Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


omg libruls everywhirr
March 20, 2005 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Scenes from the Cultural Revolution. A compilation of quotes about American Universities as compared to Maoist propaganda.
"'If the system were fair,' says Larry Mumper, sponsor of the Ohio bill, 'Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be tenured professors somewhere.'"

"We will strike down the reactionary, bourgeois academic savants! . . . We will vigorously establish proletarian intellectual authorities, our own academic savants."
posted by borkingchikapa (60 comments total)

 
"'If the system were fair,' says Larry Mumper, sponsor of the Ohio bill, 'Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be tenured professors somewhere.'"

At this college, perhaps.
posted by jonmc at 10:56 AM on March 20, 2005


Huh. At college I always felt like the atmosphere was post-Cultural Revolution (Do not oppose the party line. Conservative beliefs are counterrevolutionary. Capitalism is the tool of the enemy. Long live the revolution!), so it's interesting to see time flowing in reverse. The cultural revolution involved a bunch of crazy left-wingers throwing out the folks in power in academia to set up their idealized, impractical ideology, and now a bunch of crazy right-wingers in America want to throw out the crazy left-wingers in academia to set up their own idealized, impractical ideology.

My guess is the next step will be some country where the crazy-right wingers will get thrown out by the flat-earthers, and in a few more years in some different country the "lizard men inside the hollow earth" believers will throw out the flat-earthers.
posted by Bugbread at 11:05 AM on March 20, 2005


Seems like the far left and the far right really do wrap around and meet, somewhere on the far side of rationality. The Red Guards were tossed aside when the party moved on, but what will happen to these young republicans? If they move on to college administration, I'll sure as hell not be working in the states anytime soon.
posted by sudasana at 11:43 AM on March 20, 2005


I liked the photoshopped propaganda...Operation Enduring our Freedom well under way.
posted by schyler523 at 12:29 PM on March 20, 2005


If Limbaugh and Hannity gave up their multi-million dollar paychecks to earn a professor's salary, .... they wouldn't be very good conservative role models, would they?
posted by boaz at 1:15 PM on March 20, 2005


There really are plenty of conservative colleges, most of them conveniently Christian as well. I, unfortunately, attend one.
posted by NickDouglas at 1:20 PM on March 20, 2005


Maybe there should be someone appointed to make sure that all those red-state-type students get to go to "Bob Jones University" or whatever right-wing school there is out there, and to keep the "lib'ruls" out of those colleges. Sounds like a plan that would work out for everyone involved.
posted by clevershark at 1:23 PM on March 20, 2005


Most universities are worried about investing their endowment more than anything else, and spend a ridiculous amount of money to do it. That is the real tragedy. Universities increasingly think of themselves more as corporations than institutions of higher learning. In the face of this, the leftist party line is purely symbolic. There are no teeth behind it. Once again, the culture war is shown to be a smokescreen.
posted by MillMan at 1:53 PM on March 20, 2005


MillMan : "the leftist party line is purely symbolic. There are no teeth behind it."

For nonstudents, yes. For students, I remember teeth.
posted by Bugbread at 1:56 PM on March 20, 2005


Could it be that universities tend to be liberal because they encourage students to examine ideas from many viewpoints, and that after doing so it becomes harder to support dogmatic right wing ideas like:
The poor are poor because it's their own fault. They just won't work hard.
A woman' place is wherever a man says it should be.
America is always just.
God is on our side.

Students, after actually being exposed to other ideas, often turn more liberal. Go figure.
posted by cccorlew at 2:06 PM on March 20, 2005


There are plenty of conservative professors, hell at one point Newt Gingrich was a professor.

There is a very simple explanation for why there are not as many conservative professors as liberal: conservatives just aren't very interested in becoming professors. It isn't as if there was a group of liberal people plotting to keep the conservatives away from professorship. But conservatives choose to get MBA's and go into business, not Ph.D.'s and get into teaching.

My question for those who whine about "liberal professors" is: why don't you get a Ph.D. and teach at college to help balance things out? Its another facet of the typical right-wing chickenhawkism, they want *someone*else* to make the sacrifices for their agenda. But if promoting their agenda requires personal sacrifice its time to whine about the "liberal [insert large organization here]", not to actually try and make the situation different.

I'll specifically ask the poor oppressed bugbeard why *he* hasn't gotten a Ph.D. and gone off to become a conservative professor and save civilization from the evil lefties.

More to the point, most of the "studies" claiming that universities are dens of liberalism and professors are nothing short of Maoists have serious flaws. The most commonly cited "study" drew all of its respondants from Woman's Studies professors, International Studies professors, and so forth; all the traditionally liberal areas of study. They somehow forgot to ask anyone in the College of Business what *their* political views were, likewise Engineering and other traditionally conservative areas of study. I'm not going to claim that most professors aren't liberal, but I will state that if they cooked their study that much it indicates that the "problem" is much smaller than they want to portray it as being.

Its just more conservative whining becuase they see themselves (yet again) on the loosing side of a social battle. Conservatives are history's biggest loosers when it comes to social issues (economic issues are another story entirely), and they will search for any explination but the real one for why this is. The real explination is simply that Joe Average doesn't like their ideal social setup, becuause Joe Average likes his beer and porn. Liberals are on the side of beer and porn (in social issues anyway).
posted by sotonohito at 2:07 PM on March 20, 2005


cccorlew : " Could it be that universities tend to be liberal because they encourage students to examine ideas from many viewpoints, and that after doing so it becomes harder to support dogmatic right wing ideas like:"

It could be. But why wouldn't the same encouragement result in it becoming harder to support extreme left ideas?

sotonohito : " My question for those who whine about 'liberal professors' is: why don't you get a Ph.D. and teach at college to help balance things out? Its another facet of the typical right-wing chickenhawkism"

Well, I whine, but I'm not right-wing, and while I considered getting a PhD and teaching at university, I decided against it because, though I love teaching, I don't particularly like research, and that's half the job.

sotonohito : " I'll specifically ask the poor oppressed bugbeard why *he* hasn't gotten a Ph.D. and gone off to become a conservative professor and save civilization from the evil lefties."

I haven't become a conservative professor because I'm not conservative.

sotonohito : "Liberals are on the side of beer and porn"

Er...porn is a physical manifestation of the oppression of women, and beer is an excuse for rape, if my college memories serve me.
posted by Bugbread at 2:20 PM on March 20, 2005


Er...porn is a physical manifestation of the oppression of women, and beer is an excuse for rape, if my college memories serve me.

How odd. When I was in college, I learned that porn is sexually explicit printed or broadcast material, and beer is an alcoholic beverage made from grain and hops. What college did you go to?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:26 PM on March 20, 2005


after a 25 year successful business career I took my buyout and am back in school getting my PhD. I believe in the humanist philosophies of a (John Cardinal Newman) liberal education to develop the whole student. I do not let my political sentiments into the classroom, but I do require that students left or right must support arguments well, not through specious Hannity-like parrotism (oops are my colors showinng?). Anyway, when I read that Wolfowitz was dean of poli-sci at Johns Hopkins and Condi was provost at Stanford, I wonder why these diatribists won't concede that we in academia doa pretty darn good job of edumacating their children. 49% of the registered voters voted blue. Where the f do they think we have jobs? And sotonhito is correct--it ain't easy earning a PhD and most of these arm-chair QBs could not stand the heat (or the meager pay). If I didn't absolutely love teaching, I wouldn't put up with the disrespect.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:26 PM on March 20, 2005


Limbaugh a tenured professor? When he dropped out at Southeastern Missouri State after a year? Hell, even I've managed to get my B.A.

Mr. Mumper's (is that really his name?) comment shows a decided lack of knowledge of the system and how it works, but of course it wasn't made as legitimate criticism, but merely as another item for knee-jerk, non-reflective conservatives to go "whoo-hoo" about.
posted by JHarris at 2:28 PM on March 20, 2005


Faint of Butt : " How odd. When I was in college, I learned that porn is sexually explicit printed or broadcast material, and beer is an alcoholic beverage made from grain and hops. What college did you go to?"

That's what I'd learned before college. College helped me see the inherent underpinnings of the instruments of societal oppression.

Occidental College, by the way. It was bad enough that it actually made me somewhat conservative for a little while, but after graduation I rapidly returned to my normal left-of-center position.
posted by Bugbread at 2:33 PM on March 20, 2005


yow. very much best of web.

as a very recent (non-academic) employee of a university, i was pretty shocked by the neocon assault on campus once i got to see it daily. just this month, neocons won a court case on my campus saying student organizations using state owned university facilities must be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals. yes, the taxpayers of my state now get to finance open bigotry. not too surprisingly, there was a beatdown of a homosexual on campus the very week of the court case.

two faculty on my campus were also targeted by a neocon report singling out libruls. the neocon organization behind the attack is staffed by a board of mostly retired university presidents. so much for no conservatives in the academy.

i guess liberal education is suffering the same libel as liberalism (the idea that people should govern themselves). so much for conservatism, the idea that liberal institutions are worth defending. another neocon organization is being allowed to set up an alternate western civ curriculum on my campus (we already have one) wherein they hire their own instructors, totally bypassing faculty oversight on curriculum. the website of this neocon group proudly displays the following credentials for the construction of curricula:



on viewing that, the maoist comparison looks pretty apt. neocons harping pretty much monopolizes the intellectual discourse on my campus. they're about as excluded as major men's sports.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:41 PM on March 20, 2005


Drive out all cow monsters and snake demons!
posted by flabdablet at 2:43 PM on March 20, 2005


"'If the system were fair,' says Larry Mumper, sponsor of the Ohio bill, 'Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be tenured professors somewhere.'"

What subject, pray tell, would they be qualified to teach?




Well, Limbaugh could teach pharmacology, I guess...
posted by c13 at 2:46 PM on March 20, 2005


He could probably do a media course, too.
posted by Bugbread at 2:50 PM on March 20, 2005


on viewing that, the maoist comparison looks pretty apt.

My knowledge of Maoism is probably not as good as most, but I don't believe they were sexual libertines or big fans of popular culture.
posted by jonmc at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2005


I'm pretty sure that was 3.2.3.'s point, jonmc.
posted by raysmj at 3:18 PM on March 20, 2005


It used to be that the right had convenient targets to use in their perpetual 'us vs them' dichotomy.

First it was the Congress. Now they control it. Then it was the presidency. Now they control it. They already control the Supreme Court. What is left? They already outlawed gays and Hillary seems to be going right as fast as she can. With no Janet Jackson boob in sight, they find yet another easy target in academia.

One day, and I can't wait for it, they will begin to consume themselves once they have sanitized the world for the rich big business executives and their NASCAR fundie slaves.
posted by UseyurBrain at 3:43 PM on March 20, 2005


UseyurBrain : "With no Janet Jackson boob in sight, they find yet another easy target in academia. "

The looney right has been targeting looney left academia for at least the last 10 years, and I suspect much longer. It's not a new development.
posted by Bugbread at 3:46 PM on March 20, 2005


Not Ass Mumper again!
posted by papakwanz at 3:48 PM on March 20, 2005


It used to be that the right had convenient targets to use in their perpetual 'us vs them' dichotomy.

One day, and I can't wait for it, they will begin to consume themselves once they have sanitized the world for the rich big business executives and their NASCAR fundie slaves.

Well said, ironyman.

Read your comments before you post them and you'll look less stupid. Or merely follow the advice of your username.
posted by jonmc at 3:48 PM on March 20, 2005


Hey, now, jonmc, he might not be wrong. For example, it's possible that the right has an "us vs them" dichotomy, while UseyurBrain has an "us vs them vs the aliens" trichotomy, in which case he hasn't said anything particularly contradictory.
posted by Bugbread at 3:59 PM on March 20, 2005


On a lighter note, Max Sawicky's favorite Mao quote:

"In order to build a great socialist society it is of the utmost importance to arouse the broad masses of women. The revolutionary vanguard needs a bold thrust to penetrate the most backward regions of the proletariat."

Horowitz looks perfect in red. It may be his true color.

Will we have to quit calling them liberal arts colleges? [smirk]
posted by nofundy at 4:07 PM on March 20, 2005


Horowitz looks perfect in red. It may be his true color.

I think Horowitz (just like that Compassionate Conservative asshole) change ideologies because none of their compatriots can stand to be around their shrill personalities any longer. I wonder how long till they overstay their welcome with the right. Look out, Libertarians, they'll be courting you next.
posted by jonmc at 4:13 PM on March 20, 2005


Today it's liberals. Tommorow it's 'you are not conservative enough'. There is always a 'them'.
posted by UseyurBrain at 4:46 PM on March 20, 2005


Wow. [This is good.]


UseyurBrain writes " It used to be that the right had convenient targets to use in their perpetual 'us vs[.] them' dichotomy.

"First it was the Congress. Now they control it. Then it was the presidency. Now they control it. They already control the Supreme Court. What is left? They already outlawed gays and Hillary seems to be going right as fast as she can. With no Janet Jackson boob in sight, they find yet another easy target in academia. "


I remember the good old days, when, at the first sign of economic hardship or cultural dislocation, you could just go down to Darkietown, find the first nigra standing unsuspecting on a street corner, and have yourself a good old fashioned "authentic lynching, an absorbing and chilling example of a public shaming ritual."

Hanging a buck nigra from a tree always seemed to calm folks down take the frenzy out of 'em, ya know, an' give 'em some perspective. It ain't so much that any one nigra was fo'mentin' rebellion against his masters or even eye-ballin' a white woman. Sometimes -- especially when times is hard and folks is uncertain -- it's good to show everyone -- your own selves included -- who's boss.

Of course, it was important to remind the nigras that we white folk was boss over 'em, but it ws even more important, as the sands were shiftin' under our feet as it were because of an economic recession or a drought or a cultural change, to remind ourselves that we was the white folk and we'd survived all these years as boss and we was gonna continue in that role too. That's what a good lynching's for, to put some steel back in your own spine. To get the community together to accomplish a joint project -- tain't always easy as it looks to hang a nigra, no sir -- that's some hard work, and it gives ya a sense of accomplishment, it does indeed.

'Course, it's hard on the nigra, but like as not he done somethin' to deserve it, even ifin you don't know exactly what that might be. I mean, God made 'em nigras for a reason, you figure.

Nowadays, of course, you can't lynch nigras no more, even have to call 'em "sir" and pretend you's ashamed of your own cultural heritage. But you kin always find somebody for to lynch, somebody for to heap all the community's sins on and then sacrifice to God, just like the Hebes had themselves a "scapegoat" that took all the community's sins on itself. 'Course if I'm not careful, you'll be saying that what with dying for our sins and all, I'm comparing some no-account nigra to Jesus Christ Our Saviour, so I'ma stop right now, and just say ag'in how much easier things was in the good old days.
posted by orthogonality at 4:48 PM on March 20, 2005


Today it's liberals. Tommorow it's 'you are not conservative enough'. There is always a 'them'.

Useyurbrain, I think I saw a neo-con under your bed. If you hurry you might catch him!

Seriously, are you trying to impress someone or are you really this paranoid? These are serious issues and adolescent rhetoric gets us nowhere.

orthogonality: posts like yours, though probably well intentioned, are kind of pointless in that half the time people aren't sure exactly who you're trying to make fun of. And truth be told making fun of people never changed anyones mind about anything, merely made the teaser feel better about himself.
posted by jonmc at 4:53 PM on March 20, 2005


I actually live in a state where the all-out assault on academia has had some success. Specifically there is a rule (or law?) at Metro State (all state colleges?) in CO that disallows a professor from speaking about politics unless it is in a politics class. I have personally attended one class where the teacher grimaced and cut off conversation because it was getting "political" and another class where the professor completely disallows not only political discussion, but the words "conservative," "liberal," "left," "right," "democrat," and "republican." This is a class on social issues where talking about politics is extremely natural, but it is not a politics class, so students and professors get to censor themselves.

It's actually pretty fucking sick. It really is like something out of Communist Russia or China to see how effectively the Republican legislators and activists created a climate of complete fear and intimidation among professors.

Couple that with completely starving higher education of funding, and I've heard from more than one professor who thinks Colorado universities are in mortal danger.

The scary thing is that the right in America has played this game before, with some significant success: they successfully neutered much of the independent press corps. I really hope they aren't able to do it again with the "liberal academy."
posted by teece at 4:59 PM on March 20, 2005


jonmc: I don't think orthogonality was making fun of anyone so much as pointing out that it's not the specific target that makes an attack worthwhile, it's the way it makes the attacker feel. The point was that, back in the days of lynchings, the motivation was not only to oppress blacks, but to make whites feel better about themselves.

And I believe that point can be extended into what Useyurbrain said about those in power always having an enemy, whether it's Congress or the President or academia. They don't do it because they want to knock the liberals out of existence, necessarily, but because it makes them feel more powerful and allows them to demonstrate that power to the rest of the world/community.

Almost everyone does this; look at Mefi. The natives get restless if there's no punching bag. We need an AlexReynolds or a Steve_at_Linwood or a ParisParamus in order to make ourselves feel better about our majority power within Mefi. I mean, sheesh, you've been that punching bag before. Do those points make more sense in that context?
posted by pikachulolita at 5:20 PM on March 20, 2005


jonmc: I don't think orthogonality was making fun of anyone so much as pointing out that it's not the specific target that makes an attack worthwhile, it's the way it makes the attacker feel.

That was kind of the point I was trying to make. I was saying that the fact that it's so difficult to parse his point out (at least it was for me) tells me that maybe he's suffering from the same syndrome, is all.

And I believe that point can be extended into what Useyurbrain said about those in power always having an enemy, whether it's Congress or the President or academia.

But useyurbrain seems oblivious to the fact that when leftists are in power (or even when they're around like minded people) they'll do the same thing, is what I got from his initial comment. Not that it excuses anybody from anything, but this mode of discourse is part of whats alienating countless people from politics.
posted by jonmc at 5:28 PM on March 20, 2005


jonmc writes "orthogonality: posts like yours, though probably well intentioned, are kind of pointless in that half the time people aren't sure exactly who you're trying to make fun of. And truth be told making fun of people never changed anyone[']s mind about anything, merely made the teaser feel better about himself."

jonmc, in deference to you, a poster whose equanimity I much appreciate, then let me be more clear.

I'm not making fun of anyone -- the cornpone accent just seemed to fit a particular example. I'm trying to allude to the point made much more effectively and at far greater length by Bertram Wyatt-Brown in the linked book (an abridgement of his even longer and more effective explanation). Admittedly, that might be less obvious to those who did not follow the link, or who have not yet been lucky enough to read the book.

Basically, I'm arguing that communities -- and as examples I give today's "conservative" community, communities in the Old South, Hebrew communities of Biblical times, and even Pilate's execution of Jesus to appease the Sanhedrin -- respond to (perceived) crisis in similar ways: a scapegoat is found, it is attested in a public shaming ritual that the dislocations troubling the community were brought about by the scapegoat's sins (or, alternately, the community's sins are "placed on" the scapegoat), and then the scapegoat is, one way or another, gotten rid of, expiating the sins.

One can expand the examples to include Joe McCarthy's hunt for Communists in the 1950s, Salem's hunt for witches in the 1690s, or the (much milder) ancient Greek practice of ostracization.

Wyatt-Brown opens his exegesis of American Southern honor violence with a tale of New Englands, Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux", in which social order is restored by a tarring and feathering, and goes on to explain the social uses of charivari and Mardi Gras and Saturnalia as reinforcing the traditional social order by, for a time, annulling that order, allowing passions to be discharged and festering feelings to erupt -- but in the controlled conditions of a sanctioned and time-delimited event. Of course, a lynching is another example of that brief annulment of social order, done with the goal of restoring that order on an even sounder footing.

I'm arguing that "Cultural Revolutions" and purges of liberals from academe are cut from the same cloth.
posted by orthogonality at 5:39 PM on March 20, 2005


OK, fair enough.

The "dumb hick" accent ("lib'ruls" "turrists" "Amurrican") has become an especially annoying cliched shorthand for "stupid," that I feared another jeremiad (and I'm not even from the south).

I'm arguing that "Cultural Revolutions" and purges of liberals from academe are cut from the same cloth.

You're probably right. But it won't work and that's probably the intention, so Bush & co. can whine "The left won't realease it's stranglehold on academia," and play victim. It's actually quite cagey, if you think about it.
posted by jonmc at 5:44 PM on March 20, 2005


P.S. However, if I'd argued this was all about "restoring social order", I'd have been jumped on from the left for appearing to condone this right-wing stupidity (yes, I think it's stupidity of the first order, even as I castigate the academic left, as for example here, for its own lynchings)

By uses the lynchings of American blacks as an example, I was able to quickly establish (given that all Americans are today taught that racism and racist violence are sins of the very first order) that restoring social order is not necessarily a good thing, even when it is emotionally (as in lynchings or this conservative attack on academic freedom) very important to the would-be restorers.

So I wasn't just using that example because I wanted to pretend to be Faulkner for a day (and after all, my comment wasn't all once sentence, was it?).
posted by orthogonality at 5:50 PM on March 20, 2005


jonmc writes " You're probably right. But it won't work and that's probably the intention, so Bush & co. can whine 'The left won't realease [sic] it's stranglehold on academia,' and play victim. It's actually quite cagey, if you think about it."


Oh, but it will work. It already has.

You only need to burn one "witch" to get every herbal remedy-ist and odd old women in the neighborhood to shut up, stay home, and be very very careful. You know, the old woman who until you burnt the witch used to needle the Selectmen for their vanity at every town meeting? She hasn't said much lately, has she?

You only need to blacklist a few "Hollywood Commies" to get the movie studios to turn out films you consider "sufficiently patriotic" and "not smutty".

You only need to lock up a few protestors who stray out of "Designated Free Speech Zones" to convince most people with jobs and kids that protesting just isn't safe.

Read teece's comment again: "I have personally attended one class where the teacher grimaced and cut off conversation because it was getting 'political' and another class where the professor completely disallows not only political discussion...."
posted by orthogonality at 5:57 PM on March 20, 2005


You only need to burn one "witch" to get every herbal remedy-ist and odd old women in the neighborhood to shut up, stay home, and be very very careful. You know, the old woman who until you burnt the witch used to needle the Selectmen for their vanity at every town meeting? She hasn't said much lately, has she?

Perhaps, (and this may be based on hope and observation of history more than anything empirical) people eventually get sick of that shit and it backfires. American's are inculcated with anti-authoritian instincts, they just forget where they left them half the time, especially in times of fear.
posted by jonmc at 6:01 PM on March 20, 2005


American's are inculcated with anti-authoritian instincts, they just forget where they left them half the time, especially in times of fear.

You mean when it really matters?
posted by dame at 6:21 PM on March 20, 2005


"But useyurbrain seems oblivious to the fact that when leftists are in power (or even when they're around like minded people) they'll do the same thing"

Oh, I am very aware of this. I was a life-long republican until about two years ago and remember how I felt in 1992-3 when the Democrats controlled both chambers and the presidency. I am disgusted that, now in power, the Republicans are FAR worse.

At least then the worst that happened was that I didn't agree with the spending or maybe a few social policies. Now I feel like personal liberty and freedom are being attacked. That is why I have left the party.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:49 PM on March 20, 2005


Nice one.

Everything that I'd like to say on the issue has already been said by Michael Berube. Really, read it. It's great.
posted by rafter at 7:00 PM on March 20, 2005


Look, I went to a really great liberal (in both senses of the term) arts college and I loved every minute of it. But please let's not pretend that "universities... encourage students to examine ideas from many viewpoints." That's just ridiculous. Sure, they allow some debate and discussion, but it's tightly controlled.

The discussion that is permitted in academia presupposes certain things. For example, that the U.S. is trying really hard to do good things and just screwing up some of the time, that the Cold War was a struggle against communism, that only people who've studied in universities are qualified to make important decisions about policies, war, and economics, etc. Some debate is allowed, but only those who accept these assumptions as givens are allowed to participate. If you want to talk about the proposition that capitalism is anti-democratic or the notion that the primary target of the US's attack on Viet Nam was the civilian population then you're simply not admitted.

Noam Chomsky often talks about how these restrictions work. And he ought to know, since he's a perfect example of someone who talks about these "unmentionable" ideas and who the academic establishment has shut out. He teaches at a major university, but only in the linguistics department. He can go almost anywhere in the world to talk about politics and draw crowds of people, but no one school has ever allowed him to teach in their political science department. And then there's the story he tells about Norman Finkelstein, a guy who was frozen out of academia because he exposed the fraud behind a book that tried to justify the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, From Time Immemorial. And the list could just go on and on.

Universities are not by any stretch of the imagination an open system. Hell, there is no system out there - no church, no commune, no laboratory, no extended family; nothing - that doesn't impose a certain amount of ideological control. There are certain things that you simply cannot say in any given setting; at the dinner table, while standing in line at the bank, in a college classroom, whatever. Anyone who denies this is simply ignoring reality.
posted by Clay201 at 8:41 PM on March 20, 2005


Noam Chomsky often talks about how these restrictions work. And he ought to know, since he's a perfect example of someone who talks about these "unmentionable" ideas and who the academic establishment has shut out. He teaches at a major university, but only in the linguistics department. He can go almost anywhere in the world to talk about politics and draw crowds of people, but no one school has ever allowed him to teach in their political science department.

Funny story about the bastard -- he was invited to speak at my (so far left that it's about to come around and approach the center from the right side) school, and the conservatives on campus mounted a major protest against his coming. They wound up blocking the linguistics department from sponsoring his lecture due to some credentials fiasco or whatnot, and the computer science department, which was Chomsky's original academic field, came forward and sponsored his lecture instead. On politics.

Ahh, nothing like the civilized and sanguine halls of academia...
posted by DaShiv at 9:03 PM on March 20, 2005


Clay201 - I'm a teaching assistant in a university, and you would be perfectly welcome to say those things in my class (were it on topic, of course). You would also be welcome to provide evidence to back up your points, and other students (and myself) would be welcome to agree or disagree with your assertions, bringing our own evidence and points to support our opinions.

(In case you are wondering, a Cold War historian just mentioned that your "givens" about Cold War history are not actually givens - he says the Cold War is much complex than a struggle against communism, and he would hope that any undergraduate student he taught would understand this by the end of the course.)

But the purpose of university is not simply to be exposed to different ideas or to discuss all possible opinions on a subject. If you want that, the best place to begin is the internet. The purpose of a university is to be trained in an academic discipline; the holistic growth of the mind doesn't come about simply due the content of what you learn (though that can help), but the discipline you learn. It's about being able to think about whatever you study (whether it is literature, chemical bonding, or the properties of condensed matter) in disciplined and rigorous way.
posted by jb at 9:30 PM on March 20, 2005


He teaches at a major university, but only in the linguistics department.

And what is that, purgatory? Does he have a PhD in political science or public policy too?
posted by raysmj at 9:30 PM on March 20, 2005


He teaches at a major university, but only in the linguistics department.

Poor, poor man. Imagine a linguist stuck languishing in a linguistics department. And at a craphole like MIT, no less.

He can go almost anywhere in the world to talk about politics and draw crowds of people, but no one school has ever allowed him to teach in their political science department.

How many poli-sci jobs has he applied for?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:32 PM on March 20, 2005


ROU_Xenophobe;

I didn't say that Chomsky is suffering. He's not. I simply said that his political ideas are being kept out of the classroom. And obviously they are.
posted by Clay201 at 11:32 PM on March 20, 2005


I simply said that his political ideas are being kept out of the classroom. And obviously they are.

That neatly explains why I can easily find tons of course syllabi that mention him outside of linguistics.

I mean, really, is it so damn hard to search for noam chomsky syllabus -linguistics and skim through to note that for someone being "kept out" of the classroom, he seems to be in it an awful lot?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:37 AM on March 21, 2005


...the purpose of university is not simply to be exposed to different ideas or to discuss all possible opinions on a subject..... It's about being able to think about whatever you study (whether it is literature, chemical bonding, or the properties of condensed matter) in disciplined and rigorous way.

Actually, I largely agree with you on this point. A university doesn't exist to bring together a lot of different ideas and methods for the benefit of its students. The purpose of a university is to indoctrinate its students, to teach them to think certain things. You can't accomplish this if you allow real intellectual freedom.

You say that universities teach them to think "in a disciplined and rigorous way." Well, of course, that's true, provided we define "disciplined and rigorous way" the same way the university does. Remember, there's a fairly small group of people who get to decide what does and doesn't meet this definition. They're no less biased than you or I; they can't be trusted (nor can anyone else) to maintain some sort of holy standard of rigor or discipline or, god help us, objectivity. So what we end up with is a situation where ideas that conform to their ideology are considered "disciplined" and "rigorous" while ideas that don't conform aren't. If I say that I want to write a paper proving that Kennedy was a mass murder who should have been tried at the Hague, then I'm not being "rigorous" and "disciplined"... I'm being "fanatical" or I'm arguing "conspiracy theories." And god help me should I want to attend graduate school in that field.

Saying that we need these guys to teach us sound thinking is like saying we need priests to tell us what is and isn't moral or political parties to tell us who to vote for. And remember, these folks get their jobs and their research grants from a bunch of rich people and the government. They owe you and I little or nothing. Historically, they've been very supportive of policies like, say, the terrorist campaign against Cuba and organizations like The World Bank.

Now, that said, I'm a big fan of skepticism, the scientific method, and "rigorous thought" (a term I first heard during my undergraduate days). I like these things quite a bit and use them all the time. Indeed, I think they're important tools for dissenters. Which is another great reason why they shouldn't be entrusted to a bunch of guys who have ideological axes to grind and a huge incentive for doing so.

You point out that the internet is a much better source of open discussion and debate than is academia. That's no accident. Academia is autocratic. The 'net, while hardly free and anarchic, is far, far more open and democratic. Thus, it's possible to find real intellectual freedom here online (although there are still serious hurdles to overcome) whereas such things are largely non-existent in academia.

he says the Cold War is much complex than a struggle against communism

Going only on what info you're giving me here (and I understand you not posting this guy's whole thesis or whatever), he's disagreeing with me one hundred percent. I'm saying that the communism schtick is a pile of bull. He's saying it's true (then adding that there are additional factors at work).
posted by Clay201 at 1:18 AM on March 21, 2005


I think you make good points, Clay201, but I think there is one important thing to add. Assuming one believes in an objective reality (which not all do, I guess), if a student wishes to present an argument contrary to objective reality, their job is going to be hard.

Say, if I want to write a well reasoned paper in my astronomy class arguing that the Moon is, indeed, made of green cheese, I am going to have a much harder time not flunking than the student that writes that the moon is made of rock.

That's not bias or conspiracy beyond a bias towards believing the generally accepted objective reality.

Granted, in fields like historical interpretation or politics, objective reality is going to be pretty hard to pin down, but it is still important to know that much of what one will bump into is not entirely made up of bias or the like.
posted by teece at 2:12 AM on March 21, 2005


Clay201 : " The discussion that is permitted in academia presupposes certain things. For example, that the U.S. is trying really hard to do good things and just screwing up some of the time, that the Cold War was a struggle against communism, that only people who've studied in universities are qualified to make important decisions about policies, war, and economics, etc. Some debate is allowed, but only those who accept these assumptions as givens are allowed to participate. If you want to talk about the proposition that capitalism is anti-democratic or the notion that the primary target of the US's attack on Viet Nam was the civilian population then you're simply not admitted."

My experience has been different. Discussion was allowed for all of the above, but the presupposition that the U.S. is trying really hard to do good things and just screwing up would not have been given much support and credence. The proposition that capitalism is anti-democratic, far from preventing admittance, was pretty much the norm.

Clay201 : "I simply said that his political ideas are being kept out of the classroom."

Noam Chomsky is being kept out of the classroom?!

Clay201 : "If I say that I want to write a paper proving that Kennedy was a mass murder who should have been tried at the Hague, then I'm not being 'rigorous' and 'disciplined'... I'm being 'fanatical' or I'm arguing 'conspiracy theories.'"

And I would suspect that you would be praised for being 'bold', 'innovative', or 'incisive'.
I think the moral of the story is, obviously, not all universities are built alike. Your ideas can't seem to find any corollary reality in my experience.

I will agree that academia is autocratic. However, it really seems that it depends on the individual university whether it's autocratically left or autocratically right.
posted by Bugbread at 2:25 AM on March 21, 2005


If I say that I want to write a paper proving that Kennedy was a mass murder who should have been tried at the Hague, then I'm not being "rigorous" and "disciplined"...

If you can prove it, you are. This would be a difficult task. How do you prove that someone should have been tried anywhere? There's no objective fact there to prove, only an opinion that someone ought to have something.

It would be easier to argue that Kennedy had important similarities with people actually tried in the Hague. Someone could write a decent paper on that, assuming it were true. I doubt it would fare well at a journal, since the argument that leaders of nations sometimes do very bad things is hardly new or interesting, nor is the argument that leaders of great powers get away with things that leaders of small countries do not, but you never know.

Historically, they've been very supportive of policies like, say, the terrorist campaign against Cuba and organizations like The World Bank.

How could you possibly know this? Were there a set of surveys of university faculty asking questions about the Cuban embargo and the World Bank? Do you have some measures of active support for these policies that you'd like to share with us? What does "very supportive" mean -- what percent of respondents have to say what in order for the group to be "very supportive"?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:07 AM on March 21, 2005


wanna know how godamn sick i am of the right-wing bias present in the actions and attitudes of corporate america? do you?
fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat. when the birds start eating too many damn fish the fish have to swim a little lower.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:53 AM on March 21, 2005


es_de_bah : " wanna know how godamn sick i am of the right-wing bias present in the actions and attitudes of corporate america? do you?"

Nope.
posted by Bugbread at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2005


bugbread-- my friend went to Occidental. I couldn't believe some of the stuff that was going on there. Some people have definitely taken the "liberal" ideology too far and completely turned it on its head, where if you don't agree with the exact party line (and you're white) you become a racist/sexist/nazi. Funnily enough, my friend also became somewhat conservative after awhile, because it was like, if this is the Left, then let me out. Eventually he found that Oxy is not part of reality.

So you may be coming at things from a fairly extreme perspective. My experience at a fairly conservative university was that there will always be a fairly hard-core group of liberals who tend to be the loudest, and this intimidates some people into thinking that they're under attack from "the left".
posted by chaz at 11:31 AM on March 21, 2005


I'm sorry to be pretty strong here, but do you all live on another planet or something? Universities as an autocracy? Sure, in the administration. But in the academics and curriculum?

Academics are like cats. You could not possibly find a less autocratic group of people. They hate being told what to do or think. They can't even agree half the time on what kinds of courses to teach, let alone what to teach in them. Trust me - I hear the departmental gossip. You want instant disagreement? Just put two academics in the same field in a room together. Journals are filled, forests are destroyed, by the disagreements of academics. The reason the phrase "believed by most academics in the field" carries such weight is that it so rarely happens.

Maybe it's a really different experience for most undergrads. I was a pretty outspoken student when I was an undergrad, so I'm just guessing here, but I wonder how many just aren't used to the idea of presenting strong opinions with the expectation that they will be disagreed with. All academics are strongly opinionated in their own field - you can't get by in academics if you don't believe in what you write, and you have to write something that changes your field just a little to get a job. It just happens that students generally tend to have more preconceived opinions in the social sciences and humanities (though increasinging in the natural sciences, such as on global warming, evolution, etc). But that said, it would be a truly inane professor who expects you to simply agree - you're suposed to use your own critical facilities to decide whether you agree with them or not. If you aren't using your own critical facilities, then it's your own fault. This is university, not grade three. Nor are you there to be spoonfed - if you think you have evidence against something, go find it. I used the CIA factbook to prove that my professor didn't understand the difference in GINI ratings between the US and the UK.

I have had left wing professors. I have had right wing professors (yes, they exist, and in history of charity and social welfare too!). I have disagreed with professors of all persuasions, but I would like to think that I disagreed with their interpretation based on the historical (or other kinds of) evidence available to me. Sometimes they presented evidence that changed my preconceived notions - I like to call this learning. Sometimes, I presented evidence or an interpretation of the evidence that changed their mind. But no matter what happened, I have never had a professor who was offended or suggested in any way that I should not disagree with them. Not even in Creative Writing (where, incidentally, I got my TA to agree that science fiction has literary potential - I gave her Zamiatin's We as a present at the end of the year.)

Frankly, if we're suposed to be indoctrinating anyone, no one has told me what I'm suposed to be indoctrinating them in. I haven't been given any book (red, blue or otherwise) - I'm just lucky I'm told a little about what's going to be on the exam.

If my indoctrination program were working, you would know. The government (of whatever country you're in) would be pouring money into the study of pre-modern English history. All contemporary political debate would cease, because really, the twentieth century is just a flash in the pan. You can't really understand anything without 2 or 300 years to reflect on it. You would drop this "left" and "right" nonsense, and be talking about the "commonwealth" versus the "public good". And everyone would know that as cool as the English are, the Dutch were there first.

What? They don't teach this in every class in every university? God forbid! How dare they teach different things! How are we suposed to complete this indoctrination program if they keep teaching these different subjects, with different books and completely different methodolgies and ways at looking at the world! And then letting students take different classes? Shocking!

Also, I'd like to point out that there are so many disciplines (premodern History, archeology, most of the natural sciences) where contemporary political debates have nothing to do with the class. It does slip in - professors and TAs are people with just the same rights and opinions as any other citizen - but really, it doesn't matter what that opinion is when you are talking about the causes of the Thirty Years War or how to parse an English sentance.

Finally - for Clay201 - My friend wants to know who your Cold War professor was (if you took a university class on the Cold War). The reason he wants to know is because while he admits that there are fundamental things that all reputable historians of the period believe (like that history happened in the past, very few aliens were involved), the examples you gave were not them. For example, no reputable academic would describe the Cold War "as a struggle against communism" - the generally accepted description might be something like "The Cold War was a cold conflict primarily between two world superpowers, one of which believed itself to be capitalist and democratic and the other of which believed itself to be on the road to communism (but not there yet)". You could still add a lot to this.
posted by jb at 4:09 PM on March 21, 2005


jb: My personal comments were all about extracurricular things (signs permitted or forbidden on campus, phrases permitted or forbidden on campus, etc.). Classes themselves were fine as long as you didn't sign up for the wackos' classes.
posted by Bugbread at 4:33 PM on March 21, 2005


es_de_bah : " wanna know how godamn sick i am of the right-wing bias present in the actions and attitudes of corporate america? do you?"

Nope.
posted by bugbread at 11:08 AM PST on March 21 [!] "

Would that media bias include the NYT ?

It has been proven that The New York Times lies.
posted by troutfishing at 10:12 PM on March 23, 2005


« Older Look at eBay from a different angle....  |  Hitler's "fountain of life." ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments