Some ramblings on intellectual diversity (in universities and in libertarianism)

I’ve been reading through the ‘comments’ threads this weekend and especially my dialogues with Dr Amburgey (he’s at the University of Toronto’s prestigious business school). Amburgey describes himself as a “pragmatist” or a “centrist” but nevertheless has been a fairly stalwart defender of the Obama administration (except on its egregious violations of our civil liberties) and a blistering critic of the GOP’s right-wing. Reading through our dialogues (something I wish more readers would get involved in), I believe I have found the Left’s glaring weakness in today’s world: It’s de facto intellectual monopoly in Western universities today. Aside from wanting to gratefully thank him for his support and encouragement in our project via the ‘comments’ threads, I thought I would elaborate a bit upon this notion of a lack of diversity within academia.

Intellectual diversity is almost entirely absent in the US academy today. A Georgetown University Law Professor, Nick Rosenkrantz, pointed this out as far as law schools go, but is this dearth of diversity a bad thing? I would argue that ‘no’ it’s not if you’re on the Right, and ‘yes’ it is if you’re on the Left.

Universities have long been a bastion of Leftist thought (I note that this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if diversity is important to you, for reasons I hope to explain below). Universities are also amongst the most conservative organization in societies (think of what it takes to navigate through the labyrinth of requirements in order to become a member of the professoriate). This is not a coincidence. Leftist thought has, since the advent of socialism in the 18th century, been characterized by it’s conservatism (especially its paternalism). It’s rhetoriticians just disguise it as progressive.

At any rate, Rosenkrantz points out that the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) has five conservative judges and four Leftists, which is extremely unreflective of the law school professoriate. The point made by Rosenkrantz is that law students may not be getting an education that accurately reflects how the real world works.

In essence, law students are getting straw man arguments when it comes to conservatives and libertarians instead of actual conservative and libertarian arguments. This is true, and it’s reflective of the social sciences and of business schools as well. Such an arrangement has served the American Right extremely well over the past three decades, too.

Consider this: If your organization is dedicated to teaching students about this or that, and you only give them half the story, who or what is going to explain the other half? What I’ve found is that nonconformist students (conservatives and libertarians) are very good at taking in the lessons that are taught by Leftists (including their straw men) and supplementing them with their own readings on conservative and libertarian thought. Now contrast this with the conforming student. The one who eats up everything the professor teaches and takes it as more or less the Truth.

Outside of academia, where the battlefield of ideas is much less focused, and has much more money at stake, which student do you think is likely to have an edge intellectually-speaking? The student who read all he was supposed to and then some extra to account for different perspectives, or the student who read all he was supposed to and took it as more or less the Truth?

Many universities have been slow to catch up with other organizations that have recognized the benefits of not only cultural diversity but of intellectual diversity as well.  If the Left wants to mount any sort of counter-attack in the near- or medium-term future, it would do well to open up to the idea of having more actual, intellectual diversity on its faculties.

Leftists often claim that they are losing the battle of ideas because of money (or lack thereof) but this is absurd on its face, and the longer Leftists try to win by this line of reasoning, the deeper will be the hole out of which they will inevitably have to climb.

There is also the argument that Leftists don’t really have an argument. They simply have reactions to new ideas being created and put forth by libertarians (and to a lesser extent, conservatives here in the US, who are heavily influenced by libertarian ideas).

While there is no diversity in academia there is obviously plenty of it outside. I think this shows a healthy “macro” picture, to be honest.

Universities were once independent (from state influence) organizations and that independence helped contribute to a culture that has given the West what it has today. If universities – with their rules and regulations and traditions – lose their place as bastions of Left-wing ideology, what would take their place? Think about it: The university, because of its extremely conservative traditions, actually tempers the thought of socialists, and if they come under assault then hardcore Leftism will simply find another way to manifest itself. Left-wing literature professors are one thing. Left-wing demagogues are quite another.

This ties in quite well with my other observation, in ‘comments’ threads not found here at NOL, that libertarians tend to be anti-education. Many of them justify this reactionary stance because of the de facto monopoly the Left has, but I think this reactionary stance has more to with the broader libertarian movement’s own intolerance of intellectual diversity.

The recently launched liberty.me community is a good example of this. I think about libertarianism’s recent reactionary nature in this way: Libertarianism got hot after Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential run. It got so hot that a small but very visible movement was sparked. After the initial success, though, the movement inevitably fell back into one of cliques, clichés, and group-think mentality for a great number of people excited by Paul’s message. Most people who became involved in libertarianism read one or two books recommended Paul and his acolytes. This process further entrenched them, but from there on out this large segment of the libertarian quadrant simply stopped exploring ideas and engaging in dialogue with intellectual adversaries. ‘Statist’ became a derisive term.

These new online communities have been created for the libertarian who seeks comfort in the presence of others like him, whereas consortiums like NOL (and those found on our blog roll) are a place for us to continue the pursuit for truth and the battle for hearts and minds in an open and competitive environment. As a libertarian I think these circle-jerks that crop up serve a useful social function, but I have to wonder aloud how much learning actually occurs in those places.

22 thoughts on “Some ramblings on intellectual diversity (in universities and in libertarianism)

  1. One small comment. You said “left wing thought.” It was true when I began my career in the 70s. I have seen the “thought” part perish in my lifetime. They are now simply a bastion of leftism with almost no thought at all but just tedious repetitiousness. Thought does not normally flourish in the midst of consensus. My friend Dr Francois Nielsen at U of North Carolina wrote some vigorous things on the subject. (He was trained in the same program as Dr E Amburgey and myself.)

  2. As usual both Brandon and Jacques are so focused upon a tree they don’t see the forest. There is a real problem with diversity of thought in universities. The problem is not leftist domination of the humanities and some social sciences [certainly not economics] it’s the completely trivial role that the humanities and most social sciences play in universities. And the rest of society as well.

    It’s all about STEM. It’s all about training not education. Nobody gives a shit about a small number of leftists wanking over in the English Lit or Sociology departments. They have MBAs and engineers to train. Bad for society but great for my bank account.

  3. I don’t disagree with Terry that much. It’s just that humanities and social sciences departments have richly earned the right to be considered irrelevant. Thence their “trivial” role in universities at large. It’s not that trivial though since, in American universities, defenseless undergraduates are still forced (FORCED) to subject themselves to leftist refuse because of “general education ” requirements. Most of this refuse has not changed since I was an undergraduate.

    What little is innovative and useful in the social sciences (excluding economics, which has other problems) gets passed over because of the bad reputation of the family. This would include Dr Amburgey’s work and much of mine as well. (It’s generally known as “Organizational Ecology,” a most unfortunate and unintentionally misleading name.)

  4. “Rather than take one credit in science, humanities, and social science, students entering U of T in September 2010 or after must take one credit from four out of five categories: 1) Creative and Cultural Representations, 2)Thought, Belief, and Behaviour, 3) Society and Its Institutions, 4) Living Things and Their Environment, and 5) The Physical and Mathematical Universes.”

    I was on the undergraduate program committee when we redid our curriculum and did the course assignments to those categories [like everyone else in the university]. Our commerce students can [and generally do] take care their breadth requirements largely without leaving the commerce program. We don’t have anything for #4. But #1 can be covered by several advertising classes and my international business class. #2 is covered by consumer behavior classes in marketing or several classes in organizational behavior. #3, economics in it’s various guises. # 5 the math program pre-reg and statistics.

    The engineers I teach now have to go outside the school of applied science for 3 something others than the #5 that is their wheelhouse. The Joint Rotman-Engineering elective I teach [Markets and Competitive Strategy] covers #4 as does their econ class. #2 is covered by Managing People and Organizations from the organizational behavior group. Apparently the ‘smart money’ goes for ‘Introduction to Film Study’ to flesh things out.

    In my opinion the distribution requirement is finessed by so many students it’s not a severe issue. The school of education is a total disaster though. Everything you worry about happens there in spades.

    • A commendable reform that still forces young people to subject themselves to politically correct tripe. A wider choice of tripe is better though. I believe it’s not a “severe issue” to most students: They are twenty!

      And there walks into the room the blindness of your honest liberal.

  5. “A commendable reform that still forces young people to subject themselves to politically correct tripe.” Certainly not the thousands of students in the Commerce program. They never have to leave the conservative comfort of the business school [most definitely not a politically correct group]. The same for the engineers. They do have to leave engineering long enough to watch movies. I guess that could be painful if they get stuck watching The Fountainhead instead of Casablanca. These days politically correct tripe is largely a self-inflicted wound. Except for education students.

    I can’t speak for universities other than U of T except for hearsay. But here the bastion of wackiness is OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The school of education in less pretentious places. Training new teachers and servicing the continuing education requirement of teachers. I’ve chaired dissertation defenses there that would amaze you.

  6. Terry: I don’t mind having my perceptions corrected. Are you saying that at U of T undergraduates can escape spending time in a sociology class, or in a political science class, or in an English class?

    Second, your assertion that Commerce (Business) undergraduates can stay in the conservative confines of the business school surprises me. I think business school are not “conservative” in any meaningful sense. First, in the business schools that I know, there are “Business and Society” course requirements that are explicitly paleo-leftist. Second, students still don’t have to read even ten pages of Adam Smith, the foundation. Business schools are sort of conservative by default. It’s like calling an ox a “male cow.”

    There are plenty of open leftists in business schools, by the way. I give you for example, my old friend H. Rao at Stanford.

    But then, you are referring to a Canadian school. Things might be more reasonable in Canada. It’s possible because Canada does many things better then the US these days.

  7. The honest answer to your question is ‘mostly’. Certainly no Commerce students or engineers in the school of Applied Science and Engineering have to ever enter a sociology class. That was the point of the change in breadth requirements mentioned above – breadth in course content not academic departments. Every one of our classes had to be categorized with regard to those 5 content areas ditto any new classes.

    Every undergrad has to get coverage of 4 of 5 areas. Commerce students can get everything but 4) Living Things and Their Environment inside Commerce. As far as I know there is no Business and Society class in Commerce although there is one in the MBA program [taught be a neocon btw]. As for Adam Smith they get way too much economics in my opinion.

    Ah yes, Huggy Rao 🙂 Well I guess Sarah Kaplan is fairly liberal/progressive.

  8. Sad but true. No political science, no sociology, and no English for the commerce students. Excerpts below.

    Rotman Commerce students are required to fulfill specific breadth requirements in order to complete the Bachelor of Commerce degree program.
    The requirements are as follows:
    •Complete at least 4.0 full-course equivalents (FCEs) that have been designated as satisfying the Breadth Requirement (note that some courses do not have
    a breadth designation and cannot be used to satisfy the Breadth Requirement). The 4.0 FCEs must include:
    1. At least 1.0 FCE from Category 1 (Creative and Cultural Representations).
    2. At least 3.0 FCEs from the remaining categories (i.e. categories 2, 3, 4 and 5), accomplished by either:
    A. Completing at least 1.0 FCE in each of any three of the four remaining categories (for example, 1.0 FCE in each of categories 2, 3 and 5)
    OR
    B. Completing 1.0 FCE in each of two of the remaining categories, AND, .50 FCE in each of the other two (for example, 1.0 FCE in Category 2; .50 FCE in Category 3; .50 FCE in Category 4; and 1.0 FCE in Category 5)

    This technology Strategy class I teach every spring covers a category, as do my International Business classes.

    RSM494H1 Technology Strategy[24L]
    Teaches about technological evolution and how evolutionary stages impact firms’ strategic choices. Important issues in technological evolution are technological discontinuities, standards wars, dominant designs and patenting. Important strategic decisions concern innovation management, product versus process focus and intellectual property strategies. Project oriented coursework based on patent and business data bases. Not eligible for CR/NCR option. Contact Rotman Commerce for details.
    Prerequisite: RSM392H1
    Distribution Requirement Status: This is a Social Science course
    Breadth Requirement: Society and its Institutions (3)

    RSM463H1 The Socially Intelligent Manager (formerly RSM412H1 The Socially Intelligent Manager)[24L]
    One of the most critical skills in leadership is the ability to manage social relationships. The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the science of social intelligence so that you are knowledgeable and confident about how to handle interpersonal issues when you enter the business world. Enrolment is restricted to 3rd and 4th year Rotman Commerce students. Not eligible for CR/NCR option. Contact Rotman Commerce for details.
    Prerequisite: RSM260H1
    Exclusion: RSM412H1 The Socially Intelligent Manager
    Distribution Requirement Status: This is a Social Science course
    Breadth Requirement: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)

    RSM435H1 Futures and Options Markets[24L]
    This course covers the analysis of derivative instruments such as forwards, futures, swaps and options. By the end of the course, students will have good knowledge of how these contracts work, how they are used and how they are priced. Not eligible for CR/NCR option. Contact Rotman Commerce for details.
    Prerequisite: ECO204Y1/ECO206Y1, RSM332H1
    Exclusion: ACT370H1
    Distribution Requirement Status: This is a Social Science course
    Breadth Requirement: The Physical and Mathematical Universes (5)

    I was wrong about the advertising class covering Creative and Cultural Representations. The marketing types go for CRR199H1F L0101 The Anthropology of Brands. If it were me I’d go for CCR199Y1Y Myths of French Sensuality or maybe CCR199Y1Y L0272 “The Fine Art of Murder”: Reading Detective Fiction.

    No sociology or political science, or English necessary. Needless to say, I think it’s appalling.

  9. Needless to say, I don’t understand course catalog gobbledygook. When I read stuff like this though it makes me more open-minded toward old- fashioned leftist sociology: “the science of social intelligence” ! N. S. !

    I wish they would just be made (forced ) to read ten books.

  10. This is an interesting dialogue, thanks. However, Dr Amburgey writes something of interest to me:

    As usual both Brandon and Jacques are so focused upon a tree they don’t see the forest. There is a real problem with diversity of thought in universities. The problem is not leftist domination of the humanities and some social sciences [certainly not economics] it’s the completely trivial role that the humanities and most social sciences play in universities. And the rest of society as well.

    It’s all about STEM. It’s all about training not education. Nobody gives a shit about a small number of leftists wanking over in the English Lit or Sociology departments. They have MBAs and engineers to train. Bad for society but great for my bank account.

    I think this is absolutely wrong, and also misses my point completely. First, my point was simply that it is probably, most likely, a good thing that universities serve as bastions of Left-wing thought in American society. A bastion of Leftism is an integral part of any open society. There simply has to be one. Better it be in the university, preaching to people in their early twenties, than at the voting booth or the television screen.

    Second, I think your analysis is wrong. Business and engineering schools do get more money than other departments and schools, but why wouldn’t they? Would this not be the case even if other departments had a decent balance of diverse thought on their rosters?

    Dr J has a point when he notes that other departments and schools are irrelevant precisely because there is no diversity of thought within them. This includes economics departments (pdf). In fact, many so-called “moderates” in academia are still far to the Left of the general public. Your point about the UT’s School of Education is duly noted. My alma mater recently made headlines when some black and Latino students accused a professor of racism because he had the audacity to correct the spelling and grammar of graduate students’ papers.

    PS: Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business, has an interesting point about discrimination against conservatives in academia. Basically, it’s real and it’s bad and the Left is in denial about it.

    • “Business and engineering schools do get more money than other departments and schools, but why wouldn’t they? Would this not be the case even if other departments had a decent balance of diverse thought on their rosters?”

      Yes it would still be the case. That’s my point. The problematic lack of diversity of thought in higher education is STEM versus everything else. The social sciences [excluding economics] and humanities and [gasp]
      the arts could be completely dominated by theocons and teabaggers and they would still be irrelevant.

      Here’s an experiment for you Brandon [Jacques has made it clear he doesn’t read any more]. Here’s an article. Is it a ‘liberal’ article or a ‘conservative’ article? How would a ‘liberal’ [i.e. me] evaluate the article and the author being considered for hiring?

      http://www.jstor.org/stable/30046177

    • I think we’re largely talking past each other, Dr A. Here is what I see, starting with your point:

      That’s my point. The problematic lack of diversity of thought in higher education is STEM versus everything else.

      I don’t think that Leftist thought dominates (and discriminates at) universities because STEM brings in (and creates) more money than everybody else.

      Again, this scenario – STEM vs. the rest – has always been around. Bridge builders in ancient Rome and the Song and Ottoman empires all made more money than poets in these places (it is probably safe to assume that they got laid less often than poets, too, even with the institution of slavery in full effect).

      Universities have always done well for themselves, when and where they have been able to assert a large measure of independence from the State. The issue I raised is not about money, it is about power (these are two very, very different things; just ask the bimbo who lost to Jerry Brown in the recent-ish California elections).

      The Left has been getting its ass kicked all over the field since the end of the Cold War. It has also pursued a quiet but rigorous campaign to rid campuses of official dissent. This unofficial, mostly tacit campaign has come as State funding (with all the string that come attached) has been increased exponentially to American universities.

      Because students do not get the whole picture in their studies, but still become magically convinced of the Left’s moral superiority during their studies, they end up getting smacked around in the real world by people who are actually interested in differing ideas and opinions. This is most evident in the legal profession. (In democracies, lawyers are considered to be the unofficial aristocracy of society so this is no small defeat for the Left.)

      Your thought experiment only bolsters my point. There is no political bias in the paper you provided that I could discern, but it is a paper meant for an audience in the STEM field. Would that paper, with all of its assumptions about market competition, have made the cut in philosophy or anthropology? In a department that was committed to diversity of thought, a version of your example might have.

  11. Thank you for the Haidt link and the systematic evidence it provides. It’s devastating to the delusion of academic political neutrality and to the complementary absurdity of irrelevancy of leftist hold as ably argued in these pages by Prof. Amburgey (who ought to know better).

    • I have a thought experiment. It doesn’t require any ‘homework’ just cogitation. Take the most impressive & persuasive work in the Haidt link above. Tell me which one it is. I’m going to replace every occurrence of the word ‘conservative’ with the word ‘black’. In the future I will use the ‘systematic evidence’ it provides with great relish as you are hoist upon your own petard.

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