A few weeks ago, my No. 1 fan, David Horowitz, was on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” ranting on how universities are designed to indoctrinate students with the liberal agenda. When Matthews asked for evidence about this conspiracy theory, Horowitz backtracked, stammered, and finally conceded that he didn’t have a “blacklist.”

Mira Levitan

While Horowitz represents an extreme in American conservatism, this notion is endemic in the mainstream. It is for one, not true, and two, an attempt by the right to subvert an institution that harbors dynamic thought, which is dangerous to the status quo.

The conservatives are right about one thing. Many university professors are left wing, which is due to the fact that well informed people in general tend to vote liberal. However, it is also true that people in the professions of avarice like business tend to be conservative, so should I demand that corporate boards have quotas for Democrats?

The truth is that conservatives aren’t marginalized on college campuses. Conservative activists have the same rights as Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality and Anti-War Action!. In fact, the Collegiate Network, a conservative organization, doles out $200,000 a year to campus publications every year, something the aforementioned leftist groups certainly do not enjoy. And acclaimed conservative academics hold high positions at their respective institutions. But whenever an academic tries to critically analyze economics or public policy, even the most mild-mannered Republican can seem to be possessed by the soul of Joe McCarthy.

Here’s just one example. Popular University history Prof. Matthew Lassiter recently received an angry email from a University alum and self-proclaimed freelance journalist (psst: that’s a euphemism for unemployed) blasting his upcoming Michigan Colloquium on Race and Twentieth-Century American Political Development for a lack of political balance. The colloquium, featuring bad-boy urban scholar Tom Sugrue, offers lectures on “The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Suburban North” and “The New African American Inequality.”

At first, I was baffled by such a claim. Why would this right-wing agitator want a colloquium that is scholarly in nature to become a leftversus-right political debate? Does one’s ability to educate depend on how one goes to the voting booth? Did said right-wing agitator want the colloquium to feature speakers opposed to integration in the suburban north? Or was said right-wing agitator merely alarmed at the surnames Katz and Cohen on the roster, fearing the ugly Jewish-communist conspiracy theory that is still popular in right-wing circles?

In short, there was no reason for this incredible lecture series to warrant such an accusation. And if analyzing strategies to combat racism and inequality is part of the liberal agenda, keep the accusations coming, as it only proves how modern American conservatism is inherently racist.

There are two motivations for this conservative backlash, one more frightening than the other. The conservatives just hate it when people are allowed to see when America has made mistakes or how policy could be handled better. This motivation is more or less understandable.

But there’s another part of the backlash that is much more discomforting that plays out in a piece of academic lore where the waspy founders of the University of California at San Diego almost abandoned their project to build a branch of the state system in La Jolla when one of their cohorts notoriously warned, “Jews, gentlemen.”

Sadly, the tendency for conservatives to attack things like Hollywood, the media, urban centers like Manhattan and now academia for having a liberal bias is rooted, historically, in an ancient distrust for professions and areas heavily populated by Jews.

There’s a lynch mob out there hell bent on silencing dissent in this country driven by its uneasiness towards the presence of intellectual discourse, bound volumes of prose and the Yiddish language.

But if this lynch mob is correct, are we to assume that debate, scholarship, diversity of opinion and activism are inherently liberal? Maybe so, as intransigence, single-mindedness, apathy and ignorance define the ends these thugs wish to attain.

Class dismissed.

Paul can be reached at aspaul@umich.edu.

 

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