Assault on Learning in Academia

Hitting science, engineering and math at a campus near you.

As I show in my latest book, Higher Miseducation: A Dissident’s Essays on the Attack Against Liberal Learning (Stairway Press), matters are not all that well in academia.

This is but another way of saying that at institutions of higher learning all across the country the left has substituted training in their political ideology for a classical liberal arts education. Nor should anyone be misled into thinking, as so many people continue to assume, that this is happening only within Humanities and Social Science departments. 

STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) has been infected as well.

At the University of Washington, a computer science professor, Stuart Reges, wrote an op-ed with the title, “Why Women Don’t Code.” Reges, who admits to having taught over the years hundreds of women on how to code, reveals the extent to which universities, like his own, have buckled under Politically Correct pressure when it comes to the issue of the gender imbalance that is found in STEM disciplines.

“Ever since Google fired James Damore [who wrote an internal memo delineating his views of gender differences while complaining that Google will not tolerate any deviations from leftist orthodoxy] for ‘advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,’ those of us working in tech have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot say on the subject of diversity.”

Continuing, Reges laments: “You might imagine that a university would be more open to discussing his ideas, but my experience suggests otherwise.”

As a consequence of his attempts to determine through conversation with his colleagues why Damore’s observations provoked such outrage, his department at the institution for which he works created an email list known as “diversity-allies.”  The latter, according to its self-description, a “moderated list to prevent ‘nuanced, and potentially hurtful, discussion.” Reges has been “encouraged” to pursue his inquiry off-line, via face-to-face conversations.

Reges explains his motivation: “I embarked on this journey because I worry that tech companies and universities are increasingly embracing an imposed silence, in which one is not permitted to question the prevailing wisdom on how to achieve diversity goals.” To his great credit, Reges is not having it.  “I intend to fight this imposed silence and I encourage others to do the same.”

Evidently, Reges has made a career of being an academic dissident.  This is just the latest battle and Reges throws down the gauntlet:

“So let me go once more unto the breach by stating publicly that I believe that women are less likely than men to want to major in computer science and less likely to pursue a career as a software engineer and that this difference between men and women accounts for most of the gender gap we see in computer science degree programs and in Silicon Valley companies.”

In other words, it is the personal choices of women, and not some systemic sexist oppression, that account for why women tend to be underrepresented in this field.

Reges, it’s critical to note, is not in any obvious sense any kind of right-winger. He has a history of being, in his own words, “a strong advocate of many aspects of the diversity agenda.”  But no matter.  When Reges spoke to his colleagues regarding Damore in friendly terms, they were not receptive.  “As a thought experiment, I asked how we could make someone like Damore feel welcome in our community. The pushback was intense. My question was labeled an ‘inflammatory example’ and my comments were described as ‘hurtful’ to women.”

And when he “mentioned that perhaps we could invite Damore to speak at UW, a faculty member responded, ‘If he comes here, we’ll hurt him.’” Reges is quick to note that while his colleague spoke in jest, her “sentiment was clear.”

Reges’ position that it is the differences between men and women that explain why women tend not to gravitate as much toward STEM provoked, predictably, a strong reaction amongst University of Washington students, and mostly its female students.  This is particularly telling, for far from implying that women are inherently incapable in these disciplines, Reges quoted a 2013 study that showed “the greater likelihood that females with high math ability also have high verbal ability and thus can consider a wider range of occupations.”

And yet still students on the “Diversity Allies” listserv circulated a petition in which they asked one another how Reges’ contention made them feel. They also debated as to whether the administration should issue “an official response to” his essay. 

Reges drew attention to the fact that these students make his point about gender differences as well as about the state of the contemporary university.  The students, he noted, “asked each other how” his argument “made them feel.”  But they never bothered to ask one another whether “there’s any validity to his arguments.”

When we consider the response by school administrators, it is not difficult to see why the students are as intellectual flaccid as they are. “Some of you may have read a recent editorial written by an Allen School faculty member about gender diversity in tech,” wrote Hank Levy, who is the director of the UW School of Computer Science. Upon noting simply that UW “disagrees with the conclusion” of Reges’s analysis—an assertion that he failed to expand upon even after Campus Reform made a request for him to do so—Levy goes on to state that the present time is “a good time to reaffirm our values,” i.e. namely, the value of “diversity.”

He added that while “we have a long way to go,” that diversity efforts are successful is borne out by the fact that “women are interested in CS, and they do code!”

Such is the state of “liberal learning” in too much of today’s academy.