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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Column: The new orthodoxy

There was a time, long ago, when irreverence was king on campus.

God, stodgy professors, WASP heritage and tradition were easy prey for the deliciously subversive revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s. The dusty orthodoxies of time and tradition, the doctrinaire insistence on uniformity, the stale consensus of culture –– those were gone forever. Or so it seemed.

But then a funny thing happened. The students of yesterday became the professors and administrators of today. And with that change came a new orthodoxy, stripped of God and tradition, of course, but no less dogmatic or stifling for the loss. Ironically, the rebels who lived to question authority have themselves become unquestionable authority.

By the time I trundled off to college in the mid-2000s, the trend was pretty much universal. In place of the old educational mores, newly-sanctified principles like “diversity” (only based on skin color), “sustainability” and “multiculturalism” had risen to the level of unassailable truths.

In today’s university, the student who questions sacred doctrines such as “climate change” or “social justice” is politely but firmly relegated to the inferior status of “non-progressive.” Professors who fail to piously mouth liberal slogans are sometimes ostracized, denied tenure or even fired. And administrators occupy themselves by creating Orwellian speech codes that prohibit such crimes as “adversely upset[ting] the delicate balance of communal living” or using “verbally abusive language on university-owned or controlled property.”

One wonders what the free-speaking students of the ’60s would have thought about such draconian restrictions –– but wait, those same students are the ones writing the speech codes now. The brash protesters of the past are the strait-laced dogmatists of the present. In turn, classroom discourse has suffered.

When was the last time a fellow classmate raised his hand to vigorously challenge the theory of the welfare state, or the dogma of man-caused climate change, or the claims of American imperialism? There are some things in college that you just can’t say, or at least not without being ostracized as a racist, denier, homophobe or jingoist. As a result, education is stale, boring and predictable.

Learning becomes regurgitation and the narrow palate of ideological diversity relegates conservative viewpoints to whatever straw-men professors can construct to provide a semblance of balance. Instead of being an unpredictable but brilliant marketplace of ideas, the classroom has become a secular Sunday school where students recite their progressive catechisms.

Part of the problem is the lack of ideological diversity in the faculty and administration. The average liberal arts professor comes complete with a Prius, blazer, upper-middle-class lifestyle and, most importantly, a pre-packaged set of standard-issue leftist doctrines that start with race, class or gender, and veer off into that professor’s personal brand of politically correct inanity.

The research confirms my unscientific analysis. Studies indicate that 72 percent of college professors identify as liberal, while only 15 percent identify as conservative. That’s nearly a five-to-one ratio. When you look at social sciences and humanities, fields where ideology is relatively more important than in engineering or science, the percentages go up even more. At elite universities, a full 87 percent of professors are liberal.

Here in the cornfields of middle-class Davis, one would expect the faculty to be more diverse. But in my years in the history, English and law programs, I haven’t met the mythical 15 percent of conservative professors. I’m beginning to wonder if they even exist.

Whatever the reason for the lack of disparity in academics is, because of it, higher education suffers from a lack of intellectual creativity. Within the halls of learning, the strictures of tradition have been replaced by the even more stifling bonds of political correctness. And the worst part is that the new orthodoxy views itself as sacrosanct and beyond criticism. By defining alternative viewpoints as improper or even hateful, the academic establishment has managed to sterilize education and squelch dissent.

So we’re back to where we began: God has been replaced by Darwin, WASP culture by multiculturalism, tradition by political correctness and stodgy professors by other stodgy professors.

The Who said it best. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

SAM HOEL is a law student at UC Davis School of Law and can be reached at swhoel@ucdavis.edu.

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