Formerly Ad Orientem

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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Tuesday, February 15, 2005  

Hold that tiger

The Australian Museum has abandoned an ambitious attempt to clone an extinct marsupial known as the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, the AFP wire service reports.

The project to clone the animal using DNA recovered from a pickled thylacine pup (!– Ed.) was started in 1999, but the Sydney museum has admitted the quality of the DNA was too poor to work with.

* * *

Interlude: Teddy Wilson

* * *

An earlier post on the thylacine proposed the creature as the Tasmanian equivalent of the conservative in academia. That's not a totally apt comparison, as one or two academic conservatives remain in captivity. But cloning more would be a capital idea.

The indispensable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, has launched a new blog, The Torch, which had this to say on the Ward Churchill matter:

The obvious (and easily discovered) problems with Churchill’s identity and scholarship raise a disturbing possibility (some would say a probability): Churchill’s scholarship was far less important to the University of Colorado than his ideology. A quick look at the ideological “balance” of Colorado’s faculty shows that the university essentially defines the word “biased.” Democrats outnumber Republicans in the social science and humanities departments by a ratio of greater than 32 to 1.

This imbalance brings to mind George Will’s recent application of Cass Sunstein’s “law of group polarization” to the ideological diversity debate. According to this principle (as explained in the article by Mark Bauerlein), “[w]hen like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs.” As a practical matter, when opinions become increasingly extreme, scholarship, competence, and truth become less important than advancing the dominant ideology.

At FIRE, we have long argued that viewpoint discrimination has negative real-world consequences (and make no mistake, you do not achieve 32-to-1 ideological imbalances without years of viewpoint discrimination in hiring, promotion, and retention). For those of you who continue to doubt this truth—for those who believe that such viewpoint discrimination is an essentially harmless application of departmental academic freedom—I present to you Mr. Ward Churchill, Exhibit A for the consequences of substituting ideology for competence.

* * *

Bringing the Ward Churchill business to light were Armavirumque and Roger Kimball, who writes:

[T]he whole issue of free speech and its smaller cousin, academic freedom, is of secondary importance in the controversy sparked by Hamilton College's invitation to Ward Churchill. The central issue, from which Hamilton administrators have managed to deflect attention, is the politicization of higher education. Which is to say that, as regards Hamilton College, the issue is less Ward Churchill than the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture, the left-wing, activist organization that for more than a decade has been a force for transforming a liberal education (I use "liberal" in the old sense) into a form of political indoctrination.

The Kirkland Project is one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of institutions on college campuses bent on radicalizing American society by betraying the intellectual and moral standards whose general observance they depend upon for their very existence. The silver lining in the sordid affair of Ward Churchill will be fully revealed when attention shifts from Churchill to the Kirkland Project, and from the Kirkland Project to the repudiation of liberal learning, academic standards, and moral probity that informs so much of what infects cultural life, especially academic cultural life, today.

* * *

See also Diane Ravitch's recent piece in the New York Sun on Academe Gone Mad:

When I went to college in the late 1950s, the professors in every department strived to expose students to debates and issues. We students seldom knew our professors' own opinions, because they didn't express them. We never knew whom they intended to vote for or even what party they belonged to. They insisted that we think but they never told us what to think. Today, however, many academics believe that they have a right and even a duty to proselytize for their political opinions. Since the Vietnam War, academics have become accustomed to signing political petitions, endorsing candidates, and advocating their views forcefully in class.

Rather than operating in accord with the principle of academic freedom, the university today excludes right-wing extremists, while left-wing extremists are likely to be hired, promoted, and eventually tenured. Both ends of the ideological spectrum should be judged by the same standards of scholarship.


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