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Hobby Horse

Via Reason, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a great article about one of the Commentator’s favorite topics — intellectual diversity on campus. It starts by discussing the (somewhat eyebrow-raising) opening of a “Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements” at Berkeley, and eventually moves into a broader discussion of the intellectual monoculture that’s evolved on college campuses over the last forty years:

Though we are no longer in the politically correct sauna of the 1980s and 1990s, and experiences vary from college to college, the picture [David Horowitz] paints of the faculty and curriculum in American universities remains embarrassingly accurate, and it is foolish to deny what we all see before us.

Over the past decade, our universities have made serious efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity on the campus (economic diversity worries them less, for some reason). Well-paid deans work exclusively on the problem. But universities show not the slightest interest in intellectual diversity among faculty members. That wouldn’t matter if teachers could be counted on to introduce students to their adversaries’ books and views, but we know how rarely that happens.


Lyons was an American historian who wrote about the 60s and made no secret of his liberal politics or his loathing of Reagan and post-Reagan conservatism. But he was also disturbed by how few colleges offer courses on conservatism, treating it as a “pathology” rather than a serious political tradition…

The author, Mark Lilla, offers some anecdotal evidence of what happens when students are allowed the opportunity to take courses in conservative thought that are taught actively and honestly:

Lyons’s class was split almost evenly between liberal and conservative students, who had no trouble arguing with each other. They seemed to understand what thin-skinned professors wish to forget: that intellectual engagement is not for crybabies. The students had loud debates over Reagan’s legacy, Bush’s foreign policy, religious freedom, abortion, even the “war on Christmas”—and nobody broke into tears or ran to the dean to complain. And the more the students argued, the more they came to respect one another. According to Lyons, students learned that that conservative guy was no longer just the predictable gun nut or religious fanatic. And the conservative students learned that they had to make real arguments, not rely on clichés and sound bites recycled from Fox News. [emphasis added]


We should be grateful for his modest book, which has lessons for everyone. It reminds liberal academics of just how narrow-minded and conservative (in the nonpolitical sense) they are in their hiring and teaching, and how much they have to learn if they want to understand the political world we live in.

There are lessons for conservatives, too. Anti-intellectualism has always dogged conservative tradition (you betcha!), and figures like David Horowitz, who stoke the hysteria, only contribute to the dumbing down. Hopped up on Fox News, too many young conservatives have become ignorant of the conservative intellectual tradition and incapable of engaging civilly with their adversaries. [emphasis added]

Or maybe it’s just more convenient for some to promulgate the “racist, gun-toting, religious nut” stereotype and continue to churn out the thoughtless, pliable Nate Gulley’s and Diego Hernandez’s of the world.

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