Sunday, April 02, 2017

"Yes, academics tend to be left wing – but let’s not exaggerate it"

The intention of the article below is plainly to downplay the Leftist influence in British universities.  The authors are two English academics so "They WOULD say that", as the esteemed Mandy Rice-Davies might have said.

I think I can sum up the article very briefly.  They admit that most academics are Left-leaning but say that some are probably not VERY Left-leaning.  A very feeble defence.  The authors are replying to a study from the libertarian Adam Smith Institute. I had some comments on that on March 5 and on March 17

They also speculate below on WHY academics tend to be Left-leaning.  I offer some no-holds-barred comments on that question here

The accusation that that academia is disproportionately left-wing and liberal is not a new one. Nor is the main thrust of the claim, in a report by the Adam Smith Institute, contentious. Many accept that academics tend towards the left, even if we cannot be sure of precise levels of inclination or whether the tendency is on the rise. The more important issue is whether or not this actually matters, both in terms of impartiality in research and teaching, and equality for staff and students.

It should not be much of a surprise, after all, that certain professional sectors have a bias in their intake – towards both ends of the political spectrum. No-one seems overly concerned about whether the banking industry is predominantly right wing. And in the case of universities facing mostly to the left, there are some good reasons why this is likely to be the case.

First, there is a correlation between levels of education and social liberalism. Given that academics are (by necessity) highly educated, they will at the very least be more liberal on average. Second, they have chosen to become academics, while others chose to do something else. The Adam Smith Institute report states that “openness to experience” is something that attracts people to academia, as we are supposed to be asking questions and finding out about things.

However, there is more to career choice than this. So we should also consider whether the other elements of an academic career also bias the kind of people who choose the industry. For a start, it is part of the public sector. It also involves teaching the next generation, plenty of bureaucracy, and different risk and reward structures from other industries graduates may gravitate towards.

But theories of “public service motivation” do not fully explain the choice to enter academia. It is simply the case that two people with the same skills and knowledge, but different ideas of what they want to do in the world, will differ in their choice of career. Research in this area also suggests that, as might be expected, motivations differ by academic discipline. The choice of degree, then choice of further study, and eventual choice of what to do for a living are all intertwined.

We then need to ask whether a general political leaning towards the left has an effect on the work of universities, and on students, staff and society at large. Here evidence is mixed, and is mostly from the US where this discussion has a history going back to at least 1951. Studies of a few particular disciplines found “discrimination against conservative people and ideas”, although in general, academics identifying as conservative in the US did not report feeling targeted.

Another study found “no evidence that [staff] ideology at an institutional level has an impact on student political ideology”, nor were American conservative students disadvantaged by lower grades.

Indeed, what the Adam Smith Institute’s figures don’t tell us is what kinds of ideas are held by the 80% they count as left wing. We should expect the problems of bias to be greater when the political distance is greater, but broad brush labels such as “liberal” or “left leaning” do not tell us much. It also becomes difficult to disentangle the actual degree of political bias from that which is perceived – when academia becomes stereotyped as a hotbed of radicalism, the fear of bias will grow.

The messy reality

In this way, the Adam Smith Institute links left voting academics with “curtailment of free speech”, “no-platforming” and ideological homogeneity. But these connections imply that society can be divided into two groups, diametrically opposed on a range of issues, and with a deep divide and disagreement. A similarly simplistic approach is also often behind accusations by left-wing activists about right-leaning voters. Too often, arguments on both sides of the debate draw on over-the-top stereotypes and exaggerations that make conflict more likely, not less. As in the US, this debate conjures up “culture wars” with most people in two polarised groups which strongly disagree with each other on a range of issues, and “look at each other like they are on separate planets”.

Such analysis assumes there is a loud, clear and divided political conversation going on between activists. But this doesn’t allow for the messy reality of ordinary people’s (including academics’) political attitudes. Most people do not fit neatly into one of two divided camps. Instead they are clustered around the centre on most issues, and don’t agree with everything their supposed group believes. Conservative voters can be anti-racist and pro-gay-marriage, while Labour voters can be racist and homophobic.

Many issues just do not exercise some people. Yes, it’s likely that most academics voted to Remain in the European Union in the UK referendum in 2016, but for a range of reasons, including access to research funding and a desire to maintain playing host to bright foreign students. It doesn’t have to be because of “groupthink” and unquestioning support for the EU. After all, it is unlikely that most academics are extremists, and many won’t be all that politically minded; much like the rest of society.


Intellectual Intolerance – A Plague on American Universities

By John Stonestreet

Intellectual intolerance is such a plague on American universities that both conservative and liberal academics are speaking out. Even together.

Few if any places in America pack more history per square mile than Princeton, New Jersey. Located halfway between New York and Philadelphia, Princeton has counted among its residents the likes of Jonathan Edwards, James Madison, Woodrow Wilson, and Albert Einstein, to name just a few.

It’s also been the site for some of the most important battles in American history. The Battles of Princeton and nearby Trenton in the winter of 1776-‘77 convinced the American colonies that they could win the War of Independence.

Now, another important battle is being fought in Princeton: the battle for free speech.

This past decade has seen a rise of intellectually-suffocating intolerance on college campuses. Students have learned, mostly from some of their professors, to silence those with opposing views rather than debate them.

In extreme cases, this has taken the form of intimidation and even violence, as was the case with Charles Murray’s experience at Middlebury College. A group of about 100 students not only disrupted the proceedings, some physically attacked Murray and his host, and even followed them to a restaurant.

A more subtle, yet still insidious example was what happened to Tim Keller, the founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Earlier this year, Princeton Theological Seminary named Keller the winner of the 2017 Kuyper Award for Excellence in Reformed Theology.

And then, all heck broke loose. People complained that, as a pastor in the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America, Keller didn’t hew to mainstream Presbyterian orthodoxy on subjects such as women’s ordination and, especially, LGBT issues.

In a textbook example of Orwellian double-speak, the school’s dean issued a statement that withdrew Keller’s award, while insisting that, “We are a community that does not silence voices in the church.” Now technically that’s true: Keller will still speak, but as the statement makes clear, he won’t be speaking about anything that might distress his audience.

But I’m pleased to report that not all of the news coming out of Princeton is this bad. In response to this wave of intolerance, very conservative professor Robby George and very liberal professor Cornel West, whom Inside Higher Ed called “an ideological odd couple,” issued a joint statement last week entitled “Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression.”

In it, they point out that “It is all too common these days for people to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities.” While acknowledging the right to peaceful protest, they ask readers to consider whether it might “not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?”

George and West insist that everyone “should be willing—even eager—to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence and making arguments.”

George and West aren’t the only “odd couple” who’ve enlisted in the Battle of Princeton. Among the oddly paired signatories are the controversial, to put it mildly, ethicist Peter Singer, and pro-life legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School.

And I signed it too because, like its authors, I’m troubled by our age of ideological bubbles, “trigger warnings,” and “safe spaces,” especially on college campus. Not only should we respectfully hear out those who disagree with us, we might also learn from them. And vice-versa.

Perhaps this latest Battle of Princeton will be as momentous as the first one.


Student racism ousts news editor at Australian National University paper

The unending Leftist obsession with race again

When Alex Joske was elected late last year to the board of ANU student newspaper Woroni, he was proud and excited about how as news editor he would transform its coverage to make it more professional and relevant to the students who ultimately paid for it.

Joske, a hard-news aficionado who had been a reporter on the paper covering stories such as Chinese government influence on campus, felt he could steer Woroni towards solid news-breaking and beyond what he saw as the editorial board’s preoccupation with gender politics, ethnicity, the nuances of being gay, and tips from its sex correspondent.

It all ended in tears last month when Joske decided he had no ­allies on the paper and was beating his head against a brick wall in trying to promote professional journalism. The last straw for Joske, who is half-­Chinese, was when the editorial board commissioned a special issue to be written and edited only by ­“ethnocultural self-­identifying students”, excluding any involvement of students who were white Anglo-Celts.

The plans for a non-white ­ethnocultural issue, to be published on May 1, has ignited fierce debate on campus about ­ethnicity, freedom of speech and alleged reverse discrimination, with some parallels with the storm raging in federal politics about the ­Coalition’s attempt to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Joske remonstrated with one of the Woroni editors. “I said, ‘most of my reporters are white’,” he said. “She said, ‘well, I’m so sorry, I guess you’ll have to get some ethnocultural reporters for that edition’.”

Joske quit; he was not going to start selecting reporters on the basis of race designated by the editorial board as acceptable.

In his letter of resignation to fellow editors, Joske, who spent part of his childhood in China, wrote of how he knew about being a bullied racial minority, having been called a “mixed-blood dumb” something-or-other. “I lived an outsider in Beijing for almost seven years and know more than a little about discrimination,” Joske wrote in his resignation letter. “It disturbs me to see Woroni leap to discriminate under the banner of a corrupted and misguided conception of ­tolerance and diversity.”

Student Nick Blood said he was an earlier victim of Woroni’s “institutionalised discrimination” when the editorial board called for opinion pieces to “break the echo chamber” following the election of US President Donald Trump. Five students sent in contributions for what was called the “Echo 360” project, which were in turn sent to each other for comments. But then the process stopped, Blood said, when “something strange happened”. The sub-editor in charge of the section said there was a concern about “a lack of diversity with the authors we had so far”.

Blood questioned the sub-­editor and established the perceived problem was “not about diversity of opinion” of the contributions, but the fact that they all came from white male students.

That was bad enough, Blood said, but it became worse, when “the discrimination I experienced individually, was extended institutionally, to a full paper”.

Woroni last month announced plans for “our very first ethnocultural edition”. It posted on its Facebook page: “For our 5th edition, we will be taking on a team of guest sub-editors who identify as Ethnocultural and we will be sourcing contributions solely from students on campus who identify as Ethnocultural.”

The issue was to be organised with ANU’s Ethnocultural ­Department. One of its members, Aditi Razdan, expanded on the call for four temporary sub-­editors in a Facebook post: “Only students of the ANU who identify as ‘ethnocultural’ (self identifies as a person of colour/minority ethnocultural background/Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander, and may have been marked by white supremacy) can apply.”

The call drew a flurry of posts, mostly negative. Ollie Webeck posted: “What kind of mental gymnastics is required to think that excluding 85 per cent of the population is conducive to constructive dialogue.” This attracted 32 “likes”.

Shamim Mazari wrote: “So basically, an issue of Woroni which excludes white contributors as a matter of principle? I don’t see how that’s a good idea.”

Jacob Li posted: “Because being marginalised just isn’t quite enough, minorities must now also be patronised … this kind of ­tokenism and gross generalisation of people is actually worse than having nothing at all.”

Many students were outraged that the Woroni editors, whom they had elected and whose salary they paid, had taken upon themselves the right to disenfranchise a major ethnic group on campus. Joske said Woroni’s $200,000 ­annual budget, which enabled the editorial board to produce a 64-page paper each fortnight and pay each editor $1500 a quarter as a stipend, was paid through the compulsory services and amenities fee levied on students.

“I did not feel it used this money in a fashion that was worthwhile,” Joske said.  “It seemed to me it was a bit of a clique of the people who ran it.”

In his early, energetic days as news editor, Joske, a 20-year-old third-year arts and economics student who wants to get into professional journalism, nurtured a team of student reporters and tried to run more online, fast-moving breaking stories about what was happening on campus.

But the rules of Woroni, in which every story had to be ­approved by six of the eight members of the editorial board, gave him little autonomy and kept power concentrated with what he regarded as the clique.

Woroni editor-in-chief Bronte McHenry said the editorial board had decided not to publish the “echo chamber” series when it found the contributors were all white males because “the purpose of the Echo 360 was to reflect different identities and different lived experiences”.

Other non-white contributions were later sought and obtained, she said, and some of the original white male contributors had their articles published.

McHenry said the ethnocultural issue would go ahead but the ban on contributions by white students would apply only to the comment section, not news, and both white and non-white sub-editors will work on it. She insisted this had always been the intention, despite the clear ­“ethnocultural-only” wording of Woroni’s original Facebook post, how it was taken by those who read and commented on it, and the experience of those directly involved including Joske and Blood. “There was a lot of miscommunication,” McHenry said.

In her fourth year at ANU studying politics and indigenous affairs, McHenry, 21, defended the motivation for the ethnocultural issue, and rejected suggestions it was discriminatory or racist. “In recent times Woroni has been a bit one-sided in its political views,” she said. “We want Woroni to be a snapshot of ANU. My definition of racism is excluding a group of people because you think another group is superior; we are reaching out to people who often do not have their voices heard.”

The May 1 issue would follow previous special issues such as one with a comment section exclusively written by gay and transvestite student contributors called the “queer pull-out”, and a further special issue would be about “unpacking masculinity”, McHenry said.


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