Tuesday, April 29, 2008

American Academic Institutions: Impartial, Neutral, Nonpartisan, Dispassionate

Some, maybe.

Academics say that they're unbiased, and that America's colleges and universities are bastions of academic freedom and tolerance for diverse views. I like to take people at their word, but it isn't always easy. Cases in point:
  1. "Hurricane Expert: School Silencing Me Over Global-Warming Views"
    FOXNews (April 29, 2008)
  2. "Diversity - It Runs Both Ways"
    the happy conservative (April 26, 2008)
Before going on, a sort of disclaimer,or explanation. I'm a college graduate, and a recovering English teacher. By temperament, I'm a scholar and an artist. I enjoyed my college years, but I would have enjoyed them more - and left with more respect for the institutions - if some ideas hadn't been treated more equally than others.

In short, I remember what it was like to be a non-liberal on American campuses, off an on from the late sixties to the mid eighties. For me, academic freedom, American style, is of personal interest.

Now, about those two cases:
  1. Dr. William Gray is that hurricane expert you heard and read about during each hurricane season. Don't expect to hear him any more.
    I'd wondered why other "experts" were being cited, until I read that the University of Colorado had cut his funding, because he didn't accept the global warming doctrine. There's more detail in "Storm subsides between William Gray, CSU." Colorado State University, of course, says that the fuss is greatly exaggerated, and doesn't have anything to do with Dr. Gray's heretical beliefs. Maybe so. University media departments aren't always as well-funded or as well staffed they'd like to be.
    My own opinion is that the silencing of Dr. Gray shows why so few scientists are willing to voice opposition to the doctrine of Global Warming: or why academic professionals in general are so unlikely to voice dissenting opinions.
  2. Ben is has experienced academic freedom, too. The student paper won't print his articles, and I can see why. Here's how he describes himself:
    "I'm the lone conservative at an elite college. No, I'm not here because I'm an elite. I'm here because Washington U. also has a quota of small midwestern farm boys to fill. Thanks very much, that'll be fifty grand.
    "I'm an ROTC Cadet, soon to be the Army’s newest 2LT, God help them. With any luck (for the Army) I'll soon be the Army’s newest law student as well, a situation I would describe as Pareto optimal.
    "I'm here to expose the intolerant, absurd, politically correct, and morally vacuous college campus where I study."
    No wonder the college paper won't print his stuff. You can't have diversity and freedom of expression, if you let just anybody say whatever they want.
All of which brings up an excellent question:

In the Name of Sanity and Common Sense, What Does This Have to do With the War on Terror?!

Directly, not much. Indirectly, a very great deal.

American institutions of higher education are, along with the news media and the entertainment industry, information gatekeepers in traditional American culture. In my view, Americans during much of the twentieth centurey learned current events from the news, how people should feel about events from entertainment media, and what people should think from institutions of higher education.

That system is breaking down, happily, with the dawning of the Information Age.

We now live in a world where someone like Ben, or me, can get published - and read - even if our views are not the same as editorial boards or academic committees.

There are problems with this new world, of course. But I would rather trust the marketplace of ideas to sort out what's true and what's not, than an editor or a professor who may not believe that anything can be "true." (What's wrong with this statement: 'There is no absolute truth.' Hint: that is a statement of an absolute truth.)

The War on Terror is, to a great extent, a conflict between people who are willing to kill to impose their own views on others, and people who are unwilling to accept the views of a particular group of Islamic extremists - and don't want to die.

Americans will be deciding who will represent them in Congress, and who the next president will be, later this year.

I think and believe that American voters would be well-advised to remember that what they read and hear in the news, and the pronouncements of learned academics, may not be the unbiased, impartial, utterances they're supposed to be.

I also think and believe that American academics and journalists would be well-advised to consider who is willing to die, defending their right to say what they want, and who would cheerfully kill them for insults, real or imagined, directed toward Islam.

Previous posts, on academic freedom and related ideas: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.
After word April 30, 2008:

Looks like American academia hasn't changed since my last immersion. Here's a sample of what's being taught, reported by a student who doesn't buy what wild and wacky Washington U is teaching:

"Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon, and the Bush Administration manipulated the telling of facts about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the progress of the war in Iraq by using retired military personnel, many of whom were on the boards of military contractors, as puppets to spout their carefully scripted rhetoric in the name of objective journalism."

Don't be too swift to blame the professor. He gets his facts from The New York Times: "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand" (April 20, 2008).

You just can't make that sort of thing up. More, at "conspiracy central" (the happy conservative (April 30, 2008)).

2 comments:

Ben said...

Thanks for the link!

I've got you in my del.icio.us blogroll and Google Reader.

To be fair, my econ professors are without exception talented and excellent. I have no qualms with them at all.

But I've only taken econ and math classes, because the history department here is deplorable to say the least.

Anyhow, I have been enjoying your blog and appreciate your comments!

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Ben,

About the link: my pleasure. It was relevant to the post - and the topic.

Sorry to hear about your history department. I was a history major, first time through. There was some rot showing then, in the pre-disco era. Too bad: it's a fascinating subject.

And, glad to hear the good words about this blog.

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Blogroll

Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.