If university education is skewed to the left, can the imbalance be
corrected simply by introducing more voices from the right? "The point isn't
to represent all ideas, and the point isn't to structure a seminar around
right-wing and left-wing views — that is not the way to transmit knowledge,"
says Andrew Aisenberg, chair of the Department of History and the Department
of Cultural Studies at Scripps College — a liberal sister institution to
conservative Claremont McKenna within the Claremont Colleges. "What
differentiates the university from other institutions where knowledge is
presented, such as the church, is that the university encourages thinking
about ideas instead of replacing thinking with preset ideas."
But that's precisely what gives the academy its image of the proverbial
ivory tower — a place too liberal compared to the rest of society. So the
question is, what separates the academy from the larger society? "It's not
liberalism, but the idea that identity politics is very strong in the
academy," says Getman. "There is a real commitment to black minority rights,
gay rights, women's rights, but there is little of the old New Deal
approach, which is to join everybody together. Working-class people, who
themselves have a lot of liberalism, feel left out."
In short, the disadvantaged who don't fit into one of the interest groups
have been excluded from liberal politics. "There is a tendency to lump all
white males together, says Getman, adding: "If liberals are for all sorts of
rights but leave out a group that has also been historically
underprivileged, that's liberal faddishness."
One conclusion that can be drawn from the failure of distributive justice in
the United States is that "deep down, this country is profoundly
conservative," says UCLA's Lal. "The possibility of dissent is so narrow
that the definition of liberalism itself has also become considerably more
narrow. There is, for example, no substantive difference between John Kerry
and George Bush, and it's illustrative of a strong anti-intellectual streak
in this country that one of the worst things that Bush could say about Kerry
is that he's a liberal senator."
The problem runs deeper. "Part of the anger toward academia is that
academics tend to be snobs who have never really had contact with
working-class people," says Getman, who deliberately stopped wearing suits
to class years ago so that he wouldn't come across as the Harvard-educated
elite that he is. As academics remain aloof from blue-collar workers, he
adds, identity politics exacerbates the problem.
Liberals must understand how they come across to the other side, says
Getman. "One hopes that one result of the presidential election would be a
serious effort by political liberals and academics, who tend to be part of
the same group, to make common cause with ordinary people without regard to
whether they are enlightened on all issues and whether they are minorities
Ajay Singh is a senior writer for UCLA Magazine.