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Deb Saunders
Debra J. Saunders
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UC's Leftist Echo Chamber Drowns Out Diverse Voices


Political activism has drawn the University of California into an academic death spiral. Too many professors believe their job is to "advance social justice" rather than teach the subject they were hired to teach. Groupthink has replaced lively debate. Institutions that were designed to stir intellectual curiosity aren't challenging young minds. They're churning out "ignorance." So argues a new report, "A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California," from the conservative California Association of Scholars.

The report cites a number of studies that document academia's political imbalance. In 2004, for example, researchers examined the voter registration of University of California, Berkeley faculty. They found a ratio of 8 Democrats for each Republican. While the ratio was 4-to-1 in the professional schools, in more political disciplines, the ratio rose to 17-to-1 in the humanities and 21-to-1 in social sciences.

Over the past few decades, the imbalance has grown. The report noted, "The most plausible explanation for this clear and consistent pattern is surely that it is the result of discrimination in the hiring process."

UC Berkeley political science professor Wendy Brown rejected that argument. (Yes, she hails from the left, she said, but she doesn't teach left.) The reason behind the unbalance, she told me, is that conservatives don't go to grad school to study political science. When conservatives go to graduate school, she added, they tend to study business or law.

"If the argument is that what is going on is some kind of systematic exclusion," then critics have to target "where the discouragement happens."

OK. Freshmen sign up for courses that push an agenda of "social justice." Most professors may try to expose students to views other than their own, but others don't even try. The message could not be clearer: In the universe where politics and academia converge, conservatives are freaks.

That's how ideologues self-replicate.

The fallout isn't simply political. The association scolds argue, "This hiring pattern has occurred just as the quality of a college education has sharply declined."

Campus reading lists require trendy books instead of challenging authors, such as William Shakespeare, who can draw students deeper into the English language.

Teach-ins are notoriously one-sided. College graduates today are less proficient as readers than past graduates. The National Center for Education Statistics found that only 31 percent of college graduates could read and explain a complex book. In 1961, students spent an average of 24 hours per week on homework; today's students study for 14 hours per week.

At the same time, grades have risen. "Students often report that all they must do to get a good grade is regurgitate what their activist professors believe," quoth the report.

Though she had not read the report, Brown didn't dispute that today's students have trouble writing a "deep, thoughtful essay" about a passage from Thomas Hobbes or Milton Friedman.

"If Shakespeare were required, I would be thrilled," Brown stressed. But: "Don't pick on liberals for this." Universities have cut back on core requirements because students, parents and alumni revolt.

That may be, but in ideologically lopsided academia, there aren't enough voices to stand up for educating students about, say, the U.S. Constitution. Besides — this is me, not the report — in pushing protests, faculty members essentially have assured students that they already know enough to occupy Sacramento. Only a third of them can read and explain complex material, but students already know better than lawmakers and voters how best to pay for education. Why study?

The proof is in academia's acceptance of this imbalance. The old, discredited excuse about why women didn't work in management that I heard when I was young — because they didn't want to — now somehow works for the left when it comes to conservatives and academia.

As for UC administrators, "A Crisis of Competence" concludes, "far from performing their role as the university's quality control mechanism, (they) now routinely function as the enablers, protectors, and even apologists for the politicized university and its degraded scholarly and educational standards."

Like those in so many other ailing institutions, they don't know how to change to save themselves.

Email Debra J. Saunders at To find out more about Debra J. Saunders and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
Like other areas of society that have been taken over by the left, today's university is nothing more than a self-parody.

I'll bet they go to great lengths to show how "diverse" they are, without even understanding the meaning of the word. True diversity has to do with points of view, not skin color or other demographics.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Jeff Gunn
Sun Apr 1, 2012 4:48 AM
What I take away from this column is that the writer has connected dots blaming poor study habits of students on liberal academia and blaming a preponderance of liberal academia on poor hiring patterns. The report says good grades are based on the student regurgitating what their activists professors believe.
Doesn't sound like much has changed since my sons college days or any of my days spent receiving public education from first grade to my degree. In order to pass a course, any course, whether taught by a liberal or conservative, you faithfully regurgitated back the answers they presented verbally or through assigned reading. The goal was to get your degree. Many independent study groups and critical thinking skills were developed just because we did doubt the veracity of what we were being taught by both conservative and liberal professors. It is impossible to deny that fingers can be pointed in all directions. Even so, educators are not the real problem.
Lack of motivation, lack of critical thinking skills, lack of independent thought, poor study habits falls squarely on the shoulders of the student. If they didn't get the message before college that they and only they were responsible for the quality of their education, they usually grasp it with hindsight. I and many of us are victims of unskilled, unmotivated, uneducated educators and disruptive students. Where and when does personal responsibility come in to play here? We headed for the library or the kitchen table after classes and education was treated as an unpaid job which would pay off in the future. In college and in High School, any professor or instructor worth his or her salt relished being challenged with a differing view but made very clear, in order to pass this course, you must base your answers on the materials presented but... we were more than encouraged to pursue independent reading.
If hiring practices are the problem, you expect me to believe that the only people that HR could hire or applied for a position were liberals? I don't believe it. I don't buy there is a Crisis of Competence, more a Crisis of Coddled, Immature, Unmotivated Youth and too many politics and politicians in academia vying for the allmighty dollar.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Steve
Sun Apr 1, 2012 9:37 AM
At the risk of offending a great deal of the population, let me also add, if "soccer mom's" spent more time transporting children to study groups and less to sport meets, they may find themselves a little more satisfied with their child's educational progress. I don't know many teachers today, but I don't know of any teacher who didn't get excited when students actually applied themselves and showed an interest in learning and knowledge. Yes, even the bad ones.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Steve
Sun Apr 1, 2012 10:13 AM
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