As David Beito, Ralph Luker, and I have noted previously, there are lots of reasons to be skeptical of the ABOR concept. For me, pragmatic concerns are critical. First, in our current political environment, I see no way to extricate any legislatively backed ABOR from what Andrew Sullivan calls the GOP's"Christianist" wing. As we saw in Ohio and Florida, creationist legislators backed ABOR as a way of striking against evolution. Second, ABOR presumes that the central problem in today's academy is students being punished for expressing their political opinions in class. While such instances do occur--the Brooklyn dispositions case, the Cal.-Santa Cruz prof a couple years ago who gave extra credit to students who wrote anti-Bush letters--they are few and far between. And focusing on them distracts attention from the real problem: the framing of lines and the evolution of disciplines in such a way to restrict rather than expand intellectual inquiry.
Mark Baeurlein, author of what I consider the single most persuasive short critique of the contemporary academy, and David French, former FIRE president, expand on this second idea in recent posts at PhiBetaCons.
Bauerlein notes that in recent ABOR-inspired intellectual-diversity initiatives, epsecially as a result of the hearings in Pennsylvania,"bias was postulated in the wrong places, and when they didn’t find it there, legislators and skeptical journalists declared the whole issue a false problem."
Rather than specific instances--Student X received a C rather than a B because he wore a Bush button to class--Bauerlein cites the need to examine the academy's"mores, protocols, attitudes, and norms," which in schools of edcuation and in too many humanities and social sciences departments have morphed"into cliquish, parochial, or ideological behavior, especially when professionals talk only to themselves." Systematic bias can be determined, he contends, only by examining the whole discipline. He cites the"social justice"-infused mission statement of Penn State's Ed School; David French highlights the even more ideologically informed mission statement of the Univ. of Alabama's Education School.
When professors in such program"assume the rightness of social justice," Bauerlein notes,"they don’t think they’re acting partisan. They’re merely abiding by the standards of their field. What is a political position is made to look like a professional one."
Bauerlein concludes that"professors who blatantly push an ideological agenda are far outnumbered by those who don't, and individual cases of discrimination may be cast as exceptions. But the norms that preside over the humanities, schools of education, and many social-science departments are there for the exposure—if one wishes to take the time and trouble to chart them." But the ABOR movement has as little interest as defenders of the current academic status quo in taking the"time and trouble to chart" such developments.
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