Friday, May 4, 2018

Separate Tables and Political Correctness

Last night my wife and I watched the 1958 classic --but scarcely remembered--film Separate Tables. The film won two Academy Awards: one for David Niven for best actor and one for Wendy Hiller for best actress in a supporting role. It was nominated for five additional Academy Awards in 1959, including best screenplay, best picture, and best actress in a leading role.

The story is about residents of the Beauregard, a seaside resort in England. The residents have dropped out of life for disparate reasons, which the film explores.  At the center of the film are two plots about the dynamics between writer John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster) and heiress Ann Shankland (Rita Hayworth) and between Major Pollock (David Niven) and Sibyl Railton-Bell (Deborah Kerr).

The complex relationships evolve in ways that suggest the frailty and uniqueness of individual human beings and the importance of tolerance and respect for human differences. Each character has found their way to life in a remote hotel, often to escape a troubled past, but each has an inner dignity that screenwriters Terence Rattigan and John Gay deftly examine.

The dynamic between Major Pollock and Sibyl--and Sibyl's mother, Mrs. Railton-Bell (Gladys Cooper)--reminded me of today's politically correct hypersensitivity, and it also reminded me that today's feminists, with the support of the state-protected media, have much in common with the Victorian prudes of three-quarters of a century ago. 

Major Pollock is discovered to be a mild sexual deviant when he is charged with the crime of successively sitting next to five different women in a movie theater.  His close friendship with Sibyl, who suffers from chronic anxiety disorder and is emotionally abused by her mother, is strained by the new story, which appears in a local newspaper.

Mrs. Railton-Bell is outraged at his sexual impropriety and mounts a campaign to oust Major Pollock from the hotel. Academics who have seen the witch hunts against male professors who tell dirty jokes or glance at the wrong woman will see the  parallel between the feminist prudes of the modern university and Victorian prudes like Mrs. Railton-Bell.

The acting in the film is brilliant, and some of the credit must go to director Delbert Mann.  Deborah Kerr is brilliant, and watching Lancaster and Hayworth together is thrilling.  The liberalism underlying the depiction of Mrs. Railton-Bell has increasingly been lost, as has the quality of talent.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Biases in Social Science

 Madeline Kearns of National Review has written an excellent interview with Musa al-Gharbi of Heterodox Academy. It is frustrating to read about the biases in fields like sociology and social psychology.   My take is that there are three fallacies in the broad conversation, which includes most of what the academic reform movement has  been conversing about for the past 30 years:

First, social science is not science, and there will never be a scientific approach to hypothesis testing in subjects like sociology.  Economics is value free on the microeconomic level, but it will never be on the macroeconomic level.

The early days of social science were focused on problem solving,  and amateurs played the chief role until the late nineteenth century.  The establishment of professional social science coincided with the first research universities at places like Johns Hopkins and the Wharton School.  Social science struggled to become value free in the early twentieth century, but it never succeeded. In the late nineteenth century the Wharton School was founded to advocate for tariffs.  In the early days of professional sociology there were struggles between the advocates of a moralizing social work approach and a value free approach. The value free approach won, but never completely.  The half victory was largely overturned after the 1960s.   

 In the early days of the Harvard Business School, Edwin F. Gay advocated a case study approach to studying business. Until the 1950s the business schools did not tend to emphasize scientism.  The scientistic approach resulted from a push in the form of two major books, one by Gordon and Howell and the other by Pierson, funded by the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation.

Second, the academy is not reformable.  Colleges were chiefly Christian, with some engineering and practical, land grant institutions (which were also Christian), until the late 19th century. The establishment of Johns Hopkins led to an interest in adoption of the research university model, and Harvard soon followed.  The Carnegie Foundation and the General Education Board provided significant funding for colleges to professionalize along the lines of the research university model. In doing so, Abraham Flexner and his colleages at the foundations advocated and provided financial incentives for adoption of a principle of hierarchical emulation.  A few high-quality institutions would dominate, and other institutions would imitate. The principle of peer review precludes deviance, and that means political disagreement is foreclosed.  Departments and learned societies have evolved so that their cultures are rooted in political ideology. They view their political beliefs as moral.

Much of the conversation about university reform has assumed that universities can be changed as political candidates are changed. They cannot. They are rigid organizations that are difficult to change. Once the left-wing culture was instituted in the top-tier institutions, the cultures were set. The institutions will need to die rather than change.

It probably wasn't Flexner's or the foundations' intention to institute an ideologically left-wing university system, but from the 1920s, that was the effect, and the effect had to have been evident to the foundations. Burton Clark, in his classic The Distinctive College, notes that the colleges that were receiving support from the General Education Board had left-wing faculties, and the same institutions received the lion's share of media attention.  This was so even in the case of Reed, which was a brand new institution that received GEB funding and adopted a left-wing faculty from the inception.  The effect of de-Christianizing the colleges led to the hiring of mostly left-wing faculties.

Perpendicular control coupled with scientism fates university social science to be locked in a narrowly defined ideology.  It could have gone differently: The ideology could have been that of James Burnham or Ludwig von Mises, but it wasn't.  It is unclear  but probably not the case that the Carnegie Foundation and the GEB consciously preferred left-wing academics, but in aiming to de-Christinaize the colleges that was what they did.

Third, as result, incremental reform is unlikely.  The perpendicular structure of journal editorships and the cultures in most social science departments prohibit it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Walter E. Williams Covers "Homogeneous"

In his syndicated column, Walter E. Williams covers my recent Academic Questions article "Homogeneous," which is on the political affilitions of liberal arts college professors . Williams's column is carried in 140 newspapers around the country.

Image result for Walter e. wlliams photo

Williams writes:

Just within the past week or so, some shocking professorial behavior has come to light. In the wake of Barbara Bush's death, California State University, Fresno professor Randa Jarrar took to Twitter to call the former first lady an "amazing racist." Jarrar added, "PSA: either you are against these pieces of s—- and their genocidal ways or you're part of the problem. that's actually how simple this is. I'm happy the witch is dead. can't wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have. byyyeeeeeeee."

In New Jersey, Brookdale Community College professor Howard Finkelstein, in a heated exchange, was captured on video telling a conservative student, "F—- your life!" At the City University of New York School of Law, students shouted down guest lecturer Josh Blackman for 10 minutes before he could continue his remarks. When Duke University President Vincent Price was trying to address alumni, students commandeered the stage, shouting demands and telling him to leave.

None of this professorial and student behavior is new at the nation's colleges. It's part of the leftist agenda that dominates our colleges. A new study by Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert — "Homogeneous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty" ( — demonstrates that domination. (By the way, Academic Questions is a publication of the National Association of Scholars, an organization fighting the leftist propaganda in academia.) Langbert examines the political affiliation of Ph.D.-holding faculty members at 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges according to U.S. News & World Report. He finds that 39 percent of the colleges in his sample are Republican-free — with zero registered Republicans on their faculties. As for Republicans within academic departments, 78 percent of those departments have no Republican members or so few as to make no difference.