Tempering the Conservative Outrage at Michigan State
11:13 AM, Sep 12, 2013 • By JONATHAN BRONITSKY
On the whole, conservatives, when tackling bias in the classroom, would be wise to be calmer and more attuned to their ideals and long-term objectives regarding the constitution of the university. Coming down hard and fast on left-leaning academics recurrently creates an entirely new set of thorny difficulties.
First, doing so paints the right in a hypocritical hue. Conservatives constantly beat academia, the “mainstream media,” and Hollywood over the head with the First Amendment. But then they cry foul the moment forums for free speech fail to work in their favor. Because Penn’s personal opinions were voiced only on the first day of class, conservatives have run the risk of making themselves out to be thought police who demand castigation and expulsion each and every time a professor veers off on a controversial tangent.
Additionally, conservatives overlook the tremendous usefulness of individuals like Penn, who baldly expose higher education in America for what it really is: a self-absorbed, bastion of left-wing insanity. Unfortunately, removing a Penn here and a Penn there will do nothing to amend the morally relativistic mission of a sprawling bureaucracy that seeks to convert teenagers and young adults to enlightened (i.e. tolerant) members of the diverse global community.
Bringing political balance to higher education is a complex, protracted endeavor that requires considerable deliberation and coordination, not blinkered, knee-jerk outbursts. Witch hunting makes the right appear as if it is more consumed with scoring political points and galvanizing its compatriots than genuinely addressing the very real predicament of a domineering liberal ethos in one of our country’s vital institutions.
Conservatives also rarely realize that the Penns of the Ivory Tower have served on occasion as unwitting recruiters for the right. In reality, firebrands who childishly and aimlessly rail about topics outside their realms of expertise do not transform students into militant brigades of Das Kapital-toting Marxists. Rather, conversion to liberalism is most frequently carried out by soft-spoken and amicable professors in political science, sociology, economics, history, and international relations who spend their lengthy careers floating quietly under the radar. They perform their art of manipulation through subtle omission as opposed to overt saturation. (When was the last time an undergraduate was directed to read Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, and Russell Kirk?)
Truth be told, one would be hard pressed to find better tools for planting seeds of doubt about the left than rabidly progressive, blathering, middle-aged professors of creative literature. Undeniably, college students are impressionable beings. But they are certainly not oblivious morons. In fact, I am willing to bet my copy of God & Man at Yale that, come winter break, Penn’s spectacle will have caused more MSU Spartans to question the sanctity of the left than Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter combined.
Conservatives must continue to draw attention to academics like Penn. But, at the same time, they ought to grasp that a habitual and superficial reaction to an enduring and intricate problem may elicit as many drawbacks as advantages.
Jonathan Bronitsky is a Michiganian and doctoral candidate in History at the University of Cambridge.
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