RALEIGH – I am thinking about letting my kids go to college.
Got your attention? Okay. Of course, the pursuit of higher education is noble and valuable. Of course, universities have become de facto credentialing agencies for most professions. And of course, I went to college – well, to UNC-Chapel Hill, an approximation of one – as did my siblings and parents (though the latter were each first-generation grads).
I jest about the future educational careers of the Little Conqueror and the Little General because of what university campuses are in real life rather than in theory or rosy remembrances: places where the life of the mind is not truly celebrated, where academic standards are weak and constantly under assault, and where the looniest of ideas and intellectuals are afforded comfy sinecures using money received largely by confiscating the money of taxpayers and scamming the money of misled donors, rather than earned from paying customers based on value added.
Consider recent events. At Harvard, a distinguished economist and liberal Democrat was chased out of the president’s office by extremists for insisting that his professors do academic work and suggesting that hypotheses be tested by rigorous study, not political ideology or cultural prejudice. Closer to home, at Duke University, David Horowitz spoke Tuesday to a large audience, mostly students, about the absence of intellectual diversity on campus. The media coverage was dutiful but hardly comprehensive, and Horowitz was naturally accosted by the sort of semi-literate protestors who suspect that conservatives critical of the academy are secretly plotting a Nixonian reign of terror on “their” campuses. They wore T-shirts that, among other things, questioned the efforts of Horowitz to collect and disseminate student accounts of ideological bias in the classroom.
The phrase the protestors used was instructive: “narcing on professors.” In addition to being juvenile and equating university pedagogy with drug trafficking, it also suggested that students breach some kind of ethical responsibility when they object publicly to the political propaganda spewed by their teachers. That gets the issue precisely wrong. The breach of ethics is wholly the doing of the professors in question.
I should say, by the way, that I do not favor the legislative remedy Horowitz is touting, an Academic Bill of Rights to be imposed on public universities by external policymakers. I think it would cause more problems than it would alleviate (for a different view, see here). But it is a tasty bit of rhetorical turnaround on his part. For all the talk of diversity, campuses are among the least diverse institutions around when it comes to important matters of views and values.
Journey down the road a few miles and you have a preposterous debate in Chapel Hill about whether a young Iranian-American’s attempt to terrorize the population by murdering college students should be called “terrorism.” An organization of Muslim students, straining credulity in their argument that the use of the proper term would result in demonizing all Muslims, even resorted to calling the incident a “hit and run,” which would be like calling an arsonist “inattentive to fire safety.”
It would be great if our universities were actually the bastions of freedom, seriousness, and academic inquiry that their administrators and tenured propagandists claim them to be. But a large number of students, recent grads, and their parents and employers have first-hand evidence to the contrary. I know Alex and Andrew will be up to the task of resisting the nonsense and learning useful things when their time comes, but it still bothers me that they’ll have to do so much of the learning on their own – and in spite of the efforts of the faculty supposedly there to assist them.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.