How Colleges Could Be, Should Be, Were, and Aren’t, by Andrew Joppa

“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore, so it eats it! It’s rather like getting tenure.”

― Daniel Dennett


While anecdotes from individual lives don’t necessarily prove anything, they can serve to illustrate the larger world in which they occurred.  It is up to the reader to determine if these “narratives” have wider significance or are merely anomalies, perhaps interesting, but serving no larger purpose.  With that in mind I’ll offer some insight into the environment that I’ve been intimately involved with for almost fifty years, the world of academia.


To provide a context, I would note that the college where I spent most of my adult life (now a university) was recently voted the best university in the affluent county where it has its main campus.  It is also the largest and the most financially successful. I start with that information so you can understand that my comments will be made regarding a school that may be seen as, at least typical, of the academic environments I’ll be discussing.


My university is not some outlier where its realities don’t contribute to a more general understanding. What I will try to illustrate is how intellectually healthy that environment was as compared to the depths to which the larger world of academia has descended. My school is one of the “healthier,” albeit in a modern America where almost all universities have intellectually degraded themselves to a greater or lesser degree.


My university has four campuses; two are in New York City.  Our student population is, and has always been, comprised of approximately 50% minorities. There is no doubt that I was always the Conservative exception in a Liberal world.  The question is…was I allowed to flourish and express my ideas openly with no fear of risking my employment?  There is no doubt that during my twenty-five years in the classroom I had little political agreement with hardly anyone, argued with almost everyone…but my voice was allowed to be heard, and even encouraged by administrations that probably disagreed with most ideas I offered.


From 1985 through 1996 I was named faculty member of the year five times.  This was in an environment that had approximately three hundred full-time faculty.  That award was decided by the vote of graduating seniors…once again, fifty percent were minority. After my win in 1996, they changed it to where you could only win once every five years.  This was comedically called the “Stop Joppa Regulation.”


 My teaching model was the free market system, the value of property and the rights of the individual.  I was aggressive and made no bones about my rejection of group identity and pointing out the absurdity of political correctness whenever it reared its ugly head. The students who admired me the most were African Americans. As best I can determine, it was because I didn’t care that they were African Americans. I didn’t patronize or deal with them as a population that had to be treated carefully.  I treated them as they deserved…as individuals.


 I was called on to be the conservative voice in a series of debates held in our large lecture hall.  Each of these events were packed to overflow and classes were dismissed so they could attend.  Most typically the debates would be between myself and another professor offering an opposing, Liberal, viewpoint.   I debated against affirmative action and in favor of Charles Murray’s book, The Bell Curve. I debated that we had won the Vietnam War, and the congress eventually lost it.  I debated against the absurdity that science and math were gender biased and debated in favor of keeping courses in Western Civilization mandatory in the general education curriculum.


I would note that there was a “vote” taken at the end of these debates as to who had “won.”  I “lost all of them…but they were all close and were taking place in a Liberal world where there was almost no chance of emerging as the winner. The more important consideration is…my school encouraged these debates and the student’s loved them.  My conservative voice wasn’t discouraged…it was sought out.


My office was the meeting place for faculty in the business and economics division.  I’d like to think it was because of me but, more likely, it was because we had the coffee urn.  My best friend, an ardent Liberal, would show up every morning and we would throw “bombs” at each other.  Others would sit around enjoying the show. It was classic academic theater.  Those around us seemed to thrive on it. We disagreed, but that was the basis of our friendship which we extended into many Saturdays of golf where our fellow golfers had to “shush” the volume of our disagreement.   It was great fun…great friendship. He passed shortly after I retired…I still miss him.


All of this wasn’t ancient history.  This was just a few short years ago. Within that limited time span, almost everything I’ve described is no longer possible at most American universities.  There are, of course, exceptions; Hillsdale comes immediately to mind, but they are exceedingly rare.  That healthy academic world has been replaced with one of intellectual suppression and one in which faculty fear the loss of their jobs if they accidentally say the wrong thing or something is interpreted in the wrong way.


I still teach online.  In that environment I can weigh every word I write and offer thousands of words of unnecessary modifiers to ensure I’m not singled out as a member of the “oppressive white majority.”  By so doing, I’ve cut them off from much that made me a good teacher. Like so many others, I’ve made decisions to enable me to pay my bills.  I’m not proud that I’ve done that.  In my defense, I would add, that I would never teach the dogmas, or anti-Americanism, associated with modern Liberalism…I just avoid the ideologies of conservatism; it would be impossible to do so without destroying the very fabric of that course.


Speaking now not of my courses; the big losers in all of this are the students who, instead of being pulled from their parochialism and lifted into a world of reality, are having most of their incoming biases reinforced and deepened.  Not only don’t they grow…but they emerge from the process vastly diminished from their starting point. I do my best to interfere with this, but it is a modest contribution that has negligible impact when I’m limited in what I can say and I’m competing with the entire weight of their other involvements.


Every year millions of Liberal intellectual automatons are being dumped into the larger society.  They become our lawyers, our judges, our politicians and our leaders… everywhere.  That my world is contributing to the destruction of America is a difficult recognition for me to accept. That I am even remotely a part of it is a humiliation. I’d like to pushback harder but then, even my limited contribution would be lost. The only thing that would be more humiliating would be as a member of The FBI or Republican in congress.


It is returning colleges to the early world that I’ve described that should be our goal. If we could once again create an academic environment where all ideas could flourish and were tolerated, if not respected, then and only then would our colleges return to their ability to contribute essential values to the American culture. If not, they will continue to be sources disunity and propagated ignorance. If they can’t be healed, they should be allowed to pass because of their continuing dysfunction.


“Only in the detached from reality world of goofy Hollywood and modern academia could a mass murderer like Che Guevara be turned into something of a cult celebrity.”

― Paul Kengor

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