Monday, March 5, 2012

Conservative's Academic Indoctrination Myth

from: The Economist's View

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Discrediting Academic Voices

Does college make students more liberal and less religious? Nope:
The Indoctrination Myth, by Neil Gross, Commentary, NY Times: THE Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently ... called colleges and universities “indoctrination mills” for godless liberalism. But is this true? Does attending college actually make you more liberal and less religious? Research indicates that the answer is: not so much.
It’s certainly true that professors are a liberal lot and that religious skepticism is common in the academy. ... But contrary to conservative rhetoric, studies show that going to college does not make students substantially more liberal. ... Studies also show that attending college does not make you less religious. ...
I've always thought this is more about discrediting academic voices than the supposed indoctrination itself. The author gets this:
So why do conservatives persist in attacking higher education? There’s no doubt that in terms of overall curricular content and campus culture, most colleges and universities do skew more to the left than to the right. And research by the sociologists Amy Binder and Kate Wood confirms that this can be a frustrating and alienating experience for conservative students, even if it’s not serving to indoctrinate anyone.
But that alone doesn’t explain the intensity of the animus. Doing so requires some historical perspective. Conservatives have been criticizing academia for many decades. Yet only once the McCarthy era passed did this criticism begin to be cast primarily in anti-elitist tones: charges of Communist subversion gave way to charges of liberal elitism in the writings of William F. Buckley Jr. and others. The idea that professors are snobs looking down their noses at ordinary Americans, trying to push the country in directions it does not wish to go, soon became an established conservative trope, taking its place alongside criticism of the liberal press and the liberal judiciary.
Academics provide a powerful counterforce to conservative ideas, both through evidence and argument, and to the extent those voices can be discredited, it benefits conservatives. At least politically. But there is a danger in this as well. Discrediting professors as out of touch, elitist, individuals discredits the entire institution of higher education, and this undermines our pursuit of basic science and education that will be needed to compete in a globalized economy (e.g. by making taxpayers less willing to fund these institutions). Most of the academics I know don't have a political bone in their body, and if they do it does not affect their research in any way. They simply want to find the truth, and discrediting the entire institution of higher education to mute the few who do speak out reduces our ability to solve important problems.


  1. This is a good example of a data driven view point.

  2. I have two points:

    1) If universities must offer a "powerful" alternative to prevailing political opinion, would you support affirmative action to hire more conservative faculty in places like San Francisco where the population skews left? If not, why do you believe that leftist hegemony is acceptable?

    2) By reducing the issue to a simple conservative/leftist dichotomy, the author artfully sidesteps a lot of important data. Yes, the data-driven viewpoint is ignoring data.

    Here's but one example:

    Obtain a copy of "Critical Theory Today" by Lois Tyson, a widely-used introductory textbook for English majors. Among other factual errors and omissions, often made without clear reference to a citation or source, the reader will discover:

    - That strict Freudian psychoanalysis is valid (it's not, and has been discredited since the 1950s though some of Freud's ideas and observations have been validated by experiment and empirical data).

    - That psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan can be taken seriously (he can't, and his ideas have been repeatedly disproved; see Evans's "From Lacan to Darwin" or Webster's "Cult of Lacan").

    - That Karl Marx can be taken seriously as an economist (he can't and all his key predictions have been falsified and disproved; see Bohm-Bawerk's "Karl Marx and the Close of His System" or Kolakowski's "Main Currents of Marxism").

    - That gender is a social construct (partly true, no doubt, but the textbook neglected mountains of data about innate sex differences like male and female brains processing sensory information differently in PET scans; see Sax's "Why Gender Matters").

    - That women earn less than men for doing the same job (this assertion is partly true but data from the Dept of Labor shows that when women earn less than men for the same job it's not really the same job, e.g., female doctors earn less than male doctors but the DoL classifies surgeons and GPs as 'doctors' yet men are more likely to be surgeons and work independently and for longer hours than women, who are more likely to be GPs and work shorter hours).

    - The book claimed that rape is hate crime that The Patriarchy uses to control women (but FBI and Amnesty International data show that more men are raped in prison by other men than women are raped by men in civilian life; and women commit 40% of sex crimes against boys as noted by Dube et al in their massive study "Consequences of Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim").

    I could go on, but the point is abundantly clear: the textbook was distorting and neglecting data to make political points. And when I raised objections to the factual content of the book, my professor refused to discuss singled me out for ridicule.

    Why, then, are religious conservatives who teach Creation Science singled out for criticism (and rightly so), but non-religious leftists who teach falsehoods in universities and then use mockery and ad hominem attacks against their critics somehow exempt from criticism?

  3. @Anonymous,

    "studies show that going to college does not make students substantially more liberal. Studies also show that attending college does not make you less religious."

    Use of research studies to inform opinion is what makes this "data driven". That doesn't mean it is true in some absolute sense. It only means the opinion is subject to fact, and facts are subject to change. Therefore opinion that is fact based is subject to change. This is different from religious or ideological opinions that are based on more or less ridged belief systems.

    The above piece was not written by me, but I appreciate your comments and hope that others read them as well.


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