There’s a good attack on political bias in academia over at Inside Higher Ed. What’s really interesting is that the article quotes Grover Furr, an associate professor of English at Montclair State University, arguing that universities need more leftists, not conservatives. After reading the article, Furr e-mailed a response, which was put up on the website. He wrote this:
It’s no leap at all to lump ‘conservatives’ — say, David Horowitz — with racists and fascists, such as those Horowitz has published several times in his own blog. ‘Conservatism’ champions racism, exploitation, and imperialist war. It’s the enemy of 90% of the human race. We need LESS of it, not more. Sure, it should be ‘represented’ in classes — but only for the sake of exposure and refutation.
I think that this attitude is actually pretty widespread in academia. A lot of academics don’t believe conservatives are entitled to a fair say on campus because they don’t believe conservatism is a legitimate ideology. For them, it’s something akin to fascism — that is, it’s outside the bounds of rational discourse (For more on why conservatives are not entitled to equal rights, see former Duke English Department Chairman Stanley Fish’s book, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech: And it’s a Good Thing, Too.
This is consistent with a certain stereotypical view of America I’ve found to be quite prevalent among academics — in general (and of course, this is a vast generalization here, but I still think it’s largely true) they view America as a cultural wasteland populated by uneducated, racist rednecks riding around in pickup trucks. The country is only really redeemed by the isolated oases of culture, learning, and social progress that are found on university campuses. So there’s this view that academics aren’t simply supposed to engage in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. They have a higher calling to help civilize and enlighten this dark country, and this brings a certain missionary zeal to their work.
Although I can see how this view of America becomes self-perpetuating within an academic environment, I don’t understand how academics develop this blinkered view of America in the first place. Since I’ve been in academia, I’ve heard the most unbelievably counter-intuitive notions put forward as unassailable conventional wisdom — that life is far better in Cuba than in America, and Cubans continue to risk their lives to float to America on makeshift rafts only because they’ve been duped about conditions here by their evil relatives in Florida; that the Mossad and the CIA were behind the 9/11 attacks; that socialism has proved a superior system for allocating resources than capitalism; etc. What kind of abuse must a person suffer as a child to develop these kinds of ideas and then dedicate his life to propagating them?
I think P. J. O’Rourke once wrote that it’s a good thing academia exists, because it’s hard to imagine the damage academics could unleash if they were let loose in the real world. I find it pretty hard to disagree.