March 25, 2005

An "Academic Everyman"?

Perhaps it is best to think of Churchill as our aging portrait of an academic Dorian Gray, in whom all the once-hallowed universityís vices and sins of the last half-century are now so deeply etched and lined.

VDH on Ward the Fraud.

Posted by Gregory at March 25, 2005 06:27 AM | TrackBack (7)

He's still writing about Ward Churchill? Aren't there some obscure Peloponnesian War battles to muse over?

Posted by: praktike at March 25, 2005 07:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Honestly, I've always had a sneaking admiration for Elmer Gantry types like Jimmy Swaggart or Ward Churchill. Being an amoral hypocrite myself, I think it must be pretty sweet to be livin fat off the takings from the gullible self-righteous throngs of the Religous Right or the academic left. You know how hard it is for a serious scholar to get a tenure gig in Ethnic Studies these days? And ol' Ward I'm 1/32nd authentic cherokee blows in, no Ph.D., stolen research, and a snappy line o'bullshit and lands a 90K a year job at a top university from which he cant be fired. Now thats the big con. Ill bet this guy gets more college pussy than Matt Leinart and more BC Bud than Cheech AND Chong. Plus now, he'll be flying around the country delivering lectures on free speech at 5 grand a pop. Now thats a real American.

Posted by: wally at March 25, 2005 11:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The fact that this person gets so much press is indicative of the level of (a) the need for distraction from real events -- e.g., what is happening in our own lives, and (b) how far the mandarins in academe have sunk. It's been that way for a long time, he's just the visible part of the iceberg.

The real vitality, intelligence and creativity in this country has accumulated in IT, the military, science, and entrenpeneurs -- both large and small. It has fled the over-credentialed guilds like medicine, academe, and government.

There are two good indicators of liveliness in a given field:

the first is the relative lack of gatekeepers. The more hoops one has to jump through, the more arcane the "knowledge" one has to have, and the more gluteus maximus one has to kiss, the less likely is it that the field will attract excellence. "Journalism" is a good example. Once masters'-level 'J' schools came into existence, excellence evaporated.

the second is the extent t which the language in a field changes, becoming richer and more resilient and flexible. Not simply jargon, but neologisms that reflect the ferment of creativity which needs new ways to express new ideas. The numbed bureaucrats who dream up things like "zero-tolerance" are not in this group.

Academe deserves Ward Churchill. He is their spawn.

Posted by: Dymphna at March 25, 2005 01:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

With due respect to Dymphna, while academe may deserve Ward Churchill, its stakeholders (especially students and taxpayers) do not. Greg, I think the lack intellectual diversity at our universities, and the politicially correct groupthink that is its byproduct, is one of the top 5 current scandals in the United States. There is more light to be shown on these hallowed institutions, and the stakeholders need to provide more scrutiny, if we are to preserve them and allow them to fulfill their mission. If you don't think there is a tremendous problem, please consult Larry Summers. Please don't be afraid to shine more light here, Greg.

Posted by: Chris at March 25, 2005 02:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Like any talented hustler, Churchill perceived a way to cash in on other people's foolishness. He's distasteful, but he isn't a problem. The people who made his career possible -- the PC educrats he duped and will continue to dupe despite having been thoroughly exposed -- are a very serious problem, since these fools are running higher education.

Posted by: Van Helsing at March 25, 2005 05:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, bad hyperlink on my name in the comment above. This one should be okay.

Posted by: Van Helsing at March 25, 2005 05:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Like many of you, I am tired of Churchill and the endless comments. But........ we do need to shine the spotlight on our universities. Those in charge should have the feeling that they have accountability for their management. For too long, the parents of students at all levels have kept themselves unaware of what goes on inside the walls of our educational facilities. Because of a number of bloggers there is now a "camera in the classroom". The public does have a right to know what it is that they are paying for.

Posted by: TedM at March 25, 2005 06:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not only do I agree with the posters above, but I don't think we should stop with academia. I think that we as bloggers have a duty to shine a light on the lack of diversity in several other important fields such as the military officer corp, the business executive class, investment banking, and several other fields that tend to attract disproportionate numbers of one ideology or another.

Together we can usher in an era of mandated diversity in every walk of life. Oh brave new world........

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 26, 2005 12:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

eric, my antenna tell me the majority of goldman sachs, say, partners/MDs are dems? yes, there is a solid republican contigent...but isn't there something more compelling, bias-wise, when it comes to the Ivory Tower? i think wall street swings both ways--less so academia...

Posted by: greg at March 26, 2005 08:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric and Greg,

Not to mention that while I could care less what the ideological makeup of our military or investment banking class is as long as the ideology does not lead to a tyrannical result, academia is a place of ideas which we as taxpayers pay for and therefore the ideas being promulgated are precisely the issue. I pay for the military as well, but the ideology is not a central issue. I pay for public universities and the types an diversity of ideas being promulgated are precisely the point. We also care as consumers of private universities.

Therefore the extent of ideological conformity is a great concern at a university, while Goldman Sachs can produce as many Rubin/Corzineís as it wants and I could care less.

Posted by: Lance at March 26, 2005 05:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I think you are wrong to downplay the importance of diversity in opinion in the Military. Also, if you point to Corzine/Rubin, could I point to the thousands of right wing academics? Kissinger, Wolfowitz, Condi Rice, VP Hanson, Fukuyama, etc... There is a longer list there, and the lack of diversity is not as acute as suggested.

And Greg, with all due respect, I think your antennae are giving you faulty signals if you think that investment bankers are anywhere near evenly split.

And what I don't understand about the Horowitz diversity crowd is that they don't seem as excited about diversity at say, business schools. Are any of you saying there is a diversity of opinion in business schools? Are there socialists, communists, etc. or are there various strains of capitalist - and predominantly right leaning free market types? Is that lack of diversity thwarting creativity or the ability to think outside the box?

Or is it just that your cackles are raised in some contexts but not others.

But most importantly, what is the solution? Are you seriously suggesting that there are throngs of conservative scholars that want in but are kept out because of their beliefs? Isn't it likely that left leaning types tend to pick the profession in greater numbers - which are not nearly as bad as the shoddy studies conducted by Horowitz would suggest.

I saw recently some groups touting academic diversity as a reason to hire more creationists in biology departments. I suppose that's only fair right? What if the public supports creationism and they are concerned with where their public money is spent? Should we make science the victim of public opinion?

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 26, 2005 05:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Actually that is a fair response, but it misses my point, which is more my fault than yours. Of course I want some diversity in the military. The question is really in what kind of areas is that diversity relevant to the mission of that body or similarly any body? Also a tangential question is why is that diversity of opinion skewed in any particular area?

Take investment banking, an area I am very familiar with. A least in the largest such institutions, while we have few Marxists, we certainly have a larger group willing to vote for a Clinton or Kerry than a Reagan or Bush. I don't really care, nor would I if the ratio was the other way. The quality of investment banking will not change a lot based on such things.

The military is similarly split, with a group which generally votes Republican, but that has more to do with security and defense issues than anything else. I haven't noticed the military drumming people out, or denying rank to people because they are opposed to privatizing social security or other such things. Sometimes I am concerned about such uniformity of views, such as on the issue of gays in the military or integration in the last century, and one reason is that it affects our ability to put an effective fighting force in the field. Still overall political ideology is not a central feature of what makes an effective fighting force and it generally is a small factor in how the military structures itself. Mostly the ideological uniformity (to the extent it exists) has to do with who chooses to go into the military and pursue such a career.

The academic world is quite different. Ideology and ideas are central to the mission, and despite your implication that conservative scholars ( and I use that term in the crudest sense of people who are not left wing to one degree or another) who would like to pursue academic careers are in short supply, throngs are being kept out because of their beliefs. To adopt a term which was much in vogue at the tail end of the last century, it is a hostile work environment at the very least. The Larry Summers case is quite instructive. Many other issues abound. I find this very disturbing in a way that I do not in other fields. As a history major I admired many of my professors, but I found not a one who had any knowledge or respect for my views on economics or how they informed my understanding of history. In and of itself that is not a major problem for any one professor, but in aggregate that meant some incredibly ridiculous notions were quite widespread which an open debate amongst colleagues would never have been allowed to fester in so many classes. As you, I, Geg, Praktike, Zathras and others on this site, yours, and across the blogosphere learn everyday, our own views may stay the same, but the underlying arguments at the very least are improved dramatically through constant open minded confrontation with other views. This happens all too little in the arts and humanities fields where you are correct is the main issue on campuses. Are not university campuses where such exchanges should be most prevalent?

Even your business school example is telling. In a part of a university devoted to teaching people how to run a business it is hardly surprising that the departments are generally favorable to running a business. However, they are hardly bastions of right wingers in the same way that the majority of history departments are dominated by the left. Once again, maybe there are not all that many Marxists, but I would be very surprised if there were not more registered Democrats than Republicans in most business schools. My guess is it is by a surprisingly large margin but mixed enough that I donít find it all that bothersome if the rest of the university were not so one sided. In History, Political Science, any of the various __________ studies departments, Literature, and so forth the disparity is quite dispiriting.

Unlike the military or investment banking there are as many people of the right (very broadly defined) as interested in teaching at the university level as on the left. This is not an issue of mere self selection (especially given the size of the disparity) but active and persistent discrimination. I know that it was a major reason for my own career choices, and for a friend of mine. His example I find very representative. He was a literature major fully steeped in the culture of a liberal east coast graduate school. Over time he began to question much of what underlay the ideology of most of the work he was doing. Even though he was teaching successfully, published successfully and gad finished all of his class work for a PhD. He stopped without finishing his thesis. He no longer felt like he fit in. He didnít see a career progressing in a satisfying way. Mind you this was before 2000 and he voted for Gore in that election. No rabid, red state, neo-con was he. Now he may have been foolish in his choices, so letís avoid piling on the guy. Still, I think it says a lot about why people choose to teach or not teach literature in this country, which is an extraordinarily politicized field.

You ask a good question however, what is the cure? I will let you answer it yourself. My guess is you could come up with something you would like far more than Greg or I. The real question is should you care? I suggest you consider the opposite question, if you knew that the liberal arts departments of our universities was composed of faculties where 80-100% had voted for Ronald Reagan, George Bush I, Bob Dole and George Bush II wouldnít you wonder what kind of perspective was being given to our students? I would and I bet my concern would be a whole lot less than yours.

Posted by: Lance at March 27, 2005 06:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe if Republicans were better at the liberal arts, this wouldn't be such a problem. Maybe we should start an affirmative action program?

Posted by: praktike at March 27, 2005 06:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I think part of the problem with this discussion is that we are going on limited and mostly anecdotal evidence. As for me, I remember my own philosophy department being populated with conservative and liberal thinkers, though the department as a whole was trending decidedly to the Right. Many of my favorite profs were being phased out in favor of big name conservatives whose classes I enjoyed nonetheless. 99% of instruction is not ideological in nature.

Otherwise, I have friends with PHDs, one from Oxford, who can't even find temp teaching gigs. It's brutal out there no matter your ideology.

The "evidence" we have is from a couple of very shoddy studies conducted by a partisan with a vested interest, David Horowitz. So Horowitz cherry picks some notoriously liberal schools, and looks at one side of the equation (current makeup) to come to very sweeping conclusions.

We can have different "opinions" on the political makeup of faculty in business schools, and at other less liberal schools like Oral Roberts, Liberty, SMU, and at other parts of "Red" America like Texas, Alabama, Mississsippi, etc., but there is only one set of "facts." Horowitz was not interested in a cross section, though, as he was interested in creating a skewed perception.

I don't think it is as one-sided as your gut tells you. Did you know that college and university professors gave more money to Bush in 2000 than they did to Gore? How did that happen if the breakdown is so uneven? Should I have started a movement based on this evidence to demand that administration's hire more Democrats?

Granted Kerry outpaced Bush in 2004, but the split would belie Horowitzian conclusions. Maybe the split is not as bad as you would think, the same way you assure me that the B-school split is pretty even.

Recently, someone came up with an idea and emailed it to Horowitz. Here is a description:

"Since, to date, there is no study showing anything more than a disparity, I propose that we actually conduct a new study. In this study, we will do more than simply collect voting and political donation records, or hiring, firing, and promotion decisions. This information alone can only provide evidence of disparity, not discrimination. To do this, we need to rule out alternative explanations for the disparity. Thus, we will need to collect information about job applicants and faculty that is relevant to hiring and promotion. Thus, we should collect information related to publication, citation, teaching evaluations, ongoing research, etc., that hiring and promotion committees consider when making their decisions. Using this information, along with the relative number of liberal and conservative applicants, we can apply fairly simple statistical tools (e.g., regression analysis) to determine whether the ideological disparity that exists in American universities is a result of discrimination."

Horowitz responded to this man's email with a profanity laced tirade. I guess he wasn't interested in probing any further. I don't think the Larry Summers case is any more instructive than the Ward Churchill case. Both seem to have suffered somewhat, though both retain their posts.

Now that is not to say that I don't care, because I do. Academia can have it's own excesses and decacdence like any other profession. CEO's, military personnel, journalists, lawyers (ahem), doctors, etc. So my solution would be to correct the excesses when they occur, and crack down on any retaliation on students in the classroom who are singled out for their ideology. Here is the final section of a post I did on this subject some time back:

The truth of the matter is, there is a problem on campuses across the country, even if it is not of the magnitude that Horowitz and his ilk would have you believe. Professors are human beings, and as such, occasionally allow their personal beliefs to cloud their professional judgment. They are hardly the only group in society to fall victim to this, and thus it is flawed reasoning to target them. It is also disingenuous to suggest that there aren't mechanisms in place to curb the abuses and punish the behavior when it manifests. Pfaffenberger made the following observations:

But wait, you'll no doubt say. Isn't there some truth to the conservative's grievances with academia?
Frankly, yes. I've known faculty who use their courses to promulgate an essentially political point of view. (I've seen this done from the right as well as the left, I might add.) And I've had students come to me, privately, and complain that they were graded down because they refused to go along with their professor's not-so-secret political biases.

This sort of thing shouldn't happen. And when it does, it should be a matter of concern for this professor's peers, who are alone capable of determining where the line separating political indoctrination from legitimate instruction should be drawn. And frankly, I don't think we've been attentive enough to the harm this sort of thing causes to our students. But it happens less often than conservatives think...

Universities, administrations, and the profession of professors themselves should remain ever-vigilant to avoid abuses, but these isolated examples do not justify the extreme approach proposed by Horowitz. Professor Pfaffenberger had this to say:

Colleges and university teachers aren't perfect, I'll willingly admit, but we don't need the medicine right-wing extremists prescribe. If they get their way, you're going to be saying "bye-bye" not only to academic freedom, but also to our higher education system's sterling, worldwide reputation.

I think freedom is worth fighting for, as is the invaluable laboratory of ideas that our institutions of higher learning have become. In many ways, they are our ambassadors to the world, inviting emissaries from abroad to partake in our scholarly endeavors. Losing this would be yet one more example of how America, under the current leadership, would become more isolated, less trusted and less respected. That also is worth a fight.

The post is long (as is my habit), but it deals with many of these issues and is chock full of information if you're interested:

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 28, 2005 04:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I just responded but I got some message that my comment was being held up for verification or some other security type reason. And I don't recall using any profanity....

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 28, 2005 04:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I'll take that as humor, and that is not what I would suggest as a solution. However, many of the explanations for this phenomena fall along just those lines. Comforting for some, but I'll reject that as an explanation, or at least as the entire explanation. The numbers are rather extreme.

I suggest you note that this is hardly just a problem for conservatives, Republicans or other right leaning categories. While centrists and mainstream Democrats may have an easier time of it, they are still relatively less likely to be employed at most major universities than a Marxist or other radical leftist. These people are a small minority amongst Democrats, progressives or however one wants to define it, yet they have an incredibly disproportionate presence amongst our faculty. Are such people vastly more interested in scholarship than you, Eric, Greg or I?

I also would point out for those who might like to characterize the issue as one of lack of ability or intelligence or interest, that when it comes to the types of academics who populate our literature departments today I can hardly call the output as evidence of great thinking relative to the rest of the population. Try visiting an MLA conference to see what I mean. Big vocabularies yes, high quality literary analysis of the kind the liberal left (Lionel Trilling anyone) had as its standard, no. Furthermore why don't we look at the places people such as these have achieved power? Anyone notice a great flowering of art, philosophy, economics or great history in left leaning regimes? I haven't, at least no more than I can see in places run by the democratic right. Certainly the various forms of marxist-leninist-maoist, etc. regimes can be described as disastrous on that front. I am not picking on the left here; I am just saying I hear variations on the Libertarians, Republicans, and conservatives are on average less intelligent or well informed explanation all the time. I doubt that, or that it is a very large difference at least, and cannot explain the striking paucity of such people on faculties or the skew towards the left (especially its more marginal strains) even amongst the liberals and leftists themselves on faculties.

Since I assume we all would hate a push by legislators or other politicians to address this issue, doesnít that make it an issue for the liberal left to address on its own rather than acting as if it is all some right wing fantasy? I am not asking for parity (as Eric has pointed out it is not as if military war colleges are awash in liberation theology and conservatives have other institutions they can retreat to, no tears need be shed for the poor right leaning scholar) but how about a vibrant minority presence for the good of the students, quality scholarship and for that matter the left itself?

Posted by: Lance at March 28, 2005 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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