Sunday, February 06, 2005

What the Larry Summers flap says about academe

We've covered the controversy surrounding Lawrence Summers' off-the-cuff comments on why fewer women have reached the upper echelons in hard-science academic positions than men, and the reaction of the thought police in Harvard here, here, and here. Today eminent jurist Richard Posner (United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit) notes the extent of Summers' appeasement (click title) and adds this remark:
. . . no one who has spent much time around universities thinks they've ever "encourage[d] uncircumscribed intellectual explorations." The degree of self-censorship in universities, as in all institutions, is considerable. Today in the United States, most of the leading research universities are dominated by persons well to the left of Larry Summers, and they don't take kindly to having their ideology challenged, as Summers has now learned to his grief. There is nothing to be done about this, and thoughtful conservatives should actually be pleased. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, when one's ideas are not challenged, one's ability to defend them weakens. Not being pressed to come up with arguments or evidence to support them, one forgets the arguments and fails to obtain the evidence. One's position becomes increasingly flaccid, producing the paradox of thought that is at once rigid and flabby. And thus the academic left today.

His honor is correct that the academic (and political) Left is intellectually flaccid. But that matters surprisingly little, unfortunately. Because the academics reside in their own echo-chamber ivory-towers and control access to the professoriat for the next generation of academic hopefuls, it is a sad likelihood that the morally depraved and mentally imprecise Left will continue to exert undue influence throughout society both through the respect accorded to the post of "professor" and through the next generation of college graduates who unquestioningly soak up the mental spilled-milk that passes for wisdom in the universities.

No comments: