Spiders With Tenure - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Spiders With Tenure

There is a great scene in “Richard II” in which the imprisoned monarch paces in a cell. He has only one companion, a spider. He is thinking of how he got into that mess of getting deposed by Bolingbroke. He says he will do something like make his soul the mate to his brain and try to produce the thoughts that will answer his crisis.

The reason I am thinking of this is that I am down in my office in my house in Malibu. I came out here late last night. As always happens at least once a year, there was an attack of house flies. They always congregate in one place right next to my desk, swarming against a floor-to-ceiling window. They are young and dumb, and it takes me a while to kill them all, but eventually I do. Then I sweep them up and flush them down the toilet. But in the meantime, a group of spiders has usually come along to eat the flies, and I have to kill them, too. It is a lot of work being a homeowner.

Anyway, I am thinking about thinking because I have a question that is perpetually going through my brain, and like the imprisoned Plantagenet, I am trying to figure it out in my spidery cell. This is roughly how it goes: Why are universities in this country so determinedly left-wing and anti-American? How did this come about? Who made it come about? What are the psychological and sociological factors that led to this dismal state?

I recently heard a story about a man who taught at a school in North Carolina who was so anti-American that although he was assigned to teach American history, he simply refused to do it. Instead, he selected two big black students to be his bodyguards like in the famous photo of Huey Newton, and they stood guard in his classroom while he paced back and forth inveighing against America.

Then I think of other teachers who talk about how they are rooting for al-Qaeda or for Saddam Hussein. Then I think of how when I was at UC Santa Cruz, in the election of 1972, in the campus polling precinct, there were something like 1,500 votes cast, of which 1,497 went for McGovern. The remaining three were yours truly, my girlfriend Pat Kane (who has not spoken to me in about twenty-eight years) and a friend who was a returning Marine going to school on the GI Bill. Why was there such a powerful left-wing monolith? Why is it even more pronounced now?

I start with a scholarly article I read back in 1971 when I was a government lawyer. A psychologist, I do not know who, had studied government lawyers and lawyers in the private sector, as well as businessmen and professors. His findings were fascinating. Generally, and with certain exceptions, the government lawyers were more close to their mothers than the private lawyers, more fearful than the private lawyers, and less inclined to take risks.

This immediately struck me as true. We were a timid, careful, frightened lot. Why else attach ourselves to the big Mama government who would nurture us, pay us a modest wage, and never expect very much from us? Why shelter ourselves with tenure and lifelong employment instead of going out into the big wide world and looking for the bucks?

My own mother, no dummy, read the same article and drew a smart conclusion. This, she said — I am paraphrasing — explains why government people and professors are so angry and resentful toward the society at large. Frightened people are angry people. And, she added smartly, envious people are weak, frightened people.

Now, at the time, I was a bit angry at her because of course I, her son, was a government lawyer. But I soon left that vale of tears and went out into the big wide world, where I still am. And it is true. People out here in the big wide world are a lot less angry and less jealous than people in government or the academy.

This, in a nutshell, I think, explains a lot about why professors and their students are so militantly left-wing and anti-American. They are sheltering in the academy from the chanciness and difficulty of the big wide world. They fear that world. And so they express their anger at it, the way frightened people often do.

The students pick it up from the faculty, and since there is no group more conformist than most college students, they all conform as if Stalin, and not just a professor, were laying down the rules.

The big question I often ask myself is why, oh why, did all of this happen in the past say, thirty-five years? I was a student my own self at Columbia in 1962-66, and you expect that Columbia would have been a hotbed of anti-American thoughts and action. But it was not at all. Many of my professors were patriotic, even extremely patriotic. This was true of my great economics professor, Lowell Harriss, and of my fine government teachers, and even of my superb English teachers.

At Yale Law School from 1967 to 1970 ( I dropped out to be sick and to work for a year in 1966-67 ) there were many patriotic teachers such as Mr. Alex Bickel and Mr. Robert Bork. How did they get to be such rara avises?

I think it has to do with tipping points and co-optation. At a certain point, when the radicals took over the student bodies and made major inroads into the faculty recruiting process, they took over recruiting committees. They made it clear that only other frightened, angry, Marxist types such as they would be admitted or allowed to teach, and lo and behold, soon the old patriots were marginalized or learned to keep their mouths shut so they would not get mau-maued at faculty meetings.

This was sad, but all too real and all too much a standard part of organizations: when a certain density of one militant type becomes apparent, the rest of the group takes on the coloration of the militant group and soon you have a Stalinist monolith.

The big difference between the anti-American, left-wing dominant group at the schools and the old guard at the schools is this: the old guard permitted, even welcomed dissent. The new left (now the old left) simply hates dissent and will not allow it.

Thus you get a faculty that Stalin would be proud of, and a student body that follows their lead.

Out in the wide world, the students often shed the influence of their faculties and go on to become all kinds of things, even Republicans. Especially when students enter the labor force, their lives change remarkably. Once someone has to get up in the morning, clean up, get dressed, spend the day at work, and live off the pittance he makes, the whole world becomes different. You look at loafers and bums totally differently. You look at taxes differently. You look at a country that gives you opportunity differently. In the workplace, a very rapid maturation takes place for most. Back at the university, where professors have tenure and only have to teach a few hours a week, the situation worsens. The faculty becomes like a black hole in space, a death star that gets ever darker and denser. The faculty is a leisure/intellectual class that never has to grow up and can cling to its fear and its childish loathing of the grownups out in the big wide world forever. But like all black holes, it threatens to crash in upon itself constantly.

Helping it to crash in on itself, I am happy to say, are my pals at the Young America’s Foundation, who send conservative speakers to resurgent, fearless College Republicans, Right to Life, and other groups on campus who have finally had enough and are fighting back. But they have a helluva row to hoe. It ain’t gonna be easy and the dominant powers on campus will need fighting against for a long, long time.

Ben Stein
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Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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