Groupthink in college faculties is anti-intellectual, writes Max Bauerlein, an Emory English professor, in Chronicle of Higher Education. Politics is embedded in some disciplines.
Schools of education, for instance, take constructivist theories of learning as definitive, excluding realists (in matters of knowledge) on principle, while the quasi-Marxist outlook of cultural studies rules out those who espouse capitalism. If you disapprove of affirmative action, forget pursuing a degree in African-American studies. If you think that the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being, stay away from women’s studies.
Many academics don’t read conservative texts or talk to conservative thinkers, writes Bauerlein. They think the conservative intelligentsia is represented by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, “not von Hayek, Russell Kirk, Leo Strauss, Thomas Sowell, Robert Nozick, or Gertrude Himmelfarb.”
The ordinary evolution of opinion — expounding your beliefs in conversation, testing them in debate, reading books that confirm or refute them — is lacking, and what should remain arguable settles into surety.
Liberal professors assume all thinking people agree with them. Those who disagree must be stupid; their ideas aren’t worthy of consideration.
Academics don’t realize they’ve lost “all sense of the range of legitimate opinion,” Bauerlein writes.
The problem is that the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they’ve reached an opinion through reasoned debate — instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit. If participants left the enclave, their beliefs would moderate, and they would be more open to the beliefs of others.
. . . Panels on issues like Iraq, racism, imperialism, and terrorism that stack the dais provide lots of passion, but little excitement. Syllabi that include the same roster of voices make learning ever more desultory. Add a few rightists, and the debate picks up. Perhaps that is the most persuasive internal case for infusing conservatism into academic discourse and activities. Without genuine dissent in the classroom and the committee room, academic life is simply boring.
Bauerlein doesn’t want affirmative action for conservatives on campus. His goal is to prod professors to think about the ways they exclude and ignore dissenting opinions. I think he’s absolutely right in saying academics would have far more influence if they could break out of their bubble.