May 21 • 03:30 AM

Times, they are a-changin'

Liberalism's gradual march to moderation

September 03, 2008
Not long ago I ran across this headline in the New York Times: 'On Campus, the '60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors retire.' One more reminder that age was catching up with me.

I began my college teaching career in the late '60s and yes, for the record, I was one of the liberal academics on their way to or retired from teaching.

Unlike some of my colleagues I attended no demonstrations, occupied any buildings or burned anything down. I managed to do so while keeping faith to progressive ideas. By the end of the '60s my teaching had taken the place of protest, except for my opposition of the Vietnam war when I refused to fail any male student who might have lost his draft deferment because of poor grades.

With the possible exception of The Beatles, the emergence of feminism and Dr. Martin Luther King, the decade of the sixties left, as far as I was concerned, little to brag about. A legacy of drugs, Kent State, and social dismemberment we could have easily done without.

A new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University has found as the older group of liberal activists moves toward retirement the next generation of teaching faculty is embracing a trend toward increasing moderatism.

Unlike their senior counterparts the moderates are less ideologically driven no doubt in part due to their coming of age in the apathetic '90s.

According to the study the "intense passions and polemics" during the past few decades have begun to fade.

At Amherst, for example, where military recruiters were kicked out in 1987, this year students listened as alumni who served in Iraq were welcomed.

While such events do not represent a radical shift to the right, the moderates have "a market sensibility" reflecting an "increasing careerism among junior faculty members" which does not duplicate the anti-business attitude of the previous generation.

This gradual march to moderation I appreciate. I have always preferred dialogue to confrontation. It is something which this 60s liberal can embrace while still leaving most of my social attitudes intact.

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