Political Control Hurts Academia
by Patrick Rael, in the Bowdoin Orient (December 2, 2005)
Patrick Rael, an associate professor of history at Bowdoin College, considers the “alleged liberal bias” of college faculty in a recent editorial. “It will not do to dismiss the argument” of conservative commentators who criticize the academy for bias, Rael says, because many faculty members themselves have called into question the ideal of “scholarly objectivism” and “the virtues of universal truth.” But the conservative critique, he argues, is built on a “canned, made-for-TV argument."
One problem for those who advocate an “academic bill of rights,” according to Rael, is that they use “dynamic and contingent” categories like Democrat and Republican, or liberal and conservative, as yardsticks for measuring bias and intellectual diversity. Rael also points out that the hiring process for faculty is designed to meet intellectual rather than political aims. “To reduce hiring decisions to mere tests of political allegiance,” Rael says, “is to disregard the very concerns—for methodological balance, field coverage, disciplinary innovation, student needs, and other kinds of diversity—that safeguard the process.”
Ultimately, Rael says, claims about bias in the academy ignore the long tradition of liberal education, which seeks both to expose students to a variety of methodologies and viewpoints and to challenge existing views. At the same time, such claims degrade the faculty’s mission “from one wherein we coach young minds toward independent yet rigorous thought, to one wherein we indoctrinate impressionable youth presumed to be incapable of thinking for themselves.”
The full text of Patrick Rael’s article is available on the Bowdoin Orient’s Web site. AAC&U’s board of directors recently issued a statement on academic freedom, which is now available online.