JAMES PIERESON, William E. Simon Foundation
ROGER BOWEN, American Association for University Professors
DIANNE SEHLER, Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation
"When this year’s freshmen enter the academic world… they will enter the world of what we may call the left university. The ideology of the left university is both anti-American and anti-imperialist [and] devoted to the exposure of the oppression of the various groups that have been the West’s victims…."
So claims former John M. Olin executive director James Piereson in the Weekly Standard cover story for October 3, 2005, "The Left University." On January 24, 2006, Bradley Center asked a panel of experts: How real is the problem of the "left university," and what, if anything, can donors do about it? Panelists included James Piereson; the American Association for University Professors' Roger Bowen; and Dianne Sehler of the Bradley Foundation. William Schambra served as the discussion’s moderator.
James Piereson began with a brief description of how the modern university and modern charitable foundation became "carriers of liberalism in its various iterations" over the course of the 20th century – or, specifically, during two academic revolutions. The first, from 1870 to the beginning of World War I, occurred when the German university model and way of thinking met with American philanthropy, and academic freedom was one result. The second "diversity revolution," from 1965 to 1975, fueled the idea that universities had to represent interests or opinions, not seek and transmit knowledge. "The dogma of the 1960s was that the personal is political and that a professor indeed had an obligation to preach activism." There is no longer a separation between subject matter and personal belief. Academic specialization only made matters worse. Piereson connected these revolutions directly with the fact that academic institutions have been losing influence. Due in part to their commitment to liberal doctrines, many of the major disciplines have been "embarrassingly wrong" about such things as stagflation in the 1970s, the collapse of communism, and the success of Reaganomics, for example. And generally speaking, "the attempt to organize these institutions around a single doctrine [liberalism] has emptied them of their creativity and disengaged them from the world that they yearn to shape," Piereson said. In order to bring back traditional education, Piereson’s organization, the William E. Simon Foundation, is working to establish centers at universities to promote traditional ideas.
The Bradley Foundation’s Dianne Sehler lamented the mediocre education offered by universities and spoke from her experience managing the foundation’s academic portfolio, which is a top priority of the foundation and is organized around three broad objectives: to preserve and protect serious scholarship and teaching, to nurture young intellectual talents, and to chip away at the academic culture. These efforts include the foundation's support of individual projects and model programs, academic enrichment programs for gifted students, the Bradley Graduate and Post-Graduate Fellowship program, books on academic affairs, a legal defense fund, and institutions that bring like-minded academic constituencies together. Sehler went on to note that the Bradley Foundation does not make distinctions between people of various party affiliations in its work on higher education; rather, “we’re more interested in the dichotomy between serious scholars and ideologues.”
Roger Bowen spoke from his experience as head of the American Association for University Professors (AAUP), a ninety-year-old organization promoting academic freedom. AAUP believes in the freedom of the teacher to teach, the freedom of the student to learn, the freedom of inquiry, and the freedom of faculty "to engage in extramural utterances," Bowen began. AAUP also believes that the faculty should self-police and in no way let the government determine what is taught in the classroom, or allow students' political sensibilities to serve as the basis for challenging a professor. "The faculty alone is qualified to determine curricula.” Bowen took issue with Piereson’s description of the “left university," as well as with his idea that this “left university” is out of touch with reality – in Bowen’s words, these claims "aren’t really supported by the facts that are offered." If anything, the academy has slowly evolved, and if anything, political differences mean little in courses on Italian politics or ancient history, for example. And AAUP works hard to keep it that way, in Bowen’s view. There are actually very few instances of politicization of the classroom. Bowen went on to discuss identity politics, stating that with today’s more diverse campuses, “we’re all in the recruiting game” and classes on identity politics fill up. Moreover, Great Books are still read, but they’re presented in such a way that professors make known the racial and ethnic lenses of the authors. And it’s only appropriate, Bowen went on to say; after all, students from diverse backgrounds would expect nothing less. “We ain’t in 1900 anymore where only white guys went to university.” “Diversity is not a dirty word,” he concluded. “Revolutionary, yet, I agree, but revolutionary in a positive way, I would argue.” Bowen agreed with Diane Sehler and James Allen Smith (in the audience) who warned of the dangers of overspecialization.
Members of the audience included Curtin Winsor, Marty Zupan, James Allen Smith, and Steven Hayward.
This event transcript was prepared from an audio recording and edited by Krista Shaffer. To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Krista at firstname.lastname@example.org.