Preferences, "Bias" and "Indoctrination"

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Preferences, "Bias" and "Indoctrination"

As noted briefly yesterday, Paul Waldman warned in a column at TAP that Rick Santorum's recent fact-free attack on the University of California system for alleged hostility to American History could be a leading indicator for a more broad-based conservative assault on public universities. If that does transpire, it will become essential to unravel the non-sequiturs underlying the claim that universities are indoctrination camps for liberalism, socialism, secularism, multiculturalism, and all the other "isms" scorned by God-fearing, taxpaying, patriotic Americans.

At College Guide today, Daniel Luzer takes some important steps in that direction, debunking a conservative advocacy group's claims that Democratic voting preferences among University of California faculty mean there's classroom indoctrination going on:

The report presents no evidence that campus politicization at the UC system either exists or is getting worse. It’s just about the political leanings of faculty and unflattering anecdotes from classes. One student complains that at a history class he took at Berkeley the professor “focused excessively on negative aspects of American history to portray a country of lies and contradictions, while applauding Socialists and Anarchists….”
But anecdotes like these aren’t valid from a research perspective. It proves nothing except that one student was unhappy with a course he took. “His total neglect for reasonable arguments was disgusting,” the student complains. That’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t prove indoctrination or even that the institution or system is politically biased. (Berkeley also continues to employ John Yoo. Yoo was the man who, as deputy assistant attorney general in George W. Bush’ s Department of Justice, was responsible for arguing that was right and legal for the U.S. to use torture to obtain sensitive information. So I guess it’s not all praise for socialists and anarchists at Cal.)
About the only thing the study really conclusively demonstrates is that UC professors are likely to lean Democratic politically. This should come as no surprise, since it’s pretty much true of academics across the country. This isn’t indoctrination.

If you think about it, this preference-means-bias-means-indoctrination chain of "reasoning" is alarmingly typical of the post-factual, post-modern epidemic in conservative advocacy these days. So long as there are two sides to an argument, many conservatives seem to assume, there is no objective truth to be divined, simply "perspectives" being advanced. We are all slaves to ideology, it seems, and thus "balance" requires ensuring that conservatives have equal time, jobs, media attention, and credibility with their opponents. It's a very odd right-wing version of affirmative action. But since academia is disproportionately (though hardly exclusively) populated by non-conservatives, then it's actively engaged in "indoctrination," and if we can't undertake mass purges to correct the "bias," then it's okay to smear entire institutions as corrupt and un-American.

And if you don't have even the distorted semblence of facts on your side, then like Rick Santorum, you can just make 'em up. In a world of warring ideology, facts are, after all, simply academic.