This story was written by Editorial Board, Harvard Crimson
The long-held conservative claim that liberal university professors are indoctrinating college students is finally being exposed for what it really is: a political cop-out that sounds compelling but is ultimately hollow. The New York Times recently investigated the contention, revealing that not one but three sets of researchers found that professors have virtually no impact on the political views and ideology of their students. The conclusive results of all three studies will hopefully lay to rest the baseless whines thrown up by conservatives whenever the youth vote is not going their way.
Conservatives cite the liberal majority amongst 1960s-generation university professors today as evidence for their case, failing to differentiate correlation from causation. According to research, not only do most people form their political views by age 15, but also students are more affected by the media and their peers than by their professors.
But disproving this conservative dogma does not eradicate the resentment that feeds it a resentment born out of political frustration with no productive (not to mention logical) end. Nor does it prevent the measures this dogma engenders, including calls for universities to hire only apolitical faculty members.
In reality, many conservative hawks who support such measures, including the notorious David Horowitz, are precisely the sources of the political radicalism they publicly decry only on the far right. Horowitzs stated intention, to teach students how to think, not what to think, is a laudable one yet his sponsoring of such truth-revealing (which are ultimately more like hate-spreading) conferences like Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week on campuses across the nation reveals the ulterior motive therein.
The call for political neutrality in academia is clearly misinformed and ultimately misguided. First and foremost, the political leanings of professors are poor litmus tests for their intellect, pedagogical aptitude or enthusiasm for teaching all of which are more important considerations in the hiring of professors and the development of young minds. Secondly, the idea that liberal or untraditional scholarship is undesirable is one fundamentally opposed to the ideal of academia, which has proven most influential when it has pressed conventional knowledge to its limits and challenged traditional ways of thinking.
It is perhaps true is that the trend of academic scholarship today lends itself to progressive thinking, as postmodernist and poststructuralist analytical frameworks inherently lend themselves to a liberal view of the world. Taking nothing for granted, these styles of teaching encourage critical approaches to the establishment (whether conventional scientific wisdom or the literary canon). The underlying philosophy is analogous to loose judicial interpretation, which is a liberal ideal. The critical point here, however, is that an entire wave of productive and important scholarship cannot be suppressed because it tenuously relates to a political outlook with which a subset of the population disagrees.
What conservatives should focus on instead is increasing the numbers in their league who are contributing to scholarship and seeking university professorships, which would thereby increase the diversity of teaching styles on campuses and end the complaints about leftist indoctrination.