Caughie’s defense of the “praxis” of indoctrination in the official journal of the American Association of University Professors serves to underscore the predicament in which American liberal arts programs find themselves. The radical cohort to which Caughie and Aptheker belong is now a large and influential presence and in some cases an imposing majority on liberal arts faculties and the governing bodies of national academic organizations. As a result, it has been able to transform significant parts of the academy into agencies of political and social change.
These include traditional professional groups such as the American Historical Association (AHA), which now routinely pass formal resolutions on public controversies that have nothing to do with scholarship, and which take positions on issues that only a handful of their thousands of members would be professionally qualified to judge. In 2007, for example, a tiny but determined minority of AHA members passed a resolution condemning the Iraq war. In doing so they exploited the scholarly prestige of AHA members gained in historical fields far removed from the Middle East in order to promulgate a fashionable left-wing position on current events.
The political subordination of scholarship to political agendas is most evident in fields such as Women’s Studies. Almost universally, Women’s Studies programs base their courses of study on the ideological (and unproven) claim that gender is “socially constructed” – that behavioral differences between men and women are socially rather than biologically determined. According to these Women’s Studies programs, gender differences between men and women are artificially created by an entrenched patriarchy for the express purpose of oppressing women. This perspective is presented by Women’s Studies faculties as a settled doctrine even though it is a controversial opinion. Recent advances in modern neuroscience, for example, have identified significant differences in the biological makeup of men and women that affect their relative abilities and behaviors. Yet for Women’s Studies faculties the issue is settled in favor of social determinants.
Ideological developments in the university have also led to the prevalent phenomenon of professors academically trained in one discipline teaching courses and posing as experts in others. Since radical ideologies require their adherents to make global pronouncements, it is not uncommon to find instructors with degrees in English or Comparative Literature teaching courses that focus on the historical development of economic empires, or the complexities of gender and race. This is analogous to a situation where botanists and microbiologists would teach “big bang” physics or macro-economics. It is a serious problem for academic professions which are defined by their specialized knowledge. Entry into these professions is barred to individuals not credentialed as experts in their disciplines, while students pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being taught by specialists in their fields. Why go through the arduous and expensive process of credentialing experts if anyone is qualified to teach anything?
What we are witnessing in the liberal arts programs of American universities is the collapse of standards on an alarming scale. To describe this problem as one of “liberal bias” or a “lack of balance” is to misrepresent and trivialize it. All faculty, whatever their point of view, have intellectual biases and a right to express them. But the same right comes with an important and long recognized caveat: Professors have an obligation to be professional in their instruction. They are expected to refrain from imposing their personal views on students through the authority they exercise in the classroom, or through the design of the course, or through their power over student grades; and they should not represent mere opinion as scientific fact.
The problem posed by the incorporation of ideological agendas into the academic curriculum is not the opinions of a particular instructor or a particular idea introduced in the course of instruction. The problem arises when the course of instruction is not guided by scientific method; when it is not constructed as a scholarly inquiry within a scholarly discipline; when the instructor fails to present students with divergent views on controversial matters or with access to materials that will enable them to think intelligently and for themselves. The problem facing the university today is that many academic courses are designed to train students in sectarian ideologies and recruit them to sectarian causes.
Even as the abuses of university classrooms documented in this study have reached epidemic proportions, faculty unions and professional associations have become increasingly averse to any accountability for the design of academic instruction. Roger Bowen, who until recently served as general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, has said in so many words that academics should not have to answer to anyone but themselves: “It should be evident that the sufficient condition for securing the academic freedom of our profession is the profession itself.”
But the pages that follow show that left to their own devices faculty and administrators have consistently failed to defend academic freedom or maintain reasonable academic standards when these standards are violated in the name of “social justice” and “social change.” Routine abuses of the university are also made possible by the passivity of other actors — instructors in the hard sciences who observe traditional professional standards in their own work but choose to remain silent when these standards are traduced by others; non-ideological scholars in the liberal arts who do likewise; education-oriented trustees and alumni; and students abused by the practices described. These academic bystanders constitute a majority of any university community and a majority of faculty as well. But their refusal to speak up has allowed their less scrupulous colleagues to engineer a decline of professional standards, and a consequent debasement of the academic product. If this passivity continues and the university community does not respond to the assault on academic standards, the credibility and authority of the university will continue to decline and the future of liberal arts education in America will then become bleak indeed.
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