Thursday, April 05, 2007

EclectEcon: on academic freedom

John Palmer at EclectEcon has linked to a terrific article by Michael Yudkin, explaining why this recent trend in academia to call for boycotting Israel is a demonstration of willful ignorance (a common problem, but not exactly something one wants to see in college professors).

Since my earliest days, I've been a part of the collegiate world (first, as a child of a student, and then as the professor's daughter -- a "faculty brat"). In the intervening years, I've seen professors go from isolated, ivory tower, "there is no room for politics in the classroom or on campus" conservatives to ideologues selling every leftist fantasy, even in hard-science lectures. Both sides, in my view, have incredibly destructive powers as it comes to their own credibility with students and in town-and-gown relations.

I do worry about the value of an advanced education, in this day and age. At least when the old geezers tried to stay out of politics, the effect on the outside world was that the students came out of the school having been left to think for themselves in order to come to any political decision. The modern trend seems to be more dangerous, for the fact that its leftist sanctimony is an activist position, and brooks no argument. Their aim seems to be simple political indoctrination, and that is no education.

Worse, the direction this indoctrination takes is problematic. It can affect the lives of people outside the narrow confines of the campus, and affect them in ugly ways -- as the Yudkin article demonstrates. But Yudkin's conclusion, I think, says it very nicely:
It is a good deal easier to make grand gestures than to engage with the complexities of so intractable a problem as the conflict between Israel and her neighbours.
The university experience is supposed to prepare one for eschewing grand gestures, for learning how to face intractable problems. Too many of today's students are being cheated. Therefore, tomorrow's society is, as well.

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