restricted access 2. Higher Education and the "Culture Wars"
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Have America’s universities shifted pervasively to the political (or to the cultural) left and become captive to a narrow ideology? In the past thirty years, critics, many of them conservatives, have thought so. The assertion is that the typical American university has been dominated by ideologues outside the mainstream or at any rate hostile to traditional values, with the corollary that faculty members and administrators tend to foster a “politically correct” campus environment.1 At a time when the left in American politics apparently had lost its political moorings and the right seemed ascendant, the universities were said to be a last bastion of leftist thinking or sometimes were merely depicted as being absorbed in a narrow, self-obsessed internal debate that was largely divorced from real-world politics. Yet American higher education has been viewed as a world model for its independence from government, business, and other outside institutions, for its transparency, and for its fostering of open debate and discussion. If these characteristics are being eroded, it behooves those of us in the higher education community to think about making timely changes. It is a fair guess that most in higher education today consider independence and transparency to be values of the highest importance and deem“service”to society—at least shortrun service—to be a lesser goal, although some feel that the universities are far too eager to pander to commercial and government interests. To lose control over hiring and promoting faculty, granting tenure, and defining curricula 2 Higher Education and the “Culture Wars” 8 ch02 6/30/08 10:46 AM Page 8 and requirements for evaluating students to outside bodies, including national, state, and local government or corporate influences, would alarm educators, who would feel that the loss of autonomy betokens a university system less able to serve society effectively in the longer run. Richard Hofstadter in his classic study Anti-Intellectualism in American Life cites four main sources of anti-intellectualism in American life: certain aspects of our religious life, including periodic bursts of spiritual fervor; a preoccupation with practicality in our business culture and practices; a radical egalitarianism in the ever-present populist tendencies in our politics; and a misplaced utopianism and overemphasis on egalitarianism in what Progressive educational reformers thought was conducive to “democracy” in our educational practices.2 Given “mass” higher education, we see in the universities today some of the same tensions and debates about educational practices that face America’s public schools. America has yet to reconcile comfortably our aspirations for a thriving high culture, which is elitist by nature, with the egalitarian impulses of our popular culture.3 In this book we seek to explore these and related concerns, and we try to account for why the debate over the universities has heated up so dramatically in recent years. The debates have taken many odd turns and twists, and strange bedfellows have been much in evidence .Attention to what the argument was all about will help us to understand the alignments and coalitions at work. The Conservative Revolt and the “Culture Wars” We can date the conservative critique of the universities from the work of Allan Bloom. Bloom was neither the first nor the most systematic conservative critic of the modern research university.At least within the discipline of political science, Herbert Storing in a 1962 collection, Essays on the Scientific Study of Politics, challenged the prevailing premises of the “value-neutral” behavioral study of politics.4 Yet Bloom, a political philosopher from the University of Chicago, was clearly the paterfamilias of the more recent conservative critics of higher education, touching off a debate extending well beyond the confines of the academy. Storing’s work was noticed, like most scholarly books, by only a very narrow circle of colleagues in his discipline. Bloom, a prominent member of the “Straussian” school of thought, published The Closing of the American Mind in 1987, which shortly became a national bestseller, selling more than one million copies.5 Although Bloom made references to actual conditions on a few campuses, his book was not an empirical work. It was, rather, an engaging and stimulatHigher Education and the “Culture Wars” 9 ch02 6/30/08 10:46 AM Page 9 ing foray into intellectual history. The book’s popularity with conservatives was surprising, however, inasmuch as the targets of his wrath included many notions that had become pet themes of contemporary conservatives. Nor was Bloom a conservative in the sense of traditional conservative...