Middle East studies in the News
The Princeton Way
If Steven Roy Goodman is right, the implications for the academy are immense. According to Goodman, who makes his living advising students who are applying to college, many families are now so fed up with campus p.c. that they've started to avoid the most egregiously left-wing schools. That means students are beginning to shun big-name colleges — where politicization is at its worst — in favor of less prestigious, but also less prejudiced, schools. For example, Columbia University seems to be losing applicants in the wake of student charges of political intimidation by Middle East-studies faculty.
Stories of campus political correctness first flared in the mid-1980s. Then, sometime in the ‘90s, people stopped paying attention. Everyone knew that campuses were bastions of political correctness, but the public wrote off the leftist professorate as a bunch of hopeless, irrelevant cranks. Lately, though, things have changed. As the Left's monopoly on campus has become nearly total, the abuses have grown (think Lawrence Summers and Ward Churchill). At the same time, 9/11, generational change, and the rise of alternative media have produced a more conservative cohort of students. And now a series of empirical studies have provided evidence to back up the widely shared sense that the professorate — particularly at the elite schools — has been monopolized by the Left. (See here and here.) The rebellion against campus p.c. may finally be nearing critical mass. Once prestigious schools actually stand to lose applicants, administrators may finally wake up and do something to balance their one-sided faculties.
Let's take Columbia as an example. The problem with Columbia's Middle East-studies program is less the behavior of any given professor than the absence of alternative points of view. If Columbia had a place for professors who supported American and Israeli policies, and not merely for faculty who bitterly opposed them, not only would we have real debate, but students would feel less intimidated.
The faculty holds the power of grades and recommendations. One's ability to go on to post-graduate work depends on not offending one's professors. Once moderate and conservative students know they can get recommendations from professors who are broadly sympathetic to their views, students will have less to fear from leftists. And having lost their monopoly, politically correct professors may even begin to compete for students. That would make fairness to students of all views more likely.
So if Columbia wants to solve its problem, it needs to create a program on foreign policy and matters Middle Eastern outside the control of the tainted and completely one-sided MEALAC department. (Hiring a single professor of Jewish studies — which is what Columbia is proposing — is not nearly enough.) Establishing an alternative program is what Princeton did when it faced alumni anger for hiring euthanasia-advocate Peter Singer. In response to the Singer hiring, Princeton created the Madison Program, headed by the brilliant natural-law theorist, social conservative, and frequent NR/NRO contributor Robert George. Now social conservatives at Princeton have a place to go. They don't feel intimidated, and it's actually easier for students to take courses with liberal profs — because they know their careers don't depend on it. Columbia needs to adopt the same solution for its troubled Middle East studies program: Set up an alternative program in foreign affairs and matters Middle Eastern under the control of professors with a different point of view.
In fact, Princeton's Madison Program is a model for solving the political-correctness problem in the academy as a whole. We may not be able to do much about tenured humanities and social-science faculties at elite colleges that are liberal by margins of more than 90 percent. But setting up small enclaves of professors with more conservative views is a real possibility. It's amazing how much the presence of even a relatively small alternative program can do to generate debate — and diffuse intimidation.
At minimum, conservatives need to do everything they can to preserve and support Princeton's Madison Program. As social conservatives are losing even the University of Chicago as a base, Princeton is rapidly becoming the key quality alternative for producing a new generation of conservative intellectuals. But it would be a tragedy if we stopped there. As Steven Roy Goodman's piece suggests, with applicant unrest over campus p.c. at a high point, it's now in the interest of the academy as a whole to adopt the Princeton model.
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