A Liberal Professor is Afraid of His Liberal Students

Very interesting:

I’m a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world-class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones…

So, what is happening? This:

I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We’ve seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either…

That is all very disturbing, but nothing that we on the right haven’t been aware of for quite some time. I don’t know how old the author is – and he’s using a pseudonym – but given that he says he started teaching in 2006, I’m guessing he’s in his 30’s, and thus went to college early in the 21st century and that means he was born maybe around 1980 or so. I point out the age thing because this means the professor wasn’t around when political correctness first started to rear its ugly head in the 1980’s. He was just a kid and, at all events, the Powers That Be in higher education were just getting rolling on it with speech codes and other things. But the warning was issued by those on the right – if we start trying to classify speech as “good” or “bad”, then it would be those who complain the most who will rule the roost. If a subjective judgement by an individual is all it takes to get a thing condemned, then those who are most sensitive – or who claim to be most sensitive – will have veto power over what everyone else says. Needless to say, it was also easily understood that it would be hard left fanatics who would take most advantage of this because we on the right are not at all interested in stopping someone from talking while our people on the left have always been in favor of blocking speech which disputes leftwing ideology.

Unfortunately for a good liberal like this professor, there isn’t much he can do about it. Later in his article – which is very much worth reading – he traps himself firmly by agreeing that the social status of a person does play a role in the worth of that person’s statements. This flies in the face of two basic, Judeo-Christian concepts:

1. The social status of a person is irrelevant in determining the moral worth of the person – or of what the person says.

2. Human beings are capable of exercising reason to determine what is true.

A beggar can get it right, a king can get it wrong – of course, they can both get it wrong or both get it right. As persons they are capable of finding the truth and, as well, capable of getting lost in the weeds and never figuring out the truth. If the king and the beggar tell us two different things, then it is up to the rest of us to try and figure out if either or both of them are right or wrong…and that takes free inquiry…to give the beggar, say, 50% more credibility on the theory that a beggar must be a morally better person than the king (or vice versa) is to sabotage our inquiry from the start. We just have to take what they say and apply our reason and any ascertainable facts to their statements and come to our best judgement about it.

Liberals, these days, reject this – even our frightened professor; and even though he sees right in front of him – risking his entire career – the results of rejecting the basic concept of inherent moral human equality, regardless of station, and the necessity of applying facts and reason to all disputes. The professors only defense is to subscribe to these concepts…because then when confronted with a student complaining about a “trigger” in his lecture, he could reasonably say, “I’m sorry that what I said made you uncomfortable – let us discuss it further and see which one of us was correct – me in making the statement, or you in feeling uncomfortable hearing it”. After all, not all feelings of discomfort are reasonable – and, in fact, some of them are downright irrational and based upon ignorance or unfair prejudice. But the professor can’t get there – first of all, because the system in place would probably ensure him being fired for trying, but most importantly because the professor, himself, agrees with the underlying basis of someone being able to assert moral superiority to shut down debate.

This is the tail end of 100 years of Progressive thought, now completely in control of our institutions of higher education. You can’t pursue truth – you can only repeat endlessly whatever is fashionable for the moment. If you step out of line, you’ll be hammered down into silence…and as we see in the article, the professor has been hammered down. He now teaches his class only what is fashionable. And if the fashion changes next week, he’ll go with that – the students will be denied the knowledge of anything which may offend any particular student at any time.

I’ll end with one last note – the professor in his article does permit himself one, small bit of venting…when he essentially says that the school administrators are always coming down on the side of the customers – the students. He’s a bit contemptuous of the fact that the college is a business selling products and you know what goes on in a business which sells products: the customer is always right. He’s right to be contemptuous of that – and of Administrators who, even if not full-on Progressive nitwits, refuse to back up the professors and keep the kids in their place (which is, allegedly, that of pupil – meaning, they are there to learn things; not tell the teachers what to teach). There is a great deal of truth in this because higher education has become a bit of a racket. The quality of the students isn’t at issue – it all appears to be about just getting as many of them in there as possible because bags of money are made off of each student duff sitting in a chair. And you don’t want to upset your customers! They might move on to the college down the street…better to just knuckle under. After all, if a professor has to tremble in fear and the kids aren’t really getting an education, that doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether or not the tuition checks are coming in.

I think we can pretty much write-off the existing higher education system – and I think that as conservatives, we need to start making a new one. Initially parallel to the current, but eventually to replace it. A system where there is genuine academic freedom; where education is kept to a low cost; but where admission to the college is governed entirely by ability and continued attendance is based upon educational achievement and proper deportment. Most kids won’t go for it, of course – but the best who aren’t currently going to elite schools will…especially kids from more modest economic backgrounds. And we’ll be turning about genuinely educated kids, who will blow out of the water the products of the current system (and, I think, even outdo those coming from the elite universities in the long run).

UPDATE: Ace gets a bit vigorous about this:

…there is no way to not get one’s ego invested in an idea one pushes. But the code of intellectual inquiry was that people who did so were committing an error, and could (and should) be derided for doing so. The actual capital-T Truth must always exist as an ideal outside of oneself — not just out of humility (can the Truth actually live inside a flawed human being?) but in order to make sure that the Truth could be argued about, without people–

Crying like little babies any time someone’s conception of the Truth disagreed with theirs.

This entire mode shifts the grounds from Intellect — where there are rules and codes and dispassionate standards — to the Emotion, to the Self.

There’s a reason the left wants to do that. Frankly, most of these people are rather dim, second-raters at best, and are accutely insecure about their place in the academic world, — as they should be.

11 thoughts on “A Liberal Professor is Afraid of His Liberal Students

  1. rustybrown2012 June 3, 2015 / 7:51 pm

    I’ve read the article and am confused by your assertion:

    “Later in his article – which is very much worth reading – he traps himself firmly by agreeing that the social status of a person does play a role in the worth of that person’s statements.”

    Where does he say, or even imply this?

    • M. Noonan June 3, 2015 / 9:45 pm


      …Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to action… (emphasis added)

      Identity concerns are irrelevant, period. End of story. No, you can’t bring them into a discussion – because if you do, you’re not trying to ascertain the truth or falsehood of an assertion, but engaging in therapy, as Ace points out in the bit I quoted. It doesn’t matter what someone feels about something: what matters is the truth, as far as we can determine it. A person can “feel” they are being oppressed but unless they can show some actual evidence that rational people will agree demonstrates their oppression, then their feeling is nonsense and of no concern of anyone. The problem we have here is that if someone says they “feel” oppressed then the only thing anyone is allowed to do is validate that “feeling”, regardless of evidence (or, most often, lack thereof). That is lunacy – and that is what the professor is up against, but he can’t see that his own view – that identity may play a valid role – is undermining his own desire to be free from fear.

      Also, if you read it all carefully, what the professor appears to be most upset about is not the fact that this is happening, but that it is happening to him. He’s just a good Old Bolshevik who is wondering why Comrade Stalin is suddenly being so hard on him.

      • rustybrown2012 June 4, 2015 / 12:44 am

        I think you’ve mischaracterized the authors original intent. The authors original statement:

        “while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis…”

        Does not equate to (as you interpret it):

        “the social status of a person does play a role in the worth of that person’s statements”

        …There is a chasm of difference between these two statements, with contexts taken into account.

      • M. Noonan June 4, 2015 / 10:32 am

        I disagree – if identity is a concern, at all, then you’ve surrendered to the whole process. Remember, we’re fighting against a concept that the mere assertion of harm is sufficient to prove harm, and the justification for the assertion is “I’m a woman” or “I’m Latino”, etc, and thus no one is allowed to question the assertion because, as it is claimed, only the “victim” living within his or her ethnic/gender identity can understand the harm. The identity of the person makes no difference in rational debate – to add identity as a factor is to immediately make the debate irrational and surrender it to the least rational.

  2. bardolf2 June 3, 2015 / 8:17 pm

    STEM Professors aren’t afraid of their liberal students.

    • M. Noonan June 3, 2015 / 9:47 pm

      Because the sort of students who fear a “trigger” don’t go into the hard sciences – someone who is busy doing quadratic equations doesn’t have time to feel oppressed or hurt.

    • Retired Spook June 4, 2015 / 8:52 am

      Unfortunately, you’re in the minority. About 70% of college students pursue a path other than science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and many of that 70% are receiving an education that doesn’t prepare them for much of anything coupled with starting off life with crippling debt.

  3. rustybrown2012 June 3, 2015 / 8:24 pm

    BTW, I agree with the general premise that there’s a chilling affect on free speech on today’s college campuses.

  4. Retired Spook June 4, 2015 / 10:13 am

    Somewhat OT, although it goes to the heart of an idea that Mark has advanced in the past, but this is a book I may have to read.

    So how do how small-government conservatives conduct civil disobedience in practice? Sit-ins at the EEOC? Occupy OSHA? Or maybe thousands of senior executives chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, innovation-stifling regulatory regimes have got to go!”

    Murray’s proposal is less dramatic and more ingenious. The regulatory state has two related weaknesses, he explains: It relies on voluntary compliance, and its enforcement capabilities are far inferior to its expansive mandate. So he proposes a private legal defense fund — the “Madison Fund,” honoring the father of the Constitution — that businesses and citizens can rely on for representation against federal regulators. By engaging in expensive and time-consuming litigation on behalf of clients that refuse to comply with pointless rules, the fund drains the government’s enforcement resources and eventually undercuts its ambitions. The state can compel submission from an individual or company with the threat of ruinous legal proceedings, Murray writes, “but Goliath cannot afford to make good on that threat against hundreds of Davids.”

    That is a fund I would most certainly donate to.

    • M. Noonan June 4, 2015 / 10:30 am

      I agree with that – and we actually need a host of such funds. The left has an army of people to simply cause trouble for the right and we need to counter them with an army designed to cause them trouble.

  5. Retired Spook June 4, 2015 / 10:31 am

    There is some pushback from within acdemia, especially WRT the new AP history standards.

    There are notable political or ideological biases inherent in the 2014 framework, and certain structural innovations that will inevitably result in imbalance in the test, and bias in the course. Chief among these is the treatment of American national identity. The 2010 framework treated national identity, including “views of the American national character and ideas about American exceptionalism” as a central theme. But the 2014 framework makes a dramatic shift away from that emphasis, choosing instead to grant far more extensive attention to “how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial and ethnic identities.” The new framework makes a shift from “identity” to “identities.” Indeed, the new framework is so populated with examples of American history as the conflict between social groups, and so inattentive to the sources of national unity and cohesion, that it is hard to see how students will gain any coherent idea of what those sources might be. This does them, and us, an immense disservice.

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