Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Worrying Developments In Universities

Miranda Devine writes in the Sydney Morning Herald (4 December) HERE:

Monoculture is killing thought

“The entire liberal or conservative tradition [was] summed up by that article … When students enrol in a contemporary ideology subject and finish it not knowing any of the works of Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill or Milton Friedman or any of the great thinkers of our time, that is a significant quality issue."

A month after Rozner's testimony, on November 4, the inquiry committee received a letter from a "disappointed" University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, who defended the subject. But he said it was to be replaced next year with a "broader introduction to political ideas subject [with readings from such] liberal authors such as John Stuart Mill and Milton Friedman". Chalk up a victory to the Young Liberals, even if no one will ever admit it.”

There is a lot that I could comment on the Australian experience, which I believe is replicated throughout the world to one degree or another. It doesn’t always need to be associated with the left-right spectrum. It can also be found in subjects that ought to be bias free.

Scientists also fall out (even statisticians). There was a long running argument in sociobiology, which reached dreadful levels when one set of lecturers encouraged their students to attend another lecturer’s sessions to block them taking place by causing disruption! I believe this was in the precincts of one of the USA’s most prestigious universities.

Silencing views which are disputed is outrageous. The recent disputes about ‘global warming’ – now moved in name to ‘climate change’ – are a case in point. We have charges of ‘climate denial’, disputes about what has not yet happened and is not beyond doubt until it happens. Charges of ‘Holocaust denial’ are about denying what actually happened and is beyond doubt. When charges are made of 'climate denial, they aim to blacken the reputation of those who remain sceptical that it will happen on the scale envisaged in the near future. We are assured that the science of climate change is now 'settled'; funny that I keep meeting academics who are not so sure. Indeed, if the science is so united, why is it necessary to enforce a one-sided view? When everybody believes the same, who is left to do the thinking?

The lonely furrow I plough in Lost Legacy is against the majority of our profession’s consensus about what Adam Smith wrote and thought, but I am not derided as far as I know, nor discouraged from continuing.

True, I am not longer looking for an academic post and for most of my academic career I refused tenure, which incidentally was brought in to protect non-Church of England academics (non-conformists, Quakers, Catholics and Jews) in their jobs as professors in a British academic system where the Established Church had a monopoly of all appointments up to the early 19th century. Tenure moved on to becoming a restrictive practice in itself, much like the old Guilds that Adam Smith railed against with great justice.

This gave and gives me an independence from seeking privileges or being intimidated into conformity. Those still young enough to think they must kowtow to the prevailing orthodoxy, whether of the Left or the Right, or the creationist'evolutionary schools, should reflect on what they are doing.

Students who craft their course work to fit their lecturers’ take on subjects are no better in their judgement than those students one knew about who exchanged sexual favours to get better grades (a practice rightly condemned by feminist colleagues I worked with).

Moreover, those lecturers who silently accept course work from most of their students which agrees with their own prejudices should reflect that there is something wrong with their teaching (and lack of thinking). If students do not disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy which they teach, they should be concerned and troubled. That is not education; it’s brainwashing. Without dissent, science fails.



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