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Scientific progress has taken a lot of the work out of the essentials of everyday life. Food and shelter take less hard work and less time. Women’s housework automation has increased their free time. The result of that is a lot role requirements have changed over the last 100 to 150 years. Primarily because of scientific advancements, both men and women work together in heated and air-conditioned office buildings. Not so 150 years ago. Roles have changed significantly over that time, but I’m not sure the culture and it’s rules have caught up with the change in roles. Today, almost daily we have scandals reported in the paper of un-wanted sexual comments by men to women that is called sexual molestation. These are not criminal charges that would end up in court with hearing from both sides by a jury of their peers. Instead they are charges in the headlines of inappropriate behavior for things that may have happened 30 to 50 years ago. Companies and other organizations who want to maintain their public images of “good” are firing these people or forcing them to resign. It’s women against men it would seem. And most men are paying the price without any real recourse. In the last couple of parts to this blog, I’ve tried to make the point that the world is changing and the roles of both men and women are changing. Hence the cultural rules of behavior need to change with it. In today’s paper a column by one of my favorite editorial writers – Walter Williams – says that many customs have changed over the years. But I think maybe not enough and not all for the good. He also says that “Society’s first line of defense is not law, but customs, traditions and moral values.” I’m not sure what the new rules will, or should, be, but I think I know some things that are important for the continuation of human existence and should be supported by whatever the new rules are.
In the editorial pages of the papers that I read, there are both men and women writing columns rejoicing at what is going on and there are also both sexes expressing concern about where we are and where we might end up. But if we can agree on what’s important, we might have a chance on ending up with new rules, customs and morals that support the important things. For the human race to continue to survive I think some of the important things are food, shelter, and sex. These are also the things that scientific development has mostly affected. Food and shelter have improved and require much less effort and this has caused some changes in the roles of both men and women. In a Wall Street Journal article in The week-end “Review” section, a woman wrote an article headlined “Is Office Romance Still Allowed?”. I learned some things reading it that I had not known. For example she cited a survey that said that 27% of single and divorced men and women viewed work as a way to meet partners and with millennial’s it was approximately 33% who were likely to view the work place as a “dating pool”. She doesn’t think it surprising that “… many of us find lovers and spouses where we spend most of our waking hours.” The roles have changed and interaction of men and women is different so it “…maybe time to rethink the rules”.
When I graduated from high school several decades ago, it was said that “A woman goes to college to find a man to marry.” Now it would seem that a woman goes to college to get a job and finds a man to marry in the work place. Other things in the office and world have changed. Women have entered what has been mainly a “man’s world” and demanded acceptance as people of equal ability. This should happen, and we are well on the way there. But men have always told other men at work, off-color jokes. We all have different sensitivities, and some men don’t like that, but they tolerate it. Men used to treat women with more respect and courtesy than other men, but women want to be treated as “equals”. But until the customs and rules change, they may have to put up with some stuff they are not used to.
In the WSJ article, the writer says she thinks that “flirting is mutual”. I believe that and I think men and women have about the same sex drives. For both sexes, there is a variation from person to person, but if both men and women did not find sex enjoyable, then the human race would have long since died out. The physical differences between men and women have not changed over the years, but the consequences of sexual intercourse have become much more controllable with modern technology. For most of history, men could enjoy sex and walk away without a lot of concern for the consequences. Not so with women, who might be pregnant and have a child that would need to be raised to adulthood. With modern birth control alternatives, women can have sex pretty much free of any concern. My younger friends have told me that unmarried girls having sex today is much more likely than when I was young and single and birth control pills were not readily available to everyone. In our culture in the past having children outside of marriage has always been frowned upon. But today it’s possible to have sex without children. (There are today women who want to have children without marriage, because they get money from the government – but getting pregnant is not their fault?) I think the human race is better off having children by a couple with a long-term commitment to each other. Most children learn helpful things from a family environment with two loving people, rather than a single parent who is going to be fully occupied with doing all the things necessary to provide food and shelter as well child development.
So I would add “responsible child up bringing” by a man and a woman to the other three things needed for the effective propagation of the human race. Should sex outside of marriage still be outside the rules? Maybe, maybe not.
In the workplace, fairness should be the major criteria, along with order, and the achievement of necessary objectives for the organization to prosper. If a manager is having an affair with a subordinate, it will be difficult to maintain “fairness” or the appearances of fairness in work assignments, performance reviews, raises and promotions. So that should be out. Other parts of the company, maybe it should be at least restrained. Sexual propositions in the public bar are OK and may be expected.
In the past, it’s been the men who have been expected to initiate relationships. Women have tried to look attractive to men – maybe to one man in particular. But she may not know which man she will attract – it may not be one she isn’t interested in. The only way a man may know is to make a pass. But “no” means “no”. If she is not interested, she should tell him and he should respect that. Maybe women should feel they can initiate things without criticism. But if he’s not interested, then “no” means “no”. Honesty is important. Maybe these roles and expectations of who should initiate and who should respond should change. I think in the past this has been maybe a function of who is responsible for support outside the house and the consequences of sex. All this is different today. But as Walter Williams pointed out, society’s customs, traditions, and values are the first line of defense – not the law. The roles have been changed so maybe we need new customs, traditions, and informal rules – a new culture.
In the 1970’s. I became a manager in fairly large division that provided services to all parts of a Fortune 500 company. We were operating under both the women’s lib movement as well as affirmative action. I thought we were doing pretty well on both fronts, we had both the first female supervisor and the first black supervisor in the company. Affirmative action was a racial program required regular reporting. If you did not meet the “fairness requirements” the company could be sued and you had to go to court and defend yourself. Women’s lib, on the other hand required no official reporting and you were judged by stories that appeared in the news which weren’t formal and subject to proof. When I got this job, we had problems completing projects, and problems with retaining employees, or “turnover”.
I decided that the retention problem needed to be solved first. Solving it would help project management problems. To do this we re-defined salary descriptions and grades. We looked at industry data on salaries and specified the time, performance ratings and experience required for salary increases and promotions. This emphasis on performance, consistency and fairness paid off with a sharp decrease in the turnover rate. But news publications had a lot of reporting at the time criticizing companies for not paying women as much as men. The standard reports compared from school graduation and salary. We were trying to recruit new women grads at the same salary levels as men, and keep them comparative. These reports worked pretty well for men, but I decided they did not work as well for women. The first time I came to this conclusion was when I tried to promote a talented to woman to be the supervisor of an organizational section that had a large project starting which would need both talent and attention. But when I talked to her I learned she was several months pregnant and wanted to take several month maternity leave after the baby came. This leave would fall in the middle of the project and I thought we could not have a supervisor gone for that period of time in the middle of the project. She said she understood that, and knew she was passing up a promotion and a raise, but she wanted the time off anyway. She did not take this promotion, but she got one about 2 years later when a similar position came open. Women are different than men, so if you compared her salary based on years out of school, she would not look as good, because of the maternity leave.
Today there are many more women in the work place on a full-time professional career basis than there used to be. And the salary reports are still based on time out of school and women are still less than men. However in today’s world, the major headlines are around sexual molestation. Affirmative action complaints require court action where charges need to be proved and can be effectively defended if not justified. Rape charges are criminal cases which also need to be proven. But proof of rape is frequently difficult because it may just the man and the woman who were there and know what really happened. The head lines today reporting sexual molestation by women apparently don’t have to be proven. People haven’t gone to jail because of molestation charges, but the have lost jobs.
I was in the same job as I was in the above story, when a female supervisor that I had promoted to that position came into my office with a young girl (18 or 19 years old) who was a fairly recent hire. She was in an administrative job that reported to the department manager (both these ladies reported to the same man). She told me that the department manager made the young lady uncomfortable by telling “off-color” jokes. In response to my questions they said that he had never propositioned her nor touched her, She had not told him that she did not appreciate his attempts at humor. I mentioned this to my HR rep and he thought we ought to have this manager investigated. We had an internal unit that handled in-house investigations that had a very good reputation. I thought this might not be a big deal. She was young and innocent and probably more sensitive than most women. But it turned out that he had made proposals for relationships to other women in the division although they did not work for him. According to the report, they all told hem “no” and he respected that and went away. I talked to my secretary who was one of the women. He had taken her to lunch and proposed a relationship. She told him “no” and he never bothered her again. She did not think it was any big deal. I thought that I at least needed to talk to him and tell him that was not acceptable behavior, but the HR people told me I needed to fire him. My secretary and the other girls I knew that had been involved did not think he deserved to be fired. He did not know what was going on until I called him into my office and fired him.
I knew that the company had a policy of not hiring family members to work in the same division. If a person had a relationship with someone who worked for them it would be difficult to maintain fairness. And I thought fairness was important in the work place, but he had been told “no” by people who he had not reported – either directly or indirectly to him. And he apparently respected the “no” from each. People have different sensitivities. I don’t know what jokes he had told to young lady who had first complained about him, but I would guess that most females might have laughed. Some might have repeated the jokes. He had no chance to defend himself, and did not seem to know he had done anything that would deserve to get him fired. But he lost his job. The best thing that happened to him is that nothing made the newspapers, and our HR people said that would confirm to another potential employer only the years that he had worked for our company. So he might have had a chance to get another job. Matt Lauer doesn’t have that option no matter how remorseful he may be. I wouldn’t hire him now, would you?
People have sometimes vastly different sensitivities. This was brought home to me by another incident that happened while I was in the same management position. We had another young woman quit because of sexual behavior, but it was the women she was working with who apparently caused it, not the men. She was young, talented and we had high hopes for her, and she was married – not single like the other woman. Her department manager called me up one morning and said that he had just gotten off the phone with her. She called in and quit over the phone. She was so upset with the women in the department that she wasn’t even going to come in to clean out her desk – she had sent her husband to do that. What happened apparently was that another female in the department was having a birthday and some of the women decided that they would take her out for her birthday. So they decided to take her to a men’s strip club (all the strippers were male). She not only refused to go, but she decided that she did not want to work with “women like that”.
This all happened over 30 years ago, and I decided that I really did not know what the rules were, and I still don’t. And it’s only seemed to have gotten worse. Women are, I think, as goo as men in any jobs, but there is still a difference in the two sexes. Hopefully we will end up with some new cultural rules. I don’t know what they will be, but I have some ideas of what is important and will share that in Part 3.
As little as 150 years ago and long before that, men and women where physically different. Men tended to be bigger and stronger than women. In addition, they were different sexually. Women would get pregnant, by having sex with a man, and bear a child. Then, for the first year or more, she would be necessary for its survival. There weren’t formulas and bottles and nipples readily available so if she did not spend time with it, the baby would die. Food and shelter were important to everyone’s survival. Food came as it does today from animal raising and killing and farming. But there were not implements as there are today to do that. Instead it required strength, stamina and some brute force. Erecting shelter was also by hand and men were much more suited for providing food and shelter physically than women were. Likewise men could not do what women could do for a new-born child. But women could also keep house, wash clothes, and cook the food that was brought to her family’s home. So in the old days, for survival and a propagation of the species it took a man and a woman who performed different roles. And for this to continue until the children were grown and able to fend for themselves, there needed to be a commitment between a man and a woman to stay together and help each other. So the roles were defined at least partly by physical attributes and what it took to survive. A man and a woman needed to be willing to stay with each other and perform these role for a long time. So the culture blessed marriage and commitment. Children outside of marriage were in danger of not having what they needed to survive. So the culture considered sex outside of marriage as bad because it endangered survival. Most religions embrace this idea as a moral imperative.
Today things have changed to make the necessity of separate roles not what it used to be. Through scientific developments there are implements available for farming and ranching that have taken a lot of the strength and endurance requirements out of them. Not only are they easier but they take less time. These things did not happen all at once, but evolved over time as science has evolved and provided new tools and implements. By the mid-twentieth century, men still went off to work every day. Many of them were not hunting and farming, but working in an office or doing other jobs that them required much less manual strength and effort. Household chores began to take less time than they used to take, but not like today. Fifty years ago we had washing machines, but a lot of the work was manual. My mother still hung clothes outside on a line for drying.
Today, most kids have not ever seen a clothes line. Clothes washers and driers and dishwashers have taken a lot of time out of the requirement to keep a house and most men work in an office where their size and strength is not particularly important. There are even other jobs where advance implements reduced a lot of the time and effort. As men’s jobs have gotten easier and house work takes less time, more and more women have been after jobs in offices that used to be a man’s world. The cultural moray’s have changed more slowly than the change in role requirements. A lot of this has happened in the last 60 years. The first part of the last century saw the beginning of a lot of this with the development of the internal combustion engine which not only powers automobiles but farms and construction equipment. But the recession of the 1930’s probably slowed some of this down. Then, WWII with its increased amount of research in the 1940’s no doubt contributed to the increase in the development of new devices in the 1950’s and later.
At the time I got out of college in the 1960’s the physical differences in size and strength did not matter too much but the sexual differences were still important. Men could have sex with a woman and walk away without worrying. Women, on the other hand worried about getting pregnant. And having a child without being married was still not good. But the nature of the work place was changing and women were starting to be accepted in jobs that used to be for men only. I thought this was good. As a manager in a large division that supplied services to most departments in a fortune top 100 company, I think I had promoted the first female supervisor and at one point I had the highest ranking female manager in the company.
Those were the days when female roles were changing and the public emphasis and news stories were about the difficulties that women had getting accepted in the work place. News headlines in the 1960’s and 1970’s were about women getting accepted in the work place which had been a “male domain” up until then. Then came the development, general acceptance and availability of the birth control pill. Men have always been able to have sex outside of marriage and been able to walk away without worrying about the consequences afterward. Now women can do the same thing. In addition, working alongside men in the work place women and men have much more contact and a different relationship during the work day. And spouses, if they exist, are not present.
In the old culture, men were supposed to be the initiator’s of romantic relationships. I think that this was – at least in part – due to the differences in the consequences of having sex. Forced rape has been a criminal offence for as long as I can remember, but it requires going to court and proving it was non-consensual. A difficult thing to prove because there were usually no witnesses. If it wasn’t proved, the culture condemned women who had sex outside of marriage. So the woman involved had a lot to lose and not much to gain, and either way she was going to have a lot of publicity. Understandably, women were reluctant to do this. On the other hand, in a working world office, fairness has always been a positive requirement. So doing sex for a working advantage has always been unacceptable. But it happens. on the other hand, unmarried men and women are together much more in the work place than ever before. So having relationships that don’t involve work happen. The result of all this is that the work place has different rules than the culture at large, and those are changing. In today’s world, sexual advances without sexual intercourse can be considered harassment or molestation in the work place. And with the sensational orientation of the news, if the person accused is well-known or high-ranking, this will be reported on the front page. And because the organization that he works for doesn’t want the bad publicity, he will be fired. There is no proof required, and the woman’s name usually will not be reported. There is no criminal charge, but the man may have difficulty finding another job whether he’s guilty or not. So there are a lot of women coming forward with stories that may or may not be true. (When I was younger, the Hollywood stories were that if a woman wanted a particular movie role, she would seduce the director. Who ever knew what instigated what?) The reason for her charges may or not be sexual – there was a story in the local paper recently about a manager who was charged by a woman and was fired. She got his job. Was he guilty or not? Will he be able to find another job or not?
Part 2 and 3 will look at some personal stories related to this from a work place perspective. We need some rule changes in the work place, but I don’t know what will happen or specifically what I think should happen. But I know the things I think are important to the reasonable continuation of the human race.
The third article that appeared that day was a Wall Street Journal section called “Squaring Off ” on Big Issues on Energy. They had people who were for or against the proposed activities presented. The people were wiling to tell “why” they thought the way they did. There were six questions – or issues – that ranged from oil & gas to electricity generation. On each question, they asked one person on each side of the issue to explain (the “why” ) of his or her position. The section was 6 pages long. Each page had a brief description of the question and a few related statistics. But the majority of each page was taken up by each persons explanation of “why” he (or she) had come to their position. Had they just asked the questions and asked each of the people “what ” his position was, they probably could have done it in one page or less. It takes much more time and space for news media to report the “why” than the what. But it was a useful exercise for me. Even though I thought I had positions on about half the issues, reading the opposite opinions may not have changed my position, but it gave me some ideas and knowledge that I had not had before. The other articles gave me from useful information to think about. Their probably is not a perfect answer to either side of any of them, and the explanation provided by both sides of each question seemed logical and thought out.
I think that news media have at least 3 major problems today in doing what they say their mission is. The argument they put forth for the public is that they provide accurate and objective reporting of facts that are needed by people in a politically free society. they need to understand the issues of the day so they can vote intelligently. But I don’t think they do a very good job of any of that for three primary reasons.
At some point OXY Oil & Gas, USA, which was headquartered in Tulsa, decided that they needed someone reasonably high in management designated and trained to deal with the news media in case we had a catastrophe . I’m not sure why, but I was selected for that – to be the Crisis Communication Manager. When this happened in the 1990’s, Tulsa had a metropolitan area with a population of about 600,000. We had 3 or 4 TV stations belonging to major national networks and still had two local Newspapers. The training was from a training company based in Washington D. C. which was founded and headed by a lady who had been a CNN news reporter. Our class trainer, who came to Tulsa from that company, was also a former CNN news reporter. We had a fairly small class. It included me, our environmental manager, our environmental lawyer, and H.R. manager who was my back-up. She said the purpose of the class was to teach us how to handle suddenly being in front of TV lights and a TV camera with a reporter asking pointed questions. The class was both lecture and mock situational practice. One thing I remember from the lecture was that she said, “beware the 10 second sound bite”. TV news can use anything you say and a sentence or less taken out of context can sound like something entirely different than what you are trying to convey. She also talked about “loaded questions” which can generate 10 sec. sound bites that can sound sensational. She said that the best way to avoid this is before you get in front of the camera, decide the message you want to convey. Figure out how to say it quickly and succinctly (an “elevator speech”). And whatever question you get asked, that’s your answer.
The news media defends themselves by saying that they only report facts, and provide the public with information they need to hear to be informed. I decided some time ago, that the newspapers have the equivalent of the TV sound bite with a short quote. Sound bites are factual things said by someone being reported by the news. But can they be slanted by the news media? Yes. And it was a former national news reporter who first told me that. The other thing that newspapers and TV news can do is select what is reported. One of the things I have learned from some of my news paper reporting friends is the saying “If it bleeds, it leads”. Sensational news tends to get reported on the front page or as the lead story. Other news is reported on the back page or not at all. TV news shows which are relatively short, also have no choice but to be selective. And what gets reported and where can slant the news. So even though news media is reporting “only facts” can they be distorted and not balanced? Absolutely!!
So if the news media are not doing what they claim – why? The first problem the news media is that the Universities they hire journalism students from have all ready inundated them with a single point of view. (and we are more comfortable with people who think like we do.) The Universities, in general tend to be more left-wing than they used to be. The worst areas are probably outside the Business and Scientific degree areas. In science, there is enough information to cover that their might not be time for a lot of policy discussion. The faculty may be too busy attempting to give them the whole scientific picture. In business there is still considerable conservative thinking. But since the Federal Government has become responsible for the macro-economy (in the 1930’s and 40’s) Economic departments can have political positions in the area of Macro-economics. But still today, the most open political opinions probably come from areas where the Journalism Schools are. So big news media tend to hire Journalism majors as news reporters who tend to report the news in line with their thinking, so the news may be distorted without their necessarily realizing it.
The second problem papers have that reporters know how to write, but don’t know much about the subjects they are writing about. When I was an under-grad in college we had to take mostly required courses in our 1st two years. The required courses included some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) courses. So graduates – regardless of major – had at least an introduction to science and math. But, I think, Universities have mostly done away with those required freshman and sophomore courses. The colleges have gotten more competitive is recent years and this probably helps attracting students. So the chances are good that most of the journalist majors haven’t had any education in those subjects. Most of today’s political issues are in these subject areas. So I decided sometime ago that the journalists knew how to write, but did not know much about the subjects they were writing about. If that’s the case, then they don’t have the knowledge to ask the right questions or make a reasonable evaluation of the answers.
The third problem is that the big news media is under considerable competitive and financial pressure. The newspapers and TV media have to make money to survive. Private ownership should make them independent of government politics and more balanced. But in today’s high-tech world they have a lot of competition with cable and satellite TV (not to mention social media). Revenue comes from being able to draw viewers and readers. Sensational stories are thought to do this and I wouldn’t argue with that assumption. Costs for newspapers include paper, ink and staff. The daily papers are getting thinner which saves costs. Even the Wall Street Journal is getting thinner. Some that may be loss of ads with more on-line shopping. But with the idea that sensationalism sells news papers and draws TV viewers, news has become more sensational and less informative on the issues that matter. Because of reduced space in newspapers there is less “why” reporting. TV news has always been constrained by time, so there has never been much “why” reporting. But it’s become more “sensational” as well.
I don’t know what the fix for all this is. If you have any ideas, please let me know.
If you read part one when it was 1st published, it’s pretty obvious that I wasn’t a Journalism major. I have recently made changes to correct sentence structure, spelling, and some wording to make it more readable and understandable. But I did not change the basic thrust that I think Universities today are of one mind and not allowing diverse opinions and “free speech”. The second article was written by a man named Gary Abernathy who is Publisher and Editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette. I have never been there, but apparently Hillsboro is a small town (~6,600 pop.) in Southern Ohio. The area went heavily Republican in the recent Presidential election.
Because they strongly supported Trump in the election they have become a confounding factor to “Big Media”. His starting assumptions is that “Big Media” is far left in it’s thinking and could not understand how the people in the area voted the way they did. So (mainly BBC) were sent to Hillsboro and set up shop. He thinks they probably expected to find “racist, misogynist, and uneducated” people – a collection of “hillbilly’s”. Instead he says they found residents who are”welcoming, industrious, smart, interesting” and “opinionated”. He thinks people there are well-informed and ready to defend their politics while still respecting the opinions of visitors with different view points. He thinks that the people who spent time there probably left without changing their political views, but they liked the people and probably changed their views on the people they met and respected them. It sounded like he would like to thank them for coming.
The story reminded me of an experience that I had in the “real world” when I was much younger and not long out of college. I grew up in a small town in Florida, but was a new (ROTC grad) 2nd Lt. in the Basic Artillery Officer training course in Ft. Sill, OK . (Just outside of Lawton, OK.) The class room material was reasonably technical – required some physics and math to fully understand. There was a Marine Lt. from a base in Cal. who – in class – seemed like one of the smarter students. In Lawton, OK there is not a lot to do on Saturday night (we had Sunday off) and so the first couple of Saturday nights a group of us ended up in a bar at the local Ramada Inn. We were about the only people in the place so we ended up talking to each other. Since this was a presidential election year (the election was only about 6 months away) the conversation turned to politics. It took only a few minutes for me to realize that this Marine Lt and I disagreed on most of the political issues of the day. I could not figure out how he arrived at his positions – they seemed totally illogical to me. But he seemed like a smart guy, so how could he come to such “dumb” conclusions. But we had little else to do and I was curious about how he got to his conclusions. So I started asking him “why?” Why do you think that? It had taken only a few minutes to understand what he thought but it took several hours to understand “why?”.
Once I understood “why”, I realized that growing up was a whole difference experience for us. His experience growing up was a lot different than mine. He grew up in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. I grew up in a small town in central Florida ( population about 9,000). Philadelphia was much bigger, had big industries which employed a lot of working class people. My home town had no big industry, but mostly farmers, cattle ranchers, and shop keepers. The starting point (what I came to call “beginning assumptions”) for both of our conclusion was our experience growing up. His experiences growing formed the start of his logic that justified his political positions. his conclusions were perfectly logical once I understood his starting point. (He was probably as smart as I thought he was from class). I learned some life long lessons from this experience. While I did not change my basic positions, I learned some things from his experience and realized that neither of us could prove that what we thought was the right alternatives for the country as a whole. And we became good friends.
Big media people showed up in Hillsboro because they wondered “why” people thought what they thought. The “what” they thought in the election was pretty obvious from the election vote counts. It’s interesting that not all of the big media companies showed up there. So not everybody wanted to know “why”. But knowing “why” someone comes to the conclusions or supports the things they support are how we learn things. They know things that we don’t know and/or they have thought of things we haven’t thought of – like unintended or possibly undesirable consequences. They have different beginning assumptions because they have experiences that we haven’t had. And given their beginning assumptions, there conclusions are perfectly logical. We understand them. Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, habit 5 is “Seek First to Understand – then be Understood. I agree with Covey, if we first try to understand where other people are “coming from” and why they think the way they do then we have a chance of them hearing our point of view.
Before I read Covey’s book, I thought the moral of my story was that if we are willing to understand that people who have different view than we have is because they have had different experiences than we have. We may not change our opinion, but we can learn things and be friends. So the “why” people have the positions that they have may be more important than “what” those positions are. But we need to be willing to take the time to understand and listen to them.
There were recently several articles in papers that I thought dealt with the same basic subject – “How did we get so polarized?” Of the three that I would like to comment on in the next three parts to this blog, two were in the The Wall Street Journal (which recently had several articles that I thought dealt with the same basic subject). The third was in our local paper – The Tulsa World – but was written by a man from Hillsboro, Ohio. The first WSJ article was an op-ed article written by a John M. Ellis who it says is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The headline of his piece was “Higher Education’s Deeper Sickness”. He started with the observation that even “moderate-to conservative speakers coming to college campuses can trigger “near riots”. This is the symptom, but “what then is the disease? the problem he thinks is that “in most humanities and social science departments – especially those central to a liberal education, such as history, english and political science ” students hear only one opinion. And the more people hear only one opinion, the more “incoherent and irrational” they will become. He says “more than half of the spectrum of political and social ideas has been banished from the classroom, and what remains has degenerated as a result.” So “no matter how many statements supporting free speech are released” it doesn’t matter. He believes that higher education must involve learning to evaluate competing ideas, to analyze the pros and cons of rival arguments and concepts. So treating only the symptoms of student unrest is pointless, so how do we treat the disease? If this is the problem, the obvious answer is to get more diversity of opinion on campus. But how do we do that?
I agree with his conclusion that higher education needs to include different ideas. It needs to teach people to think, and that is dependent on analyzing different viewpoints of rational alternatives. And accepting and analyzing different view points is not happening like it should on college campuses today. Free speech should be not just a publication statement – it should be what all on campus believe and practice. But I don’t agree with how he thinks we got to this point. He seems to think that it has happened by design and by a plot of the “radical left”. I don’t think it was a plot, but by a couple of natural and unintended causes. First is the fact that we are more comfortable with people we agree with and are like us. So if more department heads have progressed to be liberal thinkers, they are more likely to hire people who think like they do.
The other problem is that Universities have become very competitive in the last few years and the rating groups and ratings more important. When I was in school, there were several professors who did not have phd degrees and had worked outside of college or even if they did have phd’s, they had worked in the private sector for a while. These were generally my best professors. The rating agencies today apparently count only doctorate degrees in making their ratings. But one doesn’t stop learning when one gets out of the classroom. The “real world” may have some of the best lessons. But I think because of the competition for students and the rating agencies only counting classroom work, that colleges today are much more prone to hire only people with Dr’s degrees and it doesn’t matter if they haven’t done anything out of the classroom. In the “real world” outside the classroom you are guaranteed to have differences of opinion and learn that there are no guarantees and – regardless of logic – there are no one guaranteed way to do things. And sometimes things that you don’t think will work – work well. So having people who don’t have anything but classroom experience and who are “like us” probably results in a single mind- set faculty. And today’s is probably left – of – center with all the problems that he cites. Our college education system would probably be better off with a lot more divergence of opinion and experience that we have today. It was not a plot that got us here, but how we get out is an interesting problem. Since we are more comfortable “with people like us” it’s probably not going to happen without outside intervention of some kind. But some of the other Wall Street Journal articles would help us in that direction if they had more “popular news” support.