things for him that he couldn’t do. And he learned how to listen.
"When I saw that," he added, "it made me think of the famous experiments with ‘Hans the Intelligent Horse,’ who was supposed to be able to count. They would say, ‘How many apples are on the table?’ and Hans would paw the dirt three times, and it was astonishing, but they discovered that when Hans couldn’t see his trainer, he couldn’t count. He was getting his clues from the trainer’s body language, and I suspect a lot of that goes on at the highest levels, reading body language. Students are experts at it. When they come into the classroom, they watch for clues to find out what sort of person this teacher is going to be, whether he’s smart or mean or a push-over or whatever, and they’re looking for clues on how they can get the grades they want with the least amount of effort."
"It makes you wonder if they want an education or just a diploma," I said.
Dr. Willard smiled and said, "I often ask my students when I take up their tests, ‘Did you believe what you wrote?’ They always laugh because they know you don’t have to believe it: you just have to know the answers. So they have developed a form of life that totally insulates them from this system that they’re stuck in."
"In a column earlier this year," I said, "George Will offered the sad truism that the main preoccupations of university administrators today are parking for faculty, football for alumni, and sex for students. That’s outrageous but, sadly, I suspect it’s probably true."
"It’s an exaggeration, of course, but like most humor it contains a grain of truth," he said.
"In a couple of my interviews with students," I said, "I heard of parents who grew up in the sixties and they were really upset when their kids became conservatives. They said, ‘College is for experimentation, for sex and parties, and trying stuff you’ve never done before!’ The freefall of morality is of no concern to them, even though it can have devastating consequences, both physically and emotionally. But kids in that situation are getting it from both sides; not only are they getting it from the faculty who are pushing them to try it all, but parents are pushing them as well. My long-term hope is that I can wake up some of these people to what they’re doing to their children."
The Failure of Atheism
"Obviously, a lot of parents don’t have any idea what’s really happening on campus," he said. "But now that you’ve been all around the country doing these interviews, do you get the feeling that the academy is in denial about what’s happening?"
"As a matter of fact," I said, "Arnold Beichman at the Hoover Institution suggested I read the new book by Haynes and Klehr called In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage, so I’ve been taking it with me to read on the plane. Essentially it says that professional historians in this country have defended the whole sordid history of socialism and communism, and they’re in denial about the tragic consequences of that belief system throughout its entire history. Because they refuse to admit the dark secrets of the death camps, of mind-control, and the other horrors of socialist indoctrination, the Left in this country has been pushing socialism down our throats so successfully that it’s now the dominant view—not just in the history departments but in the university as a whole. Liberals on the campuses refuse to see that the values of Western capitalist societies are just the opposite of that. Wherever you look, you find that benevolent free-market economies have lifted people out of darkness and put them in charge of their own lives. But the academy refuses to see any of that. Instead, they just look the other way, and continue defending the evils of Marxism and socialism."
So Much for Tolerance
"We cannot tolerate the intolerable!"
—College administrator, when a student was "offended" by a
Christian magazine found in a DePauw University classroom
"I believe there’s an element of truth to that," Dr. Willard responded, "but I think you need to be sure and do justice to the good will of many of these people. I think where many of the books on the problems with the modern university go wrong is that they come across as attacking the intentions of these people. What one has to do, I believe, is to recognize that there’s a problem; an ego investment often leads people to falsify facts in order to make things come out at the right place. It’s the same way with the media, when you look at the liberal bias of the media. For the most part, they’re very liberal, but frankly, they’re also uncomprehending of what people are talking about when they accuse them of liberal bias. They don’t intend to be biased, so they protest their innocence. But if you don’t want to be biased, you have to take an active stand against it. I wish I could teach logic more often, but when I do teach it, I tell the students that being logical is a moral commitment. You have to take this as something you do to be a good person, and if you don’t do that, you’ll be overrun."
"That’s another reason why logic is foundational to any course of study," I said.
"Another thing is that a lot of people within the professoriate don’t really understand the positions that are dominating the academy," he said. "That’s less true in the sciences, but it’s overwhelmingly true in the humanities. They’re dominated by glittering personalities and phraseology and they go to professional meetings and warm themselves in that glow for a while, but they don’t understand the issues or the arguments. There are exceptions, of course, but if you take the ordinary person on a faculty in a good university and ask them to explain a position that is behind some popular position, they will generally not be able to do it."
"Especially in political science," I said. "If you look back into the history of the profession, you eventually come to people like John Locke and John Stuart Mill, and the ideologues on the faculty can’t deal with that because they’ve long since turned all that stuff into invective. They have a certain number of catch phrases to say about Locke or Mill or Hume or de Tocqueville, but their knowledge level is not much deeper than that."
"To make a serious debate," he said, "they would need to spend a year studying Locke, but they haven’t done that. They get their Ph.D.s now by learning to play ping-pong in the academic journals. You can earn a Ph.D. if you start doing something that might function in that field, but you don’t have to know the history of your subject."
"That sort of mentality has happened to a lot of intellectual endeavors," I said, "not just political science, but the humanities, history, and much more."
"That’s right," he said. "Too often these days research just means coming up with weird stuff."
"So someone like Peter Singer gets a richly endowed chair at Princeton for coming up with the idea that mothers can murder their babies up to the age of three," I said.
"That’s exactly right," he said. "The underlying premise of the modern academic enterprise is that something has been found out. Someone somewhere has found out that there is no God, that the Bible is a made up bunch of fiction, that no one really knows anything about truth, and this just infects the whole system. It turns the intellectual world into a rumor mill and the center of that is the university, which is now the dominant authority in our culture."
"And if it’s not checked somehow," I said, "it can destroy the entire culture."
"It will do it," he said, "if nothing else, just by negligence of teaching what is fundamental for human life."
"So was Nietzsche right?" I asked. "Has the university succeeded in killing God?"
"Yes, Nietzsche was right," he said. "He was right in saying that this world cannot remain the same if you accept the idea that God is dead. There isn’t a single field of knowledge, including divinity—or ‘religious studies’ as it’s sometimes called—where belief in the reality of God is a part of the essential knowledge. No one proved that, of course; it was decided through a process. It was not true, but there is this idea that someone somewhere found out that all that Christian stuff was wrong. So now the university has become a rumor mill.
"There’s a fascinating book," he continued, "by A.N. Wilson called God’s Funeral which shows you all the absurd arguments that convinced people that God was irrelevant. On the other side is a book by Owen Flanagan called The Problem of the Soul, which is merely the most recent stroke in the battle. Basically it’s an attempt to establish decency on the basis of pure secularism, and the problem is what to do once the notion of the soul is gone. But the idea is pervasive that someone found out that all our ideas about God and the Bible are wrong. No one did, but it was decided so that the university could get on with its research without having to worry about God. Once that was decided, then the university—and the popular media who live a symbiotic life with the university—can function as a rumor mill to spread this new secular gospel."
"I cut my teeth as a young reader," I said, "on the great Russian novels, like Fathers and Sons by Turgenev and of course Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, in which the pre-Marxist brew of the late 1800s was already visible—you could see that a revolution was coming. The Bazarovs and Raskolnikovs of the world, who were a foreshadowing of Lenin and Engels and so many others, were all beating their chests saying, ‘I’m a free man! I can do whatever I wish!’ But you know, at the end of all those novels the rebels were always proved wrong. And they always had terrible lives and horrible deaths."
"The reason," said Dr. Willard, "is because all of those novels had a moral vision of human goodness, and they recognized when it was betrayed. Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and others like that, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in our own time, understood that if you betray that basic moral reality then you’ll have hell to pay. Even if they didn’t see it work out in their own society, they knew it to be true, and that’s why those novels have such a ring of truth to them today, and why our students need to be reading them over and over again."
"Then, and I suspect even now," I said, "those who say ‘There is no God!’ really believe that there probably is a God. It’s undeniable that there’s something going on in our midst that’s bigger than we are."
"Absolutely," he said. "Atheism is highly over-rated!"
One of the greatest ironies of the transformation of the American university from a center of higher learning to a center for leftist indoctrination is that it has been done under the banner of "liberalism." The common view of liberalism—its lexical definition, at least—is a view of society based on faith in the innate goodness of man and the right of individual autonomy. Classical liberalism is in favor of civil and political liberty, and a system of laws that protects each individual from the imposition of arbitrary authority. At the same time, the classical liberal favored limited government and greater freedom of expression for the individual, whereas today liberalism looks to government for its power and its funding, and to regulatory power for the right to punish any form of expression that cannot be controlled by social restraint.
As Robert Conquest has said, liberals say they believe in social justice and freedom of thought; yet, the intellectuals who prosper within our universities rely upon dogmatism, social oppression, and Marxist-style thought-control to maintain their power base. This is a puzzle(6).
It was this paradox, in fact, that attracted the interest of George Orwell, who struggled to understand the strange schizophrenia that allowed intellectuals who passionately defend freedom and equality to suddenly turn a blind eye to the brutal repression and dishonesty of Stalinism in the thirties—and, we might add, to the charlatanism of Ivory Tower Marxism today. Reacting to much the same paradox, Thomas Sowell has said that, "the grand delusion of contemporary liberals is that they have both the right and the ability to move their fellow creatures around like blocks of wood—and that the end results will be no different than if people had voluntarily chosen the same actions."(7)
The climate on the campus has been so utterly compromised by socialist thought and duplicity that university faculties and administrators willingly allow conservative opinion to be silenced. This is clearly how student publications critical of liberal bias on campus can be confiscated by outraged minorities and burned without repercussions; how faculty committees are allowed to recruit and hire only other liberals who share the dominant ideological view; how Shakespeare and Twain and Keats have been stripped from the canon and little-known (and much less-talented) radicals suddenly infused. The liberal academic has bought into the rage of the Marxist and now turns that rage against the culture that enables his right of dissent.
In testimony before a Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in October 2003, looking into the lack of intellectual diversity on the university campus, Anne Neal, who is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, addressed the atmosphere of intellectual intolerance on campus. In particular she spoke about the problems of disinviting controversial speakers, the punishment of faculty members who fail to conform to the dominant ideology, and the predominance of one-sided courses and opinions among the faculty. Students on the typical university campus live in daily fear of reprisal or caricature if they speak their minds, and they are routinely victimized by draconian speech codes and ideological litmus tests that place unfair restraints on their constitutional guarantee of free speech.
Neal’s recommendations to the committee focused primarily on the responsibility of trustees and alumni to influence change, and then on the role of government to provide suitable oversight. Trustees, she said, need to adopt resolutions that faculty members are expected to present a balanced view of topics where the issues are debated, allowing viewpoints other than their own to be explored. They should stress, further, that the focus of higher education is intellectual development and the acquisition of actual knowledge and professional skills, and not merely the manipulation of attitudes or the promotion of social and political activism.
Trustees, who are charged with overseeing the mission of these institutions, ought to insist that departments offer survey courses designed to expose students to the best that has been done and said in the field. They also need to ensure that students have a sense of the history of their discipline and not merely exposure to the latest fads. In addition, trustees and administrators should insist that speakers invited by the university or by recognized student groups represent a wide range of views. Ideological and political discrimination should not be allowed, either in the classroom or in the hiring, firing, and promotion of faculty.
Congress, said Dr. Neal, should endeavor to raise public awareness of these problems, and encourage faculty, administrators, and boards of trustees to conduct reviews from time to time to ensure that academic freedom is respected on campus and to make sure that students, parents, and the taxpayers are actually getting what they’re paying for. Congress can also target grants to promote the study and teaching of American history, politics, and law, and thus ensure that our great heritage is not forgotten or submerged under the rhetoric of the trendy specializations that now dominate the academy.
While serving as president of Yale University, Benno Schmidt warned that, "The most serious problems of freedom of expression in our society today exist on our campuses... The assumption," he said, "seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind."(8) Sadly, little has changed since he spoke those words in 1991. Renegade liberals are in charge, and students’ prospects for receiving a liberal education have never been worse. Unless we decide at long last to heed these words of warning, we will have lost the battle for freedom in America and Karl Marx will have won.
(1) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Introduction by A. J. P. Taylor. Baltimore: Penguin, 1967. 79ff.
(2) Marx 91.
(3) Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., ""To B or Not to B?" The Wall Street Journal: Dec. 20, 2001.
(4) Jennifer A. Lindholm, Alexander W. Astin, Linda J. Sax and William S. Korn, "The American College Teacher: National Norms for 2001-2002," Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, 3005 Moore Hall, Box 951521, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521.
(5) Bradford Wilson, "Free Speech, Civility, and the Campus Community," National Association of Scholars, Sept. 09, 2003. [http://www.nas.org]
(6) Robert Conquest, "Liberals and Totalitarianism," in Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball, The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1999.119f.
(7) Thomas Sowell, "Dissenting from Liberal Orthodoxy: A Black Scholar Speaks for the ‘Angry Moderates.’ Reprint 59, American Enterprise Institute, 1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.