Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I think something remarkable occurred at UCLA last week. By a vote of 56%-44%—almost double the margin of Scott Walker’s recent recall-election victory—the UCLA faculty rejected a proposed “Community and Conflict in the Modern World” general-education requirement.
The proposal would have required each UCLA student to take a class that examines “community and conflict.” Although the proposal did not precisely define “community and conflict,” it listed a set of sample courses that would satisfy the requirement. Approximately half of those courses were taught by one of the “studies” departments—e.g. African American Studies, Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies, Labor and Workplace Studies, American Indian Studies, etc. Almost all of the remaining half would naturally fit in one of the “studies” departments.
I was shocked by the vote. I’d estimate that out of approximately 4,000 faculty members at UCLA, only about 40 have right-of-center political views. And of those 40, approximately three-quarters aren’t true conservatives—instead they’re libertarians or right-leaning moderates. I know of only five UCLA professors who at least occasionally call themselves conservative, consistently vote for Republicans, and are willing to admit that publicly.
Given the above facts and the 56-44 vote, it necessarily follows that a large fraction of liberal professors voted against the “community and conflict” requirement.
The same attitudes were true of UCLA students. Based on some informal polls I’ve conducted, approximately 80% of UCLA students preferred Obama over McCain in the last presidential election. Despite the overwhelmingly liberal ideology among UCLA students, only 45% said that they were disappointed that the proposal failed. (Another 6% said that UCLA needs a diversity-related requirement but opposed the current proposal. This poll is ongoing – I am using numbers that the web site listed at approximately 8:00am on June 10.)
Although I was shocked by the results, one of my liberal friends lectured me why I shouldn’t have been so surprised. “I know you think UCLA is just a bunch of knee-jerk leftists,” he explained. “But a lot of those leftists are actually academic conservatives.” By the latter phrase he meant people who value high standards and rigor in teaching and research.
While few people will say it, nearly everyone on college campuses understands that the “studies” classes are not very rigorous; nor do they have high intellectual standards.
If, however, you say something like that on a university campus, within seconds you’ll usually hear a reply such as, “No, no academic discipline is any more rigorous than any other. It’s just that different disciplines require different talents.”
Notwithstanding how often you hear such statements, no one in the history of mankind has ever said, “Darn, I made a D in Chicano studies. I guess now I’ll have to major in chemistry.” In contrast, lots of people have said the opposite. Academic conservatives—even those who are leftwing politically—understand that fact.
My liberal friend made another claim: The same academic conservatives, although they do not think very highly of the “studies” departments, do not want to admit that fact publicly. They understand the mob-like responses they will have to face, including being called a racist, if they do that. Indeed my liberal friend speculated that if the “community and conflict” proposal had been decided by an open ballot instead of a secret one, then the proposal would have passed almost unanimously.
Thus, the current situation on college campuses is similar to the last several years of the Soviet Union. Nearly everyone can see that the system is faulty. But no one will dare to say that publicly.
Last week UCLA revealed a crack in the wall of campus political correctness. Maybe someday the academic equivalent of a Ronald Reagan will demand that we tear down the entire wall.