Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, has an interesting essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Hartle, who at one time worked for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Cape Pogue), is a policy wonk—and I mean that in the nicest possible way. There is no one whose take on what’s happening in higher education from a federal funding or regulatory perspective I’d rather hear. Back when I was a higher education conference habitué, I thought of myself as something of a Terry Hartle groupie; I’d never miss a session in which he appeared. One time in some gigantic hotel I was alone in an elevator with Hartle and nearly swooned.
Hartle’s essay concerns the Pew Foundation’s recent study about how Democrats and Republicans hold differing view of higher education and other national institutions such as banks, unions, and organized religion. You will be flabbergasted to learn that a significant number of individuals who identify as Republicans told Pew that they are not overjoyed with the “effect” colleges and universities have “on the country.” Apparently, survey participants were asked if they thought colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country today. It is not clear whether “positive effect” was defined, or if respondents were given the opportunity to add any nuance to their answers. Given the shallow nature of the question, I am at a loss to understand what significance a yes or no answer holds, but, hey, Pew’s been asking this question for years and gets a lot of press mileage out of publishing the answers.
Anyway, in his brief Chronicle commentary on the Pew study, Hartle attempts to explain the contempt many Republicans have for colleges and universities. It has something to do, he opines, with the definition of “truth,” a broad issue
confronting higher education that is much harder to tackle: the changing views of truth. Logic, the disinterested search for truth, rigorous scientific research, and empirical verification have been at the heart of higher-education institutions in the modern era. But today, for many citizens, feelings outweigh facts.
I read Hartle’s comment and my heart quickened, my pulse raced, and I got a little breathy. Could it possibly be that an old-school Democratic party loyalist such as my hero was actually coming to terms with the truth—his word, remember—of academia? Was he really going to bring to task the legion of faculty who issue trigger warnings before teaching “Leda and the Swan”? Admonish the platoons of student service administrators who encourage every student with a bruised ego to literally make a federal case out of it? You can see that I was so excited I actually split an infinitive! Alas, what I read next sent me crashing back to reality. Hartle was not breaking rank:
A disconcertingly large percentage of Americans believe, for example, that global warming is a hoax, despite the compelling scientific evidence to the contrary. In an era when the proliferation of information sources has made it easy for people to receive only “news” that confirms their own views, we in the academy have struggled to convince the public that not all facts are created equal.
I’m sorry, but of all the examples out there of “citizens” for whom “feelings outweigh facts” Hartle chooses climate-change skeptics. Really? Really?
Terry, it’s time you and I had a serious talk. You could have just as easily, and more convincingly, used as your example the citizens who substitute feelings for facts whenever they refer to illegal aliens as “undocumented immigrants.” You need to start reading the stories that appear in the journals that interview you or that you write for if you sincerely believe that the best example of giving priority to feelings over facts is the domain of Republicans who question dubious computer models. Why not choose instead from the host of real-life examples so common of college campuses today? Here’s one from a recent issue of the Chronicle:
Students at Northwestern University disrupted a sociology class on Tuesday to protest the visit of an officer from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement….demonstrators explained that having an ICE officer on the campus was hurtful to those who might be undocumented or are close to people who are [Emphasis added.]
About 25 students participated in the sit-in, in the classroom of Val Rust, professor emeritus of education. Watson – a student in that class – said Rust’s course was one of many in which students of “color and consciousness” have experienced discrimination. Of about 10 students in the class, 5 participated in the sit-in. Participants read a letter listing their complaints and a series of demands for reform. Regular coursework was suspended for about an hour because of the sit-in.
“A hostile campus climate has been the norm for Students of Color in this class throughout the quarter as our epistemological and methodological commitments have been repeatedly questioned by our classmates and our instructor,” the group’s letter reads.
Addressing the issues the graduate students raised about his class and others, he wrote: “First, I have a practice of being rather thorough in the papers (dissertation proposals) the students were submitting to me and they said the grammar and spelling corrections I was making on their papers represented a form of ‘microaggression.’ I have attempted to be rather thorough on the papers and am particularly concerned that they do a good job with their bibliographies and citations, and these students apparently don’t feel that is appropriate.”
And who can forget the Yale undergraduate whose exquisite performance as a spoiled brat pretty much defines the feelings-over-fact genre?
Terry, you built me up just to let me down. Just when I thought you’d thrown off the shackles of Democratic linguistic tomfoolery, you fall right back into lockstep with your similarly deluded comrades.
I’m not swooning anymore.