Bettina Aptheker’s academic career is a metaphor for the political trends that have reshaped America’s liberal arts classrooms over the past generation. A lifelong political activist, Aptheker regarded the university first and foremost as a fulcrum for revolutionary change. In furthering her political goals she received extensive support from crucial elements of the university system. This support included first of all the academic department that awarded her a Ph.D. for non-scholarly work. Like Newton’s, her doctoral thesis was not a scholarly dissertation but the political tract she had previously submitted to the Communist Party publishing house. Once credentialed by the History of Consciousness program as a “scholar,” she was hired to the faculty and then promoted by committees dominated by other faculty radicals. These committees then approved the creation of a politically designed Women’s Studies program through which she could spread her doctrines. The central university administration then agreed to the expansion of the program into a full-fledged academic department and to its transformation into the Department of Feminist Studies.
Throughout the entire process, Aptheker’s ideological curriculum received the imprimatur of the national professional association for Women’s Studies, which sets standards of discourse, research and hiring in the field. Its support was entirely predictable since the National Association of Women’s Studies is itself a political organization whose formal constitution lays out its agendas in blunt fashion:
Women’s Studies owes its existence to the movement for the liberation of women; the feminist movement exists because women are oppressed. Women’s Studies, diverse as its components are, has at its best a shared a vision of a world free not only from sexism but also from racism, class-bias, ageism, heterosexual bias — from all the ideologies and institutions that have consciously or unconsciously oppressed and exploited some for the advantage of others….Women’s Studies, then, is equipping women not only to enter the society as whole, as productive human beings, but to transform the world to one that will be free of all oppression.
In sum, Professor Aptheker’s academic career and her politicized Department of Feminist Studies are made possible by a national movement of academics who share her broad ideological agendas. Over the course of several decades, this movement has succeeded in instituting massive changes in the structure of higher education, creating new courses, new departments and new fields that violate the professional standards of the modern research university and serve to undermine its foundations. These disturbing developments are the subject matter of One Party Classroom.
One Party Classroom analyzes courses at a dozen major universities whose curricula are designed not to educate students in critical thinking but to instill doctrines that are “politically correct.” This is not a claim that professors are “biased.” Bias is another term for “point of view,” which every professor naturally possesses and has a right to express. For the purposes of this study, professors whose courses follow traditional academic standards do not pose a problem regardless of their individual point of view. What concerns us is whether their courses adhere to the principles of scientific method and observe professional standards.
Thus, One Party Classroom does not propose to hold professors responsible for their idiosyncratic opinions on controversial matters but focuses instead whether they understand and observe the academic standards of the modern research university and the principles of a professional education. The concern of this study is the growing number of activist instructors who routinely present their students with only one side of controversial issues in an effort to convert them to a sectarian perspective.
Recent decades have witnessed widespread complaints about the political abuse of university classrooms. But this is the first attempt at a large-scale investigation of what instructors actually say they are teaching. One Party Classroom documents the results of an in-depth, multiyear study of curricula at twelve major universities, including large state colleges such as the universities of California and Texas and elite private institutions such as Duke and Columbia.
In forming our judgments, we have systematically scrutinized course catalogs, syllabi, reading lists, professors’ biographies, scholarly records, and testimonies. The outcome of our research leaves no doubt that the failure to enforce academic standards is a problem endemic to institutions of higher learning. An alarming number of university courses violate existing academic regulations that have been designed to ensure that students receive professional instruction and a modern education. Once the widespread nature of the abuses are appreciated it becomes impossible to argue that the problem is limited to a few aberrant instructors, or to off-hand professorial comments, or to an occasional assignment of materials designed to sway students’ judgments on controversial matters.
The more than 170 college courses documented in these pages do not exhaust the political offerings at the twelve institutions studied; they are merely the most obvious cases among others we could have chosen at these schools. The ideologies presented in these courses often reflect prominent and even dominant schools of thought in their respective academic fields. More importantly, these ideological doctrines often shape the core curriculum most undergraduates are required to take to earn their degrees in liberal arts.
If we were to extrapolate from the materials examined here, taking into account the total number of institutions offering advanced degrees, the result would be as many as 10,000 college classes nationwide whose primary purpose is not to educate students but to train them in left-wing ideologies and political agendas. The students who pass through these courses annually are numbered in the millions. In other words, One Party Classroom demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the attempt to indoctrinate American college students is more pervasive and extreme than even the harshest critics of academia have previously suggested.