Friday, May 30, 2008

The Best School in America?

"It was the best of schools, it was the worst of schools." That was how David Horowitz, the notorious conservative commentator (an ex-1960s-radical-leftist who turned right, in disgust at the criminal excesses of the New Left) had planned to introduce his talk, last Tuesday, May 27, at UC Santa Cruz's Jack Baskin Hall. A handful of "protesters"—hecklers was more like it, this was not Selma or the FSM—apparently threw off the pugnacious pundit's concentration. Toughen up, Dave! He had meant to give the physical sciences at UCSC their well-earned due, while questioning only the quality of instruction in the humanities and social sciences. There's no such thing as "politically correct" astronomy, biology, chemistry or math.

He could be forgiven for hesitating. As he took the stage before an overflow audience of more than 200, his dozen-or-so detractors banged on windows from outside the room, holding up signs bearing edifying slogans like "Kill Whitey" and "Racist." IDs and bags had to be inspected at the door. A bodyguard stood watch close-by throughout the speaker's 90-minute colloquy. As I heard some observant audience members remark—and as Horowitz himself observed at one point—it is ironic that you can say any crazy thing you like on most college campuses (Bush is worse than Hitler, the victims of 911 were little Eichmanns, Israel is an apartheid state, the US is a terrorist state) and you'll be applauded, or, at worst, tolerated by students and faculty alike. But point-up the threat of Islamofascism and you're a "racist." Raise concerns about the radical-left orthodoxy that has long stifled debate in academia, and you need the physical protection of security professionals (and the police, who were there in advance)!

Horowitz came to defend the thesis of his much-discussed article, "The Worst School in America" (September, 2007). It named UCSC the "most radical" and, therefore, worst university in the entire Lower 48, Alaska, and Hawaii. While some readers said, What about Duke? (where professors disrupted a Horowitz lecture earlier this year, some of them the same moral exemplars who railroaded the innocent lacrosse players in 2006, out of "politically correct" motives), and What about Columbia? (which, not long after Horowitz's article, hosted Iranian president, and Holocaust denier, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), others were miffed at the very idea of calling a school to account for pervasive bias in the humanities and social sciences.

Of the latter ideological tilt, however, there can simply be no doubt. It's true, what Horowitz says. Love him or hate him for bringing it up. He's right and everyone knows it. Radical left-wing ideas are center stage in the classrooms of UCSC, while mainstream Liberal and right-wing Conservative views are given short-shrift. If they're given any shrift at all. Mostly, as Horowitz says, Conservative writers are simply ignored. They're not assigned. Students come out of 4 years of college ignorant of whole currents of thought. Or, when a Conservative or Liberal thinker does show up on a syllabus, it's nearly always to be pilloried—set up to be set upon by the simplistic "critiques" of faculty. Trotted out to be tarred and feathered as "racist," "sexist" and "homophobic" greedy "capitalist" exploiters by egged-on undergrads, egged-on by graduate student Teaching Assistants (who are usually worse than the faculty whose work of grading they do for them, cheap).

The weakest part of his talk, by contrast to the sturdy main point, was when the writer/provocateur was asked to explain the "methodology" for reaching his conclusions. How did he know this was the worst school? Instead of just dismissing this for the category-mistaken nimwittery it is—"I wrote a journalistic, editorial piece," he said, rightly, "I wasn't doing an exhaustive statistical study"—he added, a little lamely, that he'd interviewed five students. This got a laugh from the audience. As perhaps it should have. But not because highlighting the meagerness of the sample effectively disputes the author's conclusions.

He should have just said, It's common knowledge that UCSC is a very radical place. If you don't know that, go look it up. Look at the course catalog like I did. Google your professors—including former Black Panther and ex-Communist Party member Angela Davis, postmodernist guru Donna Haraway, radical feminist Betina Aptheker, et al. Check out the Cultural Studies program—populated exclusively by "post-left" (post-Marxist, postcolonial theory, postmodern) academic guerrillas, practitioners of intellectual terrorism, intimidation, and conspiracy-theory tinged quackery, which they call "resistance." Worst or second-to-worst is not the point. And hey, if you're looking for "politicized" education, then UCSC is the best. Just ask your professors themselves what they think they're doing. They're likely to tell you, with pride, some of them, that they see the classroom as a "political space" and themselves as intellectual "activists." The pursuit of "justice," not knowledge, is their special competence.

There is one thing all this misses, however. And which DH's five students can be forgiven for overlooking. The decline of the academic post-left. (See my "Odyssey of the Post-Left," Democratiya 13, http://www.democratiya.com/). The post-left (albeit amply represented at UCSC) is losing power! It's old hat, for one thing. Students raised on South Park and other hip comedy shows of the 1990s and 2000s come to school already hip to the joke that Post-left Political Correctness has long-since become. Even at a place like Santa Cruz, people are starting to stand up against it. There have always been lots of folks doing good, honest work in the humanities there, like anywhere else. But they've tended to keep a lower profile, not wanting to suffer the puny-but-annoying wrath of the self-styled radicals. They've tended to keep more to themselves and work more on their own. Exiles from the warmth of the academic "community."

But recent years have seen mainstream faculty organize around issues of governance (in the wake of Chancellor Denise Denton's tragic suicide), and alternative perspectives on politics and the true meaning of a "liberal education" have been coming out of the woodwork. Pro-Israel faculty have organized a chapter of SPME (Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, http://web.mac.com/spme_at_ucsc/iWeb/Site/Home.html), the membership of which grew by fully a third in 2008. Many students are fed up with what they've been getting. All that the minority voices among the faculty have to do is have the courage of their convictions. The students are eager to learn. There's nothing wrong with UCSC that what's right with it can't fix. Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.

This was indicated by the audience's demeanor at the Horowitz lecture. Although somebody was passing out "Obama" placards, meant to be waved in the speaker's face, these were quietly put away under seats by the recipients. The crowd gave Horowitz its polite attention as he explained that he had a right to speak, and the shouting "protesters" were acting like fascists. Agreed. For UCSC students are basically Liberal, and not Radical or Conservative! They understand the meaning of the First Amendment in their bones. Given the chance, they'll stand up for it too.

What's more, a last-minute "counter event"—a so-called "teach-in," organized by Community Studies professor, David Ortiz, and scheduled to coincide precisely with Horowitz’s talk—attracted only about a quarter as many attendees. They should have called it a "teach-out," as its pernicious timing was clearly meant not to educate, but to keep people out of the Horowitz event. It didn't work. Students were curious. And while I think it's safe to say that not many of those who weren't already persuaded when they got there were convinced of a lot of details by the FrontPageMag.com editor, they had wanted to hear all sides—and they did. While off his main argument, it seemed they didn't really need much convincing—it's their post-left teachers who don't respect diversity of thought. When students go wrong in this way (as they sometimes do), they're usually just aping some "charismatic" elder, abusing his/her office. So for those (relatively few) students who do become intolerant, unlike for their teachers, it's not a career; more like a phase.

Whatever the rot among a narrow but vocal segment of the faculty—increasingly anxious and insecure, as they sense that their ship has sailed and it's sinking slowly but surely—the students of UC Santa Cruz are among the best in America, and the world.

2 comments:

Matthew said...

I'm with you Brahmsky. I think it's hardly acceptable to label yourself a institution of higher education if entire departments are catered to a singular view point. Most students in college are capableof making up their own minds and coming to an educated conclusion, but are still succeptible to the senseless brainwashing that affects youth of any educational background. The resposibility is on the institution to trust the ability of the students it accepts and ensure the professors present the facts as they are in order to challenge them to come up with the best solutions. It's no wonder I went with economics at UCSC yet was ostracized for it.

Daily Rage said...

Gabe,
Great write-up. Good luck in Michigan. I'm glad my ride helped:)
Stan