My week at Stanford

Dennis Prager
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Posted: May 13, 2003 12:00 AM

I spent last week at college. And not just any college. Stanford University.

And this is what I thought.

If you wish to learn facts, the university can be a great place. If you wish to study the natural sciences, the university is a great place. But if you want to acquire wisdom or to become a mature adult, the university is usually an impediment.

By and large our major universities are located on gorgeous land, isolated from the real world. The university, for a tenured professor in particular, is closer to a socialist utopia than any place on earth. He does little work, is relatively well paid, has extended time off, is surrounded by adoring young men and women (more about that later), and alone among wage earners, can be wrong all the time and pay no price.

This isolation is a major reason why most of society's stupid ideas, and few of its better ones, come from professors. You have to live on campus, as I did (at Stanford's Faculty Center) to appreciate just how isolated you are. Everything is campus based. You eat there, socialize there, study there for four years, read the college's newspaper, and rarely watch television or listen to the radio. In fact, for more than a few students, the university environment is not all that different from that of a cult. As a student, you are well fed and live among fellow impressionable young people. The only adults you encounter are there, for the most part, to shape your thinking. Other adults and other ideas are largely kept out.

As for the faculty, the university is one of the only places in society where it is actually a challenge to grow up (Hollywood is another). If you have gone from kindergarten to graduate school to teaching in college without serious time in the non-academic world, it takes a major effort to be an adult. Spending your entire life with minors is a recipe for permanent immaturity.

Any college that required its teachers to have spent five years doing something, anything, outside of academia -- driving a taxi, starting or running a business, waiting tables, playing sports -- would probably have the most mature (and therefore most conservative) faculty in America.

This problem, of professors never having had to live in the real world or work with adults, should not be underestimated. I recall interviewing on my radio show years ago a professor who had uncovered data showing that male high school and college teachers were the group least likely to remarry after divorce. Living and working around so many young and attractive women makes it very tough to commit to one adult woman.

It is no reflection on anyone at Stanford -- everyone I met was unfailingly polite -- to say that I felt it necessary every day to drive off campus to breathe the air of the real world outside the campus. But for those who love such a cocoon, it is no wonder that much of the outside world (especially the middle class world) is often regarded with fear and contempt. No wonder many professors do not know how to write in language accessible to that world. Many of them literally can't speak to the rest of us.

To its credit, the Stanford Daily fairly covered my lecture, "The Pathology of Anti-Americanism and Anti-Zionism." It even noted that it was "to a standing room only crowd" and put it on its front page. Most important, at the end of the article, the writer quoted three students as saying that at Stanford they never hear views such as these.

It is worth noting who brought me to Stanford: a combination of conservative and Jewish groups -- the Hoover Institution, a unique island of non-leftist thought at a major university, Stanford Republicans and a number of Jewish groups, most particularly Chabad at Stanford (the university's major Jewish group, the Hillel Foundation, deemed me too conservative to co-sponsor).

I went to the Stanford Chabad House off campus after my lecture to meet with students, among them three representatives of the College Republicans. Only in America does one find Christians from the Bible Belt utterly unself-consciously mingling with a Hasidic rabbi.

The American university is this country's primary incubator of anti-Americanism and opposition to Judeo-Christian values. Therefore, the funding of effective speakers on college campuses on behalf of America and its Judeo-Christian values must now be regarded as important as the funding of our military. We are at war at home as much as we are abroad.