An interesting thing happened after I posted last week about how anger helped to create the Trump presidency. Some of my non-leftist academic friends contacted me on my facebook page, and confirmed that they were angry. They informed me that they had a right to be angry as well. I cannot say they are wrong about that. Non-leftist academics have been treated like second class citizens in academia, and that treatment has generated a great deal of anger.
Take for instance the case of John McAdams at Marquette. He is a political science professor suspended for criticizing a graduate student who did not allow debate on the issue of same-sex marriage. He is suing to get his job back, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court is getting ready to hear his case. Remember the last time a professor was suspended for criticizing a graduate student for not allowing a pro-same sex marriage opinion in class? Me neither. Clearly the action of the university is tied to the political preference of Marquette’s administrators.
If you want, you can also look at the cases of Oscar Robert Lopez and Carol Swain. Because of the work I have done on academic bias, I have had other professors come to me (sometimes secretly) to tell me of their trials. To be a non-leftist academic means that your morals and worth can be called into account whenever someone wants to do so because you do not have the right politics. So it is clear to see why so many of them are angry.
And in that anger several of them have had it with the system. They literally want to burn it all down. I have heard the phrase “burn it all down” from multiple individuals on distinct occasions. Remember these are highly educated individuals who normally would tend to take on a more cerebral form of expression. When individuals like this want to talk in such vitriolic terms, then it is clear that they are dealing with a high degree of frustration.
I also can understand their frustration because I have felt a degree of that frustration. No I do not feel it to the point where I want to burn down our educational institutions. And I certainly do not feel it to the point where I could support voting for Trump. Instead of burning down the institution, I am committed to working for reform from within (By the way some of these individuals feel that I am naïve to think that a non-leftist can ever get a fair hearing in academia. Perhaps they are right.) But I do know what it feels like to be betrayed by the ideals we were sold as we learned to become scholars.
When I went to graduate school, I had those ideals. I had the ideals of search for truth no matter where it may be. I had the ideal of being open to innovative or new ways of thinking. I had the ideal of respect for others, looking to their academic performance rather than other factors as we assess them. And I was told that these were the ideals that we would reinforce in an academic culture. However, one by one each of those ideals were proven to be false, and I learned the hard way that what academics say they value is not what they really value.
For example, academics are not supposed to care about the race, sex, lifestyle, religion, country of origin or any other demographic factor about our students. As scholars we should only care about the quality of their work or how they act in our classes. Indeed I remember complaining about an 18 year old female in my class and was chastised for calling her a girl. Well the way she was acting she did seem like a girl, but I was told that girl was only to be used for those under 16 years old. (And yes if he was male I would have had no problem calling him a boy). Well that is the standard right?
But respect is not the standard if referring to a conservative Christian. Such Christians can be dismissed with invectives such as “bible-thumper.” Fundamentalists was also used but not in an academically accurate manner. Rather it was use to denote someone who is backwards and uneducated. And for many of my peers, fundamentalist was basically any Christian who thought he or she had a relationship with God. It is not hard to pick up the tone and dismissive nature of the ways conservative Christians are talked about. Many Christian students hear their professors call them Bible thumpers and/or the dismissive use of fundamentalists. It seems that the need to treat students respectfully, regardless of their background, is not something to be honored for all students. Little wonder I found that some academics are less willing to hire conservative Protestants simply because they are conservative Protestants. So it is not just students academics tend to unfairly evaluate. So much for judging a scholar based on his or her merits.
Also I learned that not all questions are allowed to be asked. But sometimes even when they are allowed to be asked, the answer has been predetermined. For me the tipping point was a feminist class I took to meet a requirement for my doctorate. The women outnumbered the men in the class about 5 or 6 to 1, and so I decided that being as quiet as possible was the best strategy for me. I did not buy all of the things I was being taught but some ideas seemed okay, and I could formulate just enough comments to get credit for class discussion without being controversial.
But I did notice that the way the professor presented the research always produced an answer that was consistent with feminist theory. That answer was never really challenged by the professor or the other students. So one class I got up my nerve and asked her in as innocent sounding of a voice as I possibly could if when doing her research whether she already knew what her results were going to be. To her credit she was honest and told me that she has an answer and works to find data that supports that answer.
For me the jig was up at that point. I knew that on politically charged topics, academia was not an open search for truth but that the truth had been predetermined. In my decades in academia since then this belief, and accompanying disillusionment, has grown stronger. There still is good work done. But the longer I work in science, the less I trust what is produced in science. That is not how it is supposed to work, and I am frustrated that academia is not the open search for truth that it should be.
So I understand why some non-leftists have given up on academia. Especially when some of them have faced a level of harassment that I have been blessed to escape. No we cannot just burn this all down because there are serious problems in academia. But we do need to fix some of those problems.
As I stated above, I believe myself to be here to help with the reform in academia. To this end there is an important need for serious dialog. I wish that some of the individuals who want to burn it all down would reconsider. We need them to bring their different ideas to the table. I believe that scholarly inquiry is stronger when we do not close off alternate perspectives. Those perspectives bring critiques that may help us to understand the weaknesses of old paradigms. They may also provide the seeds for exciting new directions we can explore. My concern about the power of political conformity in our current academic environment is not just about whether such conformity is fair. It is also about how we have handicapped our ability to do scholarly inquiry and a desire for a stronger academic subculture.
But of course it is not just the responsibility of rejected scholars to help create a true atmosphere of scientific inquiry. It would be great if other academics would engage in the self-introspection necessary for them to realize that the ideological silos in our subculture are not healthy. How powerful would it be if they realized that we should welcome debate and discussions? Can leftist scholars come to realize they may be wrong and the non-leftists occasionally are right? Will they admit that an open search for the truth is the best way to search for the reality? Is that not a better approach than creating more individuals who want to burn academia down?
Maybe I am naïve. Maybe I should get out while the getting is good. But I do believe that we can move our academic environment towards those ideals I had when I first entered graduate school. So I stay in and work towards those goals. I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to do so when so many other non-leftists academics have been denied that opportunity. Perhaps that is why they are angry.