Squashing Intellectual Diversity at Brown · 08 September 2003

Filed under: Brown University

By Alex Carnevale

As anyone who has read his many letters to the Brown Daily Herald or seen the copies of the Socialist Worker that grace the door of his office knows, Brown University's Professor of English William Keach is a socialist. On my first day of class with him last year he announced his views but added that, of course, he wouldn't enforce them on others, who were free to disagree with him. I've shopped enough of his classes to know that this is his regular spiel. On the other hand, the fact that he feels it necessary to make this reassurance suggests that he also understands that some of his students might be intimidated by such open partisanship from expressing contrary views. He did not explain how having a professor relentlessly advocate a partisan position in class could be squared with an educational mission to open students' minds.

Though Professor Keach's left-wing views and in class partisanship are the absolute standard across the uneven playing field at Brown, his willingness to concede his partisanship is not the norm. Other professors feel free to unload their prejudices to very unequal students without reassuring them their dissent will have no consequences. When I stepped into "Political Science 147: International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution" a few days ago, professor P. Terence Hopmann launched into an attack on President Bush without bothering to warn the class that they were about to be subjected to his own partisan views.

Of the September 11th attacks, Professor Hopmann said Bush was wrong to say, "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists." Instead, we would do better to understand the reasons why the 19 hijackers did what they did, instead of solving the problem with violence. With a straight face, he referred to the billions of dollars of military spending and compared that to the "paltry" sums his organization, the Center for Global Security at the Watson Institute for International Studies, received to promote the prospects for peace. Somehow the government did not place equal value on preserving the security of our country from Islamist terrorists and Hopmann's left-wing advocacy. "Isn't this ridiculous?" he snorted.

Dressed like a State Department bureaucrat and speaking with all the condescension of tenured professorship, Hopmann previewed some of the topics the class would be exploring in the semester. In an attempt to explain the difference between the rational and irrational, he used Adolf Hitler as an example of the rational. Some of the things that Hitler did were perfectly rational, he said, if you look at the goal Hitler had in mind. I cannot imagine what my Jewish grandfather would think if he knew that his son was paying $40,000 a year so that his son could be so instructed in Der Fuehrer's rationality.

It is not Hopmann's expression of his peculiar partisanship that bothers me. He is perfectly within his rights to stick a Kucinich bumper sticker on his car and curl up with a copy of Chomsky for Beginners as far as I'm concerned. Hell, I'd encourage it-he's clearly had a tough life. But I know he is wrong about 9/11, about Hitler, and about one other thing: I believe he's wrong to assume from the start that Brown students are automatically sympathetic to his perspective and are excited to be indoctrinated instead of getting an education. The complaints I have heard from other students indicate a distinct pattern: by squelching other perspectives many of professors at Brown are stifling intellectual diversity in their classrooms. The Brown faculty itself is likewise virtually devoid of any intellectual diversity. Among professors there are almost no dissenters from left-wing orthodoxy. David Horowitz's Center for Popular Culture estimates that Democrats outnumber Republicans among the Brown faculty 30-1.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, about 20 percent of students entering college last year described themselves as conservative. At Brown, on the other hand, a member of the campus branch of the International Socialist Organization once told me he thought 99 percent of the student body was against the Iraq War. But the student's reaction to the Bush-bashing of their professors has not been friendly nudges or chuckles, but dead silence.

I do not think the main reason is that our young students are reacting to the left-wing dogmatism is that they are becoming increasingly conservative, or because they are organically more conservative than the generations that went before them (although they are more conservative). I believe it is because students encountering the far-left politics of Brown's faculty are becoming desensitized to the uniformity of their perspective and no longer wish to laugh off the way this indoctrination wastes their expensive Ivy League education.

When I first met professors that I admired and respected, I was an idealistic high school student. My teachers often refused to reveal their political views, and at the time I wondered why they would do such a thing. Certainly they were liberals like me, and I sought the comfort of appealing to an intellectually homogenous environment. Here at Brown, where the political positions of the faculty are homogenous in a way that prevents growth, I see the wisdom of my old teachers' choice. By patronizing and eliminating other perspectives from the classroom, the faculty at Brown has abandoned its most important duty: to open young minds and educate them. And it has left us all worse off.

Alex Carnevale is the editor-in-chief of Post-, the weekly magazine of the Brown Daily Herald. He also writes about politics and the arts at www.neoliberal.blogspot.com.

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