Eric Alterman in his cautionary tale about the academy's role in the collection and dissemination of news asserts that "university faculties do tend to be politically liberal." Full disclosure requires that I mention that in addition to being a law professor for more than thirty-five years, I am the immediate past president of the Illinois Council of the American Association of University Professors.
That said, I cannot help but wonder. Alterman's assertion is most often made about humanities and liberal arts professors. Is it possible that the liberality is less from the politics of the professors and more from the curriculuim itself? The Western canon is essentially liberal: e.g., Socrates, Dante, Locke and Joyce.It is both a record of the challenges to the then-prevailing consensus, and of the debates continuing over time. History is now understood to include the actions and ambitions of "every person," as best as such things can be discerned. It now foregrounds examples of goodness to challenge our complacencies, and of barbarisms to challenge our self-images.
It is the impact of these revelations that underlies the charge that professors are liberal, even radical. People do not want to be discombobulated by these realities. Recognizing the political liberalism of the profesoriate, even David Horowitz and Anne Coulter presumably would have students read--in addition to Burke, Hayek and Rand--Rousseau, Keynes and Cervantes. They might even agree that students need to know the work of Du Bois, Alinsky, Oppenheimer and Rawls, in addition to whatever else they need to understand the workings of contemporary America.
So despite Alterman's dismissive attitude, it may be that the academy is where our need for not just the truth but the whole truth is nurtured and preserved. No doubt, too often we get other than "nothing but the truth," but trial and error in the classroom, as in life, is the only way forward.
Grayslake , IL
Dec 21 2009 - 11:12am