The Dartmouth Observer

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004
The Academic Imagination

Mark Bauerlein (who debated James Panero today) has a must-read piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on liberal academia. Sample:
The first protocol of academic society might be called the Common Assumption. The assumption is that all the strangers in the room at professional gatherings are liberals. Liberalism at humanities meetings serves the same purpose that scientific method does at science assemblies. It provides a base of accord. The Assumption proves correct often enough for it to join other forms of trust that enable collegial events. A fellowship is intimated, and members may speak their minds without worrying about justifying basic beliefs or curbing emotions.
Bashing the academy for its left-leaning tendencies has been a cottage industry for some time, but to date no one, whether inside or outside academia, seems to have found a reasonable approach to enhancing intellectual diversity on campus. Conservative professors like Harvey Mansfield at Harvard and Robert George at Princeton seem content to let things be and play the role of the lone maverick. The folks at Campus Watch aren't going to achieve their goal of injecting sense into Middle Eastern Studies by publishing dossiers of "errant" professors on their pages (a practice that's since been discontinued). David Horowitz's activism looks similarly doomed to aggravate rather than result in reform. Writes Bauerlein,
That doesn't mean establishing affirmative action for conservative scholars or encouraging greater market forces in education -- which violate conservative values as much as they do liberal values. Rather, it calls for academics to recognize that a one-party campus is bad for the intellectual health of everyone. Groupthink is an anti-intellectual condition, ironically seductive in that the more one feels at ease with compatriots, the more one's mind narrows. The great liberal John Stuart Mill identified its insulating effect as a failure of imagination: "They have never thrown themselves into the mental condition of those who think differently from them." With adversaries so few and opposing ideas so disposable, a reverse advantage sets in. The majority expands its power throughout the institution, but its thinking grows routine and parochial. The minority is excluded, but its thinking is tested and toughened. Being the lone dissenter in a colloquy, one learns to acquire sure facts, crisp arguments, and a thick skin.
Bauerlein doesn't actually offer any specific prescriptions, but his approach is essentially correct. Conservatives have to stop whining and ridiculing liberal professors, no matter how silly things get. Those outside academia need to engage sensible leftist professors, not all of whom are somewhere to the left of Che Guevara. Those inside academia (especially those with tenure) need to do the same, both in private and in public. Conservative students ought not to be afraid to speak out -- respectfully -- against professors whom they disagree politically with, and more of their kind should be encouraged to pursue tenure-track positions in the humanities and social sciences.