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December 04, 2004

groupthink revisited

Few weeks back, I offered some thoughts on the whole "intellectual diversity" thing, and specifically on Mark Bauerlein's Chronicle article on the same. Well, Timothy Burke has weighed in, and quite nicely:

The critique of groupthink in academia has already gone badly astray when it begins by counting up voter registrations and assuming that this is both evidence and cause of the problem. Political partisanship as we conventionally think about it and practice it in the public sphere is only an epiphenomenal dimension of the groupthink issue in academic life. It is telling that those who perceive the issue largely as a matter of Democrats vs. Republicans or liberals vs. conservatives operate either as pundits or as think-tank intellectuals, contexts where those oppositions really do clearly structure how an intellectual operates.

Academics are not motivated to groupthink out of a loyalty to liberal causes, left-wing politics or registration in the Democratic Party, though in many disciplines at the moment, they may end up predominantly having those affiliations in a smug, uninterrogated manner. They’re motivated to groupthink by the institutional organization of academic life. The same forces that help academics to produce knowledge and scholarship are the forces which produce unwholesome close-mindedness and inbred self-satisfied attitudes. These forces would act on conservatives as well were we to magically remove the current professoriate and replace them with registered Republicans. They do act already on academics who operate in disciplines where certain kinds of political conservatism are more orthodox, or in institutional contexts, like religious universities, where conservative values are expressly connected to institutional missions.

I highly recommend going to Burke's site to read the rest of this, because he's spot on. There are serious problems with academia (not the least of which is this month's Demotivator), but to believe that those problems are solvable with an influx of registered Republicans is no less smug or uninterrogated. Instead, Burke argues, "The question is how to reconstruct the everyday working of scholarly business, to open up the ways in which we legitimate, value and authenticate scholarly work, to change the entire infrastructure of publication, presentation and pedagogy." If only there were genuine interest in doing this, as opposed to the thinly veiled, partisan perpetuation of the "one state, two state, red state, blue state" nonsense...

Anyhow, good stuff over yonder.

Posted by cgbrooke at December 4, 2004 10:43 AM