An article I came across the other day is one related to a common trope out there about universities being bastions for liberal indoctrination of students because of how liberal all the professors are. In this article Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters (A contributor to the O’Reilly Factor) went to the campus of Cornell to try and talk to students about how much they were indoctrinated after they found out that 96% of the faculty at Cornell have donated to the Democratic Party for this upcoming election. Mr. Watters was then asked to leave campus by the public relations person on campus and of course this led to the obvious conclusion by Bill and Jesse that Cornell wants to hide their nefarious activities of brainwashing students into their liberal agenda.
One thing that has always bothered me is that by being educated about something this implies that I’m being indoctrinated or brainwashed into a certain set of beliefs, rather than using my own mind to reach conclusions based on those things that I’ve learned. While it is true that if I am only taught a certain set of facts or incorrect facts then I may reach the wrong conclusion, but what I want to focus on is the real reason why a well-educated person is likely to support liberal principles.
So there is much of this story that is ridiculous so we are going to have to ignore a few things to try and take it seriously:
- Ignore the fact that both Jesse Watters and Bill O’Reilly graduated from liberal arts colleges for their undergrad and that Bill O’Reilly graduated from Harvard. Places with a lot of liberal faculty. And I know in the past there were more Republican faculty, but in the past the Republicans are not quite like the ones we have today. But somehow Jesse and Bill escaped these liberal indoctrination factories themselves. Lord knows how.
- Ignore the fact that many of those Democratic supporters likely teach subjects like math or chemistry which can hardly be considered political subjects.
- Ignore the fact that most academic degrees really don’t have a political bend to them at all. If you are concerned about diversity of viewpoints then at best you want to have that in subjects like economics, or political science. And this could very well be the case at Cornell.
- Ignore the fact that most indoctrination is done when the child is young and is done by parents and four years of college is unlikely to change their mind if they have been indoctrinated well into a particular philosophy
- Let’s ignore the fact that FOX news has no problems indoctrinating their viewership with only one particular viewpoint and merely calls that viewpoint fair and balanced, when it is in fact not.
So let’s first try to understand what liberal means. The philosophy of liberalism as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:
A political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically : such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class)
With this philosophy, individual autonomy is valued and this is not unlike an important tenet that Republicans often talk about which is personal responsibility (which I recently wrote about). Liberalism also holds that government is a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequity. I would argue that many Republicans are not against equality, they simply believe that we already have it, and that the only reason certain minorities, classes, genders, etc, aren’t doing well is through their own lack of personal responsibility. And is equality counter to capitalistic principles? Not necessarily. Provided equality refers to equal opportunity, then everyone has an equal opportunity to compete in the market place. So we can perhaps argue about the specifics about where inequality lies or whether we have it or we don’t, but it would seem that equality its is a goal of most people regardless of party affiliation.
Although many evangelicals would disagree, believing in the essential goodness of the human race is something that at least many more moderate Republicans could get on board with. Believing in the goodness of the human race is a matter of expectations. I expect people to be generally good and by holding that expectation people generally are good, or at the very least my own well-being is enhanced by focusing on the good and life (and if more people had improved feelings of well-being it would certainly be a better place). Ask anybody who wants to give you advice on how to reach your goals and they will say things like “Believe in yourself, believe you can do it, aim high” etc. So we clearly agree that expectations make a big difference in our achievements. Thus we should both see no harm in believing in goodness if we want the world to be a better place. So with the exception of the government role in bringing about equality, what specifically about being liberal are Republicans actually objecting to? Are any of these qualities specifically bad principles to live by?
Now Bill O’Reilly got his Ph.D. so he must at least know that the professors, like him, had to do a dissertation; a dissertation in which they had to have some sort of hypothesis, and present evidence to support that hypothesis. But one also has to review prior research that does not support one’s assertion, present it, and critique why you feel such evidence might not be relevant to your specific study. So why is it bad for professors to hold a philosophy that stresses the importance of researching answers to the questions you have, thinking critically about evidence that is contrary to one’s own beliefs or assertions, and exposing one’s self to ideas that are different from your own?
So how could such people not support the Democratic Party when most of the Republican platform is simply counter to reality through a detailed analysis of evidence.
- Anthropogenic climate change is real
- Banning abortions doesn’t reduce abortions
- Tuitions costs are very high and many of our young people start out with massive debt
- Money is corrupting the political process
- There is racial and gender inequality still
- Less people die by terrorism than by guns yet people fear the former more than the latter
- The war on drugs is a failure
- We have a higher percentage of our people incarcerated than any other nation
- We have huge educational inequality
- We live in a pluralistic society and one religion cannot dominate, and the first amendment prohibits it from entering government
- We have growing income inequality and a shrinking middle class
- Revenue from big business represents a much smaller portion of the total federal revenue than it did during our most prosperous times as a nation
- We spend more on our military budget than the next 8 nations combined.
So I’m not sure what Jesse Watters and Bill O’Reilly expect out of highly educated people who are trained to do careful analysis of both sides of an issue. I am much more surprised when I meet a professor who isn’t a Democrat today. And if faculty used to be a much better mix of Republicans and Democrats in the past, then maybe it’s also worth asking the question, if the shift towards the democratic party by faculty isn’t the product of indoctrination, but rather a reaction to a party that has simply become grounded in beliefs and rhetoric over scientific and historical evidence. If a large portion of very educated people seem to think a different way than I do, then to deride and quickly dismiss such a group would only be to my folly. Maybe I should instead listen and at least carefully consider what they have to say and why they think as they do.