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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mommy, Democrats are lurking behind the lecterns

Orwell was a satirist, not a dogmatist. It is not his fault that a significant faction of the population regards his writing, such as 1984 and Animal Farm, as field manuals for moving us toward totalitarian rule. As is the case with the good people of Oceania, we are mired in a contrived war which has been used to intimidate the gullible into a patriotic frenzy in which they are willing to relinquish Constitutional rights and give the state permission to intrude on their privacy, spy on them, and suspend due process. Perhaps the most salient feature of this movement is the propaganda strategy that propels it. That strategy is to locate those little areas of hatred, discrimination, resentment and fear and agitate them into festering boils in the brain pans of the susceptible. As in 1984. the people are given their five minutes of hate. Except now it takes the form of the interminable and tendentious cries of accusatory alarm rolling through the blog aggregators.

The regressives have a new cry of outrage. That cry is over the fact that many university faculties are predominantly Democratic. My alma mater, the University of Iowa, has been selected as a particular target for the cries of outrage. A scholar of the regressive stripe applied for a job in the history department and did not get it and filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity office at the University. That complaint has been fanned into the charge by the regressive factions that the history department at Iowa is an ideological monolith.

The applicant also was rejected by Duke University, but the fact is that he has compiled quite a history of rejection, including by the U.S Air Force War College. He has written a book in which he takes the stance that America was justified in waging the Viet Nam War. The fact that he cannot find a job in the academic world is cited as evidence that higher education is dominated by liberals who don’t give conservatives a chance. The regressives point out that the University of Iowa History Department has 27 faculty and all are registered Democrats. The local paper in Iowa City even went to the effort to track the faculty’s voter registrations, which is okay because voter lists are public records. They do not indicate how people voted, but they indicate what party they register so that they may vote in the primaries.

This whole idea of party affiliation as an element of diversity flummoxes me. I cannot recall a time in 30 years of applying for academic jobs and sitting on search committees where political affiliation came up in regard to a candidate. I do recall concerns about a few Marxist scholars and whether they would cover their subjects fairly or would use their teaching to condition students with an ideological agenda. That is a legitimate concern. But I cannot recall a time when the question of whether a candidate is conservative or liberal was broached. Committees are too involved in looking at candidate’s credentials and trying to see how they would fit into their departments’ curricula and academic functioning. The demeanor and attitudes of candidates have more to do with considerations for employment than does any political affiliations they have. Often, the credential files reflect attitudes that .indicate that a candidate has personality issues that would not make the person a good hire. They are usually screened out during the early stages of the selection process. And often when people do advance to the interview stage, they display traits and attitudes that indicate that they might interfere with the functioning of the department. Many competent scholars come up short on their intrapersonal skills.

As for Iowa, from where I have two degrees, I have no idea what the political preferences were of the faculty I worked with. They were not relevant to the work that occupied us. As in any department, there are a few members who are more politically active than others. At Iowa, the legendary novelist Vance Bourjaily in the Writers Workshop was an active Democrat. He gave fund-raising parties at his farm for Democrats, but those affairs were more social and literary than political. No one could make the most remote claim that Bourjaily’s political preference in any way affected his writing or his teaching. It was just part of a complex, many-faceted, and fascinating personality.

The complaint against Iowa and all of academe is raising the suggestion that politics should be a factor in considering the diversity of the faculty. I assume this means that candidates will have to include their political preference on their curricula vitae`

The import of all this, however, is that professorships are now regarded as indoctrination platforms. The assumption is that being a registered Democrat is a sign of political seepage that contaminates the intellectual environment. And so the regressives are cyring out for their chance to lend their particular brand of contamination to the battle for minds. They see academe as an Orwellian bureaucracy, not a neutral agency of thought and study that considers but transcends partisan ideas. Big Brother wants his niche behind the lectern.

An irony is that Jon Lauck who wrote Daschle vs. Thune has an article in the online History News Network in which he encourages historians to get involved in campaign politics. He testifies what an edifying experience it was for him to be a consultant to John Thune. Lauck, by the way has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa. Actually, he was a paid agent and provocateur at the time he held a professor’s chair at SDSU. I have called him a paid character assassin because he took after Tom Daschle like the boys at the Ministry of Truth in 1984 took after those the party labeled enemies of the state. But the real question raised is how he reconciled his role as a political agent with his role as a professor.

I question this because I used to post satirical materials that sometimes had political ramifications on my office door and was asked to refrain from the practice. I was told that it compromised my role as a professor. But here was Lauck occupying an office on campus and being paid to vilify Tom Daschle. He is no longer a professor, and I do not know how the issue of him reconciling his political activities with his professor’s duties was resolved. But in the HNN article cited above, he seems to regard a professorship as a place to engage in political propaganda.

Some inheritors of his blog at NSU also seem to think that a professorship is a platform for launching political propaganda. They use their professorships as a special authority to engage in Ministry of Truth-like portrayals of people, issues, and events. While much of their effort is self-stimulation of erectile little egos, some of it involves falsified representations and personal defamations of the type that professors are not supposed to commit under any circumstances. We note that the University of Colorado fired a professor for indulging himself in such tactics. The complaints about a liberal bias on campuses seems to be based on the notion that campuses are a front for political battles and the regressives want a louder voice.

In South Dakota, the issue of its relatively small population and its number of university campuses has brought up the question again of closing down one or more campuses. If we have reached the point where campuses are merely turf over which partisans do battle, it might be time to close them all down and start over. Big Brother does a lousy job of educating youth.

That's what Geroge Orwell tried to tell us. And so did Sinclair Lewis.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States