Officials at Arkansas State University – Mountain Home have canceled a speech by a liberal columnist, apparently because they discovered he was liberal. Since making the decision, they’ve devoted themselves to not commenting. Suddenly, ASUMH has gone from an institution that no one outside Arkansas had ever heard of — and comparatively few inside Arkansas, for that matter — to one that a lot of people have heard of in a very negative way. Chancellor Ed Coulter may be enjoying the attention. Others in the ASU system are not.
Coincidentally, this stifling of liberal views on a college campus followed closely the latest in a long line of conservative complaints about alleged liberal bias in academia. The loony Washington Times and the near-loony Washington Post both reported on a study purporting to show that, as the Post’s Howard Kurtz put it, “College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined … ”
A little bit of overwriting there — the most conspiratorial conservatives can imagine anything. So can Washington Post reporters, as we saw when they were imagining shoulder to shoulder with the Great Conspirator Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater affair. The gist of the report on faculties was that a great shift to the left has occurred over the last 20 years. The study that produced this finding was financed by the Randolph Foundation, a conservative group that, we’ll wager, has never paid a dime for a study that didn’t produce results to the Foundation’s liking.
The Randolph Foundation, the Washington Times, the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz — there had to be another side to this story, and there was. The liberal media-watchdog group Media Matters for America looked into the study and found that the three professors who conducted it had violated “a fundamental principle of survey research.” They had compared the answers from a 1984 survey with answers from a 1999 survey, even though the question about ideological orientation was not the same in the two surveys. One survey asked respondents to place themselves on a 10-point scale, the other asked them to select from a list of descriptions. “As decades of research have shown, altering questions in even subtle ways can produce dramatically different results,” Media Matters said. “Does this mean that there has been no shift to the left among faculties? Not necessarily — but with the available data we have no idea whether such a shift has occurred, and neither do [the three professors who did the Randolph study].”
Why do the conservatives worry about faculties anyway? The Right has the White House, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Big Media. The Left will need more than college English departments to gain the upper hand.