With this column i break a two-year silence. Since January, 1995, when Newt Gingrich started talking about a book I had written, The Tragedy of American Compassion, I have not written a word about him in WORLD. For a while I even imposed a no-photos-of-Newt rule for the magazine generally, much to the amusement and occasional frustration of our super-talented art director David Freeland.
Maybe banning Gingrich pictures for a time was leaning over backwards, but I wanted to demonstrate that this is God's WORLD, not mine. Newt has been kind to me, and his comments dramatically increased my book sales, but I did not want to use this magazine to push a personal agenda or run puff pieces about pals. (There's too much public relations in Christian journalism generally.)
Still, after reading the most recent spew of charges against Newt, there's one point I must make. It's not about whether he violated laws concerning tax-exempt organizations; I don't know, and (as Joel Belz pointed out last week) those laws are so complicated that we don't know who does. It's about the constant charge that the college course he taught was different from other college courses because of its "partisan" nature.
Journalists have linked the words "Newt Gingrich" and "partisan course" numerous times in recent weeks. But repeating a charge does not make it true. Folks who should know the English language have been regularly confusing "partisan" (devoted to pushing a particular political party) with "ideological" (analyzing public policy questions through a particular worldview).
I've watched videotapes of newt's lectures, and I drafted part of one he gave on welfare reform. The course promoted conservative ideas, not Republican politics as such. Yes, of course, the course was ideological. One of the children's books that my four boys and I have all enjoyed is I, Mouse, by Robert Kraus. In it the title character says, "I like to eat cheese. Is that a crime?" Newt is a historian who understands liberal ideology, lucidly explains its disastrous consequences, and offers an alternative. Is that a crime?
The typical bigtime media answer has been yes; regular college courses are supposed to be "objective," and reporters are shocked, shocked, to find out about a course that is not. Leaving aside the questions of whether "objectivity" in its typical media definition is possible or desirable, and why we would want professors not to profess, let's examine the current academic reality.
Around the nation, the picture is bleak. As a member of the National Association of Scholars, I regularly hear of how feminism, reverse racism, homosexuality, and other ideological idols of our time trump scholarship at major universities. I haven't heard David Bonior--the Michigan congressman who is Newt's chief adversary--objecting to tax-deductible contributions being used to fund the teaching of Ivy League courses with titles like "Feminist Film Criticism" and "The Making of the Modern Lesbian/Gay Community."
The southern location of the University of Texas at Austin, where I teach, helps to make it slightly less left-leaning than its counterparts among major universities to the north, but students regularly tell me about propagandistic lecturers, about American history courses that ignore most of American history so as to concentrate on particular concerns of the political left, and about English courses that turn into diatribes about dead white males.
There is a partisanship problem, although not the one that newspapers have been emphasizing. Studies of faculty voting patterns at Cornell, the University of Texas, and other universities show overwhelming Democratic majorities among the liberal arts professoriate.
The key problem, however, is ideology: Anyone who praises God, family, free enterprise, or any Christian conservative cause is scorned. Meanwhile, a University of Massachusetts professor is free to announce on the first day of class, "This class will be consistently anti-American," and University of Wisconsin students learn about "interrupting business as usual (that is, social relations of racism, sexism, classism, Eurocentrism as usual) in the public spaces of the library mall and administrative offices."
I don't know what kind of House reprimand is appropriate for Newt. I do know that he deserves praise for teaching a terrific course that went a slight bit toward redressing some of the ideological imbalance. Instead of echoing charges of "partisanship," journalists should watch the videotapes and gain an education. They would be exposed to thought-provoking views that they almost certainly never heard from their regular professors.