The Left University
From the October 3, 2005 issue: How it was born; how it grew; how to overcome it.
Oct 3, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 03 • By JAMES PIERESON
MORE THAN 16 MILLION STUDENTS are now enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States, the largest number ever. In two years, the figure will exceed 17 million, and it will continue to grow, as the high school graduating class of 2008 will be the largest in history. Today nearly 70 percent of the 18-to-24 age cohort attends college in one form or another, and more than 80 percent of high school graduates do so. College attendance has become a near universal rite of passage for youngsters in our society, and a requirement for entry into the world of middle-class employment.
When this year's freshmen enter the academic world, they will encounter a bizarre universe in which big-time athletics, business education, and rigorous science programs operate under the umbrella of institutions that define themselves in terms of left-wing ideology. This is especially true of the 100 or so elite public and private institutions that are able to select their students from among a multitude of applicants seeking entry, and true also of the humanities and social science departments that define the political and social meaning of the academic enterprise. These students will enter the world of what we may call the left university.
The ideology of the left university is both anti-American and anticapitalist. The left university, according to its self-understanding, is devoted to the exposure of the oppression of the various groups that have been the West's victims--women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, and others that have been officially designated as oppressed groups--and to those groups' representation. This is the so-called "diversity" ideology to which every academic dean, provost, and president must pledge obedience and devotion.
As it happens, the contemporary university is diverse only as a matter of definition and ideology, but not in practice or reality. A recent national survey of college faculty by Stanley Rothman, Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte showed that over 72 percent held liberal and left of center views, while some 15 percent held conservative views. The survey also found that, over time, and especially since 1980, academic opinion has moved steadily leftward as the generation shaped by the 1960s has taken control of academe. In the humanities and social sciences, where political views are more closely related to academic subject matter, the distribution of opinion is even more skewed to the left. Unlike professors in the past, moreover, many contemporary teachers believe it is their duty to incorporate their political views into classroom instruction. Thus students at leading colleges report that they are subjected to a steady drumbeat of political propaganda in their courses in the humanities and social sciences.
The same researchers found that 50 percent of college faculty were Democrats, while just 11 percent were Republicans, which should surprise no one since the diversity ideology that drives the university is the same one that defines the Democratic party. Other researchers have reported even more lopsided distributions. Daniel Klein, an economist at Santa Clara University, found in a national survey of professors that Democrats outnumber Republicans in social science and humanities departments by a ratio of 7 to 1. Meanwhile, college administrators and faculty continue to promote campaigns for cosmetic diversity even as their institutions are becoming more monolithic in the one area academics should care about most--that is, in the area of ideas.
This, then, is the left university. The university, moreover, has formed an informal political alliance with the other liberal and left-wing institutions in our society: Hollywood, public sector labor unions, large charitable foundations, the news media, and, of course, the Democratic party. All are driven by the same doctrine of diversity. These institutions have provided political protection and encouragement for the academy as it has moved steadily leftward.
But there are signs that suggest the days of the left university are numbered, and that the leftist establishment will soon find itself resisting a new tide of change and reform. To understand why this may be so, it will be useful first to look at the American university over a somewhat longer span of development.