Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Somebody's gotta do it

The Manhattan Institute, publishers of City Journal, has a new website,, "dedicated to the revival of intellectual pluralism and the best traditions of liberal education at America's universities." Longtime Newsweek columnist John Leo is editor, and he writes about it today in the Washington Post, in the cutely titled "Among collegiate educators, a disturbing hegemony":
As college students return to campus this fall, we are reminded of the academic controversies of the past year. These events -- associated with the names Norman Finkelstein, Ward Churchill, and the Dartmouth Trustees -- raise profound questions about the health of our universities. Have they forgotten their academic purpose in pursuit of radical ideological causes?
Yes, they have, though the Dartmouth situation, while bogus beyond belief, isn't really in the same category as Churchill and Finkelstein (great law-firm name). has a short answer to that question: yes. It is a new enterprise that will seek to provide necessary supervision [my link--ed.] for universities that have increasingly cut themselves off from the broader society. . . .

One need only look to the many professors who falsely accused the Duke players of rape last year, or to the large number of academic supporters that Ward Churchill gained [and lost, at least publicly], or to the growing threat to free speech on many campuses highlighted by such organizations as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (F.I.R.E.), to understand that our universities require closer scrutiny-and reform.

A curtain has been drawn around the academy [a hemp curtain], inside of which the protection of certain favored ideas trumps intellectual exchange and the search for truth.

Our goal is civil conversation about the universities, about what has happened to them, and what must be done to make them genuinely open institutions, with no established or protected ideas.

The writing is all over the place, from Mark Bauerlein on the paranoia and duplicity of the critical thinking crowd in "I'm OK, you're not OK," to Michael Bérubé's typically self-regarding defense of more or less the same folks in "Freedom to teach," to Sara Dogan's piece in FrontPageMag on the new academic freedom policies at Penn State and Temple, with people like Clarence Page and the startlingly fatuous Bradley Hammer, a with-it educator whose students write blogs rather than old-fashioned essays and papers, wedged in. Leo concludes:

As the new college year begins, we will no doubt be hearing about many more Ward Churchills and Norman Finkelsteins.

Many more?

But the past year reminds us that our universities should not be held to lesser standards than other organizations that purport to be impartial. Balance and true diversity of thought are the indispensable characteristics of any higher education worthy of the name. Students, alumni, professors and administrators should look to not as a threat, but as an ally in the effort to renew a rich American tradition of education that values such academic balance and intellectual pluralism.

They'll see it as a threat.

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