Friday, February 13, 2004

Timeo Danaos et Dona Ferentes

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting feature on the current push by US conservatives to rid academia of the plague of political correctness. I found the link via John Ray, who says:

The widely-read Chronicle of Higher Education has at last given coverage to the problem of Leftist bias in academe and what David Horowitz is doing to overcome it. There is also a site here run by students themselves which gives even more information on how huge the problem is. There is an article from last year here by David Horowitz that makes clear that there is actually what amounts to a blacklist against hiring conservative professors at almost all U.S. universities ... [my emphasis]

From reading this, a casual reader might conclude that John Ray is here entertaining a conspiracy theory, but this might be a mistake. On Friday 6 February, he made his position on conspiracy theories and who entertains them quite clear:

The fact ... is that conspiracy theories (in the 60's, "the CIA" was responsible for everything) are part and parcel of the simplistic thinking that is characteristic of the Left. That is not to say that there are NO conservatives who sometimes entertain conspiracy theories but such theories are nonetheless far and away the characteristic mental hidey-hole of the Leftist who cannot afford to face reality lest his entire conceptual house of cards come tumbling down.

On the other hand it might not be a mistake; Ray does admit that there are some conservatives who sometimes resort to the mental hidey-hole of comspiracy theories, so the logic is pretty clear. Given:

I. Some conservatives sometimes entertain conspiracy theories.
II. John Ray is a conservative.

We are completely unable, on purely logical grounds to say whether John Ray ever entertains conspiracy theories or not. The only way to settle the question is by looking at the available empirical evidence, starting perhaps with Ray's writings on his blog.

That's enough of hoisting the engineer by his own petard for now. Getting back to the Chronicle of Higher Education, besides the feature linked above, there's an article by David Horowitz promoting his "Academic Bill of Rights", and a response from Stanley Fish, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among other things, Fist says:

Opponents of the Academic Bill of Rights contend that despite disclaimers of any political intention and an explicit rejection of quotas, the underlying agenda is the decidedly political one of forcing colleges and universities to hire conservative professors in order to assure ideological balance.

Horowitz replies (in print and conversation) that he has no desire to impose ideological criteria on the operations of the academy; he does not favor, he tells me, legislation that would have political bodies taking over the responsibility of making curricular and hiring decisions. His hope, he insists, is that colleges and universities will reform themselves, and he offers the Academic Bill of Rights (which is the product of consultation with academics of various persuasions) as a convenient base-line template to which they might refer for guidance.

For the record, and as one of those with whom he has consulted, I believe him, and I believe him, in part, because much of the Academic Bill of Rights is as apolitical and principled as he says it is. It begins by announcing that "the central purposes of a University are the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions ... and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large." (I shall return to the clause deleted by my ellipsis.)

Fish continues with some examples of how these high-sounding principles are being put into practice by Horowitz' converts:

Someone is going to say, let's monitor those lefty professors and keep tabs on what they're saying; and while we're at it, let's withhold federal funds from programs that do not display "ideological balance" ("balance" is also an unworthy academic goal); and let's demand that academic institutions demonstrate a commitment to hiring conservatives; and let's make sure that the material our students read is pro-American and free of the taint of relativism; and let's publish the names of those who do not comply.

This is not a hypothetical list; it is a list of actions already being taken. In fact, it is a list one could pretty much glean from the Web site of State Senator John K. Andrews Jr., president of the Colorado Senate (, a site on which the Academic Bill of Rights is invoked frequently.

Also via John Ray, I discovered that Theodore Dalrymple of City Journal wants to make it clear that he is in no way related to William Dalrymple who wrote the article "Islamophobia" which appeared in the New Statesman recently. Theodore begins his article on William with this bold statement:

The idea that if someone is prepared to do something truly horrible, he must have a worthy cause remains attractive to liberal intellectuals, who perhaps envy those who take up arms against the sea of troubles that is human existence.

I find this a little confusing, especially the reference to Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1), where Hamlet wanders onstage and starts raving on about topping himself:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

Perhaps Theodore got mixed up between Hamlet and Henry V:

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favor'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.

That's the bugger with Shakespeare; he wrote so many plays whose titles begin with the letter H.

It may be a little unfair to dismiss Theodore Dalrymple's article out of hand, merely because he can't get his Shakespeare straight. It's only the opening sentence after all, and it bears little on the bone he has to pick with William (not even a second cousin three times removed) Dalrymple. Fair minded readers will probably want to read both William's article and Theo's article before they consider taking sides in the Dalrymple non-family squabble.

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