While reading Stanley Fish's latest rant about how College Professors Are the Dirty Liberal Enemy, I was struck by two things.
1. Believe-it-or-fucking-not, academics are in fact paid to form opinions on subjects about which they know a great deal. One doesn't spend a decade or two studying the presidency to have no opinion about it – or to be told by some pitiful David Horowitz wannabe-pariah that said opinion is wrong or uninformed. Take, for instance, a professor of medicine. When one studies medicine for 30 years, the ability to point at a doctor and say "Look at this poor example, students; this is how not to be a doctor. Do not imitate." is implicit. Along the same lines (albeit without the decades of experience to lend weight to my opinion) I feel comfortable, knowing more than a bit about the presidency, to occasionally let my class know that George W. Bush is a particularly shitty one. If people support him ideologically, fine. I am required to be cool with that. And I am. What I am not required to do is to allow the students and right-wing hysterics to bully me into allowing all interpretations of the facts to be held equally valid (coming soon: the fallacy of false dilemma!). If you think he is a great president, you are entitled to that opinion. But you are not entitled to be told your opinion is correct. After all, some people are of the opinion that the Sun revolves around the Earth. To say that someone is entitled to that opinion (and they certainly are) is just a way of saying that people are free to be really fucking wrong if they so choose.
2. Fish makes such a persuasive argument about the incredible indoctrinating powers of professors. And the students are all completely malleable and impressionable with no deeply-held opinions of their own. What an accurate depiction of the average university classroom. So riddle me this, Stanley – if I have such amazing powers to impose my will on these blank young minds, why can't I get them to read 30 pages a week out of a textbook? Or show up to class every day? Or hand in assignments on time? Or engage in classroom discussions? Yes, it makes perfect sense. I can indoctrinate them with an entire system of moral and political values, but I can't make them follow simple instructions or study for the final exam. Amazing, isn't it? How odd that my powers are so selective.
The fact of the matter is that Academic Liberal Bias has become a Straw Man (not to mention a Red Herring) of tremendous popularity on the right. It is clearly inappropriate for professors to tell a student that his or her ideological beliefs are wrong; in every such example, I will side with the right-wingers demanding punishment. But a political scientist is required to accept all opinions on factual matters to be correct no more than a biologist. Opinions aren't inherently valuable simply because they exist. If they want respect, they have to earn it. But why do all that hard work? Wielding a gargantuan sense of entitlement is so much easier – almost as easy as trotting out tired, factually bankrupt arguments about liberal bias.