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Why It’s Delusional To Think Higher Education Is Free From Indoctrination

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Consider a thought experiment. Imagine we live in a reverse universe in which the population is overwhelmingly center-left on the major cultural and socioeconomic issues, and the institutional power in media and higher education is in the hands of the right wing.

In that universe, university applications are overwhelmingly meritocratic, admissions metrics include only academic qualification and aptitude and nothing else, the flow of knowledge is outright cut-throat, and if you fail, you perish. The system is Vulcan and absolutely hierarchic, and only the best of the best excel.

There’s no campus bureaucracy, no university “mental health counselors” for any fragile flower whose cat died, no campus sexual assault “courts” where the accused is already guilty, no university student unions led by outsider thugs, no federal loans for anyone willing to spend a few hundred thousand on a master’s degree about the connection between Maori tribal weaving patterns and post-colonial feminist movements. Most importantly, in this alternate reality, there is no forced push for the sameness known as equality.

Albeit this is an extreme scenario, it is not difficult to imagine what the left’s reaction would be. This system would not be allowed to continue.

Of course, it’s the exact reverse of our current reality. In two broadly center-right countries, the United Kingdom and the United States, cultural institutions are not just dominated by the left, they are increasingly becoming off-limits to conservatives. Consider the news from just last week: The Western Art History course at Yale was canceled, the 1619 Project was incorporated into public school curricula at Buffalo, military presence was banned at the Cambridge University freshers’ fair because it could be “triggering” for students who are “mentally unwell,” and a centuries-old student club was banned at Oxford for failing an identity politics quota.

Further, a climate action group led by U.S. faculty and activists wants to force universities to divest from fossil-fuel funding and, according to reports, the University of California at “Berkeley rejected 76 percent of qualified applicants without even considering their teaching skills, their publication history, their potential for academic excellence,” because they failed to adhere to university rules about their sex, sexual behavior, and skin color. An Education Week op-ed promoted mandatory racial-attentiveness training for all teachers. To top it all off, there was actual physical violence against a conservative student at Durham University.

Indoctrination Exists Within Universities

Facing that overwhelming reality, it takes some superhuman confidence to claim there’s no indoctrination in higher education. The Economist made that spurious claim a while back. More recently, Jeffrey Sachs wrote in Arc Digital that professors are not brainwashing students.

The argument in both cases goes like this: Most students who attend universities are already middle-class liberals, and there’s no significant change in their political orientation throughout college. Therefore, one can firmly conclude there’s no liberal indoctrination in academia.

For example, Sachs argues, “[S]omeone who enters college a conservative will almost certainly leave as one. The same happens with liberals.” But surely they are trying and failing? To this, Sachs argues that yes, while it is possible, “there is little evidence that faculty are making use of their most powerful tool for enforcing political orthodoxy: grading. After taking account of non-political factors (e.g., course of study, family background, etc.), almost all the difference between liberal and conservative grades disappears.”

Is that so? The flawed arguments fail to take into account other factors of indoctrination. To claim there’s no political bias in academy clearly cannot be convincing, given the overwhelming evidence against it. Compare the number of liberal and socialist professors with conservatives. Compare funding and grants. Compare the sheer volumes of research output in humanities departments by their conclusions and policy recommendations. Compare the open-letter campaigns and activism and those who lead them.

The evidence is right there — as much as the scholarship. Just look at the ideological conformity in media and professional classes since the mid-’90s. It defies logic that anyone believes this nonsensical spin of “no indoctrination.” The claim must be that the trickle-down effect is everywhere except academia.

What it does not touch upon, however, is that there can be a thousand other ways to indoctrinate: explicitly selecting students who are predominantly liberal, excluding students despite their merit (ask the Asians at Harvard), using tests and other pre-college selection measures to advantage left-leaning students, implementing diversity quotas, funding liberal research, pushing programs with an overwhelming liberal bend and liberal outcome, and turning academic and scholarship committees predominantly liberal, which turns research subjects, funding, and grants into an ideological monoculture.

The Fallout of Progressive Higher Education

What is the product of that? Consider the changing culture and social mores among the youth and college-educated, from transgender rights to Trotskyism. Consider the ideological propaganda one can hear or read in the majority of the media, manned by the same people who are the products of the same higher education system. Consider the failure of that same media to predict anything about the greater country, from Brexit to Trump. It is always monodirectional toward the left.

To think that is not due to indoctrination is juvenile. Throughout history, wherever politics gets too ideological, the education system becomes the first casualty. On this count, there’s no difference between Joseph Goebbels and Trofim Lysenko. Unless you control the narrative, you cannot shape society. Freedom of thought is the biggest enemy of ideologues.

The lesson here is stark, and the tables are turning. If academia and media shape into the ideological opponents of half the country, if the neutral public square does not remain neutral under an overwhelmingly revolutionary edifice, there will be more push within conservatism to see them as enemies. And there are already signs of that.

Arthur Milikh recently wrote a phenomenal essay on how it is well past time for conservatives to get serious about policy reforms in the American academy if they want to save Western civilization, because higher education has turned into hubs of leftist propaganda at best and a metastasizing cancer determined to wreck society from within at worst. Likewise, in Britain, the Conservative government has given an ultimatum to universities to make sure freedom of speech is preserved on campuses.

The government is, of course, not there to dictate what is taught, but it is the government’s job to govern, to ensure the public square remains neutral, and to ensure tax funds are not used for funding propagandists against the state and society. You act as an enemy; you get treated as an enemy.

Liberals and Marxists believed they won the battle for ideas in academia and stopped teaching the Western canon, especially ancient Greek tragedies and classics. But if they did study the Greek tragedies, they’d know hubris is inevitably followed by nemesis.