David R. Henderson  

One Gritty Piece of Academic Reality

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"Howdy from that college kid." That's the subject line of an e-mail I received about a year ago from a local college student who, at the time, was attending Monterey Peninsula College, the local 2-year community college in Monterey. The student, named Manzanita McMahon, gave me permission to post her e-mail. It seems a propos given my post yesterday about The Teaching Company. Here's her e-mail:

I really appreciated you taking the time to meet with me a couple of months ago, and now I have a question that perhaps you could give some advice on: Colleges of a less liberal sort, essentially.

Basically, I am transfering next fall to complete my BA, and was planning on a CSU [California State University] for cost purposes.
However, my studies recently have been absolutely inundated with a blatant liberal agenda, whether we're studying Chemistry ("global warming! sound the alarm!") Humanities ("why aren't more Asian Americans recognized in the arts! it's so racist!"), English ("Americans are so ethnocentrc, going around pushing English on the rest of the world") or Sociology (you do not even want to know how many "percent of hispanic americans under the poverty line" facts I have had to regurgitate on exams.) All of these studies emphasizing the victim role of every minority and prescribing a massive liberal "cure" of redistributed wealth and "social justice" no questions asked, in black and white in every textbook and lecture.

Being a person who prefers to focus on FREEING PEOPLE from the bonds of "victimhood" by empowering them with awareness of their true abilities rather than dooming them forever to a listless existence of suckling eternally upon uncle sam's all-too-willing teats, I am a bit discouraged with my future academic prospects.

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COMMENTS (20 to date)
Kinger writes:

I love this kid!

Robert, Springfield Virginia writes:

While am not in a position to ever receive an email like this one, I might imagine my response to be the following.

Two points. First, The biggest issue is not that you are mildly disgusted at the liberal rhetoric but that you don't feel safe in laying out your arguments in the current atmosphere. Those leaning left and those leaning right should both insist on and fight together for a university setting where differing opinions are welcome.

Second, as a scholar you must approach these arguments with an eye on the scientific process. What is the evidence supporting each side of the argument?

Don't give up on our liberal university system. Consider that America is the greatest country in the world in large part because of the scholars and sciences that have emerged from our Universities.

I advise you to fight viciously for your right to feel safe while voicing your opinions. Argue and defend your arguments with tact and support them with evidence.

Most of all, have fun and try to be open to learning new ideas because, after all, that's why your there.

No other environment can match the energy of a place like this, where leaders in their fields create ideas and transmit them to the best young minds in the world.
~ Condoleezza Rice, regarding her time teaching at Stanford.
drobviousso writes:

Did you ask her (him?) if she has an interest in engineering? I don't know of any school that offers, say, Gender and the Third Law of Thermodynamics.

B writes:

I have been in economics and math classes so long I have forgotten what regular school is like.

I guess that's my advice. Take more economics and math.

Clay writes:

This is ridiculous. Sure, the university culture has a strong left-wing bias. But in general, the entire body of math, science, and engineering courses do not. I will believe that a chemistry teacher may have had a political take on global warming and there are going to be isolated issues everywhere, but overall, the math, science, and engineering courses are so intensely focused on subjects where left wing bias isn't even relevant.

Steve writes:

Where a student is graded according to orthodoxy, it is a serious problem. When it is as prevalent, as it is, in our colleges and universities, it is a very serious problem.

mtraven writes:

There are many conservative institutions to choose from -- Liberty University, Bob Jones University, Regent: here's a list.

Oh, but the College of the Ozarks don't have the cachet of Harvard or Stanford? Whose fault is that? I thought you guys believed in freedom of choice and letting the market decide, so if the market for intellectual respect seems to favor liberalism, that's the breaks. Your correspondant can always take her business elsewhere.

David R. Henderson writes:

I'm not clear what you think is ridiculous. I pretty much agree with the rest of your comment but are you saying that it's ridiculous that I'm reporting--and she's reporting--her experiences?

Foobarista writes:

I've had plenty of science courses where professors randomly start ranting about some current-affairs topic on the periphery of the course that offends leftie sensibilities. It never adds the the course, and is always annoying; students will look at each other and whisper "we're paying for this crap?". But if you want a decent grade - and given grade inflation and the need to go to a decent grad school, who doesn't? - you ride it out.

If you have a bit of snark in you, the most "challenging" you be is to ask "will this be on the midterm?"

David R. Henderson writes:

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but the Monterey Peninsula College is a government institution, not a free-market institution. I thought that when I stated that it is "the local 2-year community college" that that would be clear. I guess it wasn't clear to you.

Avery Hunter writes:

If you think the sciences are free from liberal influence, THINK AGAIN. Physics is now called "theoretical physics". Why? Because there is "no such thing as absolute truth". Words no longer have "absolute meanings". Liberal post modernism reigns in science, as well as the humanities!

The most frequent violation in science, is making conclusions about things that can neither be "observed" or "repeated".

These conclusions are USUALLY stated in this form:

The universe is expanding therefore it MUST have began with a singularity that exploded.

This statement (like most of it's kind) ASSUMES that there is no GOD who could have created the universe as we see it.

If you look at many of the "MUSTS" of science, you will find an underlying liberal dogma which precludes other possibilities not (by any means) limited to the existence of GOD.

David C writes:

I've never noticed this in school other than in a single "business ethics" course. Maybe it's because I live in Texas?

Ben Kalafut writes:

This sounds like a student who needed a kick in the pants. While some of the things she hears in humanities departments and sociology are the result of value judgements, there is no avoiding the truth. The % of hispanics under the poverty line is verifiable truth. Anthropogenic global warming is verifiable truth.

It is as though she wants her Chemistry profs to either (1) lie about global warming or (2) completely avoid an important, current, relevant topic because she has chosen for whatever reason to believe blatant falsehood over truth and it hurts her fragile little feelings to have this confronted.

Ms McMahon is right to be worried about her academic prospects because she has none. She is an ideologue, and ideologues cannot be educated. She may receive a degree, but she will not have learned to think like an educated person, to critically examine her own beliefs and to apply rigorous standards of proof. Sometimes, at some colleges and in some departments, students who subscribe to a faddish leftism are not challenged enough. The solution to left-wing idiots being too safe is not a carve-out for right-wing idiots to also be too safe, and if that's what she wants she should take a hike, because education is not for her.

@Mr Hunter:
Writing as a working physicist, I can tell you that you're Just Making Things Up. For those who are interested in learning why people call things what they do instead of making up reasons for it, "theoretical physics" is called that because of a division of labor between theorists (who make models) and experimentalists (who take and immediately interpret measurements) in many sub-disciplines. I have the good fortune to work in a subdiscipline (biophysics) where that is not always the case.

Manzanita writes:

Well folks, its very interesting to read your thoughts. I am "that college kid", and I am now attending American University in Washington DC, the "District of Corruption" as my so-left-she-is-right mother has dubbed it.

As for the validity of the content in that email from over a year ago, I am still experiencing the same liberal bias at my current university, and this has nothing to do with my "inability to be educated", as one Mr. Kalafut so kindly described it. I beleive that education is about expanding the mind and the array of options rather than condensing every issue under the sun from happy meal toys to healthcare down to one final solution:"lets make a law about it man!" How about considering NOT running to uncle sam and his teats full of rapidly devalueing stollen dollars, how about considering actually CREATING something of value instead of crafting schemes for REDISTRIBUTING the wealth that others have created? How about mining students for creative solutions that do not utilize FORCE instead of forcing them to study to the point of insanity the "inequities" between this race and that, this gender and that, this profession and that? How about encouraging students to be INDEPENDANT, CREATIVE, and SELF SUFFICIENT instead of dependant, ignortant, and inept?

If America is the nation of liberty reflected in our constitution, I know she can do it. The question is, can egocentric radicals who happen to think they know what is best for you and I better than we ourselves know, reign in their marxist vigor and consider letting people live their lives in peace?

Pandaemoni writes:

@ Manzanita:

Forcing people to do things against their will because "they know what is best for you and I better than we know ourselves" is decidedly non-marxist. It may be (benevolent) totalitarianism, but it's definitely removed from marxism.

It sounds like you find American University to be an awful school. If your chemistry teacher s wasting your time talking about changing the laws to fight global warming, you should drop that class and take one that covers actual chemistry. If your chem professor merely [i]touches[/i] on the chemistry involved in global warming models, and not proposed laws or demands that you anyone's suckle teats, then so what? One physics professor of mine took a day out of the class to here and there to address current-events-related topics, like the Higgs field research, every so often. He did it because it was a "real-world" application of the sorts of things we were otherwise looking at.

Why you'd even take a sociology class is beyond me, as your rhetoric does not sound like someone who'd be very interested in learning about non-western cultures (and there's nothing wrong with that, it just suggests you were never going to enjoy sociology, any more than I would have). In sociology, the first thing you need to do is strip away the cultural biases of the students, so they can evaluate other societies on their own terms, rather than constantly negatively comparing them to western cultures...the whole process is cultural relativism as a soft science.

Admittedly, some classes take it too far, in that you do need to have general courses in certain topics before those interested can benefit from specialty courses like "The Effect of Gender Roles on War Policy during the Franco-Prussian War". Maybe universities have changed radically since I was in school, but it's hard to believe that the education you're getting is as poor a quality as you make it sound.

Finally, imo, you might be well served to tone down the bombast. In reality, I'm quite sure you never met a professor who thought "independen[ce], creativ[ity] and self[-]sufficien[cy]" were [i]bad[/i] things, or that dependence, ignorance and ineptitude were good things to be generally encouraged. It's fine to disagree with them (I certainly did with many of mine), but they are unlikely to be quite as villainous as your post suggests.

EDG reppin' LBC writes:

Hey Manzanita,
I just graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills with a degree in Finance. I had to endure some classes that where I thought my head would explode. I only made it through my courses by supplementing my studies with outside reading from the campus library. I must have read 45 books on economics, finance, real estate, and libertarianism in the 24 months I attended that school. Ironically, CSUDH has a pretty good collection of Austrian economics literature. My advice; sit in class, be polite, study hard, and teach yourself. Also, graduate, be successful and establish a scholarship fund to attend the Mises Institute!

Steve Cronk writes:

I think you just need to show some intellectual humility and use the opportunity to gain a better understanding of those who disagree with you. Since you must have already taken the initiative to learn some libertarian/conservative ideas, use the next 2 years to have some different ideas shared with you.

If you don't fully appreciate and understand progressive arguments, you'll never be able to convince them that you're correct. Work out strong rebuttals to their points. It's much more difficult - and beneficial - than simply whining about their bias.

mtraven writes:

@Manzanita -- I'm a leftist, more or less. Not an academic, but I like to think that if I were, I would value any student who had differing opinions as long as they could present coherent and cogent arguments for them. Education is about learning how to think, not about absorbing particular ideologies. On that we probably agree.

That said, your writing here doesn't seem very thoughtful. You seem to be just throwing out right-wing talking points. Maybe you are being no better than your professors, but I suggest you learn to think for yourself. That means not buying into any ideology, but questioning everything. You can start with your assumption that government does not create anything of value, and consider that the roads you get around on and the internet protocols on which we are having this conversation were created largely by government.

Foobarista writes:

As a more right-side libertarian, the thing I'd advise to be most careful of is "heroes and villains" narratives by all sides. A related danger is excessive psychobabble arguments as to why someone holds a given set of opinions; even if a person has a "mental" reason for advocating or favoring a particular set of policies, this doesn't necessarily disqualify those policies.

So, study the policies and approaches, and ignore the person, and - until proven otherwise - assume the person you're arguing with is a person of goodwill who came to their beliefs through an honest appraisal of their life experiences and history.

Daublin writes:

Foobarista and mtraven, I think you are ignoring the more typical scenario, which is not that a chemistry or sociology professor gives some insightful argument about policy. You're thinking about, say, the writings of Amartya Sen, where he anticipates the counter-arguments and responds to them ahead of time.

That's not what I see from college professors. Instead, it's more declarations of "talking points". These are used to signal group membership. I don't see how you could possibly learn much about the nominal policy topic from this sort of thing.

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