Duke Prof: Colleges Fail Leftist Students by Not Challenging Them

Monday, 11 Aug 2014 08:10 PM

By Joe Schaeffer

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A Duke University professor says left-leaning college students are being let down by universities that reward them for their opinions rather than teaching them how to think.

In a column posted on the conservative Pope Center for Higher Education Policy's website and adapted from a speech given at a Milton Friedman Day celebration in Wilmington, N.C., on July 31, Michael Munger, a political science professor at Duke, wrote that "[t]he young people that our educational system is failing are the students on the left. They aren't being challenged, and don't learn to think.

"Students on the left should sue for breach of contract. We promise to educate them, and then merely pat them on the head for having memorized the 'correct' answer!"

Munger noted that he was "Chair of Political Science at Duke for 10 years." He told of a meeting of department heads in which the head of another department said, "I find that I don't really need to spend much time with the liberal students because they already have it right. I spend most of my time arguing with the conservative students. That's how I spend my time in class."

Munger pointed out just who he thought was being most ill-served by such an approach:

"This woman was teaching conservative students how to think about arguments and evidence; how to make your arguments in a persuasive way. She was educating them.

"Her liberal students? … They were just certified as already 'knowing what they need to know.'"

With the price of tuition at Duke topping $45,000 a year, Munger wondered how the parents of these liberal students would react to hearing such sentiments.

"It may have come as a shock to the parents of these liberal students that they had learned everything they needed to know … in high school! Having memorized a kind of secular leftist catechism, they were free to wander around the quads of Duke and enjoy themselves," the professor wrote.

Munger asserts that it is crucial to acknowledge and correct these academic flaws.

"Once we realize that the problem with our educational system is that we're short-changing students on the left, denying them an education just because they happen to agree with the professor, then we have a path forward," he writes.

He quotes British philosopher John Stuart Mill on the importance of teaching students how to think rather than what to think:

"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that … if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion."

Professor Munger is not the only academic worried that today's college students aren't being challenged in the classroom.

A Village Voice article highlighted a number of examples of universities using pop culture icons as teaching material. Among the courses cited are:
  • "Topics: Sean Combs and Urban Culture" at New York University. "'When you're holding a stolen gun, we call that a burner,' [instructor Jayson] Jackson explains, a sprawling flowchart of assaults, murders, and arrests scribbled on a whiteboard behind his head. 'If you're defending yourself, then it is what it is, but if you're planning to do harm and get away with it, you use a gun that's stolen or a gun with the serial numbers etched out so you don't get caught.'"
  • "The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media" at Skidmore College.  "[A]ccording to the school's course description, [the class] follows the pop princess from 'Disney tween to twerking machine' and deals with issues of gender stratification and cultural appropriation."
  • "Politicizing Beyoncé" at Rutgers University.  "[E]xplores race, gender, and sexual politics 'through the music and career' of the self-described feminist singer."
Andrew Hacker, a professor emeritus at Queens College in New York, dismissed such classes as mere fluff, telling the newspaper, "If you're paying full sticker price and taking four classes a semester, you're spending about $6,000 on one of these courses when you could just be reading Spin or some other magazine."

But the instructor of the Beyonce course at Rutgers defended his work as a way to engage otherwise listless students.

"At least for me, in my teaching of other topics, you see just how hard it is to get the kids interested," Kevin Allred told the Village Voice.

"They're on their phones and Twitter and doing a thousand things at the same time.

"Certainly, using 'Beyoncé' in the title, and as the subject matter, is a way to get students interested in something they otherwise maybe wouldn't think about signing up for. There's a gimmick title, but it is a real class."


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