The Conservative complaint about liberal bias in everything from the media to academia is so long standing it borders on empty cliche. A new study, however, deeply rooted in the ironic enterprise of looking for bias in a biased fashion, has found yet another liberal bastion: the relatively new custom of having all freshman read the same book as a part of orientation (“What Freshman Will Read” The original study summarized in the article is here).
Some of the conclusions of the study are silly. They complain that there are too few classics and the classics used, Huckleberry Finn and The Communist Manifesto among them, are not substantive. I think both Marx and Twain, opposites if there ever were opposites, must be rolling in their graves. Even sillier, the authors don’t seem to realize that many of these programs are coupled with visiting lectures by the authors.
Schools use contemporary books becuase it is so much harder to get dead people to come for to campus. What always fascinates me, though, is the way these sorts of studies try to create a kind of black and white, liberal and conservative, picture of the intellectual world. Twain deals with race; that’s a liberal book. Approaching the Q’uran isn’t critical enough about fundamentalist religious violence; that’s a liberal book as well.
Every book is liberal and conservative in different and often contradictory ways; it might make sense to talk about liberal or conservative readings that seem to dominate different campuses or classes, but that would be complicated and unlikely to produce headlines for the conservative media the study is designed to feed. Even more interesting is the complaint about too many books on racism and too many on multiculturalism.
We need more white supremacy and mono-culturalism, apparently. It’s not easy defining the opposite of liberalism. The study complains about books on Africa; that bias can only be corrected by books on Europe. It complains about too many books on global warming, which it apparently sees as a more of a liberal issue than a scientific fact or set of facts. I can’t help but wonder if they would also complain about evolution, if that were a reading trend one year…