The corrupting effects of political activism

Courtesy of nas.org

The California Association of Scholars, a division of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), took aim at the University of California in a recent report titled, “A Crisis in Competence,” claiming that “…too many college graduates have not learned to write effectively, they cannot read and comprehend any reasonably complex book, they have not learned to reason, and their basic knowledge of the history and institutions of the society in which they live is lamentably poor.”  It attributes this state of affairs to the corrupting effect of political activism, but not just any political activism—liberal political activism.

The report makes reference to national studies that claim students now spend relatively little time studying outside the classroom and that demands by faculty have been correspondingly reduced.   It adds that no fundamental differences exist across states, generalizing its conclusions to all universities.  It claims, “The findings of these studies match all too well the specific complaints that are now commonly heard about the manifestations of a politicized higher education.”  The report is an attempt to disguise politics as scholarly discourse by using literature and studies to imply a relationship between supposedly liberally corrupted education and liberal educators.

However, before addressing this report by neoconservative scholars, it is necessary to understand where this information comes from.  The NAS is a non-profit organization based in Princeton, NJ that has often stood in opposition to multiculturalism.  NAS is noted for blocking the inclusion of civil rights readings in an English course intended to address racial and sexual harassment on the campus of the University of Texas.  It placed an ad in the university paper calling for the rejection of a multicultural curriculum.  NAS also successfully campaigned to defund the university’s Chicano newspaper.  At the University of Colorado, NAS paid $25,000 to generate a report for the purpose of suspending the diversity curricula. NAS’s philosophy opposes the participation in or the integration of people of different countries, ethnic groups and religions in higher education.

According to Peter Berkowitz, a NAS Board Member, “The politicization of higher education by activist professors…deprives students of the opportunity to acquire knowledge [and]…erodes the nation’s civic cohesion…”  His article is posted at American Power, a website that claims it is “keeping an eye on the communist-left so you don’t have to…from a neoconservative perspective!”  The website includes a poster of President Obama with Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin along with the words, “Yes, we can!”  When considering the source of “A Crisis of Competence,” the report’s outcome is not particularly surprising—NAS is an organization that advocates a neoconservative ideology interested in marginalizing multicultural curricula.  Jonathan Rauch, in “The Times Literary Supplement,” noted that the NAS’s journal’s ideological tone was that of a missionary journal, not a scholarly one; though it is written by scholars.

NAS does not do research or perform studies, and it crafted “A Crisis of Competence” with the use of articles, opinions, literature and studies for the sole purpose of supporting their predetermined conclusions.  The report does not consider other variables, such as the economy and the cost or funding of education, all of which may have affected its conclusions if the selection and use of data were objectively considered.  While the use of existing reliable research is at the core of scientific study, NAS’s report employed selective observations and data to support their supposition.

The report identifies a growing number of younger faculty members as more solidly left-oriented as well as the liberal influence women have had on education.  It supports this position by providing a graph of political affiliation ratios, comparing Democratic to Republican identification, of the UC’s faculty; they identified a ratio of 17:1 in the humanities and 21:1 in the social sciences.  This information serves as the primary basis for the claim that students are corrupted by liberal rhetoric and told what to think by faculty, an assertion which suggests that students are incapable of thinking for themselves.  The report proceeds to attack women’s studies at UCLA, feminist studies at Santa Barbara, UCR’s labor studies program in sociology, critical race studies at UCLA’s school of law and Berkeley’s race ethnic politics in the new American century in political science.

The output measured by the report is an attempt to establish a link between a liberally corrupt education and liberal educators with the use of curricula and statements from students.  One case specifically identifies UCR’s Sociology 169: Modern Sociological Theory. The student said in part, “…the professor’s teachings promoted a doctrinaire, dogmatic and ideological perspective, rather than intellectual one…she resembled an activist far more than an actual educator.” This may very well be the case, however, is this statement a representative sample of the UC student population?  Sample size and selective observation are cause for serious concern regarding the report’s conclusions, which require further examination and disclosure.

The report claims that in 1964 the UC’s education system became infected with a cancer of politicization.  Contrary to this contention, the world grew up in the sixties—students no longer wanted to listen to the lies that took us into Vietnam.  The age of empires and colonialism, replaced by corporations, had come to an end and students began thinking for themselves—right, wrong or indifferent.  The development marked a fundamental change in society and education.  Students no longer wanted to be spoon fed. Then and today, UC students and students across the nation seek truth at the cost of finding fault within themselves, and they love Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Steinbeck, Hemingway and Fitzgerald; but why must all the writers students study be white males?  UC students are brown, black, white and every color in between. They are ethnically diverse, come from every corner of the world and are predominantly female.

Furthermore, the report contradicts itself, claiming that “political activism will tend to promote shallow, superficial thinking that falls short of the analytical depth that we expect of the college-educated mind.” It then advocates political activism in an effort to bring about changes consistent with its neoconservative agenda.

“A Crisis of Competence” is a well written report that makes references to studies and experts that support its argument, but in the end it is a case of, “Because I say so.” The issues identified in this report require independent scientific research, not a report tainted and inspired by political and ethnocentric interests.

NAS cannot lay claim to James Piereson’s assertion that “the left university should not be replaced by the right university.  It should be replaced by the real university, dedicated to liberal education and higher learning,” when their political activities target women and multicultural studies in higher education.

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