Academics who hold that it is sacrilege to question their ideas are putting free inquiry in danger, argue the president of Northwestern and one of his colleagues.
I appreciate this commentary, especially after trying to converse with my extremely woke niece, who is a junior at Northwestern, the place you both teach. When I dared to raise objections to some of her most cherished beliefs (I told her looting and rioting does not serve ANY cause well for example), she told me that was my white privilege speaking. I'm sad to say we now talk very little.
I will be quite interested to see if the halls of academia actually do open to other opinions. I have an Ivy League college degree (1986), an M.A. from a state school in the Midwest, and classify myself as an old-school liberal who believes in free speech. Not allowing speakers with unpopular opinions on college campuses because their beliefs "cause harm" is a betrayal of everything the university used to stand for. If students don't like an opinion, they should learn how to argue and reason against it. I have always been proudly left of center, but but the woke left does not represent me at all.
I agree with the authors' concerns. But I also detect naivety that we can ill afford. In discussions of the decline of tolerance for intellectual and political heterogeneity on university campuses, I've often seen some version of the following statement: "So far as we can tell, the majority of faculty avoid imposing their own political views on students and strive for impartiality." Whenever I've seen this kind of statement from an academic who's become aware that there's a problem with a particular kind of woke, fundamentalist, radical, "queer," postcolonial, etc., "monoculture," what I hear is: I'm sure that most of my colleagues--whom I know from coffee, serving on college or university committees, or attending university events--aren't responsible for this phenomenon. This must mean there are a few rogue actors out there, perhaps equally spread among all the units, certainly people I don't know from dinner or the curriculum committee. Fun fact: when they're among their own, for instance in faculty meetings, radical faculty often mock administrators like you because you're so clueless about what's going on.
So, let me break that bubble: there are not just a few rogue actors. Have you met women's studies? The English department? Ethnic and racial studies? Probably religious studies. History and the law school are likely sites of a culture war that everyone just ignores. If you could be a fly on the wall of most classes in the humanities, you'd see what you're expressing concern about. The phenomenon has also spread through the humanities subfields of the social sciences. One result of defunding and marginalizing the humanities is the radicalization of the humanities. And I'll bet you that most of their students are on board, not just playing for pay; that's why they're there! And I have one more tip: when these faculty say they teach all sides or some such thing, what they mean is that they tell their students that anyone who doesn't agree with the one right interpretation or belief is racist or some colorful variant of reactionary. I know this because students tell me all the time that Professor X has explained what people on the other side of issue Y believe. Do tell! I think it's my job to explain the range of ideas and arguments--usually the best version of those ideas and arguments--in order to help my students "test" what I understand they believe. I'm constantly introducing my students to ideas they've never heard of before because they've so consistently been given the most binary (a fave term in the radical academy, usually associated with all things white and Western) version of reality. I've also spent years reading manuscripts submitted for review and observing my colleagues teach--education about what critical thinking means in vast tracts of the contemporary academy.
The conspicuous silence of college and university presidents on this is issue, present company excluded, is most troubling to me. One would expect them to be in the forefront of the discussion. Do you think they are acquiescing to the mob, in agreement with the mob, or clueless?
Much to like in this Morson-Schapiro piece, and for me this is a highlight:
"we might just find that some of our most deeply held views could use some nuance"
If that were only the case for post-graduate life out in the real world. In today's influence economy, nuance can't be monetized and leveraged for gaining a competitive edge. Nuance doesn't generate click-throughs, nor doe it accrue a high enough interest rate in our quest for social currency.
I'm heartened to see you writing this Morty and wonder if your impending departure has given you more freedom to express your views. As an Northwestern alumnus whose daughter graduated a few years ago and who lives near campus, I've watched for years as the university has become more and more monocultural. Fortunately, my daughter was a neuroscience major and had less exposure to the woke indoctrination that her friends experienced and constantly regurgitate on their social media platforms. The university's treatment of Laura Kipnis and Alice Dreger under your watch was an embarrassment for an institution that purports to value academic freedom. Further, everything I receive from NU as an alumnus reflects a fundamentalist, progressive perspective. Here's my question: What have you done over the last few years to support viewpoint diversity at Northwestern? Nothing is evident. It is helpful to have another local university, of which I am also an alumnus, against which to compare NU's performance in this regard. I'll always be proud to be a Wildcat, but I'm far prouder of the performance of the University of Chicago.
The only college that remotely encourages intellectual diversity is Hillsdale. Not unrelated, they also take no government money. Harvard takes in $600M per year of its budget from the government. There is no way they would have left Warren's padded resume alone if they were truly independent. I don't think radical defunding for universities is a near term option, but unless the IRS begins to rattle the saber on the not for profit status of hyper-partisan institutions, you will see little change. The sad thing is the stark partisanship and intellectual rot is not even ideological. It is just hard core single party group think. This ethos is not remotely consistent with intellectual inquiry and truth.
Excellent piece. But “Having witnessed dramatic changes in climate” is a telling explanation for environmental fundamentalism. “Fear of future dramatic changes” is more accurate as would be “believing that one has witnessed dramatic changes in climate”. Fundamentalism is generally built on fear and misinformation that is often deeply embedded.
I really miss the days where “woke” had a spiritual connotation, as in “opening your third eye and staying woke.” Afterward it had a more conspiratorial connotation, as in: “the CIA purposefully constructed the crack epidemic, stay woke.” It was part of African American vernacular and meant nothing close to the way people use it now. Now old white liberals and conservatives alike think it means “aggressively PC and liberal,” and it’s a real shame. Not a knock on the article, just reading the way it’s used these days is so depressing.
Call me crazy if you want, but I think a good starting point for this would be for colleges to start de-stigmatizing socialism and defining it more clearly. The survey you cited of Harvard faculty has “liberal” and “very liberal” as the only two left of center choices...historically and geo-politically speaking, identifying as ”very liberal” does not mean you are a leftist, and being “liberal” does not necessarily mean you’re even on the left at all. Just look at all the never-Trump republicans calling themselves “classical liberals.” Characterizing the far left as “very liberal,” is a manifestation of the anti-socialist American agenda that has been such a strong force since the early 20th century. With the rising number of social democrats throughout the country, it would be very helpful if some of the people who identify as left of center actually learned that most social democrats would consider them centrist moderates. I imagine if you changed “very liberal” to “socialist,” those numbers would change drastically, and you’d have a more accurate picture of where the faculty falls on the political spectrum.
Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro. Your latest book is 'Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us.' Yet your university departments and curricula seem bound to 'divide us.' I'm looking at Northwestern.edu websites. All but the STEM fields promote 'critical theory' and 'anti-racism,' two of the most divisive and politically-charged subject areas in our country today:
1. https://criticaltheory.northwestern.edu/ "Critical theory involves the attempt to better understand power, conflict and crisis, and to achieve change, emancipation, or distance from the beliefs, presuppositions, forces, forms, conventions, conditions, assemblages, and institutions of human life." Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences offers a minor in critical theory . . .
2. https://criticalrace.org/schools/northwestern-university/ . . . (no need to comment)
3. https://polisci.northwestern.edu/research/subfield-specialties/critical-theory.html (ditto)
4. https://csdd.northwestern.edu/ Center for the study of Diversity and Democracy
"Starting now, the senior leadership team and I commit to fostering and creating a Law School community premised on and dedicated to anti-racism. . . "
7. https://www.northwestern.edu/leadership-notes/2020/update-on-commitments-to-inclusion-and-social-justice.html ". . . In alignment with a recommendation from the Black Student Experience Task Force Report, Wildcat Welcome also has been enhanced over the past three years. Most recently, additional affinity spaces have been incorporated into the program, and this fall, all new students will participate in a required diversity and inclusion training, co-developed by Campus Inclusion and Community and New Student Programs." (what the f**k do 'affine spaces' -- a geometry concept -- have to do with decision making?)
Required diversity and inclusion training, better known as propaganda training, for all new students? Do you hear yourselves? It sounds to me that you two leaders at Northwestern don't recognize that you are "Living in echo chambers where (y)our views are only ever reinforced by friends and the media does a disservice to us all. Ideological segregation, like any other kind, promotes the demonization of the excluded."
All speech should be protected when it occurs, without violence, in public places. The University is not a public place but a place dedicated to learning. Speakers at college campuses should not be presenting false facts such as "participants of January 6 were only tourists". Where there is a serious difference of opinion, such as the positive or negative effects of Brexit or the best approach to immigration both sides need to be heard with their interpretation of the facts. To present only one side of a controversy does not provide for adequate discussion and debate of serious issues. In some areas the facts are quite overwhelming such as the negative effects of racism, but even these effects need to be adjusted for the negative effects of social class; there are 14,152,000 poor white Americans.
Just plain Thank You, really, thank you.
Thanks. I find it sad that we've reached this point. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back.
"We know that even if you wanted to, brainwashing undergraduates is close to impossible. Students might feel compelled to give you back what you ask for in order to get good grades, but experience shows us most revel in their independence, and are anything but gullible. When they smell proselytization, they run the other way. This doesn’t mean that they’ve internalized the process of testing ideas and distinguishing dogma from free inquiry, of course. If only!"
Do we really know? Is that a belief or a face? Sounds maybe you have a fundamentalist view there. Why do you think that "undergraduates" are particularly exempt from being "brainwashed"? Personally, I do not think "brainwashed" is the correct term for what is happening to many undergraduates -- perhaps bamboozled or misinformed are more apt descriptions of what too often happens to undergraduates going through the liberal arts and social science departments of colleges. However, certainly some stuff does certainly qualify as "brainwashing", such as the academic source doctrine of the Cult of the Awoken. Any undergraduate that is compelled to ingest "White Fragility" or its allied ideology by a professor who is sympathetic to it will experience an attempt at psychic domination and mental rewiring -- hopefully, they will make it through that lived experience with their intellectual and moral agency unharmed and intact. Some do not though, clearly, as they are taking it into corporate board rooms, school boards, and the halls of congress. Too much stuff that gets peddled in universities as knowledge is more delusional than the fantasies of L Ron Hubbard. It is a crime that public taxes are often used to support that trash. Churches can spread whatever nonsense they want on their private dime; government funded colleges do not have that privilege.
"While the fact that almost everyone votes the same way does not indicate a culture of deliberate brainwashing, it means that students do not always hear both sides of arguments from people who believe in them. As John Stuart Mill famously said, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”"
Correct, because the schools don't hire or seek to employ people with a diversity of political philosophy. Schools are primarily concerned, when it comes to diversity, hiring or employing people to satisfy race and gender ratios -- insofar as people adhere to the same political philosophy - "liberal." Again, I imagine "brainwashing" is not the right word for what is happening in colleges. Deliberate "indoctrination" is probably the more appropriate word or maybe we should just use the Orwellian euphemism more often expressed by the academe itself: "activism."
Totally ineffectual piece. We've all heard it a thousand times before. The supposed audience will simply respond, "To hell with your quaint norms of "reason". What about systemic racism [sexism, gender bias, class inequalities, etc.]?" What's needed is a sustained chorus of critique of their crude and destructive ideas, not simply their authoritarian impulses. Those best placed to lead that chorus are tenured professors. Where are they in this battle for the soul of the West? Writing the occasional hand-wringing article, pleading for the cultists to play nice.
Thank you for this persuasive piece. It is also a blessing to read many of the comments here. I do not always fully agree with everything published at Persuasion, but the level of thoughtful discussion is refreshing.