Forum: January-February 2007

January 31, 2007
Illustration: Steve Brodner

Ideological Concerns

Robert Bliwise ends his excellent article on "leftward leanings" in academe [September-October 2006] with a comforting quote from an engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts, a school that is to "left" as chili is to pepper. The professor "observed that conservative critics don't question the standing of America's universities as the best in the world—the same 'outstanding schools' that are 'so often dominated by political liberals.' He added, 'The liberal minds are there, but the result—the great American university system—should give these critics pause.' "

The professor should perhaps ask himself whether the undeniably great reputation of America's best universities rests on their often-politicized and uniformly left-wing humanities and social-science faculties, or on their much more diverse and generally un-political faculties of natural science. The answer may make him slightly less complacent.

John Staddon, Durham, North Carolina

The writer is James B. Duke Professor of psychology and professor of biology and neurobiology.


"Leftward Leanings" describes how David Horowitz visited Duke last spring to complain about liberal bias on college campuses. In fact, Horowitz is being disingenuous in two important areas. First, he is not a conservative, but rather a neoconservative. While conservatives promote limited government, secure borders, and free-market principles, neoconservatives are primarily concerned with using American military power in the Middle East to foster regime change and to make Israel more secure.

Second, Horowitz and fellow neocon Daniel Pipes of Campus Watch attempt to silence and blacklist professors who are either critical of Israel or favorable to the Palestinians. As a fervent pro-Israel activist, working in tandem with the powerful Israel lobby, Horowitz is trying to get Congress to pass a bill that would establish a federal tribunal to investigate criticism of Israel on American college campuses. In addition, he rails against the "radicalization of Mideast studies by liberal-dominated faculties at the nation's universities."

Hopefully, Duke University will not buy into the false and misleading agenda of David Horowitz and the neocons.

Ray Gordon, Baltimore, Maryland


Thank you for a reasonably balanced article tackling the subject of "leftward"-leaning faculty bias. Most schools shy away from the subject primarily because they are extremely imbalanced, and fear scrutiny with honest debate.

I do take issue with your lead line: "Do liberals outnumber conservatives in the academy?" Where you answered "Probably," the answer is a resounding "Yes"—this by your own quoted statistics. And, "Does it make a difference in how students are educated?" You answered, "That's debatable," whereas I would argue there is obvious detrimental outcome—unchecked liberal bias is harmful to both the individual student's learning process and to the student-teacher interaction within the educational environment.

Incorrectly attributed to Churchill, but sanguine [sic] nonetheless: "If you're not Liberal when you're twenty-five, you have no heart. If you're not Conservative when you're thirty-five, you have no brain."

In my opinion, liberal and secular-progressive beliefs have led the faculty to teach absent of right and wrong. Faith-based standards and ethical discussions have deteriorated from the earlier days of Duke, which started as a Methodist school and was still influenced during my time in the late 1950s.

I trust you will follow up this "leaning" article with report of vigorous debate within the community. This for the purpose of making Duke an even better leader and example of the "great American university system."

David Allen Lower '59, Baldwinsville, New York


It is amusing to watch David Horowitz and others suddenly discover the virtues of affirmative action when it comes to redressing the under-representation of conservatives among the professoriate. But at least as amusing, and not noted by Robert Bliwise, is the hypocrisy of those who claim that the overwhelming predominance of the left in the academy does not affect the education of students.

The campus left has for years dismissed the notion that neutrality in the classroom is possible. A professor always teaches from a particular perspective that derives from his race, class, and gender. If he pretends to transcend those categories and to treat ideas objectively, it is probably a sign that the professor is part of a conspiracy to eliminate difference and maintain the status quo. This "perspectival" claim has become so commonplace among university boards and administrators that it is now the chief justification for affirmative action in the admission of students and the hiring of faculty.

The difficulty for colleges is clear: If neutrality is impossible, then how can it not matter that so few conservatives—who certainly bring a distinctive perspective to the classroom—teach? If affirmative action is justified by the impossibility of neutrality, then why not give an advantage to right-wingers? If claims to neutrality mask a hegemonic project, then whose project is being threatened by David Horowitz?

John M. Owen IV '85, Charlottesville, Virginia


American research universities may have the reputation for being "the best in the world," but this is certainly NOT a result of the extreme left-of-center bias in most social-science and humanities departments or among college administrators, as the final quotation in your article on "leftward leanings" seems to imply. American universities are held in such high esteem worldwide despite, rather than because of, the extreme left-liberal bias in the liberal-arts sector of most American research universities.

If you don't believe this, just ask yourself this: Do you really think that it is because of people like Fredric Jameson, Stanley Fish, and Cornel West that institutions like Harvard, Duke, and Princeton attract so many talented students and researchers from abroad? Are the Asian, African, South American, and European students who so eagerly seek to enroll and study in the better American universities attracted to those institutions primarily because of their departments of comparative literature, of women's studies, of Afro-American studies, of cultural anthropology, of English literature, or of multicultural studies, where left-of-center professors and their viewpoints completely dominate the scene?

Come on! The high reputation the American universities enjoy abroad is due almost entirely to their hard sciences, economics, engineering, and professional-school sectors where the political orientation of professors and researchers is less likely to spill over into their academic work. Defending the left-leaning status quo in the social science and humanities sectors of American universities by touting claims that "we're the best in the world" obscures the very real need for greater viewpoint diversity in these sectors. Why is it that people on the left who can see the logic of enhancing viewpoint diversity on college campuses in their call to hire more people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds suddenly become defensive and try to change the subject when the issue of ideological diversity is brought up?

Russell Nieli '70, Princeton, New Jersey
The writer is a lecturer in politics at Princeton University.


Do college professors teach, or do they preach? There is more than a little evidence that some engage in the latter to a considerable extent. Students often complain that their professors go off on political tangents, and some leftist professors proudly trumpet their commitment to using the classroom as a soapbox for their desires to change the world.

Lots of parents who are on the rightward side of the political divide think that's a problem, evidently fearing that leftist professors, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, will lead their children off into Noam Chomsky-land. That might happen occasionally, but it's not the main reason why I think there is reason to be unhappy over the politicization of classrooms.

That reason is based on the economic concept of opportunity cost. Time spent on irrelevant political commentary is time that can't be devoted to the intended subject matter of the course. Undergraduates need to learn the fundamentals of the various academic disciplines they study. Taking time away from teaching English composition, for instance, in order to harangue students about the evils of American society may do little to convert them to the professor's point of view, but it does contribute to the poor writing ability that is common among recent college graduates.

Former Duke English professor Stanley Fish was absolutely correct when he wrote [in The Chronicle of Higher Education] that "teachers should teach their subjects. They should not teach peace or war or freedom or obedience or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or antinationalism or any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk-show host."

There's the problem. Too many professors want to be talk-show hosts. That's not what they are paid to do.

George C. Leef J.D. '77, Raleigh, North Carolina
The writer is vice president for research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.


Education and Religion

I commend my classmate Mr. Clutts for his letter in the September-October issue in which he articulates his Duke concerns.

The motto displayed on the seal of the university is Eruditio et Religio. During my student days, the seal was commonly placed on stationery, mugs, pens, and artifacts of all types, whereas its use is now limited apparently to official documents such as diplomas and contracts. Perhaps it would have been helpful to continue its common use to remind us of the motto and goals of the university—education and religion.

That this purpose has been lost becomes more apparent to me after reviewing the article regarding the campus visit of David Horowitz. Horowitz refers to the list of professors contributing to "the intellectual corruption of the American university." Ivy League-ism began at Duke in the late '60s with the appointment of a president [who graduated from Yale] and continues today, except for the period during which the university was somewhat saved or settled by the appointment of Terry Sanford.

I agree with Professor Harvey Mansfield in criticizing"political correctness, affirmative action, feminism, and grade inflation." Euphemisms abound in today's political and academic circles. One shining example may be "cultural sensitivity" classes, which seems a term born during the lacrosse discussions. And, after all, the term "affirmative action" is less shocking than "affirmative bias" or "preference." Frankly, ethnic-, minority-, cultural-, racial-, color-, or gender-based quotas or percentage goals should be considered outdated. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, stated that the U.S. Constitution is color-blind. Yet all we have done since is make and maintain records based on color.

I hope we would all agree that bad taste, which is the principal concern of Mr. Clutts' letter, should be avoided. Upon graduation from Duke, my father received a Holy Bible and a copy of The Duke Endowment [indenture]. The Holy Bible was given to each graduate in 1961. James B. Duke was a man of great foresight and purpose, and I recommend a re-reading of The Duke Endowment [indenture]. After all, his vision makes this discussion possible.

Gene Price '61, Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Phil Clutts '61 wrote: "I was required to take religion courses at Duke, presumably to make me a better person." These required courses gave me an intellectual understanding of religions. While I am a physical scientist who was, and still is, involved in research, that one year of religion at Duke held me in good stead for all time—allowing me to understand the origins of events even to the present day. The professor explained that "the Bible was history rewritten for a purpose."

Weston Haskell '54, Fulshear, Texas


Full-Service Issue

September-October was an outstanding issue. I usually thumb through the magazine, read one or two articles, and check my class notes. This month I found several articles that I read in their entirety ("J-Pop Goes the Market," "The Governor's Axe," "Leftward Leanings," etc.). I even found an idea for my son's seventh-grade science project in the Gazette section.

I'm looking forward to next month's issue.

David Reasner '82, Marlborough, Massachusetts


On Arduin

As an Independent who feels that neither party represents the entirety of my views, I'd have more respect for Donna Arduin ["The Governor's Axe," September-October 2006] if she stayed in one place for a while. If she truly "joined government to shrink it," would it not make sense to remain with one state through a couple of economic cycles to prove that her approach brings results for the long term? Instead, after marching through the state budgets for several different states, like Sherman marching to the sea, it seems she has left government to form a private firm. From a brief look at the website of Arduin, Laffer & Moore, it looks like her firm intends to profit quite handsomely from a government that governs a lot more than less.

While I have no problem with her doing well for herself, I do have a problem with people cloaking themselves in virtuous cloth of their own making. If she were to continue in government, would she discontinue the kinds of summer internships in which she participated? If private-sector spending is better than public sector, why is she now presenting a study on the benefits of the state of Florida's funding a new medical school? If the market determines more doctors are needed, will the market not make training available? Would it not be better to keep that tax money in the hands of citizens?

I agree in principle with such fiscal conservative standards as "welfare to work." Yet Ms. Arduin's response when coming face to face with a homeless person was a dismissive "get a job." It sounds to me like someone who is more comfortable with easy bromides than messy details. Like I said, I'd have more admiration if she stayed around long enough to triage the axe jobs she initiated.

Matthew J. Schott '76, Needham, Massachusetts


Lacrosse Redux

Yes, Sally Johnson Fogerty's letter [September-October 2006] corrects many misconceptions re the Duke lacrosse incident.

Her son's Duke lacrosse team represented Duke well. How unfortunate that they "briefly let two strangers into their lives," although I thought they intentionally hired these two women strippers. And of course, such hiring is not an act of "lack of respect" (per Fogerty), but rather almost a statement of how highly these lacrosse males thought of these two women and the services they performed.

Maybe Ms. Johnson would have liked her Duke daughter to have been offered such a show of respect during her time at Duke as well.

Barry Smith, Duke parent '04, Los Altos Hills, California


I was both amazed and dismayed at the cowardly editing of George Jennison's wonderful lacrosse parent letter. When I read the long version you called our attention to on the Web, I discovered a totally made-up concluding sentence had been published in place of Jennison's concluding three sentences that was a far cry from a paraphrase. It totally changed the meaning of his critical concluding point. You as editors should be ashamed of engaging in the same "politically correct expediency" that the letter following Jennison's so accurately paints as the administration response. Please print Jennison's concluding paragraph in your next issue, in full, along with your editorializing PC homily, for all to see. And let's begin the debate in your pages that Jennison suggests is the next step—why the university has been so silent and abandoned these students.

Steve Hoffman '77, Stamford, Connecticut

Editor's note: Because of space constraints, Mr. Jennison was asked to shorten his original letter. He approved the version that appeared in the magazine and added the concluding sentence himself. The original, longer letter remains posted on the Web.


The treatment of the Duke lacrosse coach and players by President Richard Brodhead et alia deserves the scorn of all men interested in justice. For me, it was no surprise. I've watched Duke administrators for three generations condemn Duke students first and avoid facts thereafter. Have they disavowed "innocent until proven guilty"? Are they simply the dregs of carpetbaggers? I have yet to hear of them upholding any students until the facts are in.

Other schools and their presidents have shown far greater sense in refusing to throw their students to the wolves. Recently, the president of a university embarrassed by a fraternity party acting out a blackface theme refused to appease the mob. He said that it was an off-campus affair and left it up to the frat's national office to take care of the matter—as they did promptly.

The Duke lacrosse party was likewise off-campus, but President Brodhead was eager to show how non-racist and politically correct he is. The only error the lacrosse team made, and it is a serious one, was in having a stripper at their party. Surely not a "hanging offense."

The Forum discussion in the September-October issue of Duke Magazine was excellent. Brodhead is exposed by these parents as even more gutless than I knew, because they complain that he did not let the lacrosse parents know that he was hanging their sons out to dry.

Hereafter, the entrance to Duke University should bear a sign warning "All who enter here...."

Florence Mitchell Rand '40, Silver Spring, Maryland


Art Controversy

Laura Pomerantz, please let me answer your questions ["Paradoxical Art," September-October 2006].

(1) Americans should demand that our government put those terrorists who tried to kill us (and did kill 3,000 of us) and are still trying to do so in prison and keep them there.

(2) Our democracy stands for your right to say any ridiculous thing you wish about it (as you did in your "art") without being put in prison, which, of course, you would be if you were to say such things about Castro in Cuba!

Pamela Gill '67, Charlotte, North Carolina


Health Courts' Appeal

I hope that Professor Neil Vidmar's quote regarding special health courts [Quad Quotes, September-October 2006] was taken out of context. While a health court could be constructed to disallow appeal, the idea itself deserves much more than perfunctory dismissal. Further, special health courts have a precedent in the federal tax courts, where cases are heard by experts in tax law and do in fact allow appeal. People do have a right to careful and competent medical care, as well as longer-than-sound-bite information about how to achieve that. For an in-depth and careful analysis, see cgood.org/society-reading-cgpubsbinders-2.html.

Douwe Rienstra '65, M.D. '69, Port Townsend, Washington