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DeVos Criticizes Professors

College DegreeVia The Chronicle of Higher Education: Betsy DeVos Criticizes Professors in Remarks to Conservative Conference

“The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community,” read the remarks. “But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”

First and foremost, having a cabinet level official in the Trump administration come out and attack the entire professoriate is not the best way to demonstrate that the Trump administration is, in fact, not a threat to the university community. 

Second,  No.  No, professors don’t “tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.”  They should be training you how to think but this is pure nonsense (although I know that it is the kind of thing her intended audience loves to hear).*

Third, I understand that faculty are more liberal than the general population.  Further, I am sure that one can find some egregious examples of professors who foisted their views on their students out of the nearly two million “adjunct professors to deans” out there.  But, the reality is that a) most classes are unlikely to present any reason to discuss politics, and b) even in classes about politics professors are focused on the topics of the course, not on Trump.  When my daily existence was as teaching faculty, people would often comment, especially during campaign season, as to “how you must have a lot to talk about in class” regarding contemporary politics.  In truth, the daily goings on of contemporary politics, especially electoral US politics, were often not directly relevant to any given class and often was not part of my lectures.  Sure, with a room full of political science majors there might be some chit chat about the news, but it was not the focus of class.

But, yes, I do understand that some professors (myself included) will insert views on policy into class.  I have noted in class, for example, the policy problems associated with Trump’s wall proposal.  I do so as a content expert on Latin American politics.  Do some professors go too far in their sharing of personal opinions?  Sure they do.  Do students sometimes take umbrage at thoughts and ideas that they find uncomfortable and therefore interpret these notions as “bias against conservatives”?  That happens as well.

Fourth, there are professors out their who voted for Trump.  I know several whom I see on a daily basis, and I can easily name several who have a prominent internet presence. Again, I recognize that they are the minority.

Personally, I have spanned DeVos’ entire spectrum from adjunct to Dean.  I have taught as an adjunct and a full time, tenure-track/tenured faculty member for over a quarter century.  I hold the rank of Professor, have been a Department Chair, and have been a College Dean for just shy of a year.  Additionally, I spent a fair bit of time as a student. I have seen precious little in the way of active attempts at political recruitment or indoctrination (although I recognize that others may have different experiences).  And note that while I have little doubt this administration would think of me as “liberal,” I very definitely identified as conservative as an undergraduate, graduate student, and deep into my professional career, so I certainly had the chance to feel the alleged heat of conservative bias in academia, but this was not my experience save for maybe some arguments with colleagues over policy.

To bring this back to DeVos:  apart from scoring points in the room, attacking only proves the critics right.

* If anything, the empirical evidence suggests that they if, in fact, they are attempting to indoctrinate that they are lousy at it, given that a lot of college graduates are conservative.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Steven, this piece reminds me that academics have to stop letting their critics on the Right define them as ideologically biased propagandists. Time for academics to stand up and say, in polite words of course, “eat s***, f*** you.”

    I attended UC Berkeley and majored in economics with a strong concentration in statistics and quantitative methods. I also took economic philosophy courses, international, regional and urban economics, industrial organization, economic modeling, and courses that were focused broadly around the Keynesian and the Monetarist (Chicago) models. This was UC Berkeley mind you, and I never once … not once … felt that a professor’s ideology was affecting how the course was being taught, or what lessons we were were supposed be learning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Dean Taylor:

    The obvious first question is, where do you stand on Delta Tau Chi?

    Second, I have to admit I have had repeated run-ins with academics in my line of work, and have found them smug, silly and not very good at writing books, or at succeeding in the marketplace.

    That said, these attacks by DeVos are nothing but the usual Republican pandering to stupid. Less education = more support for Republican b.s. and more tolerance of the Niagara of lies vomited forth daily from the Trump regime.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  3. @al-Ameda: Economics in the US is heavily dominated by pro-market types, to be sure. Further, most economics is very math-based in any event, and give little room for a lot of ideology.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. @michael reynolds: First, double-secret probation for everybody.

    Second,

    I have to admit I have had repeated run-ins with academics in my line of work, and have found them smug, silly and not very good at writing books, or at succeeding in the marketplace.

    I am sure this is true. We are, as a group, very self-important at a minimum.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  5. RM says:

    This is an example of what Betsy DeVos is speaking about:

    http://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-dpt-me-0224-occ-suspension-revoked-20170223-story.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  6. Katharsis says:

    This is Joe Scarborough(video) and Andrew Sullivan going on about exactly this grievance. This is their own version of identity politics, and yet I don’t think that they’re capable of acknowledging such.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Economics in the US is heavily dominated by pro-market types, to be sure. Further, most economics is very math-based in any event, and give little room for a lot of ideology.

    That’s generally the case, but most on the Right would expect that I’d come out of Berkeley as a Marxist-oriented progressive-liberal-leftist, tax-and-spend Democrat.

    I’ve said it before, I’m from a very conservative family and I get a lot of that kind of attitude thrown my way, and frankly, I don’t let that crap go unanswered.

    I think Academia needs to stop cowering and apologizing to conservative critics. Those critics rarely apologize for anything, neither should academics.

    Finally, I admit, as my conservative family members would tell you … I sometimes have an ‘attitude problem,’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. @RM: As I noted in the post, one can find various examples to feed DeVos’ claims. This does make her universal statement true or accurate.

    And even in the piece, the student stated that the faculty member was a “good teacher” and that he earned an A in the class.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. @al-Ameda:

    That’s generally the case, but most on the Right would expect that I’d come out of Berkeley as a Marxist-oriented progressive-liberal-leftist, tax-and-spend Democrat.

    Quite true.

    In general, I am not sure that academia is apologetic, I think mostly it ignores this stuff.

    I hope you do not perceive this post as apologetic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  10. teve tory says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Further, most economics is very math-based in any event, and give little room for a lot of ideology.

    Would an economist heavily involved in the saltwater vs freshwater disputes agree with that statement?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. @teve tory: I probably couldn’t say for sure. What I am referring to is the fact that most economics programs across the country are heavily quantitative. Of course, some focus more qualitative policy matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I sometimes feel that a dispute between academics and Trumpkins is very much like the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988: Both sides are so loathsome that you wish both could lose.

    Having spent a considerable portion of my life as a college teacher (full disclosure: mostly I wanted the bennies so I could cushion my real work as a fiction and non-fiction writer) I learned early that the professoriat attracts an unusually high percentage of self-absorbed horse’s asses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. @CSK:

    I learned early that the professoriat attracts an unusually high percentage of self-absorbed horse’s asses.

    There is certainly some of that. My experience has been mostly people working hard to educate students and working to understand the world around them by looking at some narrow slice thereof.

    I will readily allow that the profession attracts, and in many ways indulges, self-absorption.

    I am admittedly biased, but I also think (contra die-hard Trumpkins) that colleges and universities have brought far, far, far more good into the world than not, and that is a function of the professoriate write large.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  14. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Sweet Jesus, Michael, don’t tell me you didn’t rush right out to buy an autographed copy of The Hermeneutics of Transgressive Modes of Postmodernism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  15. Mikey says:

    This is just another facet of the conservative desire to avoid reality.

    They call news they don’t like “fake news,” and they deride education they don’t like as “telling people what to think” which is essentially saying “fake education.”

    Finally, the very perceptive Isaac Asimov:

    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  16. CSK says:

    @Mikey:

    It’s true that the strain of anti-intellectualism has always existed in American culture, and has at times been actively promoted by movies and television (the notion of the virtuous yokel contra the wicked urbanite was a constant in Hollywood films for a long while.

    More recently, right-wing talk radio has seriously boosted it. Rush Limbaugh pronounces the word “intellectual” as if it were “child molester.” Remember Pat Buchanan’s “peasants with pitchforks” speech? Sarah Palin earned some serious money by spouting gibberish about God and guns. And of course there was Trump’s “I love the poorly educated.”

    For a certain sector of the electorate, “stupid and ignorant” has come to define “real American,” and worse, they take pride in their yokeldom.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  17. Gustopher says:

    * If anything, the empirical evidence suggests that they if, in fact, they ate attempting to indoctrinate that they are lousy at it, given that a lot of college graduates are conservative.

    Just because someone is bad at something doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it. Why, Trump is still presidenting, and I am still wooing the ladies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m curious…how tempted have you been by the obvious rubes in the GOP?

    I mean, just 1488 enough, and apparently you can appear on national teevee….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. @Gustopher: A fair point. I will bring that up at the next Indoctrination Committee meeting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. JohnMcC says:

    This thread would be incomplete without mentioning “professorwatchlist-dot-org” which I see had a predecessor (nonindoctrination-dot-org) and also learned from the Journal of Higher Ed has a twitter site devoted ridiculing it (#trollprofwatchlist). The lovely Mr David Horowitz made his contribution by writing The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Michael says:

    @al-Ameda: “This was UC Berkeley mind you, and I never once … not once … felt that a professor’s ideology was affecting how the course was being taught”
    Could it be that you majored in Economy and everyone slept through the classes? That, of course, is a joke, but I take your and Steven’s point. For the most part, particularly in the 300 and 400 level courses the material gets down to the brass tacks and it’s tough to espouse Marxist doctrine when you’re learning Regression and Time Series Analysis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Further, most economics is very math-based in any event, and give little room for a lot of ideology.”

    Macro is – if there’s one lesson of the past couple of decades, it’s that the Chicago School hid a lot of ideology in ‘objective math’.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. Barry says:

    @CSK: “Sweet Jesus, Michael, don’t tell me you didn’t rush right out to buy an autographed copy of The Hermeneutics of Transgressive Modes of Postmodernism.”

    All right-wing intellectuals put out stuff that makes that paper look like real scholarship.

    Again, right-wingers are all about the projection.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. CSK says:

    Donny just announced that he won’t be attending the White House Correspondents Dinner.

    Gee, I wonder why?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  25. teve tory says:

    i’m very opposed to Golden-Age-ism. But there’s a decent chance that Fox/Limbaugh/Hannity/O’Reilly/etc have actually made the country dumber and meaner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  26. @Barry:

    Macro is – if there’s one lesson of the past couple of decades, it’s that the Chicago School hid a lot of ideology in ‘objective math’.

    In my experience, it is far more likely that any given economics department is on the rightward side and not the leftward. It is one of the reason I find this whole “the profs are all lefties out to indoctrinate our children” to be more than a bit absurd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  27. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well, the economics department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst did make a deliberate effort in the early 1970s to become a Marxist economics department, and it remained preponderantly so for quite a while. The intent was, as one of its members stated, to become “Berkeley East.” The whole backstory to this is quite interesting, but too long to go into here. One of the UMA’s current leading economics lights is feminist economist Nancy Folbre.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. @CSK: Well, first the early 70s is a rather long while ago now. But even if one can identify an economic department that is Marxist in its orientation that is one example in the context of a much broader non-Marxist circumstance.

    I honestly suspect that the market would not bear a Marxist-only economics program. Again, there may be examples one could cite, but it is simply not dominant in the field as I understand it.

    If one wants to track down campus Marxists, I would suggest looking in sociology and maybe ethnic/gender studies. There are other places to look as well. There may be a handful here and there in a given history or political science department, but I bet they are far rarer than most people think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  29. DrDaveT says:

    It’s probably worth pointing out here that talking about “academics” as a homogeneous group is an even bigger dumbass mistake than talking about “government” as if it were a single conscious agent. There is, to a first approximation, zero correlation between the politics or philosophy of a random English professor and a random Electrical Engineering professor. Professional schools (law, business, medicine, architecture) are utterly unlike arts and sciences departments, which are utterly unlike engineering, which are utterly unlike agriculture.

    Is anyone else bemused by the fact that 20 years ago the Right was screaming (with some justification) about Postmodernism’s poisonous effect on learning and thought, and has now swallowed their own hateful version of it whole? Nothing screams “facts are social constructs” like a Trump tweet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  30. @DrDaveT:

    It’s probably worth pointing out here that talking about “academics” as a homogeneous group is an even bigger dumbass mistake than talking about “government” as if it were a single conscious agent.

    This is true. I realize that I did not address this very much in my post, although I meant to do so.

    Is anyone else bemused by the fact that 20 years ago the Right was screaming (with some justification) about Postmodernism’s poisonous effect on learning and thought, and has now swallowed their own hateful version of it whole? Nothing screams “facts are social constructs” like a Trump tweet.

    I was thinking this even before Trump, as I found a lot of support for Bush and opposition to Obama to be based more on narrative than on facts. And now, just wow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  31. @DrDaveT: To expand on this point, my College has the following eight departments: Criminal Justice, History, Political Science, Social Science, Mathematics and Geomatics, Chemistry and Physics, Biological and Environmental Science, and Computer Science.

    So, yeah: plenty of diversity. No hive mind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. Michael says:

    @CSK: Who knew?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Gromitt Gunn says:

    My Department of Accounting and Economics can’t even agree on a single textbook publisher, never mind a political philosophy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  34. @Gromitt Gunn: Indeed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. george says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Professional schools (law, business, medicine, architecture) are utterly unlike arts and sciences departments, which are utterly unlike engineering, which are utterly unlike agriculture.

    While I mainly agree, in fact some departments in arts and sciences (notably chemistry, physics and computer science) are actually very similar to engineering, and often have faculty who are cross appointed.

    The gap between say physics and engineering physics, or chemistry and chemical engineering, or computer science and computer engineering/software engineering or often even electrical engineering is generally very small. And I suspect (though this is outside my personal knowledge), the same is true for biology and agriculture.

    However, in terms of politics, they’re all pretty uniform in being extremely apolitical. Politics almost never comes up, even in informal discussion. Its just not seen as important. Vote for Trump or vote for Clinton? Who cares? But if you think String theory is science rather than just applied math you’ve got a major argument on your hands – prepare for war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. Ben Wolf says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: There are maybe four economics departments in the country with a heterodox focus and none that I am aware of are devoted to Marxist thought. Usually you’ll see a mixture of post-Keynesians (a diverse lot) with a few quasi-Marxist theoreticians and political economists. Orthodox departments are as you suggest conservative by general inclination and often by the assumptions underlying their quantitative work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  37. Jen says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If one wants to track down campus Marxists, I would suggest looking in sociology and maybe ethnic/gender studies.

    Agreed. I attended a small, private, liberal arts college with a Lutheran affiliation. While the professors generally leaned very left, it was rarely, if ever, evident in the class discussion or course materials. The only exception was my “Women in Africa” class, which was sociology and gender studies course, and I actually found it almost a necessary component to digesting the course material. I’ll also note that I was an active member of my campus College Republicans club, and yes, our faculty adviser was from the Economics department.

    The whole “college professors are indoctrinating your children” message is utter tripe. I think it’s just parents (and talk radio show hosts) who resent the fact that once kids get out of their home-based cocoons/bubbles, the world starts looking a lot more complex. Complexity doesn’t lend itself well to the black and white answers conservatism has come to embrace. This, in turn, I think is largely a product of the rise of religious conservatism and its dominance in sectors of the Republican party. Religion likes yes/no, black/white, good/evil dichotomies. That just doesn’t play well in the real world. I see it often in the “why don’t we just [X]” suggestions to solve global political issues (why don’t we just bomb Syria, why don’t we just stop buying oil from the Middle East, etc.). Gee, if there was a simple answer, don’t you think that would be the first thing tried?

    Detailed examination of highly complicated issues demand deep thought. There are those who resent anyone who has the capacity to poke holes in their arguments. That’s where the “you’ve just got too much book learnin’ for your own good” mindset comes from, I believe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  38. Pch101 says:

    No, professors don’t “tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.”

    Anecdotally, I found in grad school that professors did seem to value regurgitation. But that struck me as being motivated by ego and a desire for validation, and it certainly wasn’t motivated by politics.

    As an undergrad studying poli sci, I took a Marxism class that was taught by an actual, unapologetic Marxist. His treatment of the subject was balanced, he did not try to convert anyone, and I managed to learn a fair about the subject without becoming a member of the club. I highly doubt that my prof convinced anyone else, either; however, unlike Trump and his cronies, he wasn’t trying to peddle an alternative reality where knowledge and the ability to question were considered to be threats to the regime.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. teve tory says:

    Betsy DeVos went to Calvin College:

    In August 2009, the College’s Board of Trustees issued a controversial memo to all employees that said that faculty were prohibited from teaching, writing about, or advocating on behalf of homosexuality or homosexual issues such as same-sex marriage. Many faculty members were critical of the policy and of the way it was adopted without consultation by the board.[11] The Faculty Senate, by a vote of 36-4, asked the Board to withdraw the memo

    speaking of ‘telling you ominously what to think’.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @Lit3Bolt:
    I actively avoid being on TV or appearing at conferences, which just further irritates the 3%ers – 3% because that is literally the percentage of my output accomplished by one of the most obnoxious of the academic diversity priests. She’s written 800 published pages, I’m at about 30,000. Basically we’ve got a low grade war going on in kidlit between people who write books and people who talk about writing books. I’m getting out of kidlit but I’m half tempted to stay in just to f-ck with them. F-cking college kids. People get cranky when you do the job better than they do without benefit of an MFA.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. SC_Birdflyte says:

    “Brainwashing” generally doesn’t last much beyond college or grad school. One of my close friends in grad school at Yale was a garden-variety European Marxist (i.e., a Social Democrat). Now, in the late stages of a distinguished professional career, he’s chief economist for Citigroup’s London office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  42. wr says:

    @Pch101: “No, professors don’t “tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.””

    I can’t even get my grad students to turn in their f#cking work on time, so I really don’t think they’re going to let me dictate their ideologies…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  43. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: You see the same thing in business–the difference between those in business schools who teach the theory vs. those who have actual experience in the stuff.

    Actually, law professors are often the same way. I think I had only one professor who hadn’t actually practiced somewhere. I loved my business law prof–most of the time we would spend listening to his stories about how business law really worked, and then he would give a sigh and say “I guess I’d better teach you some black-letter law” and talk about a seminal case or two. Then it was back to the stories.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. Sherparick says:

    One of the subjects that Betsy DeVos believe students are “politically indoctrinated” is the science of biology and evolution. She is much beloved on the “Intelligent Design” community. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2017/01/prediction_bets103424.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. sam says:

    For Michael – The old, old, old story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0