Thursday, March 27, 2008

Faculty Are Liberal -- Who Cares?

From Inside Higher Ed :

One of the key arguments made by David Horowitz and his supporters in recent years is that a left-wing orientation among faculty members results in a lack of curricular balance, which in turn leads to students being indoctrinated rather than educated. The argument is probably made most directly in a film much plugged by Horowitz: “Indoctrinate U."

A study that will appear soon in the journal PS: Political Science & Politics accepts the first part of the critique of academe and says that it’s true that the professoriate leans left. But the study — notably by one Republican professor and one Democratic professor— finds no evidence of indoctrination. Despite students being educated by liberal professors, their politics change only marginally in their undergraduate years, and that deflates the idea that cadres of tenured radicals are somehow corrupting America’s youth — or scaring them into adopting new political views.

In a calmer and less disputatious environment, some might well wonder, "What are we doing wrong?"

Slightly more seriously, if exposure to the wider world of ideas inherent in a good liberal arts education does little to affect students' political thinking and attitudes (in whatever direction), we must be doing something wrong--or more likely (I hope), the measures employed in these studies are grossly inadequate, reflecting insipid oversimplifications of mature political thought reflected in one-dimensional bumper sticker labels.

Lest I be misunderstood, I think it is perfectly appropriate for students to be exposed to the thought of figures from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman (discussed in the quoted article and comments thereon). Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom stimulated some of the more lively and usefully provocative discussion and debate in my freshman year introductory economics course in 1967 at liberal Harvard. While I do not agree with most of Friedman's public policy conclusions (especially those more characteristic of his later years as a highly ideological, anti-government policy adviser), serious education requires fair engagement with a broad range of perspectives on contentious political ideas.

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