Campuses may not be as PC as the critics claim

Education Beat

September 27, 1995|By MIKE BOWLER | MIKE BOWLER,SUN STAFF

To hear the conservatives tell it, America's college campuses are overrun by multiculturalists bent on drumming their liberal ideology into the heads of innocent students.

The latest salvo comes via a report titled "Comedy and Tragedy: College Course Descriptions and What They Tell Us About Higher Education Today." It comes from an organization called Young America's Foundation in Herndon, Va.

The foundation's researchers obtained the catalogs from the Ivy League and a selected number of private and state universities, then pored over the course descriptions with an eye toward "politically correct" offerings such as this from the University of Maryland College Park: "Inequality in American Society -- the sociological study of the status and treatment of the poor, minorities, the aged, women, deviant subcommunities and the physically handicapped."

The report concludes: "The diversity and sensitivity mongers have carved out a substantial portion of the university curricula and budget to purvey their ideology. Most schools force students to take a certain number of 'diversity' courses in order to graduate, ensuring that ideologically based courses and the faculty who teach them become institutionalized within academia.

"Reinforcing this hypothesis is the fact that, with the exception of Princeton, every Ivy League college offers more undergraduate courses in women's studies than in economics."

The foundation's lament is a mantra on conservative radio talk shows, and many believe it.

But Edward T. Lewis, president of St. Mary's College in Maryland, and others who have observed higher education for years say the conservatives grossly exaggerate the influence of PC on college and university campuses.

"You have to look hard to find a surge of politically correct behavior," Dr. Lewis said. "There may be a few Marxists around. Every campus has one or two, but their influence is limited. In fact, college faculties tend to be rather conservative. The job market has been such that there hasn't been a lot of turnover."

At College Park, Ira Berlin, dean of arts and humanities, said he would be "happy to fall on my sword to defend" the three courses at his school cited by the foundation. "What's of larger concern to our society than inequality?" asked Dr. Berlin. "It's a subject that's been written about in recent years, and over centuries, by people of great authority, both men and women."

Yet the conservatives see liberals plotting behind every academic bush. "Ask any recent women's studies graduate," said Dan Flynn, one of the authors of "Comedy and Tragedy." "The major has one goal, which is to produce women's studies graduates who then go back to college and teach more women's studies."

It's easy -- even good fun -- to spot course titles that seem to verify the Great PC Conspiracy. At the Johns Hopkins University, the first entry in the 1995-1996 arts and sciences catalog (because it's taught in the Anthropology Department) is a course titled "Human Being and Becoming -- an introduction to the study of human behavior in cross-cultural perspective. "

Hopkins students can only minor in women's studies. The university catalog lists 52 courses in the field, but in 15 departments -- anthropology, French, English, music, sociology and the like. Women's studies minors can take "Gender Differences in Speech" from anthropology, "Kinship, Gender and Blood in Greek Tragedy" in the classics department, "Studies in Feminism" in English, "Women in Europe, 1780-1918," in history and so on.

This cross-listing explains how the foundation could discover more women's studies courses than economics offerings at all but one of the Ivy League schools. (Hopkins, not included in the foundation survey, offers 23 undergraduate courses in economics.)

Mr. Flynn said the result of the proliferation of such PC curriculum as women's studies is a corresponding decline in "traditional courses, such as Shakespeare." The foundation report does not document this trend, however, and there is little beyond anecdotal proof that studies of the West and classic Western literature are fading from American campuses.

Surveys taken by the American Council of Education have shown not only that there is no PC trend in curriculum across the land, but that there has been no PC controversy on 90 percent of the campuses.

Not that silliness doesn't occur. Higher education has seen courses like "The Final Four as Last Judgment -- The NCAA tournament from a religious perspective." Or this one, as described in a Swarthmore College catalog a few years ago:

"English Lit. 56. Theory of Intentionality. How does a poetics that denies the significance of authorial intention and political activism come to terms with the practice of consciously ideological art?"

Makes you want to sign up.

State support declines for community colleges

Maryland's 17 community colleges may not get the bulk of media attention, but they get the bulk of Maryland students. Of the Maryland high school graduates in 1993 who enrolled in the state, 61 percent selected a community college, 32 percent a public four-year campus and 6 percent an independent college, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

And those students pay more. In the past five years, state support of community colleges has declined from 33 percent of the schools' total spending to 28 percent. Local support has decreased from 37 percent to 34 percent. Tuition during the period increased from 28 percent to 36 percent.

At Anne Arundel Community College, for example, tuition for county residents has increased from $42 per credit hour to $58 over the five years, or 38 percent. For a typical full-time load of 14 credit hours, that's an increase from $588 to $812 a semester.

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