Colleges miss vital ingredient: ‘oxygen’
by Melvyn L Fein
June 09, 2013 11:25 PM | 1393 views | 3 3 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Every now and then I discuss the state of the ideological skew at colleges and universities with one of the administrators at Kennesaw State University. He too is aware of how dominant the liberal perspective has become, but is more sanguine than I about the long-term implications.

He points to the fact that as people grow older their opinions tend to migrate from the left toward the right. In the end, he argues, it does not much matter that a biased view of the world is inculcated at school because this will eventually be corrected once graduates must deal with reality for themselves.

Recently the conservative economist Thomas Sowell made some useful suggestions about the sorts of books alumnae can be provided to counteract the propaganda that flooded their minds in university classes. Indeed, I just finished reading a biography of Calvin Coolidge that helped dispel myths I learned in high school.

But my question is: Why should students need to do this unlearning? Why are we so complacent about the misconceptions they are force-fed in the name of education? If what they are being taught is so one-sided that it distorts the truth, what is the point of exposing them to this in the first place?

Colleges remain good places to obtain technical skills. If the goal is to become a mechanical engineer or a registered nurse, there are few better venues to acquire the relevant skills. Yet what of learning about life or how to be a social leader? Shouldn’t a higher education be helpful here too?

For the last several decades, undergraduates have been voting with their feet regarding these issues. Fewer and fewer decide to be English or history majors. The liberal arts, which were once considered the core of what every educated person should know, have fallen on hard times.

So have social sciences such as sociology and political science. As interesting as these subjects can be, they are avoided by first-class minds because what they teach is already known by those familiar with the tenets of political correctness.

Long ago, upon graduating from college as a philosophy major, I faced the problem endemic to philosophy majors, namely what sort of employment could I obtain. Consequently, as an accomplished test-taker I decided to sit for the City of New York’s welfare caseworker exam.

And indeed I did well. Without ever taking a single course in social work, I came in third among the hundreds of applicants testing alongside me. The way I did this was by answering the questions how I thought social workers would want them answered. In other words, I pretended to be a goody-two-shoes.

A parallel strategy applies to contemporary colleges. Their bias is so predictable that an intelligent person can figure out what is expected without having to crack open a book. What then is their purpose? Why not skip the entire exercise and head straight for the job market?

It seems that I am not alone in this reasoning. College enrollments have begun to decline. Michael Barone has gone so far as to write that the college bubble has burst. If he is correct, perhaps the public has begun to figure out there is little “there, there” on campus.

Liberal faculty members would thus be wise to note these trends. For their own professional survival, they might consider moderating their biases. At the very least, it is in their interest to hire, and promote, colleagues who present the other side of the ideological picture.

Nonetheless, I am not holding my breath. In the hermetically sealed environment of the contemporary college campus, the atmosphere has become so stagnant that most of the oxygen has already been sucked out. Thus, my guess is that there will be few meaningful reforms until people begin to expire of intellectual asphyxiation.

Still we must try. There is too much as stake.

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.
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Papermill gal
June 11, 2013
In defense of UGA's political science program, it has produced a number of very productive people and has great professors, some on the left and some on the right. From conversations I've had with my college students and their friends, the top tier SEC schools still have a number of at least moderate professors in their stables, though political correctness has become more of a push since Obama became president i.e. renaming Ole Miss mascot the Black Bears rather than Colonel Reb. The students have not accepted this. Traditions are a difficult thing to break, and southern states still produce conservative kids, comparatively. We all know it drives the lib professors crazy. Likely Kevin Foley as well. Conservative parents have NOT given up teaching their children civics, patriotism and how to have an open mind.
amSWeu and
June 10, 2013
Neil Gross, Sociologist:

But contrary to conservative rhetoric, studies show that going to college does not make students substantially more liberal.

The political scientist Mack Mariani and the higher education researcher Gordon Hewitt analyzed changes in student political attitudes between their freshman and senior years at 38 colleges and universities from 1999 to 2003. They found that on average, students shifted somewhat to the left — but that these changes were in line with shifts experienced by most Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 during the same period of time. In addition, they found that students were no more likely to move left at schools with more liberal faculties.

Similarly, the political scientists M. Kent Jennings and Laura Stoker analyzed data from a survey that tracked the political attitudes of about 1,000 high school students through their college years and into middle age. Their research found that the tendency of college graduates to be more liberal reflects to a large extent the fact that more liberal students are more likely to go to college in the first place.

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.

The main reason for this development is that attacking liberal professors as elitists serves a vital purpose. It helps position the conservative movement as a populist enterprise by identifying a predatory elite to which conservatism stands opposed — an otherwise difficult task for a movement strongly backed by holders of economic power.

East Cobb Senior
June 11, 2013
@amSWeu and

It is not surprising that young folks ages 18 – 24 are more on the liberal side. You don’t need a bunch of knuckle headed left wing college professors to study a bunch of kids that have very little understanding of, experience with or interest in the realities they are about to confront in the real world. It is easy to be liberal when you have no “dog in the fight”, “stake in the game” or “interest in the outcome”.

For the vast majority of this age demographic, they have never had real responsibility with providing for themselves, paying high taxes, mortgages, car payments, food for a family, college tuition and the like. They like most liberal college professors have lived in a cloistered environment where the realities of the real world are more esoteric than tangible. The material needs of these young folks have been provided by others (parents or in some case the Government) and few sit back and contemplate what really goes into the provision of those needs, “somebody else is paying”.

Your argument regarding college students moving more left from their freshman through their senior years bolsters the conservative observation that Liberal professors do have an impact on the political leanings of their students.

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