Sunday, November 28, 2004

More on Conformity in Academia

Courtesy of Instapundit, George Will weighs in on the lack of intellectual diversity in academia:

A filtering process, from graduate-school admissions through tenure decisions, tends to exclude conservatives from what Mark Bauerlein calls academia's "sheltered habitat." In a dazzling essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University and director of research at the National Endowment for the Arts, notes that the "first protocol" of academic society is the "common assumption" — that, at professional gatherings, all the strangers in the room are liberals.

I can attest from first hand experience that this is exactly what happens in academia, and in librarianship. Will goes on to eloquently and accurately summarize what this political conformity and ideological ghettoization has led to:

This gives rise to what Bauerlein calls the "false consensus effect": Due to institutional provincialism, "people think that the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population."

There also is what Cass Sunstein of University of Chicago, calls "the law of group polarization." Bauerlein explains: "When like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs." They become tone-deaf to the way they sound to others outside their closed circle of belief.

When John Kennedy brought to Washington such academics as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, McGeorge and William Bundy and Walt Rostow, it was said that the Charles River was flowing into the Potomac.

Academics, such as the next secretary of state, still decorate Washington, but academia is less listened to than it was. It has marginalized itself, partly by political shrillness and silliness that have something to do with the parochialism produced by what George Orwell called "smelly little orthodoxies."

Many campuses are intellectual versions of one-party nations — except such nations usually have the merit, such as it is, of candor about their ideological monopolies. In contrast, American campuses have more insistently proclaimed their commitment to diversity as they have become more intellectually monochrome.

Mr. Will's assessment, in my view, is dead on.


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