Saturday, November 26, 2005

Article: Turning academia into a cafeteria

In the LA Times, Russell Jacoby writes that "offering students a buffet of bogus 'choices' only undermines intellectual integrity and corrodes academic freedom."

The following are some of the main points.

...We live in a choice-addled society. The jargon of choice, a second cousin of diversity and multiculturalism, undermines intellectual integrity and coherence. "Choice" and "diversity" are universal passwords that unlock all doors. Who can oppose them without appearing authoritarian?


The notion was seductive, but it opened the way to teach anything and everything in the name of airing a dispute. Were television situation comedies great literature? Teach the conflict.


But the jargon of choice and diversity actually corrodes academic freedom, which once referred to the freedom of college instructors to teach what they considered salient, subject to the review of their peers, not outside authorities. Today, it increasingly means the freedom of students to hear what they — or their parents — want.


As attractive as these principles seem to be — diversity, choice, alternatives — what do they actually mean in the classroom? Must an astronomer teach astrology? The course on early Christianity include militant atheists? A class on the Holocaust, the Holocaust deniers? A lecture on 9/11, the conspiracy theorists? These "other viewpoints" all have a bevy of experts behind them. The few qualifiers tossed into the proposed Academic Bill of Rights, which specify that diverse views be aired only "where appropriate," do not undo the damage.


Mesmerized by the jargon of choice, we forget a basic principle: Truth itself is partisan.

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