Friday, December 27, 2013

Bellevue College Revisited: Five Reasons to Despair in as Many Minutes

Political objectivity and free inquiry are not just important, but are necessary ingredients in the scientific pursuit of truth, and by extension, are necessary ingredients of an academic institution's law and culture. Without the ability to challenge conventional ideas openly, there is a danger of creating a kind of feedback loop that will support a separation from reality by repelling the protestations of the latter with ideological re-framing or by simply ignoring conflicting evidence. This classical-liberal view is shared across the right and the left verbally, which is a good sign of sorts, but it's become increasingly clear that most people don't know why it is important to separate church and state, so to speak, in the world of learning. Students, faculty and administrators have, in other words, learned to accept the core values of science and philosophy as mere platitudes and pay lip service to them while demonstrating their abject dismissal, or at the very least gross misunderstanding, of these principles. It's the classic "I believe in free speech, but..." sentiment.

I had the opportunity to revisit Bellevue College yesterday morning, and during the period after I had left academia, primarily for the above reasons, I had harbored fantasies of slow and subtle improvements in the state of academic freedom and free expression on campus. Especially freedom from the clutches of one particularly Marxist social ideology that has been pumped through the minds and coursework of students in the forms of multiculturalismfeminismanti-racism, and moralistic rhetoric about economic disparity. I wasn't surprised by what I saw, but I was rather depressed. In about five minutes wandering around campus, I observed these five minor but subtly telling indications:
  1. An article in The Watchdog heralding the election to Seattle City Council of socialist Kshama Sawant as bringing a "new, sexier age in Seattle politics, where idealism doesn't always take a backseat to bureaucracy, political paradigms, and corporate agendas."
  2. Another article in The Watchdog detailing Bellevue College's paying for 17 students (at around $100 a piece) to attend this year's Budget Matters conference, an explicitly progressive-liberal conference that I attended myself last year, primarily focused on disseminating and enacting their variety of economic policies,
  3. A flyer for an upcoming informational lecture on Obamacare, to be given by two public health government employees
  4. Another flyer for a lecture series on such things as "dealing with difficult people," "influence and negotiation," and "communication techniques for leaders."
  5. The continued existence of Bellevue College's infamous bias incident policy, a policy that FIRE representative Azhar Majeed called a "pretty terrible policy and rather restrictive of free speech rights."
The first four points are not particularly worrisome by themselves, but when viewed together under the stark light of the diversity and equality-oriented political rhetoric of everything the school does, it paints a very troubling picture of the schools' administrative priorities, and of the effect on student perspectives these priorities are having. It would appear that in higher education, ideological conformity and social mobilization are being put in the driver's seat while free inquiry, skepticism and learning generally are relegated to the passenger seat, or the trunk. In some cases, the side of the road is the most apt metaphor.

It should be clarified that the correctness or incorrectness of this Marxist social ideology is not the important question; for full disclosure, I think it is a stupid, petty, and actually rather dangerous ideology, but those opinions are irrelevant to the larger question of whether it is the schools' place to actively support and promote particular political ideologies over their stated goals and legal obligations as publicly funded institutes of learning. It is all excellent that students learn the Marxist perspective, but it is something else for the school to actively utilize students in pursuit of its own political aims, at the price of the student's own education.