When assessing the state of higher education in America, such problems as the Harvard faculty's ouster of its president or the unhinged radicalism of Columbia's Middle East studies get the most attention. Lesser institutions tend to get ignored, leaving the possible impression that they do not suffer so much from domination by the far left.
Such an impression would be wrong indeed. For a report from the trenches, I suggest the calm, factual testimony of Alan Levy, author of eight well received books on American cultural and social issues, who has taught history for 21 years at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, a state-funded institution located north of Pittsburgh. Founded in 1889, with more than 7,500 students, it accepts four-fifths of its applicants and represents the middle to lower ranks of American higher education.
Mr. Levy, who enjoys tenure, informed the Select Committee on Academic Freedom of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives about the muck of political correctness, group-think, and dishonesty at Slippery Rock. His testimony warrants reading in full (at http://hnn.us/articles/23231.html), but here are some highlights:
- At least one full professor falsified her credentials, claiming to have published two books when she had none to her credit.
- Not classroom or scholarly excellence, but being active in the faculty union "can be a major factor in regard to tenure and promotions."
- Instructors are so politicized that "students gain the clear sense that the way to good grades is simply to parrot back to the professors what they want to hear in regard to political viewpoints."
- One feminist professor "openly commences her classes with the unashamed statement that she teaches from a feminist perspective and that no other outlooks are welcome before her."
- The committee that reviews curriculum changes has "a custom of looking at the bibliography and asking only one major question: Is there a 50% representation of women among the authors in the bibliography?"
- The night when The Vagina Monologues, a feminist play called "poisonously anti-male" by Christina Hoff Sommers, was staged on campus, a professor who had critiqued the play found a load of trash dumped on his lawn and a stone hurled through a window of his car.
Mr. Levy concludes that at Slippery Rock "we do not have an environment that is conducive to academic freedom." More generally, he said that the 14 campuses making up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education "have seen the steady erosion of academic quality and academic freedom." To me, he added "There is some excellent work done at Slippery Rock. However, it takes place not because of but in spite of an unhealthy corporate culture dominated by administrative and faculty-union bureaucrats."
Legislators responded to Mr. Levy's revelations with dismay. One Democrat expressed his concern about "the slipping of academic quality." Another said that if all Mr. Levy had documented is true "the place should be shut down."
The university's official Web site may proclaim that "Of all the accolades and special recognitions that the institution has received, it is most proud of its reputation as a caring and friendly university," but Mr. Levy hardly met a "caring and friendly" reception on his return from testifying. From the president down, he encountered icy glares and social exclusion. The student newspaper dismissed his statement as a "rant" and berated him for airing "the dirty laundry" of his employer.
Campus administrators then issued the predictable denials. Slippery Rock's president Robert Smith, responded, "We have not found a body of evidence to suggest any threat to academic freedom for students or faculty on this campus." The director of women's studies, Jace Condravy, dismissed Mr. Levy's evidence: "I like to see proof before I believe anybody's accusations or claims."
Presumably, nothing will change anytime soon at Slippery Rock for, as Stephen Balch of the National Association of Scholars has explained, "Our colleges have become less marketplaces of ideas than churches in which you have to be a true believer to get a seat in the pews." Woe to anyone who rejects the prevailing orthodoxy, whether at Slippery Rock or Harvard. If not excommunicated, dissidents get ostracized.
And despite their near-takeover by the illiberal left, American universities are more robust than those in other Western countries, further diminishing the incentive to make changes.