Women In Academia

Women in Academia: Liberal Bias in the UC System

Earlier this month, the National Association of Scholars, a conservative group concerned with the goings on in higher education, released a report titled, “A Crisis of Confidence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California.” Like the title suggests, the report goes on to describe all the horrible abuses the extremely left-wing UC system, whose faculty are some of the left-wingest left-wingers that ever left-winged, is dealing conservatives and white people. They’re not all wrong, but they’re pretty far from correct.

Wait, you might think, how are they even remotely correct? Well, academics are more likely to be registered Democrats than registered Republicans. So to the extent that Democrat and Republican voting preferences map with left-wing and right-wing ideology, yes, academia does have a left-wing bias.

But the correctness ends there. I do not have the time or the space to document everything wrong with this report. It’s not even remotely scientific, sure. It draws predominantly on anecdotal evidence, yes. It suggests that liberal professors are incapable of keeping their bias out of the classroom, but that conservative professors would provide an unbiased view of the subject they were teaching, yeah OK. All of this is patently ridiculous. The thing that I want to focus on here is the dismissive attitude the report’s authors take to courses outside of the Western canon and American history.

In California, one look at the demographics of undergraduates shows that the group has becoming more and more diverse. Students from a variety of backgrounds, from many racial and ethnic backgrounds, are entering the UC System. At the same time, the curriculum in many programs and departments is changing, allowing students to take courses in fields that are much more inclusive of the history and experiences of POC, women, and other marginalized groups. The change in curriculum is fantastic. By providing these courses, the UC system provides all of its students with valuable access to a variety of types of knowledge, experiences, and points of view.

For some reason, the authors of the report see this shift away from the Western Canon as somehow handicapping students of color. Here, let them speak for themselves:

When Jesse Jackson led his infamous march at Stanford University chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Western Culture’s got to go,” he was in effect destroying a precious chance for the groups that he ostensibly championed to reach full equality. Removing courses in Western civilization, in American History and Institutions, and in classic writers and thinkers put a rigorous, well-rounded education out of their reach just when they needed it most. And the consequent dumbing down of the education of high school teachers simply guaranteed that black students, for example, would arrive at the college level with a handicap every bit as great as it has ever been.

For starters, if a student wants to, they can indeed take courses in Western Civilization and American history and “classic” writers at the UC schools. Adding courses in African American studies or Chicana/Chicano studies does not mean that American history classes are disappearing – it just means that the definition of American history expands beyond the boundaries set by white men. I fail to see how this is a bad thing.

Further, I fail to see how this inclusion puts a “rigorous, well-rounded education” out of anyone’s reach.  What could possibly provide a more well-rounded education than talking about the experiences, art, culture, and history of groups of people who fall outside the white male-dominated view of traditional history and culture? No one is getting a worse education because they are reading and thinking critically about the works of Jamaica Kincaid or Arundhati Roy rather than Ray Bradbury or Herman Melville.

I sincerely hope that the UC system does not take this report seriously. It does not deserve to be taken seriously. Honestly, as I read through it and find statements like this to provide evidence for a vast liberal agenda, I cannot help but shake my head:

For example, at UC San Diego in the fall of 2010 nine upper division courses in American History were offered, but one looks in vain for any course that provides a connected view of the sweep of American history, and of how it came to develop so rapidly from an insignificant cluster of colonies to the nation which is economically, militarily, and culturally the most powerful and influential in the world.

The titles of the nine courses seem to go in a very different direction. For example, History 146 has the title “˜Race, Riots, and Violence in the U.S.’; 139 is “˜African American History in the 20th century’; 156 is “˜American Women/American Womanhood’; 180 is “˜Immigration and Ethnicity in American Society’; 154 is “˜Western Environmental History.’

It turns out that in the eyes of the authors of this report, Stephen Colbert is right – reality has a well-known liberal bias.

9 replies on “Women in Academia: Liberal Bias in the UC System”

As a liberal college instructor, I do struggle to keep my biases out of my teaching. When students say racist things, I let them know I’m not down with racism. When students say sexist things, we discuss how that’s not cool. When students say homophobic things, it doesn’t fly. So, yeah, they are not all wrong that some instructors put their personal ideology into their work. Whoops.

Removing courses in Western civilization, in American History and Institutions, and in classic writers and thinkers put a rigorous, well-rounded education out of their reach just when they needed it most

Wait, so…repeatedly revisiting a very narrow set of viewpoints/perspectives is more WELL-ROUNDED?

The only thing I can really take from that is they think that the canon is considered canon because it is somehow “better” than other works. Which is so freaking untrue.

I know that in some fields learning the “canon” of said field is really important. Such as…my own (philosophy). Since so many people write on people from said canon, it really helps you function in the academic community if you have read at least a couple things from often discussed people. But, the issue is, I don’t think they’re necessarily important to learn because they’re better. They’re important to learn because they’re often read and talked about. Which means that “canon” is self-perpetuating.

So, if we ever want to break from said canon, we have to try REALLY DAMN HARD.

I could talk on and on about how learning different viewpoints helps you see the “canon” from different perspectives, but overall, this whole sentiment those National Association of Scholars folks present is just damn frustrating.

Yes, breaking from the cannon is really, really difficult. Which is part of the point of gender studies and the like. It’s also equally difficult to adopt voices from outside of the academic sphere. Even saying fiction is a valid voice from within political theory (which was my field) can be a chore. I think there’s a fundamental point about democracy to be made here in that to create a democratic space of learning and discovery, we need to be willing to include voices from all over.

Sometimes it feels like the cannon ends up in your studies whether you want to study it or not. I have a fine arts degree. I ended up, without really trying, taking four separate classes that talked at length about Greek culture. I can now say with reasonable authority that I kind of hate the high classical Greek art. It’s rigid and unengaging. Everything got better after Alexander invaded and people got a little less fussed about logic, and a little more ok with trying to elicit an emotional response, oh and also a little broader worldview, that was also nice. But the high classic period is still considered to be a pinnacle of good sculpture. And Plato, I do not like Plato. The whole 10th book of The Republic is some of the most aggravating art theory ever, and then all the other art theories seem to feel the need to argue within the constructs he laid out (despite the fact that he all but said art is bad, no more art). And it is all terribly western white man centric. My philosophy of art class ran something along the lines of PLATO, PLATO, PLATO,  KANT, KANT, KANT, KANT, tolstoy, Baudrillard. Having a few classes that specifically teach outside of this framework isn’t going to keep students from learning it. The cannon is everywhere.

Hah! I actually really enjoy Plato, but I enjoy his works from a philosophical/spiritual bent. I’m honestly kind of amazed they spent so much time talking about that chapter of the Republic. Sure, it’s interesting…but I wouldn’t have imagined it would have really had all that substance to talk about endlessly from the point of art theory.

I think he thought that if he just made us discuss Plato long enough we might start saying something other than, “i don’t think this guy understood art very well,” or the slight variation of “I understand what he was trying to say, I just think that he is full of shit.” And really you have to understand Plato because he is the reason soooo many other theories on art keep coming back to this idea that the best art is the art that apeals most to the mind rather than the senses. Which isn’t really an idea that’s likely to find a lot of traction with visual artists.

Huh, that’s really interesting.

What’s really peculiar about that to me is that throughout his stuff, Plato had a shitton of focus on literary form and the artistic involvement with that…I wonder if he would have said the intent of that was to appeal to the mind.

I guess it makes sense considering the divided line, but he did think that we were supposed to include all parts, so maybe art that also appealed to the senses wouldn’t have been so bad?

I’m just throwing out conjectures here, you probably know more about this topic.

The problem is that Plato typically views art as imitation and a something powerful and therefore dangerous. Particularly as it appeals to our less rational side. When it comes to art as imitation, very few in the art world accept that as true anymore, but the idea persists in the public mind. And so we have to listen to philistines looking at abstract art and asking, “but what is it a picture of?”

The other half of the problem is that he thought art was somehow more capable of manipulation that other forms of communication (which I don’t agree with), and that therefore it needed to be censored (which I really don’t agree with). I don’t think that medium and message are separate and different things that can be extracted from one another. There is a reason we interpret the message “I love you. Please come visit me tonight.” one way when we see it in our grandmother’s handwriting and another when we see it in letters cut out of magazines and pasted together. Just because art tends to involve more of the senses does not make it inherently more manipulative than other forms of communication. You can deceive with words just as easily as images. Then I think most of us were really put off by this idea that someone could give a final ruling on good vs bad art. We were more interested in promoting the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate art (so we wouldn’t have to deal with the “But what is it a picture of?” people).

Hmm interesting.

See, my impressions of Plato on art are highly influenced by my ancient philosophy professor who emphasized very strongly that while people said things like “Plato hates art!”, that assertion was highly untrue! To prove her point, she emphasized how much attention to literary structure and word-crafting Plato put into his dialogues. In fact, the very structure of writing a dialogue instead of a philosophical treatise is, in itself, a work of art.

Maybe part of the issue is, Plato also defines “art” as including things like the poets and other parts of the written word, which is part of what you mention. Maybe he would view written propaganda as partly an artistic endeavor? I’m not really sure.

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