This column originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 26, 2007.

 

Indoctrinate U. – The Ill Effects of an Illiberal Liberal Bias

by Craig Westover

Conservatives are going to love Evan Coyne Maloney’s documentary “Indoctrinate U.,” an insightful, often outrageously funny and sometimes downright frightening portrait of the liberal monopoly of thought on America’s college campuses.

However, “Indoctrinate U.” is more than a conservative propaganda piece. It’s a wake-up call for liberals: The ideological monopoly in American higher education just might be producing students poorly prepared to defend their liberalism in the real world.

“Indoctrinate U.,” which premiered to a packed house at the Kennedy Center in Washington earlier this month, will have a Twin Cities screening at the Oak Street Cinema from Friday through Nov. 1 (www.mnfilmarts.org/oakstreet/calendar.php). The showings are sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Scholars, the Tocqueville Center at the University of Minnesota and the Center for the American Experiment.

Maloney’s style follows the Michael Moore model: “Everyman” with a camera goes in search of the truth and discovers what lots of people already suspect – there is a liberal bias on American college campuses. Maloney, however, doesn’t limit himself to reinforcing a predetermined premise. Where Moore uses the documentary genre in service of ideology and politics, Maloney, a self-described libertarian, uses it in service of an idea.

“Indoctrinate U.” is not so much about “liberalism” vs. “conservatism,” whatever those terms might mean in the higher education context; it is more about the consequences of corrupting the ideal of American higher education as a marketplace of ideas into a single worldview monopoly.

“Going to a university today is like joining a church,” Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum tells Maloney. “You have to be a believer; you have to have the right set of views. If you don’t, you’re excluded.”

Notice the connection between the fundamentalist right and evangelical left that Pipes implies. As the left complains about the speck in the eye of fundamentalists who would replace intellectual questioning with unquestioning religious faith, it might well look to the unquestioning ideological beam in its own.

“Having a one-party state in the classroom leads to a certain kind of intellectual laziness,” says Penn State professor Michael Berube. “People can make (liberal) gestures, and everyone in the room knows you’re on the side of the angels, so the gestures don’t get criticized. But you step outside that room, and certain gestural liberalism will be criticized. You really need to know how to deal with it.”

That professors use their bully pulpits to sell their political opinions instead of exposing students to the full marketplace of ideas is disturbing, but Maloney also exposes a side of academia that is decidedly frightening – an environment “where speech codes can get you kicked out of school or fired from your job,” which sometimes makes the political leanings of the people who interpret those codes a matter of academic life and death.

Especially if one bucks the monopoly point of view.

Among the most powerful episodes Maloney relates is the plight of Steve Hinkle. A student at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), Hinkle committed the “crime” of posting a flyer in Cal Poly’s multicultural center promoting a speech by conservative author Mason Weaver, who is black (his book, “It’s OK to Leave the Plantation,” is about economic freedom and capitalism as the new Underground Railroad).

With no other provocation than putting up a flyer bearing the title of Weaver’s book, the police were called, Hinkle was subjected to a seven-hour disciplinary hearing and threatened with expulsion from the entire California state college system if he didn’t submit to a psychological evaluation and write letters of apology. He took his case to federal court, where some 18 months after his encounter in the multicultural center, Hinkle finally had his record expunged. The court ordered Cal Poly to reimburse his legal fees – $40,000 out of taxpayers’ pockets.

That Hinkle was vindicated is not the issue. The issue is institutionalized intimidation. What message is sent when placing a flyer announcing a speaker can be interpreted as distributing “literature of an offensive racial nature”? How likely is one to express a diverse opinion if the risk is 18 months of uncertainty, a sullied reputation and $40,000 in legal fees?

In the end, Maloney resists the temptation to devolve into a conservative Michael Moore. He doesn’t trot out the knee-jerk conservative responses to academic liberal bias. There’s no plug for a Student Bill of Rights or a cry to coerce “balance” in the classroom – actions as potentially damaging to a free exchange of ideas as the liberal academic monopoly. “Indoctrinate U.” ends on a positive, freedom-loving note:

“It’s time for a new movement on campus – a movement to support intellectual diversity and genuine tolerance.”

Amen.

Craig Westover is a contributing columnist to the Pioneer Press Opinion page and a senior policy fellow at the Minnesota Free Market Institute. His e-mail address is westover4@yahoo.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Links of Interest:

“Indoctrinate U.” homepage – view the trailer

On The Fence Films – “Indoctrinate U.” production company

Cato on Campus – a new online resource created for students by the Cato Institute

libertyguide.com – the ultimate e-source for the ideas of liberty

Intellectual Takeout – a project of the Center of the American Experiment