Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ideology as a Professional Norm

Conservative academic Mark Bauerlein has written an interesting essay, available via both FrontPage Magazine and Minding the Campus, on how ideological conformity is imposed in the classroom. The piece is worth quoting at length:

With such vast disparities between the threat professors envision and the actual security they enjoy, one would think that more people would recognize the problem of ideological bias on campus. But they don't, and the reason lies in a campus advent that has nothing to do with psychology. Instead, it's a sweeping sleight-of-hand that liberal professors have executed in their discipline. We see it operating in this very essay in Academe, and in the sentences I just quoted. Did you spot it? Professor Kilmer worries that a student who "is resistant to feminist theories and ideas" may sit in her class as a "plant," someone to incriminate her and send her upstairs for punishment. That's how she interprets uncongenial students, and it's an astounding conversion. In her class, any student who contests feminist notions falls under a cloud of suspicion. The ordinary run of skeptics, obstructionists, gadflies, wiseacres, and sulkers that show up in almost every undergraduate classroom is recast as an ideological cadre. If a student in a marketing class were to dispute the morality of the whole endeavor, no doubt liberal professors would salute him as a noble dissenter. But when he criticizes feminism, he violates a trust. He doesn't just pose intellectual disagreement. He transgresses classroom protocol.

Behold the transformation. An ideology has become a measure of responsibility. A partisan belief is professional etiquette. A controversial outlook is an academic norm. Political bias suffuses the principles of scattered disciplines. Advocacy stands as normal and proper pedagogy. That's the sleight-of-hand, and it activates in far too many decisions in curriculum, grading, hiring, and promotion. I remember a committee meeting to discuss hiring a 19th-century literature specialist when one person announced, "We can only consider people who do race." For her, "doing race" wasn't a political or ideological preference. It was a disciplinary prerequisite.

The reason professors can declare such biases so blithely is precisely because they have acquired a disciplinary sheen, the mantle of professional criteria. In the subsequent essay in Academe, "Impassioned Teaching," women's studies professor Pamela L. Caughie of Loyola University (Chicago) asserts, "In teaching students its [feminism's] history, its forms, and its impact, I am teaching them to think and write as feminists." So much for the vaunted critical thinking professors prize, and the injunction that they question orthodoxy and convention. Caughie aims to produce versions of herself. And it's more than an ego trip - it's a professional duty: "I feel I am doing my job well when students become practitioners of feminist analysis and committed to feminist politics" (emphasis added).

We end up with indoctrination passing as proper teaching. When Kilmer states, "What happens to the feminist classroom when students challenge feminist principle?" we might respond, "An energetic discussion follows." But for Kilmer, it means disruption and intimidation. By her own admission, she can no longer distinguish honest disagreement from insubordinate conduct. That's what happens when disciplines admit ideology into their grounds. Accept the ideology and you're sure to advance. You're okay. Decline it, and you're not okay. You're not only wrong - you're illegitimate.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The details differ somewhat, but the overall picture painted above sounds painfully familiar if you're a librarian. Our major professional association books ultraliberal partisans for its keynote speakers; it has given the radical left its own round table to use as its ideological plaything; the members of that ALA funded body then define the term "socially responsible" to mean being a leftist ideologue, and make a point of letting others know that alternative definitions are most definitely not welcome; prominent figures in our profession like John Berry essentially state that you must be a politically committed leftist to be a good librarian; finally, leading radicals even mull over the idea of censuring children's librarians who have the gall to wonder if a particular book is appropriate for their collections.

Unfortunately, in librarianship as in academia, partisan belief has indeed become professional etiquette.


Anonymous bookish1 said...

You're giving me the creeps. I didn't realize the professors were becoming paranoid. I have a daughter who will be entering college next fall. She loathes leftist claptrap. Now I have to worry that any dissent on her part may have the professors suspecting her of "spying" on them. Why can't lefties tolerate other viewpoints?

11:21 PM  

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