I don’t why this comes as news to anyone. Everyone knows that college campuses have become hotbeds of radical thought, and that radical thinkers do not allow free expression or free speech.
Extolling radical thinkers like Martin Heidegger, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, and Alain Badiou, praising the great accomplishments of national and radical socialism, students end up behaving like Brown Shirts and Red Guards.
Some elder academics like to consider themselves to be liberal and Nicholas Kristof is still willing to call them thus, but the truth is, on campus, in many academic departments have become more about indoctrination than thought.
A few weeks ago Kristof wrote a column denouncing his “fellow progressives” for favoring every kind of diversity, except the diversity of thought. To his shock and dismay, he discovered, while reading the comments posted on the Times website, that his liberal readers disagreed entirely with what he was saying. They insisted that conservatives had no right to free speech on college campuses. And that they ought not to be allowed to speak or to teach there.
Intolerance does not seem to be quite the right word. Oppression feels better. By all appearances, liberalism is dead.
Kristof returns to the issue today:
In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.
As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.
Readers were outraged. Kristof describes the reaction, a stunning instance of groupthink:
Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.
“You don’t diversify with idiots,” asserted the reader comment on The Times’s website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives “are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers.”
Finally, this one recommended by readers: “I am grossly disappointed in you for this essay, Mr. Kristof. You have spent so much time in troubled places seemingly calling out misogyny and bigotry. And yet here you are, scolding and shaming progressives for not mindlessly accepting patriarchy, misogyny, complementarianism, and hateful, hateful bigotry against the LGBTQ community into the academy.”
Now, today’s so-called liberals refuse to consider opposing points of view. They are paragons of virtue and anyone who disagrees with them is vicious. They live in an echo chamber—narcissism is the other word for it—and have turned education into indoctrination.
In Kristof’s words:
But as I see it, the bigger problem is not that conservatives are infiltrating social science departments to spread hatred, but rather that liberals have turned departments into enclaves of ideological homogeneity.
Sure, there are dumb or dogmatic conservatives, just as there are dumb and dogmatic liberals. So let’s avoid those who are dumb and dogmatic, without using politics or faith as a shorthand for mental acuity.
College teaching, and all teaching for that matter manifests rank hypocrisy:
But liberals claim to be champions of inclusiveness — so why, in the academic turf that we control, aren’t we ourselves more inclusive? If we are alert to bias in other domains, why don’t we tackle our own liberal blind spot?
And yet, as the nation has policy debates, leftist academics are often left out of the conversation: because their ideas smack of ideology and have nothing to do with the real problems. Professors of economics, who are just as likely to be Republicans or Democrats, have honed their positions in the crucible of debate. They are respected as contributing to public conversation:
We desperately need academics like sociologists and anthropologists influencing American public policy on issues like poverty, yet when they are in an outer-left orbit, their wisdom often goes untapped.
In contrast, economists remain influential. I wonder if that isn’t partly because there is a critical mass of Republican economists who battle the Democratic economists and thus tether the discipline to the American mainstream.
It isn’t so difficult to understand how this happened. These campus radicals, who now hold august chairs in university departments, seem to have been hired more for their ideological commitments than for their grasp of their subjects. If they were forced to debate with people who disagreed with them, the imposture would immediately be evident to all.
Kristof is wistful about this point:
We liberals should have the self-confidence to believe that our values can triumph in a fair contest in the marketplace of ideas.
Can’t we be a bit more self-aware when we dismiss conservatives as so cocky and narrow-minded that they should be excluded from large swaths of higher education?
Cocky? Narrow-minded? I suggest that we look in the mirror.