Stanley Fish weighs in on all the chatter about "political indoctrination" at American Universities.
Once again, the question is how many of them are there? Anne Neal, president of the conservative watchdog group the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, asks that question on camera, and answers it by reporting that in a survey of students a “significant percentage…complained that politics was being introduced in the classroom” and 42 percent “said their book lists were one sided.”
Here again there’s the part we should take seriously and the red-herring or fake-issue part. Book lists take their shape from the instructor’s judgment that a particular text is important to the area of inquiry. There is no reason – at least no pedagogical reason – to demand that a book list contain representatives of every approach out there. The judgment that a list is “one sided” is a political not an academic judgment (and the fact that students are making it makes it even more suspect), and enforcing it, as some state legislatures now want to do, would be a blatantly political act.
But then there’s the part we should take seriously: professors who use the classroom as a stage for their political views. Maloney speculates that perhaps one out of seven perform in this way. I would put the number much lower, perhaps one out of twenty-five. But one out of 10,000 would be one too many.
This kind of crap makes academics bristle. We’re paid, believe it or not, to have well-grounded views on things within the purview of our expertise. For some of us, that expertise includes knowing what makes a view well grounded. It is inevitable, therefore, that professors (even those in the humanities) will pronounce on "political" questions.
The more important thing to remember, however, is what one letter writer to the New York Times said (in reference to some David Brooks’ griping about leftist academics): If I could only indoctrinate my students to do the reading, proofread their papers, and show up to class on time, I’d consider myself a success.