Contributor Post Created with Sketch. “Studies” Departments Suffer a Loss

 

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.

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  1. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tim,

    COOL! UCLA has a sane moment. Now if they can just manage to put together a few of these sane moments back to back why we might even start to consider UCLA as a positve force in the world. 

    If not we can just go back to considering them a corrupter of youth and a destroyer of all values.

    No problem.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #1
    • June 10, 2012, at 8:17 AM PDT
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  2. Keith Rice Inactive

    I’m not going to be so generous. Having recently endured 3 years at a local university, my skepticism is still fresh.

    With deep cuts in state support, faculty members are all worried about their own departments. If you were to take the faculty that would benefit from these additional courses and add to that the other strident social justice types, you could come up with about that number.

    It should be clear by now that much of academic Leftism is based on the assumption of unlimited funds (isn’t that the President’s belief?) As the funds dry up it’s each man for himself.

    • #2
    • June 10, 2012, at 8:37 AM PDT
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  3. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Highlama: I’m not going to be so generous. Having recently endured 3 years at a local university, my skepticism is still fresh.

    With deep cuts in state support, faculty members are all worried about their own departments. If you were to take the faculty that would benefit from these additional courses and add to that the other strident social justice types, you could come up with about that number.

    It should be clear by now that much of academic Leftism is based on the assumption of unlimited funds (isn’t that the President’s belief?) As the funds dry up it’s each man for himself. · 18 minutes ago

    Highlama beat me to it. Liklihood is the profs who voted no didn’t want even the slightest risk of anything cutting into their slice of the pie.

    • #3
    • June 10, 2012, at 8:59 AM PDT
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  4. Profile Photo Member

    It comes down to the money every time. I am glad to see this secret ballot result because it is beginning to dawn that the party may be slowing as money from tax payers is not so easily handed over to worthless studies programs which too often fantasy not reality. It also encourages me to stop swallowing what I thought were majority wanted. Is a sea change beginning?

    • #4
    • June 10, 2012, at 9:14 AM PDT
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  5. Sumomitch Inactive

    Groseclose is suggesting that this is the start of a “preference cascade” heralding the rapid decline and fall of the “Studies” empire. Commenters are more cynically viewing it as simple self-interested turf protection. The two views are not entirely inconsistent. Self-interest, in a time of limited resources, will force people to finally acknowledge what everyone knows. (Sadly, the converse is also true, that until immediate self interest is at stake, most people will not have the courage to stand up to Political Correctness.)

    • #5
    • June 10, 2012, at 9:24 AM PDT
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  6. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Excellent. I have long-admired the description of Women’s Studies programs that, in her book Who Stole Feminism?, Christina Hoff Sommers said should be a required warning label:

    “We will help your daughter discover the extent to which she has been in complicity with the patriarchy. . . . She may become enraged and chronically offended. She will very likely reject the religious and moral codes you raised her with. . . . She may change her appearance, and even her sexual orientation. She may end up hating you (her father) and pitying you (her mother). After [her] reeducation . . ., you will certainly be out tens of thousands of dollars and very possibly be out one daughter as well.”

    The sooner we can end this academic fraud the better.

    • #6
    • June 10, 2012, at 9:32 AM PDT
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  7. Gretchen Inactive

    Your friend is correct. Some smart person (I don´t remember who–maybe Thomas Sowell?) once said that when it comes to their own field–the one they know something about–most people are conservative. So most academics are conservative about academics.

    Our prejudices are what we use to explain what we don´t know first hand.

    • #7
    • June 10, 2012, at 10:21 AM PDT
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  8. Sumomitch Inactive

    tabula rasa: Great quote from Sommers. It reminds me of what a labor lawyer told me about the early 90s craze for corporate sensitivity training: if the corporation didn’t have at least one harassment lawsuit within 6 months after a training session, the trainer wasn’t doing her job. 

    • #8
    • June 10, 2012, at 10:29 AM PDT
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  9. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Robert Mitchell: tabula rasa: Great quote from Sommers. It reminds me of what a labor lawyer told me about the early 90s craze for corporate sensitivity training: if the corporation didn’t have at least one harassment lawsuit within 6 months after a training session, the trainer wasn’t doing her job. · 52 minutes ago

    Amen. I spent 25 years in a big corporation and went through what seems like hundreds of sensitivity training sessions (I exaggerate). I finally got to the point where I would go, keep a placid look on my face, say nothing, and not listen. We called the whole process “getting your ticket punched.”

    • #9
    • June 10, 2012, at 11:24 AM PDT
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  10. KC Mulville Inactive
    tabula rasa

    I finally got to the point where I would go, keep a placid look on my face, say nothing, and not listen. 

    This is why game apps on handheld devices have been so popular. 

    • #10
    • June 10, 2012, at 11:35 AM PDT
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  11. Sumomitch Inactive

    tabula rasa: heh. When I was young, “getting your ticket punched” had a whole different meaning, entirely inappropriate to the sensitivities in which you were supposedly being indoctrinated.

    • #11
    • June 10, 2012, at 11:41 AM PDT
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  12. Gretchen Inactive
    tabula rasa

    Amen. I spent 25 years in a big corporation and went through what seems like hundreds of sensitivity training sessions (I exaggerate). I finally got to the point where I would go, keep a placid look on my face, say nothing, and not listen. We called the whole process “getting your ticket punched.” · 19 minutes ago

    When we had a session at our college and the “facilitator” rattled on about how we have to accommodate all different cultural values in the work place, I asked if that meant that in my husband’s case, since he is from a culture that does not value punctuality, when they call a meeting they should say, “The meeting will be at ten, except for José, who can show up whenever he wants¨? She just stared blankly and kept going.

    • #12
    • June 10, 2012, at 11:53 AM PDT
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  13. Rachel Lu Contributor

    Why do we have to refer to them all as “the studies departments”? Not all studies departments are the same. Some resort to being “studies” because they aren’t real subjects, just weird fixations of people with no serious interests. Others are refuges for people who want to reconstruct traditional disciplines but lack the clout to simply oust the losers who have taken them over. And some studies departments are interdisciplinary in a good way. There’s a big difference between a Gender Studies department and a Russian or Medieval Studies department.

    • #13
    • June 10, 2012, at 11:57 AM PDT
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  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Rachel Lu: Why do we have to refer to them all as “the studies departments”? Not all studies departments are the same. Some resort to being “studies” because they aren’t real subjects, just weird fixations of people with no serious interests. Others are refuges for people who want to reconstruct traditional disciplines but lack the clout to simply oust the losers who have taken them over. And some studies departments are interdisciplinary in a good way. There’s a big difference between a Gender Studies department and a Russian or Medieval Studies department. 

    Because abusive notation is so goldurn convenient ;-)

    • #14
    • June 11, 2012, at 1:35 AM PDT
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  15. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    KC Mulville
    tabula rasa

    I finally got to the point where I would go, keep a placid look on my face, say nothing, and not listen. 

    This is why game apps on handheld devices have been so popular. · 2 hours ago

    I am sad to say that all my sensitivity training experience predated smart phones. I did, however, sneak magazines in (and then sat of the back row).

    • #15
    • June 11, 2012, at 2:12 AM PDT
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  16. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Robert Mitchell: tabula rasa: heh. When I was young, “getting your ticket punched” had a whole different meaning, entirely inappropriate to the sensitivities in which you were supposedly being indoctrinated. · 3 hours ago

    I too am familiar with the alternative usage. By the time most of us went through sensitivity training the other ticket had, for most, been punched. New era: new ticket.

    • #16
    • June 11, 2012, at 2:15 AM PDT
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  17. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Because abusive notation is so goldurn convenient ;-) · 40 minutes ago

    I get that. But it does concern me, because I actually think that some of these departments are among the most “efficient” in terms of doing more valuable research and teaching with less money. And I fear they’re going to be squeezed out when the higher ed crunch comes.

    It costs practically nothing to maintain a handful of (say) Central Asian language specialists, in comparison to what we spend on (say) scientific research. And hey, now and then you might need someone who speaks Tajik. Enabling people to explore interesting-and-possibly-important-but-not-widespread interests is one of the upsides to a sprawling university system. But I can already hear the cry of “Science good! Studies departments useless!” which is going to drive those cool little departments to extinction. 

    When I was in college I quickly learned: if you want a good lit class, go to the studies departments. English is territorial (wouldn’t let me take interesting stuff without a lot of boring prereqs) and obsessed with lit theory. Studies departments are filled with quirky people who actually love history, literature etc.

    • #17
    • June 11, 2012, at 2:47 AM PDT
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  18. Gretchen Inactive
    Rachel Lu: Why do we have to refer to them all as “the studies departments”? Not all studies departments are the same. Some resort to being “studies” because they aren’t real subjects, just weird fixations of people with no serious interests. Others are refuges for people who want to reconstruct traditional disciplines but lack the clout to simply oust the losers who have taken them over. And some studies departments are interdisciplinary in a good way. There’s a big difference between a Gender Studies department and a Russian or Medieval Studies department. · 2 hours ago

    There is. However, I think most schools that offer programs in Russian or Medieval Studies do not have a Russian Studies or Medieval Studies Department. The program is cobbled together with offerings from different departments: Language (or Russian) Department, History Department, Philosophy Department, etc. I think there is a place for these programs, though they are often regarded as less rigorous than a degree in Russian or History, etc. , as the student does not go deeply into one single discipline. I do not have an opinion one way or the other.

    • #18
    • June 11, 2012, at 2:48 AM PDT
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  19. Rachel Lu Contributor

    I think it’s pretty common for such departments to have a few of their own faculty members, while also having a lot of joint-appointments with other departments. As far as rigor goes, I don’t think there’s any real rule about it, but the inclusion of the term “studies” in the name does not per se tell you much about the department.

    • #19
    • June 11, 2012, at 3:01 AM PDT
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  20. Profile Photo Member

    I took a look at the list of studies via the link which gave the couses in the USA inter race in the 60’s and women’s, but then I was taken aback by the German 59:Holocaust and also Afrikaans:From oppressed to oppressor. Fine, but then where are the courses on Rwanda: Tutsi to Hutu Tribal World Views or Zimbabwe:How the Shona slaughtered the N’Debele Tribe. We have not even mentioned the religious wars in Northern Africa between Chritian and Muslem in Nigeria, Sudan and many more. To pick one if these courses as an option is a choice, but forcing any of these is pushing an agenda. Wow, I did not realize how much US universities are brain washing one view.

    • #20
    • June 11, 2012, at 3:04 AM PDT
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  21. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Tim Groseclose:

    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.

    Oh, man. Why is there never a postmodern deconstructionist around when you really need one?

    • #21
    • June 11, 2012, at 3:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. Kofola Inactive
    Rachel Lu
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Because abusive notation is so goldurn convenient ;-) · 40 minutes ago

    I get that. But it does concern me, because I actually think thatsomeof these departments are among the most “efficient” in terms of doing more valuable research and teaching with less money. And I fear they’re going to be squeezed out when the higher ed crunch comes.

    It costs practically nothing to maintain a handful of (say) Central Asian language specialists, in comparison to what we spend on (say) scientific research. And hey, now and then you might need someone who speaks Tajik. Enabling people to explore interesting-and-possibly-important-but-not-widespread interests is one of the upsides to a sprawling university system. But I can already hear the cry of “Science good! Studies departments useless!” which is going to drive those cool little departments to extinction. 4 hours ago

    This kind of excessive classification is just about feeding academic narcissism about areas of expertise. Perish the thought that a Medievalist might have to organize with historians of others time periods! They deserve their own money, their own space, their own administration, an so on…

    • #22
    • June 11, 2012, at 6:58 AM PDT
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  23. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane OyenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Rachel Lu: Why do we have to refer to them all as “the studies departments”? Not all studies departments are the same. Some resort to being “studies” because they aren’t real subjects, just weird fixations of people with no serious interests……….. some studies departments are interdisciplinary in a good way. There’s a big difference between a Gender Studies department and a Russian or Medieval Studies department. 

    Because abusive notation is so goldurn convenient ;-) · 17 hours ago

    Yes, this is a dangerous convenience, and we should be careful about how we “rightly divide” (2 Timothy 2:15) our terminology. I am utterly skeptical of any hyphenated studies, particularly when “American” follows the hyphen, and of any non-geographic studies (race, gender, etc.).

    But the word “studies” is a perfectly legitimate descriptor for integrated and comprehensive curriculum. When Tom Wolfe did his PhD in American Studies, he was looking at history, sociology, culture, and demography. Asian Studies (I have a conflict of interest) addresses history, widely varied ethnicity, culture, language, and geography in a huge, poorly understood in the US, but loomingly very important part of the world. 

    Toss the hyphens and genders, get with real learning.

    • #23
    • June 11, 2012, at 7:10 AM PDT
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  24. dogsbody Inactive
    Tim Groseclose:

    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.

    I spent a semester teaching at a large state university, and I remember one (quite liberal) professor telling me and a few others how a left-wing initiative failed to be approved by the faculty senate because it wasn’t radical enough for the “studies” people (that’s how he referred to them). So the proposal died in committee.

    Everyone, including reliably liberal Democrat faculty, knows these departments aren’t intellectually rigorous–they’re just left-wing political agitprop in academic robes. But they also annoy a lot of liberals by making ideological purity stand in the way of approving liberal initiatives. So the vote isn’t a surprise for more than one reason.

    • #24
    • June 11, 2012, at 8:39 AM PDT
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  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Duane Oyen
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Rachel Lu: Why do we have to refer to them all as “the studies departments”?

    Because abusive notation is so goldurn convenient ;-) 

    Yes, this is a dangerous convenience, and we should be careful about how we “rightly divide” (2 Timothy 2:15) our terminology.

    Duane, I’m totally with you and Rachel on the usefulness of some “studies” disciplines, like the ones that you and she mention.

    Of course abusive notation is a dangerous convenience (I know firsthand it trips up mathematicians all the time). But it’s also an inevitable convenience.

    If we required all the words and symbols we use to be used non-abusively all the time, it’s possible that a majority of communications would simply not happen.

    • #25
    • June 11, 2012, at 11:31 AM PDT
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  26. Nancy Spalding Thatcher

    I agree that academics tend to be conservative on their fields, esp about quality issues. However, this is not always the case. The fact that it was a secret ballot undoubtedly influenced the outcome of the vote.

    • #26
    • June 12, 2012, at 1:18 AM PDT
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  27. Eric Rasmusen Inactive

    Self-interest trumps ideology, at least for liberals. Marx put it well:

    “The English Established Church, e.g., will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income. Now-a-days atheism is culpa levis, as compared with criticism of existing property relations.”

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p1.htm

    • #27
    • June 12, 2012, at 11:10 AM PDT
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