In this weekly column, I will put a socio-political issue into perspective. This means that I will look at both points of view of the story rationally, and hopefully come to a compromise that both parties can agree to.
‘Leftist-Indoctrination’ at the University of Amsterdam
Thursday-evening, a fellow Political Science-student of mine, Yernaz Ramautarsing, appeared on one of the, if not the, leading talk show in the Netherlands: Pauw & Witteman. I’ve known Yernaz now for more or less three years, and I am glad for him that he got this big break. He outshined former professional politician Rita Verdonk as a right-winged debater. However, his reason for being there was his perception of a leftist-indoctrination at the University of Amsterdam, for which he established a facebook page (linked) to share stories and examples of this perceived indoctrination. Not only for the University of Amsterdam, but for all Dutch universities. Truth be told, he invited me to like the page as well, but I politely declined the invitation. In this ‘Into Perspective’, I’ll tell you why.
The tagline of the facebook page reads (translated): “medium to document and publicize leftist indoctrination on Dutch Universities. This way, we keep all teachers focussed.” Which is, in my opinion, a good initiative. There’s a good possibility that every right-wing alternative to every left-wing professor instead chose a corporate life instead of the relatively underpayed position of professor, leaving only the left-wing to teach at universities. In ‘Pauw&Witteman’, Yernaz stated this as an undeniable fact on which statistical evidence is present. If so, I haven’t seen this evidence, but I can imagine it to be true.
There’s one true example of this I know of, being Meindert Fennema. A true socialist, he has written a satirical ‘diary’ of Geert Wilders. Even though it’s his right to do in his free time whatever he wants, his teachings were discredited due to that fact. However, he doesn’t teach at the UvA anymore.
But, Yernaz goes further in proving that the University of Amsterdam is indoctrinating its students. In an earlier interview with de Volkskrant, Yernaz complains about a picture of Karl Marx in one of the many staircases at the University. He sees indoctrination in the usage of a small bust of Lenin by the local Political Science-association ‘Macchiavelli’, which, according to the article, had been used the previous year to construct a snowman. I would have loved to see that one.
Is there even a problem?
As I’ve stated above, it is quite possible that most teachers are left-wing. My question, however, is as follows: even IF there is indoctrination, is this actually a bad thing? Over 80% of the people who leave the University with either a master’s or bachelor’s degree, will end up on a corporate job. The last few years have proven that most corporations are characterized by a culture of greed. I understand that Yernaz, based on his undying love for Ayn Rand, actually supports this kind of behaviour. Would it hurt for the greedy CEO’s of the future to get even a small moral foundation to base their decisions from?
In the interview with de Volkskrant, Yernaz poses the following dilemma: teachers talk about the failure of the market, but never its succes. Though the bias towards market failures is prevalent, it is the sign of the times. What good is it talking about the success of the market, when this success has proven to lead towards the current failure of the market because the banking system was left unchecked for too long? Perhaps a free market can get us out of this trouble, but Yernaz would have to acknowledge that the free market got us in this mess in the first place. However, I think I’ll know Yernaz’ answer already: “the market wasn’t free enough”.
Returning to the issue of the Karl Marx painting located in a staircase in one of the many faculties. Even though Yernaz might not agree, Marx’ analysis of alienation between the working force and capitalists was spot on, especially in current times. I’m not a Marxist myself, which would mean I believe in his solution to the worlds problems, but I do believe his analysis of his materialistic dialectics is one of the better ones, still relevant today. Maybe especially so. The uprising he predicted might not come from the workforce as Marx predicted, but by the current and next generation, whether they work in IT or construction. They will be fed up with the constraints on personal freedom by the very people who enjoyed these freedoms themselves in the ’60s and ’70s. But enough about that. Let’s get back to why a possible leftist-indoctrination might not be all that bad.
Our culture as a whole has taken a hard turn to the right the last few decades. Not just on an economic level through Reagan, Thatcher and in the Netherlands Lubbers. But also in the level of discourse, and on a social level. Janmaat, leader of the Centrum Democraten, the first right-wing populist party in the Netherlands during the early ’80s, was shunned for his ideas. Nowadays, his views would have been quite moderate as compared to some of the ideas proposed by the PVV and VVD. Even in the same broadcast that featured Yernaz, Rita Verdonk stated the ‘extreme’ views she was accused of having, are now shared by our left-wing social democrat party, the PvdA.
The real problem?
Another point I’d like to raise, is that we’re talking about University students here. In Pauw&Witteman, Yernaz stated that these students are highly impressionable by authority figures. My experience is, especially with Political Science, that these people are most aware of the political standings of teachers, professors and the University as a whole. People are aware that the University of Amsterdam is a deeply red institution, yet they chose to follow Political Science there, instead of, out of the blue, Leiden University (see what I did there?). These students are aware that people are preaching a red ‘indoctrination’, as Yernaz likes to call it. However, is this really where the problem lies? Is it not the students that chose to study at the University of Amsterdam just because it is deemed a red institution? Is it not our fellow students that one debates the most, either inside seminars or in a coffee break? Hell, even after exams. I know from a personal experience that Yernaz has to agree with me on this one – the biggest debate, and therefore the biggest influence on ‘impressionable’ students, is other students.
I know a fellow student who voted PVV before he joined the UvA. He was subject of ridicule from his fellow students (yes, even me) and has since then switched his preference towards the VVD. My point is, that people know that teachers have a left-wing preference. If you know this, you subconsciously put a guard up against it. At least, I do. However, it is much harder to defend yourself from the opinions from your peers. Let me use this crude metaphor: a girl goes to a gay-bar. She expects there to be only gays and not getting hit on so she lets her guard down. Unfortunately, there’s a straight guy preying for that very thing to happen. He buys her drinks, she thinks he’ll won’t try anything stupid. She trusts him, just like we do our fellow students. If there even is ‘indoctrination’, it is much more likely to come from fellow students, because of whom a ‘regression to the mean’ kind of consensus can form (i.e. people who are not socially or verbally strong adapt their opinions to popular ones in order to fit in. In Dutch, we call them ‘ja-knikkers’).
People that are don’t have an outspoken political preference and may thus be susciptible to this peer pressure, have in my opinion no place at a study called ‘Political Science’.
This is further proven by the fact that Yernaz, in his on Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ based wisdom, has been able to drag so many others into his rhetoric. I’ve seen it happen first hand. Yernaz might be good with words, he might even challenge me on paper, but he is just as guilty at indoctrinating students as are the teachers themselves. I myself have had some good sparring sessions with Yernaz, as had many others.
Another point I’d like to raise is that if you are aware of the ‘leftist propaganda’ being spread, there’s a good possibility you rebel against it. Just like I refused to go to a doctor when other people told me to, people gain confidence in their own beliefs. In my first year at the UvA, we interviewed the chief of the parliamentary redaction of right-wing newspaper de Telegraaf. He stated in the interview that he became right-wing at the UvA because of the leftist lunatics wandering about at the University.
To review his performance on Pauw & Witteman: he was verbally strong, though sometimes quite rude to especially one particular other guest (Freek de Jonge, a renowned leftist comedian). He didn’t make a fool of himself, but he is also pretty convinced of his own truth. I once made a deal with Yernaz that I would read his personal favourite book, ‘When Atlas Shrugged’, if he would read Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’. I don’t think this deal ever fell through. If so and Yernaz has read the book: I’m sorry. I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, just a summary. It’s too thick.
Note: I have sent the subject of this ‘Into Perspective’ this essay a day in advance to be able to respond. Here’s his response:
I thank Felix for giving me the opportunity to respond to his piece of writing. Yes the market was not free enough, I think the mayor part of the blame for the crisis is on government. But today I will be addressing the problem of left-wing indoctrination at our universities. The question should not in my opinion be, ”how bad is indoctrination”? It should be how do people who get paid from tax dollars behave themselves in a classroom. And who selects the books that are thought? On those two levels the indoctrination takes place.
To respond to Felix his point that I am just as guilty as the university I beg to differ. I am a private person trying to persuade people, I do not have the power to indoctrinate even if I wanted to. The argument that you rebel against at what you are thought is not valid, would we than have to teach nazis and communism just to be sure the student become neither? As I said on the talkshow, some people have a defense against it. Maybe they read Ayn Rand like me, maybe their parents raised them in a certain way. I am happy that those people turn out differently but it does not excuse the professors. And on our culture shifting to the right: If only. Thatcher. Reagan and Lubbers were in power 25 years ago!
On some particular issue like immigration I tend to agree with Felix. But I have seen no indication of the universities shifting to the right. Just to be clear I do not want to have ”right-wing” indoctrination instead. I want our universities to base their curriculum on true theories, and our professors to leave out their personal opinion when teaching a course. If these professors want to work somewhere where they can express themselves fully they should turn to the market instead of the taxpayer for their salary. So Felix after all this you are still invited to like the page even if you are a sceptic.