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Ideological Diversity

I have a few comments to make about David’s remarks about political diversity at Williams. First, I think that it goes without saying that there should be more political diversity among the faculty at Williams. However, framing the issue in terms of professors allegedly “willing to publicly argue the republican /conservative/ libertarian view” is not helpful. I have taken many public positions in favor of the war in Iraq and the Bush’s administration’s national security policy in general, but I have never thought of myself as arguing for the Republican Party or Bush himself. This is true both inside and outside the classroom. My credibility with students, and I would suspect the reason my classes are always overenrolled, is precisely due to the fact that Williams students generally do not welcome ideologues disguised as scholars. Just because 95% or more of the Williams faculty are registered Democrats, does not mean that we should have an affirmative action program for Republican scholars.

I also think President Schapiro is largely correct in his belief that “prosleytizing” is not a major problem on campus, although I disagree with the implication that Williams could not be a better place in terms of intellectual diversity. I have no idea what my colleagues do in the classroom on a daily basis, but I have not heard many horror stories about students being subjected to daily rants and tirades about current political issues. I do not remember any Faculty Senate meetings taken up with resolutions opposing the Iraq War or letters to the editor signed by 100 faculty members protesting this or that issue. While the case of Jennifer Kling is truly sad, I would be shocked if you could find anything even remotely close to that today. Again, I would agree with Morty that active “proselytizing” is a fringe concern in 2005 and has been for many years.

Since I suspect that much of the discussion here will be fairly critical, let me conclude with a few optimistic thoughts. First, compare Williams with any of our peer institutions and I think you will find a much greater tolerance for so called conservative ideas here than elsewhere. Second, as a faculty member who is rightly or wrongly thought to be conservative (I am certainly conservative in comparison to the vast majority of my colleagues, but probably not in comparison to the population at large), I can say that I have never experienced any serious trouble with my colleagues on political grounds. President Schapiro has always been supportive of things I have tried to do here and I know from personal experience and actions that he is supportive of intellectual diversity.

Unfortunately, I have to run but I look forward to reading more of what everyone has to say. I certainly support critical thinking on issues of intellectual diversity and everything else related to Williams, but let’s also keep in mind the many positive elements of Williams. There is no other place in the nation that I would rather be–that would be true even if we did not have the wonderful Taconic Golf Course.

James McAllister

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#1 Comment By Mike On January 7, 2006 @ 12:49 pm

As a general rule, when I disagree with James McAllister I’m wrong 95% of the time, but I think this falls into the 5%.

I think Williams should have affirmative action for conservative scholars.

One of the greatest parts of my Williams education — aside from Taconic GC — was the fact that Williams was so uniformly leftist and my opinions and assumptions were constantly questioned. This is of course enormously valuable to one’s intellectual growth. If it is the case that leftist opinions and assumptions are less likely to be questioned or challenged on campus, which I would submit it is, than the vast majority of students are missing out on a crucial learning experience.

I would suspect that the reason a McAllister class is overenrolled is that more people are interested in international relations than comparitive gender studies. To the degree that it has to do with other factors, I would submit that your classes are popular because people know that their assumptions will be challenged.

It is certainly possible that you could have a college filled with 95% leftist professors who are knowledgable and respectful enough of other viewpoints that they create an environment that is as challenging for liberal students as it is for conservative students. That is also extremely unlikely and, as a result, I would argue that the typical conservative student will come out of Williams more grounded in his beliefs and better able to articulate them than the typical liberal student. If this is the case, then Williams is failing to provide the “highest quality undergraduate education possible” which is Morty’s stated (and valid) goal.

As for why I’d support affirmative action for conservative professors, it is because ideology matters for the reasons listed below. All other things equal, a conservative professor would bring more to the Political Science department than another liberal internationalist. As a result, it should be a factor in hiring and would rightly be a difference maker in many cases.

#2 Comment By Mike On January 7, 2006 @ 12:51 pm

“below” should read “above” in the first line of my final graf.

#3 Comment By Mike On January 7, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

Also, by the way, I don’t think affirmative action for full professors is the only solution to the ideological one-sidedness of our nation’s colleges and universities, though some of my other solutions don’t work as well for Williams. One reason many people claim that conservatives are underrepresented on college faculty is that they are less likely to want to be full time college professors, for a variety of reasons (ie we are withdrawing ourselves from contention, not being excluded). I think this is correct and mostly explains the gap.

The solution to this situation (in addition to making colleges more attractive to conservative scholars and to considering ideology in hiring) is to hire qualified conservatives on a part-time basis. For example, Stuart Butler is the Vice President of Domestic and Economic policy at Heritage and one of the smartest and most thoughtful conservatives I know. He is also a part-time faculty member at Georgetown where he teaches one class, which is a graduation requirement for their public policy graduate program. This would be a very good model for more schools to try and implement and expand on.

#4 Comment By Loweeel On January 7, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

Mike, I agree with both your analyses of the problems and your proposed solutions.

To nit-pick, however, where would these qualified conservatives work the rest of the time? There don’t seem to be too many options in the Williams area…

#5 Comment By David On January 7, 2006 @ 2:37 pm

James writes:

I do not remember any Faculty Senate meetings taken up with resolutions opposing the Iraq War or letters to the editor signed by 100 faculty members protesting this or that issue.

I am not sure what the claim is here. James knows better than any of us that the actual amount of political diversity among the Williams faculty is low to non-existent. He should also know that many of the faculty are politically active to various degrees, as we have documented on EphBlog ad nauseum. Should we be comforted that only 24, and not 100, faculty signed this letter to the Record and that, as far as I can tell, not a single faculty member spoke out in favor of the Record’s actions during the Horowitz debate of 4 years ago?

James argues that the way I frame the issue is not “helpful.” Fine. What would be a better way of framing the issue? How should we measure and operationalize the lack of political diversity at Williams? People like Same Crane imply that this is just not a problem, that Williams does not need any (more) conservative faculty. Is Sam right?

I like pointing to the concrete inability of the College to find a faculty member to take the conservative/Republican/non-liberal/non-Democratic/whatever-you-want-to -call-it in campus debates as a concrete problem that could be solved. When it is solved, things will be better than they are now.

If James could provide better metrics we could discuss these instead.

#6 Comment By hwc On January 7, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

…I’d support affirmative action for conservative professors…

How do you define “conservative professors”? Would these be professors who are in favor of balanced federal budgets? Would these be professors who strictly interpret the constitution when it comes to not allowing government intervention in the private lives and bedrooms and e-mails of its citizens?

The meaning of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” change over time in our society like fall fashions in designer boutiques. Your proposal of quotas for pop-culture designations such as “liberals” and “conservatives” therefore makes about as much sense as proportional representation for Red Sox and Yankees fans.

A more pressing issue would be the trend in PhD factories, and therefore the ranks of college professors, to demand ever increasing degrees of research specialization. This is the root cause of professors going down avenues of seemingly arcane (and often “politically correct”) academic pursuit. For example, if you need to become a published academic on, for example, Faulkner, in order to get your PhD and a teaching job, you have to come up with something new. I know…how ’bout the study of gender issues in Faulkner novels! Yeah, that’s the ticket. Shift the focus of PhD programs back to producing excellent teachers, reduce the pressure to publish just for publishing sake, and you address much of your complaint.

#7 Comment By James McAllister On January 7, 2006 @ 4:30 pm

First, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I want to thank David for reminding me why I don’t have a blog and rarely respond to anything on a blog. Much too time consuming and frustrating.

Second, and I can’t find it in The Record, I know that I wrote an all out defense of the Record’s right to run the Horowitz ad–the only oped I ever wrote since coming to Williams. I assume Mike Needham will be willing to vouch for my actions during that controversy.

Third, I find David’s references to the concrete inability to find a professor willing to take the conservative/Republican/non-liberal/ non-Democratic positions in campus debates maddening. I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone and my existence has been expunged. First, I defended non-liberal/ non-Democratic party positions explicitly on the night of September 11 in front of a packed hall in Chapin. I explicitly defended the need for military retaliation and strongly rejected the efforts of many in the audience to claim that the attacks were a response to the alleged sins of American foreign policy. Second, I have defended the Iraq War in public debates with Bill Darrow twice since 2003. Third, I delivered a faculty lecture in 2004 that explicitly argued that the 2004 election would and should turn on questions of national security and that Kerry and the Democratic Party would and should lose unless they turned that perception around. Fourth, I have delivered about 20 alumni lectures for Williams both here and around the country since 2002 on all of these themes? Does all of this not count as public examples of non-liberal/ non-Democratic party thinking at Williams? As for David’s favorite example, I brought Dinesh D’Souza here and came up with idea of him debating George Marcus. Dinesh D’Souza is considered to be one of the finer debaters in the country; would it have been better to just find any faculty member to engage in this debate.

The Marcus/D’Souza debate helps to clarify this issue in many ways. I am not a registered Republican and I would never engage in a public debate advocating why any politician should or should not be elected–just not my style. While this might seem to support David’s point, the plain fact of the matter is that I am not sure how many other profs I could have gotten to publicly debate the election from the Democratic perspective. No one else in the political science department would have publicly defended Kerry in such a manner. This is what I mean by proselytizing–the number of Williams faculty members willing to publicly defend their political beliefs is very few in number. Registering democratic and giving money to the DNC is quite different than open public activism or engagement.

How should we measure and operationalize the lack of political diversity at Williams? A great question, but I would suggest more qualitative measures. For example, compare the political activities I have sponsored or engaged in versus the political activities engaged in by the 24 signers of that letter to the Record. To the best of my knwledge, none of those 24 have done a single political activity in the time I have been here (I don’t mean that in a bad way at all–they have contributed a great deal to Williams in numerous other ways; for example many of them influence the curriculum and the running of Williams College at a great expense to their time. Everybody contributes in different ways to the life of the campus). My only point is that Williams in not a hotbed of leftwing political activism.

Here is the part where I am supposed to fight with my colleague Sam Crane. Not going to happen. Sam has been supportive of me since I have been here and my time at Williams would be much poorer without all of the debates and interactions we have had over the last 8 years. Would it be good if we had more conservative professors at Williams? Certainly. Should we advertise for “conservative” scholars and teachers of Chinese politics and American foreign policy? No! Let me ask all readers of Ephblog the following question? Would you hire a distinguished liberal scholar/teacher of American foreign policy with four acclaimed books on his CV or a conservative with no published scholarship who could not teach his way out of a paper bag? Needless to say, I hope it is the former.

#8 Comment By Mike On January 7, 2006 @ 5:10 pm

David and others: During the Horowitz kerfuffle, James wrote a very thoughtful piece and all of us at the Record were enormously grateful for that support. The piece can be read here: http://www.williamsrecord.com/wr/?view=article&section=opinion&id=353

hwc: I know you meant your point seriously, but I think it broadly misses the point. There is a large segment of the ideological spectrum that is largely missing from Williams. Indeed, it is the side of the political spectrum that has, over the last 25 years, come up with some of the most important policy ideas of our time such as enterprise zones, constitutionalism, new ways of thinking about America’s vast unfunded middle class entitlements, and many others. There is obviously great intellectual diversity on the right and I would think it would be in Williams’ interest to have that diversity represented along with the diversity that extends all the way across the spectrum.

If you think that having an environment at Williams in which both Red Sox and Yankees fans find their values and assumptions challenged in a thoughtful and respectful manner is as important than having one where both students who believe the federal government has no legitimate role in education policy and those who do not are challenged to rethink their assumptions than I think we will just have to agree to disagree.

My point is simple: It is intellectually easier for students to make liberal arguments at Williams than conservative ones. I am not talking exclusively in the classroom or the Record or the dining hall. I am talking everywhere. That is not purely because of the nature of the faculty, though that undoubtedly is a significant factor. I’m not saying that the way conservatives typically make the argument: I believe this fact was enormously beneficial to my education. But I think that liberal students at Williams are missing out on a remarkable intellectual experience by largely not having thoughtful and intellectually provocative conservative voices on campus.

And I should clarify that James does Williams a great service by his leadership in challenging the status quo beliefs on questions of modern American foreign policy. But you do not find similar voices at Williams (other than the annual “obnoxious conservative freshman” column in the Record) articulating the case for federalism, the manner in which the welfare state contributes to the cycles of poverty that exist in America, the case for global economic freedom, etc.

I’m off to the Wizards game.

#9 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On January 7, 2006 @ 6:24 pm

James,

Indeed, dealing with the chaotic world of multiple perspectives and perceptions is often frustrating.

What is David trying to express? What is the fundamental truth behind his position– the underlying social reality that he is trying to describe– behind the terms he is trying to apply?

I have just tried to write you a quick reply– and wound up with a wide-ranging (and poorly organized) consideration of fifty topics and events.

I fundamentally believe that David is trying to describe a real and important phenomenon on the Williams campus– and so many other campuses– which he perceives as “a lack of Republican voices.” Which others perceive as being excluded because of race! Which people such as David Horowitz (and David Kensinger ’95) have created “free speech” movements to try and express.

The situation is new, not quite unprecidented, but difficult to grasp. Can I put it into a two-sentence description? I cannot. I don’t yet see the core of the problem. It hasn’t been named yet.

That makes me skip a beat to Williams events that suddenly came up last night– when a certain Williams student discovered the processes to inflitrate and take over professors’ and deans’ electronic accounts, there was no name for it. I knew something of it– as did many others– but none of us had an idea how to react.

I eventually discussed the incidents with the Students’ Lawyer at Berkeley– the best label I could give was “impersonation”– and she didn’t really see the crime.

Today, we call what happened “Identity Theft;” we have terms such as “computer trespass.”

And as I was writing this, Mike has posted: “My point is simple: It is intellectually easier for students to make liberal arguments at Williams than conservative ones.” That’s a pretty good description. That’s a pretty good description of academia, — (given that I went to a grad department where everyone was either gay or pretended to be gay).

This is difficult and frustrating; and I know it is difficult to sort through a mess of contrary ideas and assertions– and I also don’t particularly like Blogs, because they give you very little insulation from the “overload” of such “information” flows.

But I try not to look so much for what is wrong with what David is trying to express– but what is right, what is trying to be expressed.

It seems to me obvious that the so-called “Diversity Initiative” is hamstrung by the fact that everyone on the committee is inside the ideological box described by Mike above; it also seems to me that, despite an incredible education, Williams students (and students across the country) are dis-served by faculties of “tenured radicals,” radically disconnected with reality.

More later (not that I’ll have any time for more than a week).

[[And a counter-response to your final question: certainly, the published scholar. But why it that so few conservatives– I’d prefer “alternative voices”– rise to that level of “scholarship?”

I was amazed to be forwarded a Comedy Central skit on this a year or so back, which asked the question with the word “Republican.” It ended: “Because Republicans don’t work for that kind of money.”

The tale is, of course, so much more complex than that.]]

#10 Comment By David On January 7, 2006 @ 6:30 pm

I second Mike in his appreciation of everything that James does for Williams. I suspect that I might not have felt as isolated as I did 20 years ago had he been on the faculty then. Not that my political science professors in that era — Tim Cook, James MacGregor Burns, Gary Jacobsohn, Kurt Tauber, et. al. — weren’t fine teachers, but there were few sources of solace for a young campaigner against divestment in those days.

I also appreciate the correction on the Horowitz issue. There was one professor willing to defend the Record. Were there any others? Did James seek some co-signers? Did other faculty offer private support? No one loves Williams history more than EphBlog.

James claims that “My only point is that Williams in not a hotbed of leftwing political activism.” Hmmm. I guess it all depends on what he means by “hotbed.” At a later date, I’ll provide a brief summary of some of the leftwing political activism that EphBlog has noted over the last few years. Reasonable people may differ about whether this is a hotbed.

I am sorry to make James feel that he has entered the Twilight Zone. The last thing that I want to do is to “expunge” him from the Record. Indeed, he is one of the very last professors that I would like to see leave Williams.

But, at the same time, a little perspective is in order. I have heard James described as a Scoop Jackson Democrat. Great! Williams has one Scoop Jackson Democrat. Now, I stand second to none in my praise and appreciation of Scoop Jackson Democrats. Some of my closest friends are Scoop Jackson Democrats.

But 50% of the people in the US are to the “right” of Scoop Jackson! Now, I know that these terms are imprecise and that political cleavages cut all sorts of ways, but the existence of James McAllister — one Scoop Jackson in a sea of Kerrys, Deans and more than a few Kuciniches — does not prove that the Williams faculty is adequately diverse.

I will address James’s (highly skewed) hypothetical later.

It was not my intention to cause you to “fight” with Sam Crane. I am just highlighting a difference of opinion. Sam, I think, believe that all else equal, Williams does not any (more) conservative professors. You think we do. Only one of you is correct and I, for one, would like to hear the best case that can be made for both sides.

#11 Comment By Nishant On January 8, 2006 @ 1:51 am

Two over-arching comments from my experience as a Political Science / Economics major and a conservative at Williams from ’98-’02:

1. The political science department has an overwhelmingly liberal character on a personal level, however, I never felt that this liberal slant informed their classroom arguments or thinking. In fact, at many times the only people who jumped to my defense during class room discussions were professors (I remember one time somebody said I was “evil” in class and got shut down by Prof. Lynch).

2. I think David is focusing on the Political Science department. In the economics department, I rarely heard views that deviated from the typical economic liberal (in the conservative) orthodoxy. Are those professors registered democrats? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. Why? Because they evaluated arguments based on the quality of the argument not which school of thought it was from.

Caveat: I took classes that at Williams that I wanted to take. There could definitely be other classes in other departments that are not so open to questioning. I think the major problem at Williams for the wrong or right reasons, is the fact that the students (at least to vocal ones) are fairly liberal and are shocked when those values are challenged. Which might explain the “freshman conservative editorial” that Mike mentions. More of a way to get attention than anything else.

#12 Comment By David On January 8, 2006 @ 9:32 am

My experience from 1984-1988 mirrored that of Nishant.

Let me make this point for the thousandth time. The complaint by me and others about the lack of ideological diversity among the Williams faculty has little if anything to do with what goes on in a typical Williams classroom. I am sure that if you read a transcript of James or Marc Lynch or Sam Crane (or, for that matter, me) teaching PSCI 100 (and removed the names), you would not be able to tell our personal politics. Excellent teachers make their politics invisible to students in the classroom because they present the best arguments on all sides. (My students spent the first half of the semester convinced that I was a Marxist.)

Ignoring the highly unusual and extreme examples of people like Alex Willingham allowing his classroom to be used to suck Williams students into a dangerous cult, there is nothing wrong — from an ideological diversity point of view — with what goes on in a Williams classroom.

The problem with the lack of diversity is meta-classroom, in the range of public debate at Williams, in the set of courses presented, in the amount that liberal students are challenged outside of class, in the extent that conservative students have a resource to rely on.

If there were no, say, Asian American professors at Williams, there would be no problem with what went on in a Williams classroom. But there would still be a problem at Williams.

#13 Comment By Sam On January 8, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

This is why I am holding back from participating in this discussion: invariably Ephblog descends into unwarranted and unfair personal attacks. The characterization of Alex Willingham is just wrong. I have worked with him for 16 years and I know well what he brings to the College. Your obssession with a bizarre and isolated incident years ago, which is wholly unrelated to Alex’s value as a teacher, simply demonstrates, once again, the blind ideology that motivates much of what occurs here.

#14 Comment By Rory On January 8, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

Sam,

Thank you for putting in much more articulate words something I want to second. Alex Willingham is not only a favorite teacher of mine who exposed me to a history of voting rights I did not know, but also a valued mentor and, if I be so presumptious, To see him and his body of fantastic work degraded into an unnecessary attack reminded me why I quit ephblog last semester.

As for the rest of the conversation here, I will say that inside and outside of class I was challenged and criticized often. Being a liberal did not mean I was not challenged. The challenges that often were most valuable to my growth were from professors and administrators traditionally seen as both “liberal” and “conservative” political. From coffees with Peter Just arguing about student freedoms (he found us immature and righteous, and was often right in hindsight) to talking with Professor Epping about how to appropriates oppose the upcoming Iraq war without stiffling dialogue on campus to Professor McAllister disagreeing with me vocally and forcefully oveer the Horowitz issue (and Steve Gerrard defending me) and then acting as a good role model, going out of his way to apologize for seeming perhaps too forceful and making sure we understood each others arguments, to having Medha Kirtane tell me once “I just didn’t get it” and then continuing to discuss issues of race with her for another hour in regards to where the MCC should be on campus (she didn’t want it all moved to the center of campus), to conversations with my very liberal suitemates about paper topics and politics, often they were the most critical and challenging discussions I had (you don’t want to get them into any sort of political debate against you. It’s scary. And two of them are going to be lawyers…very good lawyers, I’m sure…)

that’s a long sentence! The point is that challenges do not only come in a liberal vs. conservative line and that any “affirmative action” for conservative thinkers leads to large problems. Do we ask job applicants their personal views on politics? That’d be bad. Do we only look for professors who teach about certain subjects in certain ways (so then the conservatives get pigeonholed into only some subjects)?

The important thing, in my opinion, is not that there be a certain number of conservative professors, but that everyone be challenged in their opinions and thoughts. I think the problem with Williams is not that people can’t get challenged, but that people often avoid such challenges, conservative and liberal. It might be easier to do so as a liberal, but I know some conservatives who just stopped talking to me about politics (yes, we were still friends) and only took courses in econ, poli sci and history except for requirements. To me, that’s the “meta” problem: how do we ensure that in a school everyone feels is “theirs” (yes I brought that back), everyone also feels challenged.

#15 Comment By Rory On January 8, 2006 @ 2:09 pm

I should add that describing Peter Just’s views as seeing students as “immature and righteous” was an exaggeration that was a poor attempt at slight humor. He did think some student complaints were incorrect. He also is an amazing professor and, if he reads this, Dahlak is still going strong in West Philly and still absolutely delicious. If he gets down here anytime, we should go (heck, if anyone gets to Philly, we should go. I’m an equal opportunity ethiopian food lover).

#16 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On January 8, 2006 @ 6:07 pm

Rory,

Peter Just’s views as seeing students as “immature and righteous”

I think that’s a fairly good representation of Peter, and of a piece of the underlying problem here.

Peter does no always express the above well; at the spring ANSO majors party in ’93, I believe, he said “nothing a student could write could teach me something new.”

Sitting here twelve years later, I think the above was a slip of the tongue on Peter’s part, but I am most likely to agree with the “immature and righteous” evaluation.

In my voting campaign, through a network of Williams alums and others, I now have 10ish media experts, decades older than I, telling me I should do X, Y, and Z.

I’ve also reached a few very helpful current students– not quite what I hoped, but I no longer visit campus regularly– but I also have four or five liberalish students persistently bothering to nitpick the X, Y, and Z apart and tell me why they won’t work.

I am trying not to react to them with quite the disdain that Peter expressed above, but surely, if I replied to the two network managers in my group of advisors with “you guys don’t know anything, this’ll never work,” they wouldn’t even bother to tell me where to go. And I’d be burning the bridges that took me to them.

Not to go into “youth these days,” which that may be. But the ‘problem above’ is more about the righteousness than the immaturity; —

“the problem” lies in the attidude that “we know the path,” that the “liberal” (if it is that) projects for “social change” that [they] advocate are the only path, the obvious self-gratification [they] get from thinking they’re helping the world , and the relative hostility you get when you suggest differently.

Mario Savio, who led the first generation of Berkeley’s Free Speech movement, put it something like this: ‘our generation saw problems, things that shouldn’t have been the way they were, and reacted. It was literally a movement of religious conversion for us, of finding who we were. For the coming generations, it was about power.’ (Ed.– that’s a conflation of M, Wienberg and Rossman).

That group thought about their times. They reacted to challenges. Today, the sad end result is “following the agenda” for self-gratification. MassPIRG did many good things; but one-fifth of Williams students participated in PIRG because “it was the (socially righteous) thing to do,” not because they were trying to discover anything. If there were any heirs of Mario Savio on campus, they were people like Beth (Bowles) and David Kensinger, who were trying to say other things.

And today, it is interesting that affiates of David Horowitz are adopting Mario Savio and other’s civil disobedience techniques, whatever you think of Horowitz.

As for the Williams classroom, the only time I can remember not having my right to expression defended by a professor was in [X]’s PSCI senior seminar, when discussion turned to the then-MinCo’s tactics, and I tried to express my dismay at MinCo’s “By Any Means Necessary,” respect no one else’s ideas approach to acheiving their (set) aims. Alsa Bali continually interrupted me– a technique she also used with impunity in College Council– and Prof. [X] did nothing about it. I confronted Asla after class and she pointedly told me that she didn’t care if she was interrupting my right to speak. Her goals were more important.

As for me, without dialogue, I believe we are doomed.

It’s how the plays itself outside the classroom that matters. It’s that Williams students– and students at many universities– don’t have the freedom and skills to develop and express alternate perspectives, because their peers are quashing their speech, and because the elite American colleges and universities as a whole are dominated by leadership who simply don’t have the vision to see a problem.

As in the specific “Diversity Initiative,” because the overall agenda is set by the ideological committemnt to post-60s “liberalism.” There’s no need for intense discussion on campuses and between institutions, because we already know the problems and solutions, right?

As far as Alex, is anyone suggesting he isn’t a brilliant teacher? That’s all I’ve ever heard. But their are reasons that “liberal” leaning professors tend to succeed– and that the academy tends to “socialize” professors into liberal ideologies. As Judith Butler once so wonderfully put it to me– absolutely undermining my committment to an academic career– professors choose other professors, and they do so on the basis of whom they want to talk to in the halls for the next forty years.

This simply means collegues tend to ask collegues to conform to their ideological perspectives; and in the current moment, in the legacy of “the 60s,” they tend to view the University’s traditional role for social betterment in terms of the “liberal” agenda of projects and approaches. Others just don’t fit in as well; and certainly, at least on the West Coast, the kinds of alliances which build and support careers are quite often based on political projects.

Williams is in fact wonderfully insulated from much of that– but hardly entirely.

One of the other phenomenon going on here is the enourmous “cow-towing”– to turn the phrase– to students. Bruce Kieffer (at an MCC discussion) once referred to this as the fact that “we can’t play hardball in the classroom;” each student opinion, no matter how flawed, seems to have to be treated equally– especially at Williams. USA Today more recently referred to this as the “self-esteem bubble” created by modern educational methods; the fact that few teachers or professors will point out what is wrong in a line of thought, because it might “hurt” self-esteem.

That obviously does not serve students: whenever they rise above the “bubble,” into a position or situation, in grad school or industry or elsewhere, where the result matters, they don’t have the skills to deal with the suggestion that they might be wrong– or imperfect.

Did someone here suggest that Williams students were socially hobbled, some months ago?

In the classroom, in the College or University as a whole, I believe that this– along with the infamous “publish or perish” and so much more– is also one reason for the great “professorial withdrawal” from public life we’ve seen since the 60s. Williams is again not the worst of this, but I believe what Peter was trying to express is not that no student can write something interesting– but that when he bothers to interact with many students on that level, to examine their work on a partially equal level and respond as he might to a collegue– the student response is so arrogant, immature and self-righteous that it isn’t worth his future engagement.

That is also how many, if no most, students treat each other. Push their ideological boundaries, challenge the righteousness, and … they simply have no preparation for situaiton. As USA Today claims, with their bubble burst, they fall apart. Push a David Kensinger among him– or any of the examples above– and they call him “evil,” in one way or another, directly or subtly, … and we can hardly forget one Williams lad who used that phrase to describe D recently.

In no way meaning to directly or indirectly criticise David or Sam, I think we see the fruit of this history in a context such as this Blog post. After decades of seeing the tools of communication wither on campuses, of alignment according to ideological affiliation, any attempt such as the above is frustrating, and we spend most of our time talking around each other.

This– and not structural racism– is why groups feel “excluded” on campus.

The challenge for any campus– and a true diversity initiative– is to burst that environment. How?

#17 Comment By David On January 8, 2006 @ 9:10 pm

I claimed that Professor Alex Willingham “allow[ed] his classroom to be used to suck Williams students into a dangerous cult.” Sam Crane claims that this is “just wrong,” that I am engaging in “unwarranted and unfair personal attacks.”

Note that I made no judgments about Willingham’s worth to Williams. If Rory testifies that he is a great teacher, then that is good enought for me. Williams needs more Willinghams, not fewer.

But Sam is quick to see “blind ideology” here. For now, can we just stick to the facts? To history?

I am making empirical claims. I claim that Willingham invited WMLA to his classroom, that he encouraged students to “volunteer” to work with what, by all accounts, was a dangerous cult, that some students were, in fact, recruited by WMLA, dropped out of school and were cut off from their family and friends in a fairly terrifying way.

Does Sam disputes these facts? If so, he should take the time to tell us the real history, either here or at his own blog.

These facts alone do not make Willingham a bad person or professor.

The answer to Ken’s last question is “By continuing the conversation.”

#18 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On January 8, 2006 @ 9:36 pm

Rory,

First, as James says, Williams is a truly wonderful place. Not the only place I’d rather be, but one of them.

I could certainly get “up in a huff” about how David reported on Mark Reinhardt here, pick up my toys, and leave. Now where would that have gotten any of us?

Rather, I tried to have my say for a bit, explain what I knew of the Reinhardts, and see what response I got. Lowell’s was quite interesting; I didn’t have time to make the remarks I thought, and oneday, I’ll review the 9th versus the 7th in the ways he suggested.

As for David’s characterization of the Reinhardts– unfair, possibly, unfounded, hardly. As I mentioned in that post, Stephen is oft-cited as “the most liberal appelate judge in the nation,” not to mention as a quack.

Knowing Mark, and Stephen’s judgements in some detail, I beg to differ on both points. (I might mention that very few people on campus probably saw me as anything else than a “campus liberal,” and a devotee of Mark, whom I value and respect immensely). However, at this point in life, I think I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t consider that from Lowell and David’s perspectives– much of what is said and written about Stephen Reinhardt (and Mark in turn) seems reasonable and true.

If I were in their approximate shoes, with the knowledge they have, would I come to the same judgements? Probably.

Is their perspective ideologically influenced? Certainly. What’s wrong with that? Is James seriously suggesting that, if their ideological bent were different, it would be more accurate? Or simply more comfortable to the average inhabitant of a a northeastern liberal arts college?

I have nothing but respect for what I’ve know of Alex Willingham– I’ve heard him speak a few times, asked questions that were well-replied, and heard nothing but praise from Mark or many others.

Now, in the “Kling affair,” the simple fact is that anyone looking at it from an outside perspective– say, reading the NYT citation– should be profoundly disturbed. I was profoundly distrurbed when I read David & Beth Kensinger’s account in the Observer– that must have been around 1997– even though I generally did not take the Observer seriously until more recently.

Who wouldn’t? Now, nine years later, I heard someone say that Jennifer didn’t feel the respresentation was just. Good to know. But why didn’t someone take that up with the NYT? G-d, this is Williams, like there aren’t connections to the NYT. Surely if you mentioned it over a few days at Williams in ’97, somebody would have sent you over to Mary Lawrences, and she or somebody would have told you how to raise some hell about such a misrepresentation, if it was a mispresentation.

The other details of David and Beth’s article– the true nature of the organization– are more disturbing to me. I don’t reach David and Beth’s conclusion in ’97 (which I doubt is their conclusion now)– I absolutely believe that any professor should be able to bring anyone to campus– and I absolutely believe in the notion of academic freedom, to pursue ideas. But that does not absolve us of responsibly.

And by that, I mean with “community responsibility.” Alex may or may not have made a mistakes; I have no idea, not being very close to the events. He may have had more duty to research the organizaion; he may not have; he may have had nothing to do with Kling going to the organization. But that’s not the point.

Given the events– given if ten percent of them are true– I think members of the community should have reasonable concern. Shouldn’t Williams– as a community and a whole– know in advance the nature and character (and connections) of the external organizations coming to campus?

Shouldn’t we know what PIRG is, and its relation to the Naders, and have an idea of its organizational structure and what it means?

Shouldn’t students in combination with Deans and faculty develop those understandings over time?

Shouldn’t someone perhaps say something like “hey, Alex, these guys have some interesting connections…”

Shouldn’t someone in Jennifers’ group be keeping in touch over the summer– …?

Shouldn’t the larger community be able to negotiate these issues? Shouldn’t the cross-generational connection to alumni be strong enough that an alum who understands PIRG (there must have been one in ’90) can mentor its leaders?

Isn’t that what Mark Hopkins on a log is about?

Respectfully submitted, that may of the micro- social functions that make such a community have broken down, for many reasons– because Williams is more geographically diverse, and its alums spread farther, becoming less attached to the campus afterwards. Because Williams has become far more institutional and bureaucratic, destroying the micro-diversity necessary for such changes. Because the nature of what it means to be “faculty” in the US has moved away from a “residential college” where the faculty are in residence, and all the pressures behind that. Because of the national “SAT and grade inflations”– somewhat charted by David– that makes a larger percentage of the Williams student body highly intelligent idiots.

Mary, is the pizza ready?

#19 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On January 8, 2006 @ 9:50 pm

The answer to Ken’s last question is “By continuing the conversation.”

Well said.

When we interviewed Saul Benjamin for the Presidency at Deep Springs– speaking of democratic models– he gave us his version of the “Great Conversation”– that there was nothing else. A wonderful prelude the teaching of the sophists– that includes Socrates!– that there is nothing but speech and opinion. DoxaDoxa

#20 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On January 8, 2006 @ 9:52 pm

Looks like I misplaced a tag there…