Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Mark Hyman, Ph.D. (Pathetically Hypocritical Dullard)

Apparently, conservatives can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

At least, that seems to be
Mark Hyman’s position when it comes to conservatives in academia.

Quoting a study done by researchers funded largely through conservative groups, Hyman claims that liberal ideology is running amok on our college campuses. Not only are the overwhelming number of faculty in the humanities and social sciences liberal, he charges, but conservatives, Christians, and (get this) women are actively discriminated against by colleges and universities when it comes to hiring faculty.

The study on which these accusations are based is bad enough. As Media
Matters for America has documented, even a cursory glance at the study reveals its methodology is deeply flawed. Moreover, the study itself says that it doesn’t prove anything about the reasons for the disparities that Hyman claims it does. The authors only state that the results are “consistent with the thesis” that conservatives are being discriminated against because of their beliefs. Of course, the results are also consistent with the thesis that the Earth is flat. (After all, they don’t contradict that thesis, do they?) That doesn’t make it true.

It’s fascinating that Hyman and others of his ilk are so preoccupied with the notion that A) there’s a liberal conspiracy afoot to keep conservatives out of the academy, and B) action should be taken to correct this injustice. These are the same people who scoff at affirmative action and mock groups like the NAACP. Apparently, 450 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism is spilt milk, but the fact that few people teaching Jane Austen to undergrads voted for Bush is a threat to the republic.

Conveniently, Hyman sidesteps the fact that the liberal hegemony over academia only goes so far as the humanities and social sciences. One rarely hears any wailing about the political bias in the hard sciences, let alone the business schools of the nation (who, by the way, almost always have greater clout on university campuses than do the English, history, anthropology, etc. departments). When taken as a whole, the world of academia is not as heavily slanted as Hyman makes it out to be.

Hyman ignores the more obvious explanation for the political imbalance in certain specific sectors of the academy: self selection. As someone who got out of graduate school not that long ago, I can tell you with a great deal of authority that the ranks of grad students in the humanities are not filled (even halfway) with die-hard Republicans who then get rebuffed when hitting the job market. Studies of the humanities and social sciences have tended to be leftward leaning areas of endeavor for a long, long time.

Should we act to change that? Perhaps. But only if we apply this same logic to other areas as well. The Pentagon is presumably filled with a disproportionate number of conservative males. Shouldn’t the military be hiring more pacifist and Quaker women to fill its ranks? Shouldn’t we push business schools to hire more socialist and communist faculty, in the interest of presenting a balanced picture?

In short, if the problem with the supposed dominance of liberals in some areas of the academy is that it presents a less-than-ideal cross section of ideology, then this is a problem far more acute in other areas of society, and with much more far-reaching consequences. The relatively narrow political/social/economic orthodoxy that dominates the corporate world (and the media in particular) has a far more powerful reach when it comes to creating an enforced conformity on American culture than does the allegedly rabidly liberal academy.

Assuming we don’t want to have some sort of ideological affirmative action put in place for all aspects of society, why do conservatives cry conspiracy only in relation to their supposed under-representation in certain departments on college campuses? While far-right voices decry the idea of taking steps to diversify college campuses (and anywhere else) when it comes to issues of race, they apparently think we collectively have a social obligation to artificially insert conservatives into the academy, despite the fact that very few right-wingers seem terribly interested in getting into the field.

If the free marketplace is the best distributor of talent (regardless of how the scales may be stacked against certain groups), why are we suddenly supposed to make an exception when it comes to English professors? Ironically, it’s Hyman and his fellows in the conservative cohort that have become the very thing they accuse liberals of being: crybaby whiners.

I’d love it if the humanities and social sciences as practiced on today’s campuses were so powerful and influential that worries like Hyman’s were valid. There are plenty of good reasons to criticize current practices in academics, and the tendency of those in the humanities and the social sciences to marginalize themselves from the pubic forum is only one of them. Would that we had even a fraction of the power Hyman claims we do.

But the fact is that even Hyman doesn’t really believe his own hype. The systematic attack on academics is simply the latest attempt of conservatives to take over an area of society that they feel doesn’t properly pay them obeisance. Understandably, the offensive against academia comes long after the more relevant one that targeted the media. Having succeeded in cowing an already corporate and timorous media, the mopping up can commence. Hence, the attention of the radical right turns to the college campus.

As unfathomably dopey and self-contradictory as Hyman’s blathering on the subject is, it does suggest that perhaps those of us in the academy should perhaps aim to have the sort of influential voice in the national dialog that those on the radical right attribute to us. The problem with academia isn’t that our voice is too powerful; it’s that, regardless of the political makeup of those who make education their profession, it’s not powerful enough.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks again for your thoughtful comment on the thoughtless, yet dangerous views of Professor Hyman and his Propaganda Central. And you didn't even get to the superficial silliness of Dr. Hyman's latest: That undergraduate students throwing pies (gasp! the violence! the blueberry stains!) at university settings is somehow proof positive of a dangerous run-amok liberal agenda. Geesh, Mark, get a grip, if not a pie in the face (oops, there I go again with my liberal agenda).

At 12:03 AM, Anonymous TonyB said...

I am no longer at risk of seeing Mark Hyman's The Point on any local television station. Viacom has purchased the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, which was Sinclair Broadcasting's only outpost in California. I suppose if I miss it too much, I can always log on to the website where Hyman's wisdom is preserved for our edification.

I recall that when I protested to the local station over the unethical dedication of a chunk of each newscast to an unpaid political ad, my protest was simply ignored. Not even the courtesy of a form letter. I hope the station will be better under Viacom's management. Is worse even possible?


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