Radio talk show host Sean Hannity has issued a challenge to college students trapped in left-wing classes. He suggests that students bring their tape recorders to class and hold their professors accountable for their more outrageous statements. I have a different sort of challenge: offer your professors alternative books to include on their reading lists.
This suggestion might be more suitable for those who are a bit less confrontational than the freshman, Rebecca Beach, in the recent case in New Jersey. She went to the college administration over a particularly obnoxious e-mail she got from a professor. Don’t misunderstand: I applaud what she did. But I am aware that not everyone will have the personality or inclination to follow suit. My idea will work for just about anyone.
Here is what you do. Make an appointment with your professor. Mention that you are aware that there are other points of view besides the one being covered in class. Then modestly suggest that he or she assign a certain book. You, of course, have already chosen your book carefully. You want an academically credible book that challenges not only the professor’s conclusions, but also the assumptions that underlie his arguments.
For instance, students in Women’s Studies classes could modestly suggest that their professors include Taking Sex Differences Seriously, by Professor Steven Rhoads of the University of Virginia. As the title suggests, Dr. Rhoads takes on one of the most basic assumptions of the academic Left, namely that all sex differences are socially constructed. To the contrary, Dr. Rhoads argues that in many significant areas, men and women are hard-wired differently. The sex differences are not socially constructed at all, but are deep-seated and not likely to be eradicated.
For instance, Dr. Rhoads reports that academics having their first child start out with all good intentions of sharing child care. But when it gets right down to it, the woman ends up doing more of the hands-on care of the child. Dr. Rhoads believes that this is partly because the women report that they enjoy doing this work more than men do. But it is also partly because, the babies prefer their mommies. I can imagine even the most committed gender egalitarian, sensitive New Age guy, giving up and handing the baby back to his wife saying, “Here honey, the baby wants you.”
This means that policies designed to make men and women equal may very well backfire. In this particular instance, Dr. Rhoads feels sure that the gender-neutral “parental leave” policy has had anti-egalitarian consequences. Female professors take the leave to take care of their babies. Male professors take the leave to get some articles written. And that imbalance translates into new social pressure on the new mothers. When they return to work, their colleagues are apt to ask them, “so, did you get any work done while you were on leave?”
Or students in thinly veiled pornography classes could suggest my own “Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World.” In this book, I take on the claims of the sexual revolution. I show that casual sex (which I call consumer sex) is really anti-social. I show that recreational sex is really not as much fun as it is cracked up to be. I explain why reproductive freedom is an illusion. Most of all, I show that viewing sex as recreational creates an ethos of viewing your sex partner as an object. Our sex lives have become exercises in mutually using each other. But every serious moral code teaches that using other people is a serious wrong. Instead of use and be used, we could have a sexual ethos of love and be loved.
Both of these books have stellar academic credentials, even though they are not published by university presses. Dr. Rhoads is a full professor of Government at the University of Virginia. I have a doctorate in economics. I have taught economics for fifteen years at Yale and George Mason, and have been associated with the Hoover Institution at Stanford for 8 years. More to the point, both books, Taking Sex Differences Seriously and Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World, have ample footnotes to the scholarly literature. These are not books that can be easily dismissed for lack of credentials.
Either of these books would provide ample opportunity to challenge your professors. The best case scenario is that they actually adopt one of the books for the next semester’s course. It’s not too late to order these books for spring semester, by the way. They are both published by serious small publishers, rather than university presses. That means the book orders get filled in a more timely manner.
The worst case is that the professor refuses to even listen to you, and makes an unpleasant scene. In between the best and worst cases are a lot of possible outcomes, most of which will involve a net improvement in your situation. The prof might be less apt to push something when he knows you’ll push back. You may be able to make your prof more accountable, simply by letting him know that you are considering the subject matter seriously enough to propose an alternative. And who knows, you might even have an interesting conversation with your prof. You can command respect if you know what you are talking about and maintain your composure throughout your encounter.
College students are on the front lines of the Culture Wars. Direct confrontation is only one possible tool in your arsenal. Sometimes, a discrete approach can achieve many of your objectives. Save the heavy artillery for the big cases. If you bring out the small tactical weapons on a routine basis, you can take some major ground in the Culture Wars.
*Revised December 6, 2005