Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Police Academy?

Ross Douthat, quickly establishing himself as Complainer-in-Chief when it comes to discussing the academy's failings, has another piece in The New Republic today.

Kimball advocates greater alumni influence on campus culture and academic appointments (he praises Princeton's right-leaning James Madison Program, funded by wealthy alums like Steve Forbes) and suggests the abolition of tenure, which he calls "a means of enforcing conformity and excluding the heterodox."...
These lines of attack are defined, above all, by a belief that universities can be diversified from the top down. And this is precisely why it's likely to fail. Understandably but fatally, conservatives are ignoring the example set by the very New Left "tenured radicals" they hope to unseat, which is that real academic change comes through bottom-up infiltration, not attempts at engineering from the top.

Douthat is the author of a recent book excoriating Harvard, his alma-mater, as a "an incubator for an American ruling class that is smug, self-congratulatory, and intellectually adrift."

Douthat's solution to this problem - the cultivation of "a new wave of great minds and great books" - seems easy enough, but he never answers exactly where these minds and books would come from. Is the problem that conservatives are barred entry by a biased academy, or instead, that conservative intellectuals are simply not drawn to academia?

Could the dearth of conservatives in academia possibly be attributed to their predisposition toward careers in other fields? And given that conservatives are running Washington, DC right now - where their ideas are actually being implemented - does it make sense to complain so loudly about their lack of influence in the academy?

It seems this current state of affairs refutes the notion that the vibrancy of conservative ideas relies in any large part on their development in academia.
-- Eric

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