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Political Prejudice at Yale

I had not intended to make this last week the week of criticizing historians, but I suppose it is turning out that way.  As people know, many leading universities, such as MIT and Yale, have made many courses available on line for free.  This is a great service.  But this does not merely spread knowledge, it also opens a window to the educational bias that is going on in elite college classrooms.

I have been listening to a course given by Yale Historian David Blight entitled The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877.  I was interested in the course because I am writing an article this summer involving Reconstruction.  So I have listened to the second half of the course.

I would strongly recommend the course based on the content of the history taught as well as the engaging style of lecture.  Blight also does a good job of debunking the Dunning school of Reconstruction History, which somehow I was taught as a lad in New York City of all places.

Despite these virtues, Blight’s course has a serious deficiency: his regular expressions of political prejudice.  I would say every other lecture has a statement that involves a snide wisecrack attacking modern conservatives or Republicans.  These statements have nothing to do with the course.  The most recent example involves a crack about how Ronald Reagan is these days generally rated in the top 5 of presidents in American history, but Blight can think of no reason for this, except perhaps that there is an airport name for Reagan.

Now, one might think that these remarks are relatively harmless.  But I can tell you as a student in many classrooms with professors who made such remarks, they are not.  Imagine for a second that Blight inserted negative statements about blacks or gays in his lectures.  I am sure it would be obvious to Blight that this would be seriously inappropriate in part because of the way it would marginalize the black or gay students in the audience as well as leading the other students to view the black or gay students more negatively.  It would be a serious misuse of the Professor’s authority in a way that has no connection with the subject matter of the course.  Instead, it would be a self indulgent expression of the professor’s prejudices.

The same is true of Blight’s snide comments about conservatives.  I am not equating negative statements about black or gay students with statements about conservatives.  The two categories differ in significant ways, but there are some important similarities.  Blight’s authority is being used to diminish and attack the political positions of conservative students, without any good reason.  They are made to feel stupid and morally deficient.  And hopefully the cure for both types of inappropriate behavior is the same: consciousness raising.  Blight should be confronted with the harm that his behavior is causing, lest the students in the class become professors and reproduce the same type of inappropriateness.

When I was a Yale Law student, this type of snideness occurred in the classrooms, although, as I remember it, it was more the expression of students who behaved badly and the misdeeds of the professors were their failure to make clear that such statements were inappropriate.  There were no conservatives or libertarians on the faculty in those days.  I remember the breaths of fresh air that were Richard Epstein’s visits to the law school, especially in my first two years.  Since I knew so little law and virtually everyone on the faculty seemed liberal, it was easy to believe that no one smart could believe the things I did.  But here was a strong libertarian who was obviously as smart as the Yale Law professors were.

I hope that Blight will correct this aspect of his course.  In other respects, the course is first rate.  But it could be blemish free.

Reader Discussion

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on July 24, 2012 at 04:21:26 am

Dear Sir,

Remarks such as those listed have no place in education. You are correct to bring this up, thank you. Likewise, news reporting, book review broadcasts, and most all communication should be held to higher standards along with accuracy and honesty. Some may add truthful too.

Moreover, expousing economic theories, like the ones which plunged this country to new lows, excluding only a small fraction of people, needs 'cleaning up' so that the truth be known before new crimes are committed.

Truth in Congressional bills and acts titles also must reflect their content, such as the "Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011" which had nothing to do with what a reasonable person would derive from the title.

However, honesty is in short supply. Was it ever abundant? As people continue their childish illusions through life, whatever the topic, they will continue treating others like excrement, because two simplistic political ideologies have held this nation hostage for several generations. Neither of these groups bother with respectful/truthful dialog, and have infected most all to retain their status and control.

Can the world survive another American presidential election? with the result continuing the same policies?

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Eric Hodgdon
on July 24, 2012 at 19:02:54 pm

Prof.Rappaport...What you are describing,with this Yale Professor David Bright, is a classic case of the implementation of Cultural Marxism and Cultural Marxist methods. If you are not too familiar with the term "Cultural Marxism," I would suggest you,and any of the readers of this blog ,look up the term on Google. This is what has popularly been known,by the Left, as the "Long March through the universities." Basically what Cultural Marxism does is not to change the government or the economy or the political process but ,to instead, radically change the Culture of a society. by introducing radical cultural ideas. The collectivists and Marxists can then shred apart the cultural fabric that binds a society together. Once the culture is destroyed then it makes it easy for the Marxists to replace the destroyed culture including the government and the economy, with their own collectivist model. Its been done over and over again throughout history, especially after the 2nd World War. Once the culture is changed then everything else falls into place.

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libertarian jerry
on July 24, 2012 at 20:05:06 pm

Professor Bright's behavior is very unprofessional. It is the direct result of not being accountable for his behaviors. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Such is the corrupt world of government and government subsidized entities.

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SAO
on July 24, 2012 at 20:18:22 pm

Many years ago, when I first started college, the liberal bias was not nearly so sure of itself to be so blatant -- but the anti-Christian and anti-God bias was alive and strong. I think it was the testing ground - "if they let us ridicule Christians and God, and conservative values, there's no way they'll be able to stop us from ridiculing conservatives in general, and conservative policies in particular." No matter what the course description, they were and are teaching Marxism/socialism every single class -- it's just the 'jam that hides the taste of the drug' that changes.

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Lin W
on July 24, 2012 at 20:19:01 pm

libertarian jerry says: "...Once the culture is changed then everything else falls into place."

That seems to be what the long march liberals believe. But what actually happens is that ...everything else falls to pieces. See the various museums of communism - N Korea, Cambodia, Rhodesia, California.

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conrad
on July 24, 2012 at 20:19:34 pm

At even 3rd tier Quinnipiac law we were taught to deride Lochner.

Some guy thought private parties have a fundamental right to do business with each other.

Yes, how ludicrous.

The snideness is more persuasive than outright criticism. Because you never realized you were manipulated.

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Anthony Parent
on July 24, 2012 at 20:25:25 pm

Academia as it currently exists is predominantly leftist. Calling for leftist professors to refrain from attacking their existential enemies in the classroom is all fine and good, but this does nothing to change the nature of academia itself.

As long as these types of people are held in high esteem by society itself, asking that they be nice is a waste of time. It is the job of conservatives and libertarians to undermine the perception that these faculty members are wise, or even honest, and this can only be done by revealing the abuses, dishonesty, and ideological cultishness that passes for normal in such circles.

Instead of asking the enemy to be nice, shine a bright light upon the darkness in their soul. Deprive them of a position of authority by demonstrating their moral and intellectual illegitimacy (which this article does a good job of by the way).

Also, given how wrong this professor is about conservatives and libertarians, just how much trust can you put into what he says about the Civil War?

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Lee Reynolds
on July 24, 2012 at 20:29:54 pm

" I am not equating negative statements about black or gay students with statements about conservatives. "
Well, maybe it's past time we should.
The culture war ain't bean-bag. Punch back twice as hard, as the spokesman of one of the leading culture warriors has said.

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les nessman
on July 24, 2012 at 20:42:52 pm

**Yawn** Another dog-bites-man story. How anyone expects professional behaviour from todays ivy-league professors is beyond me.

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Tblakely
on July 24, 2012 at 20:47:32 pm

My daughter, in a freshman course on English composition at the U of Arizona, had to sit for a rant by the teaching assistant, who was supposed to be giving a course summary before the final, about how Ronald Reagan was a terrible person and stupid and senile, etc, etc. It's everywhere on campuses.

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Mike K
on July 24, 2012 at 20:52:06 pm

I was a student in a Federal Courts course at the University of CT School of Law during the Bush v Gore litigation. The professor continually mis-represented the causes of action in a way that presented Gore with a much more favorable legal position than Bush. This is not my opinion, she was factually incorrect nearly every week for the FL and federal courts posted briefs online in real time which I used to prepare for class. Law being my second career, her life experiences were no trump card so I went toe to toe with her in class week after week, with the partys' actual briefs in hand. I hated doing it but felt it was important to give the other 60-odd students some balance.
After the semester I discussed with the professor that I found it inappropriate for her to use her bully pulpit to advance a political agenda. She was truly surprised, said she got her class materials from a listserve of law professors nationwide teaching the same course and considered that was sufficient. Apart from her laziness in not reviewing original sources, it floors me still today that this indoctrination was coordinated nationwide.

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Duke
on July 24, 2012 at 20:56:50 pm

You are wrong. Richard Epstein is not as smart as the law professors at Yale. He is smarter.

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renminbi
on July 24, 2012 at 21:14:18 pm

I'm curious. When he lectures about the Civil War and Reconstruction, does Comrade Blight tell the students that the leaders of the Confederacy were Democrats? Does he explain to his privileged audience that it was Democrats who fought for slavery and slave owners? That it was Democrats who built the KKK and the Poll Tax and Literacy Tests.

If Blight despises the Republicans, does that mean he's siding with the slave owners?

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Number Six
on July 24, 2012 at 21:23:41 pm

"Professor, you are surely correct. Reagan was not given any prize for winning the Cold War whereas Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for... well for what exactly?"

It is my dream to become rich enough where I can take courses solely to sit back and make the professors uncomfortable and call them on their bs.

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Voluble
on July 24, 2012 at 21:33:03 pm

Don't hold your breath.

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bflat879
on July 24, 2012 at 21:35:26 pm

When I was teaching courses at the college level, I always tried to keep politics out of it, except that I always quoted Mark Twain, "It can be shown using facts and figures that America has no native criminal class, except Congress." Then I would comment that it is every American's god-given Constitutional right to ridicule their elected representatives, and I expected that to happen occasionally.

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David
on July 24, 2012 at 22:03:18 pm

"They are made to feel stupid and morally deficient"

You idolize professors way too much. There's a common misconception (widely held amongst the academic types I've known) that expertise in one area implies expertise in all areas. Wrong. If a professor comments on something outside their field of expertise, why would you view them as any more knowledgeable than you? I ran into a lot of professors in school who were leaders in their field of study, but didn't know any more than my cat did about issues outside that field. As you are a professor now, I suspect you take remarks such as those by Professor Bright (see - even his name is smart!) far more seriously than most of his students do. This stuff is annoying, but it has less influence than you think.

"generally rated in the top 5 of presidents in American history, but Blight can think of no reason for this, except perhaps that there is an airport name for Reagan."

Taken seriously, this statement is so idiotic it would seriously call Bright's competence into question; a historian can think Ronald Reagan was the most evil person who ever lived but should still know why he was so popular. I'm pretty sure he was joking. Just roll your eyes and chalk it up to academic conformity.

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J1
on July 24, 2012 at 22:04:28 pm

I have discussed with my adolescent children the need to recognize bias in the classroom. Unfortunately, educators place their credibility on the line when bias is expressed and detected. Just as ABC tried to link the CO killer to the Tea Party, educators with bias cause listeners to wonder If the content of the presentation is accurate or shaded to meet some other agenda.

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C J Schroeder
on July 24, 2012 at 22:43:26 pm

If a professor is so insulting about one branch of politics how are his students to trust his interpretation of history since so much of it is influenced by political ideas?

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Fred
on July 24, 2012 at 22:44:41 pm

This is extremely common. I was in graduate school when a professor started to complain about the cost of getting an article from the library. This was followed by open praise of the Cuban library system. I could not just sit there and called him on it and a 30 min argument ensued. Needles to say I was not very popular . Thank you for bring this up.

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Samer
on July 24, 2012 at 22:51:55 pm

I love listening to astronomy lectures on youtube and when I first started doing this I was amazed at the amount of non-relative political bile inserted into these talks. GW Bush, Sarah Palin etc were regularly ridiculed and when I was informed on what they were saying the prof was usually speaking without citation or spreading misinformation. A real disservice to the students and as said already something that would be professional malpractice as well as untolerated if it were towards gays, minorities or chairman zero.

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harkin
on July 24, 2012 at 23:09:17 pm

People like this basically have no respect for the opinion of others, and no respect for students. They think they are superior to others. They are mistaken.

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miriam
on July 24, 2012 at 23:13:45 pm

<>

Why use race or sexual orientation to argue the point? What if his negative statements were directed at Catholics or Jews. Still inappropriate, and religious affiliation is more akin to political ideology.

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Ev
on July 25, 2012 at 01:04:00 am

Elite schools making many courses available on line for free opened a another window to their educational bias.

The course catalog listing course titles and short descriptions is a window that has long been open and exposing the educational bias of elite schools.

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Micha Elyi
on July 25, 2012 at 01:14:54 am

It seems odd that you connect MIT with Yale and its biased Yale history prof. I attended many MIT lectures on technical topics, hydrodynamics for example, and never heard snide asides aimed at public figures of liberal or conservative persuasion.

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Claude Hopper
on July 25, 2012 at 03:18:56 am

I spend a fair amount of time in places like Yale, Harvard, and MIT.

I long ago ceased being surprised by snide remarks made by professors about conservatives or libertarians in both formal and informal settings, both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. Such remarks are routine; they are the grease that lubricates the tribal wheels.

The thing that is still a little surprising is that the vast majority of my interactions with faculty are with professors in the scientific and technical fields, not in the humanities! I thought that the science profs were the ones who were allowed to be a little more conservative or libertarian!

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Biff
on July 25, 2012 at 09:29:31 am

My experience as a law student at Harvard from '94-97 were similar to the author's, in that students would not infrequently launch into brainless tirades against any expression of non-liberal provenance only to be--surprisingly frequently--upbraided by professors. I particularly remember constitutional law professor Richard Fallon as steadfast in defending the free (reasonable and civil) expression of viewpoints from whatever end of the political spectrum.

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David Lawson
on July 25, 2012 at 22:01:00 pm

Why is this titled "Political Prejudice at Yale"? Prejudice is not the same as opinion or bias. Is the professor judging Reagan before the fact or after? Obviously after.

I was a Yale undergrad and graduated in 1991. It seemed to me the student body was generally liberal but I don't remember faculty expressing opinions about Democrats or Republicans in unrelated courses. I will say that there were a lot of smart students there and most of the ones I knew were not of the type to blindly accept the opinions of others. So even if professors made snide comments about one party or the other, it would not have served to indoctrinate anybody.

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Erik Engquist
on July 25, 2012 at 23:42:40 pm

The thing that is still a little surprising is that the vast majority of my interactions with faculty are with professors in the scientific and technical fields, not in the humanities! I thought that the science profs were the ones who were allowed to be a little more conservative or libertarian!

A certain concatenation of attitudes now marks one as a member of a particular subculture.

The arts and sciences faculty have largely forgotten that (outside a scatter of three or four departments) their instruction is not preparatory to a vocation. It is a consumer good or it is a labor market signal. It is not utopian to posit that social institutions (the market and the civil service) will return to cheaper signals like employment tests at the same time as the academy's marks figure out that the self-aggrandizing and unprofessional behavior of the professoriate has severely vitiated the value of that in which they trade.

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Art Deco
on November 11, 2013 at 17:09:52 pm

Had the pleasure of watching Prof Blight on C-Span last night. He gave a lecture on Lincoln but all I could focus on was his snide comments about modern conservatives. Typical prof... wonder where his kids go to grade and high School.

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dude

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.