May 17, 2007

Being True to Your School—Whilst Saying Untruths

Regular readers of this humble “weblog” undoubtedly recognize that we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” moonlight as official Sunday essayists for the major league “weblog” Wizbang. In this capacity, last week we penned a “post” titled “Every College Kid Left Behind,” which mildly took issue with the sentiments of the president of Hillsdale College.

Toward the start of this piece, we mentioned that we did not fully understand the appeal of Hillsdale College, an unabashedly conservative liberal arts school. After all, we suggested, conservatives have justly prattled on about the lack of intellectual diversity at universities nationwide; why would they send their children to a school that well nigh trumpets its lack of liberals?

This offhand comment—though hardly crucial to our argument—received a spirited response from someone called Daniel Christianson, a sophomore at Hillsdale College (who also “posted” it on his “website”). Naturally, Mr. Christianson wanted to take issue with our view, since it reflected a mite poorly on his school.

Unfortunately for Mr. Christianson, his retort doesn’t gainsay our suspicions. Since his response is a tad longwinded, we have affixed some important bits below:

As a student at Hillsdale College, I would like to take a moment to address the "appeal" of Hillsdale that you find so difficult to understand.

First, the supposed lack of "intellectual diversity" on campus is a farce. While the campus is solidly conservative, there is a strong libertarian element, many anti-war Catholics (following the direction of the pope), and even a very active (though small) College Democrats Club.

Second, intellectual diversity means more than just democrat-republican or conservative-liberal. Those philosophies have more fundamental principles which we debate all the time. I can tell you that I personally have stayed up till three in the morning arguing whether absolute truth is ascertainable with several of my friends, not only because it's college and I'm a dork, but because we understood the implications involved. If someone is looking for intellectual, rigorous debate, there certainly is enough of that here at Hillsdale….

Fourth, every conservative living in the world today is so bombarded by the liberal establishment that there is virtually no risk that he will not be "exposed" to what pass for liberal "ideas." Nearly every TV show, every movie, every popular song blasted into our ears from every radio, expresses a message contrary to our values and to our beliefs. This is especially true for students at public schools. My high school violated my rights so flagrantly that law firms offered to represent me free of charge. It is nice to be at a school where I don't have to defend my principles every living moment of every day, where I don't have to wonder whether the "B" on my research paper was deserved or whether it was given because of my beliefs, where I don't have to numb my ears to a constant hum of profanities, and where my parents don't ask me to avoid the crowded hallways for fear that someone will stab me with an aids-infected needle as a form retribution.

Well, let’s drop the bizarre bit about “AIDS-infected needles” and get to the nitty-gritty, shall we? Poor Mr. Christianson doesn’t recognize that his retort offers the major arguments left-wingers could use to justify a lack of intellectual diversity at colleges throughout the country.

After all, just as intellectual diversity exists amongst conservatives of various stripes, so it does amongst left-wingers. A tenured radical, taking a page out of Mr. Christianson’s book, could very well assert that there is plenty of intellectual diversity at his monolithically left-wing school: Marxists and neo-Marxists; Trotskyists and Maoists; radical feminists and third-wave feminists; liberal internationalists and pacifists; &c.

But the existence of these various left-leaning groups doesn’t mean that a given school is a beacon of intellectual diversity, since major strands of thought are blithely left out. The same, we’d wager, is true of Hillsdale, no matter how many objectivists run around its hallways.

In fact, in his response, Mr. Christianson presents a view of the Left as a monolithic bloc. This is foolish—and demonstrates our point perfectly: As someone sheltered from leftist thought, Mr. Christianson does not understand the Left, he merely offers a caricature of it. That doesn’t speak too highly of his Hillsdale education.

We should not forget, moreover, his second major argument, that left-wing ideas dominate the culture, and thus it is fine to attend a college that won’t expose students to them. This too is nonsense—and, again, the very nonsense tenured radicals can spout to defend their schools’ lack of intellectual diversity.

After all, this is all a matter of perspective. To a neo-Marxist, American culture is so dominated by right-wing ideas and pro-capitalist ideology that it is fine and dandy to offer students four years of Marxoid indoctrination. As far as a dedicated Leftist is concerned, efforts at limiting the curriculum to left-wing pieties can be defended as merely attempts to expose students to different thinking.

This, naturally, is palaver—and so is Mr. Christianson’s argument.

Now, we aren’t anti-Hillsdale absolutists. We’re sure the school has its benefits. Just because a school is dominated by conservatives doesn’t mean that it doesn’t discuss other views fairly. Also, it’s important to know that you won’t receive a poor grade merely because you disagree with a professor. And we’d bet that most Hillsdale students take ideas seriously—a crucial prerequisite to obtaining a good liberal arts foundation.

But, despite Mr. Christianson’s efforts, our hesitations about Hillsdale still stand.

Posted at May 17, 2007 12:01 AM | TrackBack