Sunday, June 19, 2005

Canada, academic "bias," and complete and utter BS.

I did say I was going to get around eventually to dealing with accusations of academic imbalance and liberal indoctrination in colleges and universities here in Canada, so today might as well be the day. And for this exercise, we are going to slowly and lovingly disembowel one Barbara Kay, whose Dec. 2004 piece in the National Post is such a delightfully vapid piece of idiocy, I may not have to address this issue again for quite some time. Feel free to bring up another window and follow along.

Kay sets the tone early with the title of her article, "Propaganda in the classroom," which certainly suggests that this whole issue is not open to debate, no sir, there's nasty stuff going down in Canada's hallways of higher education and, by God, Kay is going to show you just where it is. None of this namby-pamby "bias" nonsense for Kay -- she goes straight for the "propaganda" label so you figure she's done her homework and has the goods, right?

Until you read her first sentence:

Today's column is in part an amateur poll on intellectual harassment in our universities.

Excuse me? So, within her opening sentence, Kay manages to crank up the sensationalism factor even further with suggestions of "harassment," and yet ... and yet ... she now admits that what she's really doing is, in part, taking a survey. For what? Bias in the classroom? She's asking now?? Gosh, you'd think she might have actually done that research before writing her article, no? That's sort of the way most reporters work, but Kay is apparently above that sort of tedium. Think I'm being overly snarky? Read the rest of the opening paragraph, gloriously verbatim:

I'm asking Canada's future educators and lawmakers -- students in, or recent grads from, the humanities and social sciences -- if they're being ideologically brainwashed by their professors. So without further ado: Do you see a balanced ideological perspective in your courses? Does your professor direct you to alternative points of views? Is dissent or diversity of opinion encouraged in discussion? Are Judeo-Christian perspectives denigrated or mocked? Are grades a reflection of the merit of your arguments or conformity with the professor's ideology?

So many delightfully leading questions and, as you'll see shortly, so little actual evidence to answer any of them. On to paragraph two:

There are already numerous published surveys, polls and journal articles on the indoctrination of students by academics, ...

All right, evidence coming right up. Can't wait. Here it comes ...

... but none deal with Canadian universities.

Damn it! (Said with best impression of Stewie from "Family Guy".) So, to recap Kay's position: There's propaganda! Actually, no there isn't, that's why I'm asking. Wait, there are studies! But not involving Canada. You can only hope it gets better. And, sadly, you'll be disappointed:

[The studies] all catalogue the near-monolithic domination of the academy by leftists in the United States.

Oh, please, please, dear God, please, provide some evidence for that claim.

For example, one recent study shows that amongst American university teachers, Democrats outnumber Republicans 15 to one. That's on average. In anthropology, Democrats cast 30 votes for every one Republican. Similar results doubtless apply in the faculties of sociology, education, English literature, and women's studies (probably more like 1,000 to one there).

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, damn ... I think I just wet myself. There is, of course, absolutely no reference given for this "recent study," but it might just be the same one I eviscerated back here, which was a thorougly dishonest piece of crap. And if you think Kay has embarrassed herself sufficiently, well, sweetie, you ain't seen nothing yet, as Kay continues:

Voting stats aside, there is evidence that leftist views play out in propagandist behaviours. A survey by The American Council of Trustees and Alumni finds almost half of students are exposed to only one ideological viewpoint, with teachers sanctioning none but their political views in class. An ACTA spokesperson comments: "If this were a survey of students reporting widespread sexual harassment, there would be an uproar."

Ah, yes ... ACTA. Worthless hacks. Go read. Moving on, to where Kay finally just shreds what little is left of her credibility by praising the work of (oh, Lord, you know who's coming, don't you?):

American conservatives are fighting back. The most dynamic amongst them is fiercely anti-Marxist crusader David Horowitz, founder of

Words fail me, they really do. I'm not even going to comment on this; interested readers are welcome to go back through the CC archives to see what kind of despicable, lying slime David Horowitz is. I just don't have the enthusiasm for it anymore.

Not surprisingly, the rest of Kay's piece is just as vacuous and dishonest. For corroboration, she refers to research by University of British Columbia philosophy professor Andrew Irvine, but fails to mention his participation in Canada's right-wing Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, which is the kind of disclosure some readers might find enlightening.

Kay also bolsters her case by citing University of of Toronto psychology professor John Furedy and, oh, look, here he is, too. What an adorably closed club we have here -- just another right-wing echo chamber. Isn't that cute? To be fair, Kay does finally refer to the SAFS organization toward the end of the article, without actually mentioning Irvine's or Furedy's assocation.

But it's the last paragraph where Kay, as she did at the beginning, has to admit she has no evidence, and is reduced to begging her readers for proof:

So students (and parents), please send me your responses. Confidentiality is assured. Validate my keen assessment, or shame me for my wildly off-the-mark rush to judgment: It's your call. Survey 101 results TBA.

This might be a bit late, but I have some advice I'd like to pass on to Kay. Do your own damned research, and stop asking your readers to do it for you. It's called "being a journalist." You should try it.

: When one writes an article praising an organization, it's generally considered good form to reveal one's connections to said organization. Conflict of interest, disclosure, that sort of thing. Which suggests that Kay might have wanted to mention, even in passing, her dealings with SAFS located by Google, some of which are listed here. (Note: one of those links is actually a wonderfully snarky putdown of Kay's work, so you can't hold all of those links against her.)

And, no, I'm not done with these people. In my next installment, we'll discuss the results of Kay's survey.



Anonymous said...

David Horowitz is a disgrace. He used to be a good progressive Marxist like us in the reality community. But when he crossed to the Dark Side, it was up to us Enlightened Ones to demonize him - just like we demonize any minority who dares to leave the Progressive Plantation.

Ignorant reichwingers will scream "HYPOCRISY" when you accurately pointed out that Barbara McKay provided no proof of her leftwing bias in universities, while later in your post providing no proof of Horowitz's bias. But that's why they are wingnuts. They just don't understand nuance.

If they understood nuance, they would have voted for John Kerry because he is the personification of nuance. After all, the man has 5 medals from his 4 months in Vietnam. He is America's greatest war hero.

Nuff said.

Progressive Paul

ADR said...

Picking on Andrew Irvine for his involvement in SAFS is a tad unfair. He is also heavily involved (past president, if I remember right) in the BC Civil Liberties Association. He's a former prof of mine, and he doesn't deserve pillorying (unlike someone like Horowitz). IMHO, he's got a bit of a bee in his bonnet about free speech issues (I recall one rather involved class where we discussed Mill's famous defense of same in "On Liberty"), which leads him to bed down with rather strange people.

Ricia said...

This is 'news' all over the place in the States, a bit here in Canada too - I just do not get it.

What the hell are these people talking about? I have recently entered post-ed as a 'mature student' and I am shocked at how conservative, apathetic, racist, sexist and bigotted the bulk of the students are. I didnt expect this, not at all. Not to mention the structural foundations of the whole institutional culture.

Is this a matter of parents spewing complaints that their kids - who at last are being exposed to a broader education through relocation and new associations - are posing some challenging questions when they come home for the holidays?

Or do these people actually believe that issues of equal rights and social justice are that of "leftist" ideologies, and thus when their kids debate such matters at the dinner table they assume that it's due to indoctrination at school?

Or - I know. It's all about how their young adult college and university attending kids don't actually have minds of their own and could never possibly have garnered an outlook or opinion on their own accord.

Someone pleeeeeeeease explain to me where it is evident in our society, that leftist ideologues are 'taking over' and propagandizing our culture?

Listen to the radio, watch tv, pick up a newspaper, a magazine, go to the movies, a bar, a sporting event - have a conversation with a stranger at random.

It's absurd. Absolutely absurd.

Anonymous said...

It was with great pride that I recently accepted an invitation to teach a course on "Why the U.S. military are baby-killing Fascists" at one of my old alma maters, University of Western Ontario.

I hope to educate Canadians that the U.S. is responsible for all the evil in this world - just like great profs like my idol, Noam Chompsky. From imperial warmongering America attacking Germany and Japan for absolutely no reason and turning them into "peaceful democracies", to Ronald Raygun "liberating" 110 million Eastern Europeans from the benevolent cuddly arms of the great Soviet Union, to Bush's illegal, immoral, and unsanctioned-by-France war in the Middle East, and the reichwing's claims that he "liberated" 50 million people. Sure Saddam and the Taliban were bad, BUT the U.S. is far far worse.

Whereas some universities espouse a capitalistic educational system in which students are forced to compete for grades, UWO prefers a kinder, more socialist learning environment where students develop their skills through shared study groups, or pods.

Thus, UWO transcends the primitive, gender-based concepts of "ration" and "reason" to embrace crossdressing and self-mutilation as forms of higher knowledge. Most importantly, everyone at UWO is stoned completely out of their gourds.

Indeed, some of my fondest UWO memories are of the many afternoons spent beneath the statue of Josef Stalin with my fellow pod people, passing around a bong full of grade-A campus-grown doobie.

So yes, it is absurd, absolutely absurd, to claim that there is a liberal bias in universities.

Professym Progressive Paul

CC said...

adr wrote:

"Picking on Andrew Irvine for his involvement in SAFS is a tad unfair."

Now, now ... I wasn't picking on Irvine for his involvement with SAFS, I was criticizing Kay for not mentioning Irvine's association with SAFS. There's a difference.

ADR said...

Fair enough. Although, as I mentioned, she might as well have pointed out his ongoing membership in the BCCLA (which, I would contend, is a fairer marker of his general doxastic leanings than SAFS).

Incidentally, does anyone know if any of the genuine right-wing ideologues has bothered to make the argument as to why liberal or conservative bias in university profs/instructors even matters? It's one thing to point out that, say, most professors are liberals, but it's quite another to show that it is a bad thing that most professors are liberals. That is, even if the factual claim were true, no particular evaluative claim follows.

The whole issue reminds me a bit of a comment Franken makes in "Lies" -- the issue with Al-Qaida isn't how much oil they put on their hummus, it's that they're trying to kill us. Similarly, the issue isn't whether or not professors are "liberal", it's that they are (en masse) insular, snobbish, and condescending (among other similar sins).

CC said...

I think it's also worth pointing out that, if the wankersphere is so concerned about balance in academia, why haven't they bothered to address the racial disparity there?

The residents of Lower Wankerville are clearly livid over what they see as left-liberal over-representation in academia, and want to take explicit measures to fix this.

On the other hand, point out the under-representation of, say, women or minorities and suddenly, you're told that trying to rectify that would be (gasp! horrors!) akin to a quota system. Or affirmative action. Or something equally pernicious.

How thoroughly hypocritical.

adr said...

I don't know that the rightists are necessarily being hypocritical in that regard. After all, to be hypocritical, one has to have principles to betray.... Or, to be fairer, one has to have principles which are actually betrayed by one's actions. If one's principles are, say, that one's own antecedent evaluative judgements trump everyone else's, then this doesn't look like a hypocrisy problem. For that sort of principle says, taken to its limit, that whatever I think is a problem is a problem, and whatever I think is not a problem is not a problem. And everyone else can take a walk. This suggests that the problem runs much deeper than hypocrisy; it's not a matter of values not matching up to conduct, but of the values being no good in the first place! (Which is usually a better form of argument, IMHO, anyway. "You're inconsistent" suggests only that the contradiction has to be resolved, not that it has to be resolved in any particular way; "you're wrong" suggests that some committment actually has to be given up.)

Being in the academy, I tend to think that the minority issue will self-correct in time. Though the proportions are not yet equal, and there's no telling who will escape academia altogether, there are vastly more female and minority grad students than there are professors or even instructors. So, given that professors and instructors are older and thus will retire and/or die sooner rather than later, it seems that the proportions should shift in a more favourable direction in the next ten to twenty years.

That said, though, the point in my last comment really applies here, too: would it really be so bad if all professors were white males? (or black females, or whatever) Making the evaluative claim always requires a bit more work than just pointing to bare empirical fact. (Not saying there are no good arguments -- there are also good arguments for eliminating ideological biases, one way or the other. But, these are different arguments, and they will only deploy empirical data in an auxiliary, rather than fundamental, fashion.)