Robert Maranto considers himself a centrist Republican, but in academia, he’s often regarded as a raging right-winger. So he’s glad that David Horowitz is around, voicing opinions similar to Maranto’s own about the leftward tilt of American colleges and universities, but expressing them more forcefully. When Horowitz speaks, Maranto says, “I can play the moderate.”
A professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Maranto is the lead editor of a new book, “The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope and Reforms,” published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Horowitz is the fiercest living critic of the liberal hegemony in higher education. The late William F. Buckley, who made his name by writing “God and Man at Yale” in 1951, was the godfather of the movement. Maranto knows Horowitz and says he’s “brilliant,” but too confrontational and given to overstatement for Maranto’s taste. Maranto also knows a professor who was fingered by Horowitz as one of “The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” in a book by that name. “I think he’s pretty good,” Maranto says of the professor in question. “He didn’t deserve a couple of hundred e-mails calling him un-American.”
The first words of “The Politically Correct University,” under the byline of Maranto and his co-editors, Richard E. Redding and Frederick M. Hess, are:
“After we launched this project exploring intellectual diversity in American higher education, a colleague of the lead editor [Maranto] playfully accused him of wasting time on ‘that stab-us-in-the-back book’ rather than producing ever greater quantities of conventional social science. The remark was a joke, but it hints at the academic culture that led us to undertake this project, a culture in which any departure from the politically correct norm is viewed with suspicion. Our goal in this book is to explore and finally offer remedies to this culture of political correctness, the bugaboo that has most bedeviled American higher education in recent years. We focus on the problem of liberal political orthodoxy in teaching and scholarship and seek to understand how ‘diversity’ — of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but not of ideas — has become the dominant ideology in higher education.”
That playful colleague has piped down, evidently. Maranto said he’d heard virtually no comment, pro or con, from any Fayetteville faculty since the book appeared. He’s still relatively new on campus, arriving in 2008, which might contribute to the lack of response.
He grew up in Baltimore, and he’s a political scientist by training, with degrees from the University of Maryland and the University of Minnesota. But at Fayetteville, he’s the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform, part of the College of Education and Health Professions. “Political scientists and economists have been doing some of the best work in education reform,” Maranto said in an interview.
“Education Reform” is a subject of particular interest to the Walton family, the Waltons of Wal-Mart, that is. A few years back, the Wal-Mart Foundation gave the UA $300 million, the largest private contribution ever to a public university. There were strings attached. The establishment of the Education Reform Department was one of them. Other wealthy critics of the public schools, including Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, have also taken an interest in the department’s work. The kind of reform the department and its benefactors have in mind has to do with charter schools, vouchers, and keeping teacher unions under control, if not eliminating them entirely.
There are some impressive resumes in the Department of Education Reform, Maranto said, and their owners are conservative. “Without the Walton money, I’m not sure the people on the far right would be here.” Their presence is making the university more diverse, he said.
Maranto’s own resume is substantial. He’s taught at numerous colleges and universities and was at Villanova just before he came to Arkansas. He’s not without humor. His biographical entry in “The Politically Correct University” says that he’s “written or edited scholarly books which have sold dozens of copies and are so boring that his own mother refused to read them.” He’s also ginned out a bunch of op-ed pieces for major newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Baltimore Sun.
Maranto’s co-editor Richard E. Redding is an associate dean and professor of law at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif. The other co-editor, Frederick M. Hess, is director of education policy studies for the AEI, a conservative think tank in Washington.
To over-condense and over-simplify, the theme of “The Politically Correct University” is that liberals and Democrats far outnumber conservatives and Republicans among university faculty; that this lack of diversity is harmful to students, their education suffering because of lack of exposure to competing ideas, and that there may be other ill effects, such as discrimination against conservative professors in hiring and promotion. Various writers contributed. Here are some excerpts:
• ” [T]he lack of diversity in academia limits the questions we ask and the phenomena we study, retarding our pursuit of knowledge and our ability to serve society. We know, for instance, that the public had determined by the 1970s that the welfare program AFDC was not working, yet academic sociologists even now [after welfare reform] adamantly reject that conclusion and ostracize those who take it seriously. … Similarly, criminology professors have worked tirelessly to deny the success of the New York City Police Department’s reforms rather than encouraging other cities to adopt like reforms. Despite New York City’s fifteen-year decline in crime continuing through the tenure of three mayors and five police chiefs, criminologists still struggle to attribute increased safety to demographic shifts or even random statistical variation (which seemingly skipped other cities!) rather than to more effective policing. This failure to accept reality costs thousands of lives.”
• “[C]onservatives and libertarians are becoming increasingly rare in academia, outnumbered by liberals and radicals by nearly 3 to 1 in relatively conservative fields like economics, more than 5 to 1 in moderate fields like political science, and 20 to 1 or more in anthropology and sociology.”
• “I [Victor Davis Hanson, a contributor] once surveyed courses listed in the University of California at Santa Barbara catalogue, and found sixty-two classes concerning Chicano history and culture, but not a single one devoted to the American Civil War … Recently, a popular survey of politicized university courses singled out a class on ‘Queer Musicology’ offered at University of California-Los Angeles. But why focus on UCLA when nearby Occidental College offers classes such as ‘The Phallus’ (stressing ‘the relation between the phallus and the penis, the meaning of the phallus, phallocentrism, the lesbian phallus, the Jewish phallus, the Latino phallus, and the relation of the phallus and fetishism’), and ‘Blackness’ (with explorations of ‘new blackness,’ ‘critical blackness,’ ‘post-blackness,’ ‘unforgivable blackness’ and ‘queer blackness’)?”
• “Spouses (mostly wives) of conservative professors report highly unpleasant experiences with other departmental spouses. As the wives have less need to be careful, what they say is more revealing of the general atmosphere of the academy. Many wives of conservatives have reported being berated for having husbands who voted for Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. They have been made to feel as out of place as liberals in certain country clubs.”
Like Robert Maranto, Joel Anderson was trained as a political scientist. Also like Maranto, he considered himself a conservative Republican, but not an ultra-conservative Republican. “I was a Winthrop Rockefeller Republican,” he says, and while teaching at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, he was active in the party. That ended when he left teaching for administration. He’s now the chancellor at UALR. “Once I moved into a position in the central administration of the university, I became scrupulously nonpartisan,” Anderson says. He didn’t want to give an officeholder of any party a reason to oppose UALR legislation.
Anderson grew up on a farm east of Swifton, and did his undergraduate study at Harding University, a conservative Church of Christ school in Searcy. He got his master’s degree at American University in Washington and his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.
“I don’t doubt the research that says there are more Democrats than Republicans, more liberals than conservatives in the humanities and social sciences,” he says. “A Republican in a political science department may feel a bit conspicuous and carry some anxiety that being different may prove disadvantageous at some point in one’s career. I can say that my years in the department of political science at UALR were comfortable and lots of fun. My colleagues included two Democrats who were elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives, Cal Ledbetter and Robert Johnston, who to this day are warm friends I admire.” (The late state Sen. Robert Harvey, a conservative from Swifton, Anderson’s hometown, used to complain loudly about liberal professors like Ledbetter, and especially about liberal professors at state universities being allowed to serve in the legislature.) Anderson probably would have liked the department even better if most of his colleagues had been like-minded Republicans, he says, but “The fact is that Republicans were then and are now in short supply in all the social sciences.”
“While I would say that my history of a decade of activity in the GOP and my conservative religious background have not been advantages, they obviously have not prevented my moving from assistant professor to chief executive in a public university.”
Anderson’s not alarmed that a majority of professors are liberal.
“In any group that has continuity, there will be dominant points of view and dissenting points of view. Any church congregation almost always has some people in a minority, any civic club, any faculty. Typically, the minority feel that their points are unappreciated, that they don’t get the respect they deserve. In a way, they’re right. That’s why we have a bill of rights, so that people in a minority, religious or political, can have their rights protected.” And over time, the minority view may become the majority view. “Marxism has been fading for some years. Russia and China are adopting capitalism. Since the Second World War, we’ve seen the rise of the free market, and more skepticism about the central government running things.
“I think sometimes when people complain that the other point of view is dominant, they’re implicitly arguing for 50-50 status. But that’s not how groups work. The idea is to remain open to minority views. I don’t think we want anybody rationing the time for different ideas.
“The great thing about universities is that although they are not free of the subtle pressures that persons holding minority points of view will feel from the majority, in universities there is strong and conscious embrace of the proposition that people ought to be free to hold and advance ideas that are out of the mainstream, offensive ideas. If faculty in the mainstream of their disciplines become aware of any overt effort to suppress the expressions of their colleagues who are not in the mainstream, they will almost always come to their defense. I’m reasonably sure that a number of my colleagues will agree with what I’m saying here, and that others will not. Because they work at the university, they’ll feel free to say publicly whether they agree or disagree. In how many other organizations is that the case?”
A distinguished professor of history at Fayetteville, Randall Woods, says there are “probably more liberals than not,” in the college of arts and sciences. “But that’s just one college. If you take business, engineering, agriculture, education, I’d say the overall faculty here is conservative.” In the department of education reform, Maranto’s department, “all those chairs are being filled by conservatives, by people opposed to public education, by voucher supporters.”
Or at least the chairs are being filled by people who call themselves “conservatives,” Woods says. He believes that many self-described “conservatives” today, including those at Fox News, aren’t really conservatives. “They’re radicals. In the ’30s, conservatives were people who were opposed to government activity and wanted a balanced budget. These people today want an adventurous foreign policy, and they unbalanced the budget. Bill Clinton was the last conservative president.” The term “politically correct,” used in the title of Maranto’s book, is “just a kind of Fox News labeling,” Woods says.
(Fox’s name comes up often in liberal v. conservative discussions. Somewhat enlightened conservatives like Maranto concede that Fox leans to the right, but they like to say that posture is balanced by NPR’s lean to the left. In fact, NPR carefully suppresses such liberal inclinations as it might feel. When the liberal historian Howard Zinn died recently, NPR’s coverage included an interview with none other than David Horowitz, who disparaged Zinn as a fool and a knave. Angry liberals complained that when such as Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley and Jerry Falwell died, NPR didn’t invite their archenemies on the air to malign them. The complaints had little effect. NPR is terrified of criticism from the right; it bears up well to criticism from the left. But give Maranto credit: He sees the larger journalistic picture. “I think the media’s big bias is toward sensationalism.”)
Of the Fayetteville campus, Woods says, “I’ve been here 40 years, and students up here are encouraged to think for themselves. The institution is committed to freedom of inquiry and freedom of thought. I’ve never seen any evidence that people have a political agenda in hiring. The history department hired two assistant professors last year. Both committees were chaired by women. Both the hires were white males. If there’s an agenda there, it escapes me.”
Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, contributed a chapter to Maranto’s book, called, naturally enough, “The role of alumni and trustees.” She argues that the two groups should actively resist the advance of political correctness on campus: “Engaged alumni can press administrators and trustees to be accountable in ways no one else can.”
If Neal’s name sounds familiar to Arkansas readers, it may be because she wrote an op-ed piece for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in May in which she criticized UAF plans to revise — “dumb down,” in Neal’s words — the core curriculum in arts and sciences.
Chancellor G. David Gearhart replied in a D-G op-ed that the core curriculum was overdue for revision by arts and sciences faculty, that the revised curriculum would be more like the curricula at other universities, and that it would benefit students transferring from two-year institutions to UAF. It’s hoped that revision would enable more of these students to obtain baccalaureate degrees. Arkansas ranks near the bottom of the states in percentage of college graduates.
The alleged dumbing down of curriculum is a popular topic with conservative critics of higher education, but Maranto said UAF had no choice, because a law enacted by the legislature last year called for curricular revision. (Gearhart said the new law “played a small part,” but the university had begun work on a new curriculum before the law was passed.) “I think it would be great if we lobbied in the next session of the legislature to change that law,” Maranto said.
Maranto agrees that trustees, alumni, parents of students, and potential contributors all should do more to see that a wider range of views is presented. He’s not so enthusiastic about state laws that would prohibit discrimination against conservative students and faculty. Horowitz has founded an activist group, Students for Academic Freedom, that seeks passage of such legislation.
“State legislators don’t understand how universities work,” Maranto said. A prohibition against discrimination sounds harmless, “but potentially anybody who gets a ‘C’ in class could say it was because of ideology.”
He says he’s more moderate than Horowitz, and to all appearances he is. (He says he’s more moderate than Bradley Gitz, too. A conservative political scientist at Lyon College in Batesville, Gitz is arguably Arkansas’s best-known academic, by virtue of a weekly column he writes for the state’s largest newspaper. Maranto and Gitz taught together at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, turns out.)
“When you attack the whole institution, people tend to act in an us-against-them way,” Maranto said. His own proposals for reform are almost shockingly mild. For example:
“Here is my pet positive idea for a state legislator or philanthropist. Offer a university some cash — $15,000 would probably be enough — to hold weekly debates on the issues of the day either as part of an ‘Introduction to US Government’ class or free-standing. Three requirements: All would have to agree to civility, both Democratic and Republican views would have to be represented, and at least half of those taking part on each side would have to be faculty from that campus, meaning there would have to be some left- and right-leaning faculty. That would be a very low-cost way to make universities more fun, and more tolerant of different ideas.”