June 29, 2006

What Does Academia Celebrate on Independence Day?

As some here may know, my "day job" involves exposing an increasingly anti-American, and anti-Enlightenment cult within academia. I recently took part in an informal project that, in part, compared academia to the blogosphere. We analyzed the results of Google searches on the internet sites of the top 100 colleges and universities in the nation, wanting to observe how frequently the word "diversity" came up, in comparison to the more conventional ideological and political terms: "liberty", "freedom", "equality", and "democracy". We figured this would give us a rough idea of how preoccupied academia has become with some of the faddish counter-enlightenment concepts of the "left of the left" that Howard Dean seems to think will soon redefine politics in America.

And since we wanted to see how academia measured up against the rest of the society we conducted the same search engine analysis for a number of other institutional sectors: political parties, trade unions, business associations, churches, mainstream media, and the blogosphere. Although this wasn't a rigorous analysis, what we found was surprisingly consistent and provocative.

The findings are summarized in this press release and detailed in the report: Words to Live By: How Diversity Trumps Freedom on University Websites.

What might be of special interest to the blogosphere is that even if we include both the left and right hemispheres of the "new media", bloggers are still less enthralled by the diversity mantra than is any other sector, with the possible exception of the electoral committees of the political parties. In other words "diversity", although it enthralls academics, doesn't seem to have much appeal for sectors of the society that have any kind of direct accountability to the public. The more accountable, the less likely they are to refer to such terms of art.

Again, I don't want to characterize this as a "slam dunk" indictment of academia. Rather, it supports a robust hypothesis that inspires further analysis. But if these findings are born out then the academy has drifted pretty far from the main stream of society, and they'd better start giving some thought to how they're going to find their way back, before they end up permanently in the wilderness, awaiting their own version of the second coming.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:10 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2006

Summers' Protagonist Dies

Denise Denton, Chancellor of UC-Santa Cruz, and the woman who sparked the controversy over Larry Summers' non-PC remarks about women in the top echelon of science, which resulted in his resignation after a no confidence vote by Harvard's humanities faculty, has apparently committed suicide in San Francisco. People close to her say that she was depressed about "events in her personal and professional life." With an income, as a university administrator, of close to $300,000 it's difficult to imagine that she had any serious financial worries. There's not much to say about what motivates someone to suicide, but it is certainly another strange turn in the ongoing saga of academia's capture by an obscure counter-enlightenment creed. Perhaps Armed Liberal has some comments on the role of "bad philosophy"?

Posted by Demosophist at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2006

I'm Turning Off Comments

I got around to checking my email and found that I've had 1300 spam comments within the last month, so I'm closing comments until I can figure out what to do about it. I'm also turning off pings, although that hasn't been a huge spam problem yet. Sorry about the inconvenience, and if I inadvertently delete your comment I apologize. I'll get it sorted out as quickly as a I can.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2006

Jawa Report Down

For those who might be inclined to tune in to the Jawa Report for details and commentary on the kidnap, torture, and murder of Pfcs. Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, the blog is under a "distributed denial of service" attack from an Islamist hacker group based in Turkey. Most other Munuvian sites are up, and we're awaiting a new dedicated server that will be capable of getting the Jawa Report back up. No prediction yet from Pixy, but it's not supposed to be a long wait. Of course time is relative under these circumstances.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 16, 2006

James Carville's Foot

While getting ready to go to work this morning I was listening to James Carville complain about the recent rise in George Bush's (and America's) fortunes. As part of his argument that we're applying the "soft bigotry of low expectations" to the Bush administration he made the comment that the Stock Market is currently 10% below what it was when Bush took office. I grew a bit skeptical of that claim, so looked it up. It appears that the DOW closed at either $10,088 or $10,078, depending on whether we're talking about Clinton's last day or the first market day of Bush's term. Yesterday the DOW closed at $11,015. Using the CPI deflator that is $5976 and $5440 in 1983 dollars, respectively. Carville is right to the extent that the average is down (after accounting for inflation), but 0.6% is a lot different than 10%. Moreover, it's arguably unfair to make this comparison since Bush really wasn't able to influence the economy until Clinton's budget year ended, and that extended through the end of September, 2001. Not holding Bill accountable for the consequences of 9/11, on the day prior to the attack the DOW closed at $9,606, which deflates to $5388 in 1983 dollars. Either way one looks at it Carville wasn't even close. The stock market is either very modestly lower, or higher, than when Bush's watch began.

Note: For some reason both my adjusted index for Clinton and the calculation of the percent change were off, the latter by an order of magnitude. And I calculated it twice! Beware of calculators before morning coffee. At any rate the actual percent drop in the Dow was about 5.5% from Jan. 2001 to now. But again, if we use as our point of comparison the end of Clinton's policy domination of the market on Sept. 10, 2001 the market has actually gone up.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:08 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 14, 2006

The Price of Academia's Relevance

I recently read an essay about academic freedom, by Michael Berube on Le Blog. I'd like to address some of what I think are flaws in his argument, but I appreciate the fact that he has gone to the trouble of expressing his thesis in a form that's accessible to the blogosphere. The first issue I'd like to raise is that I think he understates the problem of bias in the academy:

I'll make the obvious argument first. Academic freedom is under attack for pretty much the same reasons that liberalism itself is under attack. American universities tend to be somewhat left of center of the American mainstream, particularly with regard to cultural issues that have to do with gender roles and sexuality: the combination of a largely liberal, secular professoriate and a generally under-25 student body tends to give you a campus population that, by and large, does not see gay marriage as a serious threat to the Republic. And after 9/11 again, for obvious reasons many forms of mainstream liberalism have been denounced as anti-American. There is, as you know, a cottage industry of popular right-wing books in which liberalism is equated with treason (that would be Ann Coulter), with mental disorders (Michael Savage), and with fascism (Jonah Goldberg). Coulters book [sic] also mounts a vigorous defense of Joe McCarthy, and Michelle Malkin has written a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. In that kind of climate, it should come as no surprise that we would be seeing attacks on one of the few remaining institutions in American life that is often though not completely dominated by liberals.

Simply put, be begins by understating the bias and misrepresenting the opposition as a bunch of right-wing kooks. No doubt there's a little hyperbole in the submissions of the three critics he mentions (though at this point he omits more credible critiques, such as Alan Kors' The Shadow University), but sometimes a little hyperbolics are necessary to get the boulder rolling. Recent polls indicate that left self-identification in the humanities within American universities varies from a high of 88% (English) to a low of 77% (Sociology and History), while less than 10% identify with the right in those disciplines. More to the point, there are no longer any reliably conservative disciplines anywhere in academia. Even campus departments traditionally viewed as conservative tend to be more "liberal" than the general population, including business and engineering. According to Stan Rothman's recent testimony to the "Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on American Faculty Ideology", 49% of business and 51% of engineering faculty self-identify as "on the left or liberal" while a minority of 39% in both disciplines self-identify as "on the right or conservative". Moreover, the major shift leftward has been relatively recent. In 1969 the Carnegie Commission found that 45% of faculty identified as left/liberal and 28% as right/conservative. Over the next two decades the situation didn't change much, but then by 1999 72% identified as on the left with only 15% on the right. What changed?

It's difficult to imagine how this change could have been effected without the "piling on" of a cultural orientation that generally attempts to reward like-minded people, and either inadvertently or deliberately excludes oppositional voices. And the shift also coincides with the emergence and rapid ascendance of the multiculturalism theme in academia, which provided effective "cover" for this "piling on" approach. Most people believe "diversity" and "multiculturalism" are simply synonyms for "variety", rather than products of the cultural remapping of Marxist ideology produced by the Frankfurt School. But not only have multiculturalism and diversity become wildly popular concepts (mostly within academia, however) but the concepts have even displaced tried and true leftist iconic prescriptions like "equality of condition". According to the new campus ideology traditional ideological watchwords such as"equality", "freedom", and "liberty" no longer apply to individuals, but to groups. Group rights now not only trump individual rights in nearly every corner of society, but they even trump "academic freedom"! If you doubt this go to any university website and enter these words to compare the number of hits produced. You'll find that there are almost no exceptions to the rule that "diversity" trumps everything. Now try it with a few other institutional website search engines, and compare.

Given these apparent preferences it seems reasonable to at least consider the possibility that such commitments to group rights undermine the set of commitments that, according to Ladd, Lipset, and others define an American Identity. How does it not amount to slander to label this equivalent to racism, and what sort of weak substitute for such a robust rights orientation does "multiculturalism" really represent?

But the second issue is probably more important, though a great deal more difficult to nail down. Ironically it involves the same confusion that sometimes afflicts people on the libertarian right. This involves the notion that freedom is an apparently infinitely extensible attribute, and that absolute freedom is something that one ought to aspire toward or desire, like being rich or thin. In fact, if academia is able to convince both itself, and others, of the truth of this conceptual meme they're liable to find themselves stranded in an airless wasteland where the only movement they'll be able to produce is a helpless Brownian agitation. As the great economist from the London School of Economics, Ralf Dahrendorf, once observed in his book Life Chances (paraphrasing) "Freedom without obligation might as well be obligation without freedom."

Even if we completely discount the "social contract" concept that Berube argues isn't applicable to academic freedom it's nonetheless a fact that failure of the academy to obligate itself in some realistic way will lead to complete ineffectiveness and marginalization, like a weightless untethered astronaut in outer space. That's not the fault of the kooky right. It's just the effect of bad judgment.

In his essay Berube betrays no awareness of this danger at all. The argument is simply that academic freedom is, by definition, without obligation (or that all freedom is, by definition, unobstructed by obligation). If this is freedom, it'll prove useless and powerless. And if achieved it'll feed radicalization on the theory that powerlessness must be someone else's fault.

Michael then addresses the testimony of National Association of Scholars President, Stephen Balch, to the Select Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (Nov. 9, 2005):

More seriously, Balch is drawing on the history of affirmative action and employment discrimination law in order to argue that universities should make good faith efforts to hire people more to his ideological liking. This is a common theme in right-wing attacks on universities, especially among those critics who have become alarmed that affirmative action has gone too far, insofar as fully five percent of all doctorates are now awarded to black people.

The implication that racism is attributable exclusively to the conservative opposition is a meme so dear to the left that it inevitably proves irresistible. So perhaps we can excuse Michael for being "in the tank." But I think Dr. Balch was employing irony to make the point that there are distinctly credible arguments against such notions as "multiculturalism" that have been effectively silenced within the academy due to the dominance of a contrived ideological formulation, insisting on the "inherent racism" of privileged cultures. S.M. Lipset, who with Everett Ladd produced one of the seminal studies of academic bias, The Divided Academy, once said that in the 1960s and '70s, when he and Ladd conducted their analysis, the ends of the competence spectrum were relatively immune to social pressure in hiring, tenure and promotion. That is, people of extremely high ability were hired and promoted irrespective of their ideological views or race, while those of manifestly low ability simply didn't make the grade no matter how ideologically servile or white they were. But for the vast majority in the middle their "ability to fit in" was the primary determinant of hiring, tenure, and promotion.

This suggests that, at least at the time, people of extraordinary gifts tended to really be free of the threat of social pressure. And if there's a rationale for academic freedom, providing the benefit of independence in research and education, it was only this smallish group that achieved such an absence of limitation during that post-Vietnam era. More recently, another analysis conducted by Stan Rothman suggests that the situation has become worse rather than better, though descrimination is no longer on the basis of race. In other words, not even people of exceptional talent can depend on their abilities to see them through the ideological gauntlet. In such a situation "academic freedom" is starved of significance. It might as well be a straight jacket.

And again, Berube suggests that concerns about bias in the academy are being fomented by the "radical right":

There is a sense, then, in which traditional conservatives are procedural liberals, as are liberals themselves; but members of the radical right, and the radical left, are not. The radical rights contempt for procedural liberalism, with its checks, balances, and guarantees that minority reports will be incorporated into the body politic, can be seen in recent defenses of the theory that the President has the power to set aside certainlaws and provisions of the Constitution at will, and in the religious rights increasingly venomous and hallucinatory attacks on a judicial branch most of whose members were in fact appointed by Republicans.

The first sentence suggests that at least the principle of liberalism is intact for some members of the academy. But I think Berube misrepresents the problem. He'll first have to address the issue of whether or not we're at war; since in most wars certain liberties have been interrupted for the sake of preserving the context responsible for maintaining freedom in general, not by the "radical right" but by the President who emancipated the slaves and by a number of Democrats, most notably Wilson and Roosevelt. It isn't clear to me, for instance, why we'd support a demand for MIT to pay the salary of Noam Chomsky if he persists in giving aid and comfort to sworn enemies of the US, including those who decapitated Daniel Pearl, any more than we'd allow the German/American Bund to schedule campus demonstrations during WWII. Tolerating such activity during wartime may simply be too much to ask. One needn't be a "wing nut" to scratch one's head over the wisdom of such masochistic tolerance.

It seems to me that until the ideology of multiculturalism began to infuse the universities in the early '80s, academia was more or less capable of self-correction, simply because it was able to recognize that its bread wasn't buttered on the edge. But the doctrinally relativist commitments involved in the new ideology apparently undermine even that kind of pragmatic judgment. Nonetheless, there are some decent models for dissensus within academia that could contest this now-pervasive ideology, if we opened the door a little--to a new degree of freedom.

In summary, I can conceive of but three methods to correct the dysfunctions noted above: open or veiled quotas based on ideology that attempt to ensure ideological diversity; some abrogation or alteration of the common conception of "academic freedom" to include revocation of tenure; or some institutional arrangement that allows the creation of new departments or programs that can open career paths for competent people of more traditional classical liberal values. Or perhaps some combination.

Of course, anyone who is liberal, in the classical sense, will oppose quotas and will recognize the dangerous precedent they set. That leaves the latter two. It's important to recognize that freedom must be balanced by obligation of some sort, and that this is less a matter of principle than necessity. If academia were populated by people wise enough to perceive this necessity themselves there'd be no problem. But since it apparently isn't, we may need to open the door to markets by ending or attenuating the practice of tenure. I regard this as a loss, so perhaps we could try something else first?

We may need institutional arrangements that at least establish the conditions for a credible contest between the "multi-culti left" and the classically liberal or even theo-conservative right, in order to infuse a little wisdom into the self-satisfied academy. If academia wants relevance, this may be the price.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2006

What's OK for the Hitch is not for the Bitch?

'Scuse the language, but I've been mulling this over for a couple of days since I read about Ann Coulter's supposed gaffe on Drudge. I'm a little surprised at the reaction, because the accusations she actually levels at the Jersey Girls aren't that different from Christopher Hitchens' "ventriloquize the dead" statements about Cindy Sheehan in Slate. Except that the left was never quite able to demonize Hitchens in the way they'd have liked. But the truth is that these four women did pretty much what Cindy and Papa Berg did, by using their loved one's death to further their own socio/political agenda. If you agree with that agenda you'll probably see nothing wrong with that, but if not you'll see them as either crazy with grief or as manipulative opportunists. In either case they aren't sacrosanct. They made themselves public figures, after all. TigerHawk, who was a lawschool classmate of Ann's, has much more on the "defense of the indefensible."

Posted by Demosophist at 03:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Zarqawi al Qaeda's "Jeb Stuart"?

I'm somewhat tentative about referring to Musab al Zarqawi as al Qaeda's Jeb Stuart, because I don't want to be misunderstood as suggesting that the two are comparable in every respect. The two commanders were alike in the sense that they were important second fiddles, but there's no comparison in terms of their ethics and morality. The difference is quite uncomplicated: Jeb Stuart, while arguably a defender of slavery, never blew up or sawed the heads off innocent noncombatants. And his military successes can rightly be called that, rather than the sort of piddling incessant vandalism that has undermined as much as advanced Zarqawi's co-called "cause." But the two are alike, in spite of what "terrorism expert", Richard Clarke, says, because they were both irreplaceable in the hierarchy of their respective armies, and their deaths will be seen to have marked a turning point.

Nonetheless, Richard Clarke, ABC News' terrorism expert, managed to dribble a small offering of icewater in support of his cause:

"Unfortunately for the loved ones of troops over in Iraq, this is not going to mean a big difference."

and advanced the opinion that neither Zarqawi nor al Qaeda were very instrumental to the Iraq insurgency:
Clarke said the modest size of the terrorist leader's organization and his minimal involvement in the daily bomb attacks on coalition forces made that claim unlikely....
"Al Qaeda in Iraq was probably the smallest of the 14 major insurgent groups."

But according to a different, and arguably less partisan, terrorism expert, Rohan Gunaratna [h/t: Security Watchtower by way of PJ Media]:
”Zarqawi didn’t have a number two. I can’t think of any single person who would succeed Zarqawi…In terms of effectiveness, there was no single leader in Iraq who could match his ruthlessness and his determination … it’s the most significant victory in the fight against terrorism. He was certainly the most active terrorist in Iraq. More than that, he was using Iraq to mount operations in the neighborhood, for instance the Jordan attacks (last year) were by his group…He had an extensive network overseas, in Europe and in the Middle East, and he was expanding this network.”

History will tell us whether the comparison is apt, but perhaps ABC News ought to go shopping for a new talking head, just in case?

Update: A commenter on TigerHawk thinks the more apt comparison might be with Stonewall Jackson. I considered that, and he might well be right. I was biased against that by the fact that Stonewall was killed by friendly fire, but the incident was much earlier than the death of Jeb Stuart, and I think these are still early days in the Long War on Terror.

I'm also sympathetic to Mark's objections on WoC (most of which I noted in the post), but think this is still a very significant event.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 02, 2006

Easy Targets for "Moral Aggression"

This is an effective rendering, posted on NRO's Phi Beta Cons website, of the core issue involved in the recent Natfhe boycott of Israeli scholars. It's drafted by the president of the National Association of Scholars:

The decision by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, one of Britain's two professor unions, to call for a boycott against Israeli academics and universities unless they disavow its "apartheid policies", has been rightfully denounced as an affront to the free exchange of ideas, comity among scholarly truth-seekers and, not least of all, common decency. But it is also a most ugly instance of that habit of collective stigmatization now second nature in academe. White Guilt may not seem a very threatening concept when applied to cosseted, non-lacrosse playing, middle Americans, but when—with effortless mutation—it is visited upon a nation of Jews, things turn ominously dark. A demonized majority may, as a whole, seem safe from immediate danger, but it can be sliced and diced to isolate fragments for exemplary treatment. This is an especially inviting maneuver when victims can be cut out on the basis of thinly disguised prejudice.
A yellow-badge mentality shines through the justification given by boycott proponent Mona Baker for targeting Israel in a world filled with brutal oppression. It is valid to focus on Israel, she argues, because "Zionist influence (that is Israeli influence) spreads far beyond its own immediate areas of dominion, and now widely influences many key domestic agendas in the West." Yet it would be a mistake to attribute too much to the lingering influence of the Protocols. While it gathers what strength it can from historic antisemitism as an intellectual phenomenon, radical academe's hostility toward Israel is more a miniature of its general assault on free institutions and bourgeois civilization. Each makes an inviting target, immoderately successful, but easily attacked—rhetorically at least—without much cost or risk.

Our campuses specialize in raising elites whose weapon of choice is moral aggression, climbing in status on the bent backs of those they can shame. Lacking the warrior ethos, they seek easy marks. Western Civilization, both wealthy and tolerant, is their immense target of choice. But Israel, a most conspicuous and successful outlier, gets lavish treatment as well. Needless to say, the danger is far greater and pressing for a small country poised on the knife's edge, but the issue of survival is shared. -- Stephen H. Balch

Posted by Demosophist at 12:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack