Alarums are resounding throughout the republic. A new conservative organization, Accuracy in Academia, has summoned college students from all over the country, enjoining them to report those instances of "liberal bias" that amount to "error and distortion" in teaching.
The alarm is being sounded for universities and for anxious profs, but it might with equal cause be sounded for these unfortunate students. Monitoring liberal bias on campus is going to confer on them a staggering workload, which could irreparably damage the health of these young monitors.
Accuracy in Academia's vast project is just the kind of thing the liberals expect from conservatives. They believe as a matter of unimpeachable fact that conservatives are intolerant philistines: hostile to the free exchange of ideas, to bold expression and to academic freedom. Moreover, liberals still believe with John Stuart Mill that conservatism is the stupid party.
Thus they are absolved for not having given much thought to the recent spate of conservative books and magazines; and they see it as perfectly plausible that so few conservatives are hired on college faculties notwithstanding the liberal reverence for free exchange of ideas, bold expression, and academic freedom.
It may be a matter of justice to have affirmative action policies bringing more women and blacks onto college faculties, but to enlist such policies on behalf of conservatives would be quite futile. Conservative ideas are too primitive to merit a place in academe, where one finds courses in archery, the comic book, film and other useful intellectual inquiries. There you have the liberal rationale for keeping universities far to the left of the American mainstream, and Accuracy in Academia's efforts will have no benign effects on these smug ideologues.
Beginning in the 1950s with the first stirrings of that building boom that turned so many colleges into universities and universities into multiversities, university officials developed an invincible tactic for defending themselves against philistine critics off campus. At the first serious challenge to their way of doing business university officials simply let out a shout of outrage, fortissimo. Some would speak darkly of McCarthy or Dreyfus. The usual incantations to academic freedom and the highest democratic ideals would sound.
Soon the philistines were shut off. Unfortunately, universities have never been equally adept at handling their on-campus philistines whose intolerance frequently makes it impossible for independent minds or even government representatives to appear.
Accuracy in Academia will only add to the general anti-intellectualism that pervades many of America's campuses. Its dubious project will not create diversity of thought. Rather it will encourage the malign idea that universities should be politicized institutions with left- wing propagandists pitted against right-wing propagandists to the utter destruction of free intellectual inquiry and bold expression. What is more, these youthful monitors will be diverted from what should be their main concern: the acquisition of knowledge.
Orthodoxies have always dominated the narrow minds of mediocre profs. There was a time when these dull fellows were orthodox clockstoppers of the Hoover-Coolidge variety. Now they are smug liberals interlarded with ever more angry, infantile leftists given to reveries of a Woodstockian past. Yet this is not the end of the story.
In the great universities there has always been a tradition -- often embattled, sometimes nearly destroyed -- of intellectual curiosity, of careful research and of conscientious teaching. The tradition survives, and its brightest scholars are steadily refuting the inaccurate ideas of the reigning orthodoxy. Their students are coming away better educated and competent to retire the icons of the old order. The old order's hypocrisy is huge and enervating, but it cannot remain unscotched in a place where cant and hypocrisy are always under scrutiny.
In such disciplines as economics and American history, scholarship has challenged the old orthodoxy. Archery and comic books could fall next. Accuracy in Academia does nothing to preserve this great tradition and would only leave a highly politicized institution ever more politicized -- and more arrogantly ignorant.