Opinion: Response: ‘Epidemic of uniform thought’

Posted on Feb 26 2018 - 7:55am by Jacqueline Knirnschild

Last Wednesday, DM columnist Will Hall claimed that our university is experiencing an “epidemic of uniform thought” and that our department walls “drip with liberal propaganda” but failed to cite any specific examples of “prejudiced academics.”

He wrote that he’s never come across an Ole Miss professor “who falls to the far right of the political spectrum” and that many liberal professors do not accommodate “diversity of thought.”

So, according to Hall, this complex notion of a “diversity of thought” boils down to the simplistic binary of whether one is a Republican or Democrat. Such an assertion devalues the myriad other factors – such as background, culture and research interests – that shape one’s thoughts and opinions.

Hall cited a quote questioning the presence of Republicans in the field of sociology, but I wonder if he has explored the variety of research interests in our own sociology department – to name a few: food production and consumption, Latin America, deviance and criminality, the rural U.S. South and the Holocaust.

And though he’s correct that academia attracts more liberal-leaning people, he did not take a moment to contemplate why this might be.

A university – like any other employer – does not require a person to identify his political party on his job application. Therefore, any ideological trends in certain fields are occurring naturally based on self-choice.

Everyone has different career aspirations – some aim to earn a lot of money, some seek personal fulfillment, some want power and prestige, some just want a stable income and some want to work in the comfort of their homes.

As Stanford political scientist Adam Bonica found in his 2008 research, certain occupations – such as film, academia, printing and publishing – draw in more liberals, while others – such as oil, gas and auto dealers – draw in more conservatives.

A 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center also found that 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independents think higher education has a negative effect on the nation, which is another reason not many aspire to become professors.

But just because there are more liberal-minded professors, this does not mean their political views bleed into the classroom: In 2008, political scientists Mack Mariani and Gordon Hewitt analyzed 6,807 student respondents at 38 colleges but found little evidence that faculty ideology is associated with changes in students’ ideological orientation.

When we discussed politics and religion in my Honors 101 and 102 classes at Ole Miss, both of my professors encouraged all students to express their opinions, and then – as an intellectual discussion should go – they challenged all of us (not just the conservatives) to defend our stances. In order to truly understand an issue, one needs to take a critical and multi-faceted approach that does not assume only one belief system is true.

Hall’s perspective resembles the rhetoric used in conservative organization Turning Point USA’s online “Professor Watchlist,” which allows students to submit reports of professors who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

These reports include a couple quotes from a professor without any argument against what he said and often cite right-wing websites such as Campus Reform and Turning Point News as evidence.

Rate My Professor is listed as the only source against mathematician Anatoli Kaploun, who is guilty of “abusing his academic freedom by making final exams worth 50% of the grade.”

And world-renowned anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes is listed for speaking out against the NRA in a blog post – which is her First Amendment right – but there is no mention of her immense contributions to investigating human organ-trafficking networks.

Students sending tips do not bother to engage with any of the professors’ actual books or research but instead vilify them for exercising their First Amendment rights, which hardly sounds like Hall’s dream of “a free market of ideas.”

Jacqueline Knirnschild is a sophomore anthropology and Chinese double major from Brunswick, Ohio.