Ithaca College Quarterly 2004/2 Mailbox

 

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The following letters were received after our production deadline for the print magazine. They appear here unedited, in the order in which they were received. Headlines are ours.

Responses to Musgrave

I was very happy to see that a conservative viewpoint was finally profiled on ICQ courtesy of Prof. Frank Musgrave's op-ed piece ("Conservatives, Stand Up" (2004/1). It is refreshing to see that a conservative viewpoint other than the traditional liberal establishment consensus that dominates the ideological landscape of IC and the city of Ithaca finally see the light of day in an IC publication.

Factoring in the traditional liberal consensus of both faculty and the student body that has defined the ideological establishment in IC and the city of Ithaca since time immemorial, I'm guessing that Prof. Musgrave's op-ed piece will receive plenty of negative feedback by faculty and the student body attempting to rebuke his assertion of a liberal uber-majority within the faculty and the distortion of mainstream conservatism by liberal ideologues who rely on rhetoric, vitriol, and trite sloganeering to deface conservatism and Republicanism as a legitimate opposing concern. That would be a shame but I'm afraid typical reaction from the IC's liberal establishment. I can remember back in the day where most of my IC professors were utterly and openly dismissive of any conservative supplication brought forth by anyone and what I found most arrogant was their utter denial of a liberal bias within the faculty and the various departments. I have always found that laughable and indicative of the ideological bubble safely nurtured in the liberal oasis known as Ithaca, NY.

I'm interested in seeing the type of reaction Prof. Musgrave's op-ed piece receives. I would hope that any reaction pro or con, is based on cogent, articulate, and intellectually honest arguments rather than the typical recycled rhetoric and self-righteous condemnation I so often hear from ideologues too lazy and closed-minded to reason based on facts and instead, more interested in defending their ideology as if it were some sacred dogma. I support Prof. Musgrave's call to diversify IC's ideological landscape and I would say that the battle for cultural diversity has long been accomplished and we need to move on. Prof. Musgrave is dead on in that promoting ideological diversity as the next frontier and I herald Prof. Musgrave's call to diversify IC's ideological landscape (which is sorely needed) and I hope that ICQ, and everyone in the IC community be intellectually honest and open-minded enough to take time to seriously evaluate and analyze opposing points of view without pre-conceived prejudice.

David Kim '99
New York

Professor Frank Musgrave is concerned about ideological and political diversity on the Ithaca College campus. Along with others of the conservative persuasion, he worries about the underrepresentation of conservative perspectives in academia. While there is no doubt that a disproportionate number of higher education faculty in the United States today stand somewhere to the left of conservative political ideology, this reflects vocational and professional self-selection rather than discrimination in hiring.

With some exceptions, academia tends to attract those who are inclined to adopt critical and alternative perspectives on established views and practices. Those exceptions include departments of economics, which are dominated today by economists of the "neo-liberal" persuasion who subscribe to two key tenets of conservative ideology: a minimal role for government in society, and broad latitude for free markets and capitalism. Alas, economists do not seem to be especially worried about the absence of ideological diversity in their discipline.

Perhaps departments of economics should solicit financial support for professors who would offer robust and critical alternatives to the neo-liberal model. This would be in line with Professor Musgrave's suggestion that Ithaca College "could solicit financial support for resident or visiting professorships in conservative thought." At this point, however, we come up against a problem of daunting and troubling proportions: the money factor. Deep pockets are far more likely to be found among those who have benefited from neo-liberal economic policies than from those who have suffered from them.

As a matter of underreported fact, there is actually a great deal of financial support for research conducive to the conservative agenda. For example, a disproportionate number of extremely well-endowed "think tanks" are dedicated to strengthening the case for the conservative agenda. And these privately-endowed think tanks, in turn, have far more influence on the media and the political policy-making process than institutions of higher education. Conservatives who decry their underrepresentation in academia insinuate that this underrepresentation translates into political losses for conservative issues. However, they do not express concern over the ideological imbalance among lavishly funded think tanks and the conservative media pundits and policy wonks who are generously supported by those think tanks.

Money rules in the triumphal "free" marketplace of ideas and it exercises disproportionate influence over mass media, democratic debate and decision-making. We should be extremely reluctant to allow money as a medium of power to influence faculty hiring decisions in higher education. If colleges and universities solicit financial support for ideologically coded professorships, we will find ourselves on a slippery and treacherous slope.

To begin with, we should be concerned about the implications of making special efforts to hire faculty whose ideological inclinations comport with the ideological inclinations (whatever they might be) of those who are wealthy. We also need to distinguish between the ideological leanings of faculty and their professional expertise. (For example, it is possible to teach conservative political thought and to appreciate it, without being of the conservative persuasion. As a political theorist, I have high regard for the political thought of Edmund Burke.) Finally, we should be wary of "litmus tests" of any kind, including political party registration. The account of Ithaca College Republicans investigating and reporting on the party affiliation of faculty registered to vote in Tompkins County is truly chilling. Suppose my party affiliation as a Republican was a factor in my being hired as a professor of conservative thought. Would my tenure be in jeopardy if I decided, in the future, to register as a Democrat? Besides, party affiliation in the United States is not an especially reliable indicator of political ideology. I know plenty of Republican women, including a number of elected representatives, who do not subscribe wholesale to the full panoply of conservative tenets. Furthermore, many Democratic voters are conservative on a number of issues.

The contemporary conservative assault on academia threatens to politicize higher education to an unacceptably extreme and dangerous degree. Those of us in academia, of whatever political inclination, have an obligation to promote vigorous and open inquiry and debate. We have an obligation to respect our students and their values even as we challenge them to consider alternative and potentially threatening perspectives. The classroom should never ever be used as a political soapbox. Certainly, there are times when students will be confronted with the disconcerting knowledge that they subscribe to values that are not endorsed by one or more of their professors. More disconcerting yet, they will be confronted with the knowledge that some of the greatest minds in human civilization do not subscribe to the values of either liberals or conservatives. Is this so terrible? When you stop and think about it, students with this kind of experience are far more likely to be deeply educated and well-prepared for democratic citizenship than those whose values and opinions are never held up to scrutiny.

If conservatives would like to see more of a conservative presence on college and university campuses, I would urge them to encourage the upcoming generation of young conservatives to pursue careers in academia. This could be a tough sell, in view of the fact that an academic career will very likely mean diminished lifetime earnings over what could be earned in the business sector. Nevertheless, this is far preferable to whining and buying their way into the ivory tower. As my conservative - and much beloved - grandfather would say, "It's just not dignified."

Christine Di Stefano '74
Associate professor of political science
University of Washington, Seattle

It was nice to see Frank Musgrave alive and well. I can't say I disagree with his assessment about the lack of diversity on college campuses. It was just by chance that I ended up taking his economics class in the fall of 1980. That class, together with the onset of Reagan and Voodoo-economics, more than influenced my decision to major in economics. It (and Musgrave) also helped shape my perspective on the role of government in business and the economy. Bottom line: there needs to be some semblance of balance. In all we do. Coming from the great State of Maine, I have what I think to be a balanced view on social, political, and environmental issues. But the development of opinions and perspectives shouldn't be left to chance.

Robert Jacob '83
Gorham, Maine

I would like to voice my strong support for Frank Musgrave's column. As a conservative activist on campus for four years, I heeded Musgrave's advice and stood up at every chance possible for intellectual diversity and fairness in the curriculum at Ithaca College.

As a politics major, I took a variety of courses but often had to search for conservative ideas outside of the classroom. Many of my colleagues, not only from politics, graduated with an incomplete understanding of the political spectrum given the disrespect and disinterest in the full spectrum of political ideas by the institution and many of its departments and programs.

I fully support Dr. Musgrave's call for increased intellectual diversity at Ithaca College. Whether implemented through guest lectures, course offerings, or any other program that provokes increased thought and discourse throughout the ideological spectrum, the institution will only benefit and grow in its academic reputation. My financial contributions will certainly increase once this occurs.

As a brand new alumni, I plan to continue campaigning for intellectual diversity in order to improve Ithaca College for future generations. I encourage all fellow alumni to do the same by writing letters, calling, and proposing new initiatives that support diverse thought and scholarship at your alma mater. The Ithaca College Republicans are working toward this goal as well, through the recently submitted "Case for Intellectual Diversity." Together, we can make a difference and work to improve our beloved campus high above Cayuga's waters.

Roger Custer '04
Annandale, Virginia

More Thanks for Wedding Story

I was thrilled with ICQ's wonderful story about Ithaca College couples and disappointed to hear that others were not, simply because the story included a same-sex couple. Corey Rothermel and Douglas Neff are indeed a married IC couple who deserve to be recognized. For many the IC experience included meeting a life partner -- a lasting and significant experience that everyone deserves to celebrate. ICQ's coverage of Rothermel and Neff does not endorse same-sex marriage but rather reports on happy developments in the lives of two of IC's alumni. Bravo, ICQ, for your balanced story and for your commitment to all IC alumni.

Danny Baker '03
Washington, D.C.

I would just like to thank you for including the San Francisco wedding of Corey Rothermel and Douglas Neff in the Ithaca College Quarterly. I was pleasantly surprised to read their story, and ecstatic by the inclusion of the marriage of a gay couple in the ICQ. As the Quarterly is for all alumni, it is important to recognize all types of life unions, and not to give in to the prejudices and tendency towards maintaining the invisibility of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

Thank you for your support. I hope the ICQ continues to represent the diverse Ithaca College community.

Shanna DelPrete '04
Boston

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