Harvard Professor Says Quality of Liberal Education Has Declined

Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield joined Monday the criticism started by a National Association of Scholars (NAS) report on liberal indoctrination occuring at Bowdoin College, a liberal arts school in Brunswick, Maine, by condemning the lax standards of liberal education.

"Earlier in my life," he wrote, "liberals took pride in the high standards they set for the colleges that had recently come to dominate and had made the headquarters of their liberalism."

"Now, they have made an unholy sacrifice of the devotion to excellence they once prized as a mark of distinction over fuddy-duddy, tradition-bound conservatism, and it is conservatives who stand for high standards in education."

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While even conservative-leaning news outlets like the Daily Caller and Campus Reform referred to the NAS as a "conservative" organization, Peter Wood, one of the report's authors, rejected the label. "I sent a note to Professor Mansfield objecting to his calling the National Association of Scholars conservative," he told The Christian Post.

"The principles we abide by are ones of traditional academic pursuits, which are neither conservative nor liberal," he explained. The NAS refuses to engage in political issues, and "is open to a wide variety of political views," including liberals, libertarians, and conservatives.

"By and large, a major shift has occurred in higher education in which people who once upheld a disinterested pursuit of truth now hold that all academic inquiry is politically motivated," Wood explained. "That's a fundamental change; you have opened the gates to a form of education that is highly partisan, which is indeed what we have today."

In his official statement, Bowdoin President Barry Mills went on the full offensive. "Let me be clear and direct: the report by the National Association of Scholars is mean-spirited and personal," he wrote.

"I find his statements puzzling because all our information was derived from Bowdoin's own publications and from direct quotations from students, teachers, faculty members, and Mills himself," Michael Toscano, another author of the report, told CP.

Wood agreed. "There's nothing mean-spirited in the report," he said. "As to it being personal, it's entirely false. I have never met President Mills. We did the study, not Tom Klingenstein."

Klingenstein, founder of the investment management firm Cohen, Klingenstein & Marks, debated Barry Mills on the golf course about the future of liberal education. As the Daily Caller reported, Mills criticized Klingenstein in a 2010 convocation address, and Klingenstein responded in the Claremont Review of Books.

"There's nothing in the study that reflects Tom Klingenstein's attitudes, and there's nothing personal in Klingenstein's attitudes either," Wood added.

"Mills is overstating his importance. He is a character in the study but not the central character."

The College denied requests for comment, standing behind its press release and Mill's statement.

In that statement, Mills also called the report "a vindictive effort…intended to harm and discredit this historic college in order to satisfy a personal agenda and retrieve a bygone era."

"We're not calling on Bowdoin to time travel to a distant era," Wood explained. "For the college to improve, it could perhaps usefully reexamine its past to see what past generations did better."

Nevertheless, Wood did criticize "the great cultural shift" that "nowadays bias is not fought against. Rather, bias is celebrated."

This bias may weaken traditional religious practice at Bowdoin. The campus does not support "religious diversity for people whose convictions lead them to dissent from popular culture and progressivism," Wood alleged.

Some "unexamined secularism…contains within it elements of a religious worldview," he added, tying this pseudo-religion to "the sustainability movement." This "salvation doctrine" carries "a path to atonement and a dogma – fixed beliefs about things."

"That's based on Christianity," he said.

When asked about religious persecution, Toscano rejected the word outright – "there's not, for instance, an overt attempt by the administration to uproot religious observance at the college." Nevertheless, "religion is pushed out of the center of college life."

"If you hold a position that's contrary to the general political outlook of the college it can be very difficult to get a fair hearing," he added, noting the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

In September 2011, Pastor Sandy Williams quoted Romans 1:18-32. Verses 26 and 27, which condemn homosexuality as unnatural, led two students to storm out and the college to remove promised funding.

"Many students who have a traditional reading of sexuality, they keep it close to their vest," Toscano said.

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