Friday, June 04, 2010

Those #*&@^ liberals!

Now, they are trying to take over summer reading programs for incoming freshmen! Oh, the horror.

I read this story with a bit of a chuckle, and I also urge you to link to the full report in which the National Association of Scholars (NAS) argues pro-liberal attitudes or agendas are being advanced in summer reading programs.

With all due respect, give me a break.

Interestingly, and for what it is worth, I've been in higher education for 10 years (including my time in the doctoral program at the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University), and before today I had never heard of the NAS.

Perhaps the most important statement in the NAS report is this one:

"We found the preponderance of reading assignments promotes liberal social causes and liberal sensibilities. Of the 180 books, 126 (70 percent) either explicitly promote a liberal political agenda or advance a liberal interpretation of events. By contrast, the study identifies only three books (less than 2 percent) that promote a conservative sensibility and none that promote conservative political causes."

At the risk of sounding sarcastic, if such books are not being selected perhaps it is not because of their political agenda but because they are incompatible with the aims of schools' summer reading initiatives.

Of course, there is another side to this story -- college students are interested in such "liberal" books. Consider this quote from this report:

Mabel G. Freeman, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions and the first year experience at Ohio State University, said that students have embraced the books the association report criticizes. Last year's selection was Three Cups of Tea and there was so much interest in the visit by the author, Greg Mortenson, that he was asked to stay an extra day.

They asked him to stay an extra day. To me, that appears to be a solid endorsement of the selection of that book by that school.

In fact, Three Cups of Tea is a wonderful book, and one that I recommended the summer reading program at Point Park University adopt for this year. Instead, Journal for Jordan was chosen. (A link allowing you to purchase either book is available below.)

If Three Cups of Tea supports a liberal agenda, then call me shocked. It supports an idea of one person working hard, overcoming obstacles and not succumbing to dangerous opponents to get what he wants. That's liberal?

I am on the committee that selected Journal for Jordan, and I can assure you that as our group examined the options available to us this year no one -- not a single person -- overtly promoted or condemned a book because of its political ideology. In fact, our discussions focused on what the students would get out of a book, what potential assignments would flow from it, and whether we were selecting a book that students would want to read.

The author of Journal for Jordan will be coming to campus to speak to our incoming freshmen. Perhaps the same response -- please stay another day -- will happen.


Anonymous said...

4. "higher education's most vigilant watchdog" -- As assessed by whom or what? What are they protecting us from -- getting a richer education at the expense of Gordon Gecko's Greed Screed? Come on, any group or person that actually bills itself as "most" anything other than "most full of itself" cannot be trusted about anything . . . .

5. "uphold the principle of individual merit and oppose racial, gender, and other group preferences" There are clear instances where affirmative action efforts have "crossed the line" -- see Bakke or Grutter a.k.a. the Michigan undergraduate case. But I need point out that in both of those instances, the issue was not with considering race, gender, or "other group preferences" -- which means class but the NAS folks are too scared to write that because it would expose them as the elitists that they are -- but rather with the manner in which the law was interpreted and applied. In short, the court -- the SUPREME COURT, not just any one -- upheld the consideration of those characteristics to help overcome structural biases in society. Quite frankly, the NAS statement ignores that facts and conditions associated with nearly 300 years of chattel slavery in North America. It ignores Supreme Court rulings. And it uses phrases such as "preferences" to mask the fact the group of collected "scholars" have largely benefitted from centuries of preference and privilege associated therewith. In fact, these folks have a lot of chutzpah calling themselves scholars when they are pretty much ignoring the bulk of contemporary scholarship across a broad spectrum of fields.

6. "we regard the Western intellectual heritage as the indispensable foundation of American higher education" -- There they go again with the dead white European male thing. Being a living white male of European heritage, I can see why the NAS like folks like me. Trust me; I am hip and good looking. But to say that this limited pool is really the sole source of all things good completely ignores Asia, Middle Eastern, African, South American, Native American, etc., etc., contributions. In short, NAS is basically saying no one else matters. And what does the NAS mean by "American" higher education? Is it higher education on both continents? Is there some monolithic curriculum and pattern to which every institution on these two continents subscribes? Do Native Americans who became "American" by virtue of conquest and land seizure, African Americans who became "American" by virtue of having their ancestors forcibly removed from Africa, or Hispanic/Latino Americans who became Americans via their ancestors becoming citizens overnight by virtue of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo constitute something "less than American"? This is a fair question since few if any of their forbearers contributed to the Western tradition the NAS touts. Also, what happens to student and scholars of mixed-racial background -- are they partly represented in "American higher education" and partly outside of it?

The mere fact that this got coverage in Inside Higher Ed and in the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that “American Higher Education” is not dominated by “liberal scholars” but instead has its fair share of far right scholars as well. And in case you think my assertions are inaccurate, ask yourself (and David Horowitz for that matter) why “surveys” of faculty political biases generally exclude Engineering and Business faculty – two groups that comprise a significant portion of the overall faculty at most four-year colleges and universities, particularly state and land-grant flagships? Because their political leanings tend to be more conservative in nature and, as a result, would not allow Horowitz and his band of bull-banterers (which includes the NAS) to make their “empirically-based” assertions.

So it would seem that the NAS needs a watchdog as it watchdogs . . . . .

Anonymous said...

Per the NAS Website:

"NAS was founded in 1987, soon after Allan Bloom’s surprise best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind, alerted Americans to the ravages wrought by illiberal ideologies on campus. The founders of NAS summoned faculty members from across the political spectrum to help defend the core values of liberal education.

The NAS today is higher education’s most vigilant watchdog. We stand for intellectual integrity in the curriculum, in the classroom, and across the campus—and we respond when colleges and universities fall short of the mark. We uphold the principle of individual merit and oppose racial, gender, and other group preferences. And we regard the Western intellectual heritage as the indispensable foundation of American higher education. "

There are at least half a dozen ultra conservative causes and/or idols included in their "What is NAS" statement that force us to see their report and efforts in general as elitist conservative screed. These include:

1. Allan "If it's not written by a dead white European guy it's crap" Bloom

2. "ravages wrought by illiberal ideologies on campus" (Translation: Students are reading things not written by dead white European guys and are, as a result, having their minds turned to crap.) Oh, the horror; the horror . . . .

3."defend the core values of liberal education" (Translation: uphold any readings that promote the personal procurement of property, the ardent defense of laissez faire capitalism, and that overlook the inequities and excesses associated with completely unfettered capitalism.)