April 11, 2005

Politicized Universities? Boring!

Steven Roy Goodman's Washington Post column is mostly the usual blather about liberal universities, not worth reading really (even if there are a few good points trying to get out), but one paragraph struck me as truly odd:
As a [college-admissions] consultant, I feel the need to advise my clients [i.e., prospective college applicants] to cover all their political bases. Recently, I was advising an Eagle Scout who was justifiably proud of his accomplishment and wanted to highlight it on his college applications. But I worried that the national Boy Scouts' stand against homosexuals as scout leaders might somehow count against him in the admissions process at some schools. So I suggested that he get involved in an AIDS hotline to show his sensitivity to an issue often linked to the gay community.
Leave aside the rather ridiculous phenomenon of college-admissions consultants. (Jesus, what have we come to in this country?) This scenario doesn't even seem remotely plausible. As a former Boy Scout who joined mainly for the camping, booze, and vaguely homoerotic fireside chats, and as a scout who earned maybe one merit badge ever (basket-weaving, I think), I can say this: attaining Eagle Scout rank is damn impressive. Just look at the requirements! Admissions officers across the country know this. It's a great and well-earned way to pad your resume, period.

Now, okay, might there be admissions folks who would discriminate against an Eagle Scout because of the program's views on gays? Sure. But here's the thing: There's no way to know this. Maybe that's why this kid gets rejected. Or maybe he gets rejected because he's the sort of tool who hires college-admissions consultants. Who can tell! Unless we have evidence of an unreasonably large number of qualified Eagle Scouts who get rejected from top-flight universities—along with a large number of similarly-qualified Eagle Scouts who also work for AIDS hotlines and overwhelmingly get accepted—then pretending the admissions process is plagued by this sort of political bias is just projection.

And that's just it, most of these "liberal academy" columns are projection. People who are obsessed with politics—which tends to include the sort of people who end up writing columns for the Washington Post—naturally see politics everywhere. (Surprise, the author of this column is a "Washington-based educational consultant." Hmmm...) So these pundits gather a few anecdotes about university professors with outspoken views on the war on Iraq, and assume that's all there is to a university. But as anyone with eyes can see, that's horribly wrong. Most of college has nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Most college kids are fundamentally apathetic. There's more to college than one's views on who controls the means of production. In truth, the college "political controversies" Goodman mentions are mainly of interest to people who follow political controversies in general, and less of interest to people in college. That doesn't mean we can't have real debates over "what universities should be," but it helps to have a clear view of what's going on.
-- Brad Plumer 12:00 AM || ||