Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Robert Maranto considers himself a centrist Republican, but in academia, he's often regarded as a raging right-winger. So he's glad that David Horowitz is around, voicing opinions similar to Maranto's own about the leftward tilt of American colleges and universities, but expressing them more forcefully. When Horowitz speaks, Maranto says, "I can play the moderate."
A professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Maranto is the lead editor of a new book, "The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope and Reforms," published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Horowitz is the fiercest living critic of the liberal hegemony in higher education. The late William F. Buckley, who made his name by writing "God and Man at Yale" in 1951, was the godfather of the movement. Maranto knows Horowitz and says he's "brilliant," but too confrontational and given to overstatement for Maranto's taste. Maranto also knows a professor who was fingered by Horowitz as one of "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America," in a book by that name. "I think he's pretty good," Maranto says of the professor in question. "He didn't deserve a couple of hundred e-mails calling him un-American."
The first words of "The Politically Correct University," under the byline of Maranto and his co-editors, Richard E. Redding and Frederick M. Hess, are:
"After we launched this project exploring intellectual diversity in American higher education, a colleague of the lead editor [Maranto] playfully accused him of wasting time on 'that stab-us-in-the-back book' rather than producing ever greater quantities of conventional social science. The remark was a joke, but it hints at the academic culture that led us to undertake this project, a culture in which any departure from the politically correct norm is viewed with suspicion. Our goal in this book is to explore and finally offer remedies to this culture of political correctness, the bugaboo that has most bedeviled American higher education in recent years. We focus on the problem of liberal political orthodoxy in teaching and scholarship and seek to understand how 'diversity' — of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but not of ideas — has become the dominant ideology in higher education."
That playful colleague has piped down, evidently. Maranto said he'd heard virtually no comment, pro or con, from any Fayetteville faculty since the book appeared. He's still relatively new on campus, arriving in 2008, which might contribute to the lack of response.
He grew up in Baltimore, and he's a political scientist by training, with degrees from the University of Maryland and the University of Minnesota. But at Fayetteville, he's the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform, part of the College of Education and Health Professions. "Political scientists and economists have been doing some of the best work in education reform," Maranto said in an interview.
"Education Reform" is a subject of particular interest to the Walton family, the Waltons of Wal-Mart, that is. A few years back, the Wal-Mart Foundation gave the UA $300 million, the largest private contribution ever to a public university. There were strings attached. The establishment of the Education Reform Department was one of them. Other wealthy critics of the public schools, including Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, have also taken an interest in the department's work. The kind of reform the department and its benefactors have in mind has to do with charter schools, vouchers, and keeping teacher unions under control, if not eliminating them entirely.
There are some impressive resumes in the Department of Education Reform, Maranto said, and their owners are conservative. "Without the Walton money, I'm not sure the people on the far right would be here." Their presence is making the university more diverse, he said.
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