Over the summer, while watching baseball one night, I began to think it would be kind of great if professors were more like baseball players.
Now, this wasn’t some secret wish that my Latin professor would grow eight inches and develop an infatuation with human growth hormone. There was just something intriguing about the way players can be moved around the field and traded between teams. (“Yale sends veteran economist to Cambridge for promising physicist and deconstructionist philosopher to-be-named.”)
This thought occurred as I was watching the Atlanta Braves, which is fitting if we carry this loose analogy over to Yale.
The Braves are a solid team, but, by most analyses, there is at least one crucial problem keeping them from seriously contending: They can’t hit left-handed pitching. Why? Their lineup is too stacked with left-handed batters. On paper, they have a set of good hitters. Together, though, they have a serious structural flaw.
As shopping comes to a close, the similarities between our circumstances and those of the Tribe come into perspective. Our lineup is brimming with some of the best in the game. Yet they’re all stepping up to the plate from the same side.
At the core of a true liberal arts education is the guarantee that students will be immersed in — not just exposed to — the intellectual tensions and tendencies of human history. However, this carefully tended field of studies needs good groundskeepers. The teachers are the material, as seen in shopping period’s golden rule: Shop professors, not classes.
And to this point, a story from professor Donald Kagan comes to mind. One day, when Kagan was a young professor at Cornell University, professor Al Bernstein detailed his interpretation of a segment of Plato’s Republic in his class on the history of Western civilization. At one point, a student objected. According to the undergraduate, Bernstein’s interpretation was incorrect and missed the deeper, ironic — and in fact opposite — meaning of the dialogue.
“Who told you that?” Bernstein called back to the student. “Professor Bloom,” the student replied, referring to Allan Bloom’s renowned Ancient Political Philosophy course, also being offered at the time. “Ah,” replied Bernstein without missing a beat. “That is what he told you, but [Bloom’s] deeper ironic meaning is exactly the opposite.” Kagan caps off this story sometimes with a grin and exclamation: “That is what a true education was!”
It is unclear, though, how easy it is to find this sort of story today at Yale. Where, actually, is the disagreement? Either the rigidity of disciplinary affiliations or simply a consensus of ideas seems largely to crowd out those Bloom-Bernstein moments.
It is missing the point entirely, though, to look towards this uniformity as an issue of party affiliation, as many do in shallowly bewailing “liberal academia.” A much richer, deeper intellectual diversity is what should be discussed.
Bloom — for example — was not seen as a particularly political intellect. His instincts were not immediately tied to a ballot box. Nevertheless, he was fundamentally different from his colleagues. He was, dare I say, on the right: He embodied a healthy distrust of social sciences, a reverence for the Western canon and a firm belief that an absolute truth should be the fundamental guidepost of a true education.
The dialogue between Bernstein and Bloom centered not on taxes, welfare or some politicized issue of the time, but was positioned between two great minds grounded and subsumed within an intellectual tradition they both revered. It was a matter of first principles, as the complexities of the human condition projected themselves onto the common work in dispute.
This is not to say that Yale needs to follow a cable news model of diversifying faculty — bringing along every conceivable viewpoint, absent any consideration of merit — or that the University should shy away from embodying and putting forth an intellectual worldview of her majority.
Yet we must remember that homogeneity is truly suppressive not because it silences dissent, but because it stifles the larger potential which the liberal arts, with all her divergences and disagreements, uniquely holds.
It is not that Yale needs to link arm in arm with the traditions and dispositions of the traditional Western canon — aptly and often associated with minds on the right — but perhaps the people teaching the revered truths of millennia should be more than devil’s advocates.
We don’t need to gut the lineup. Let’s just make some room for a few more righties on the bench.
Harry Graver is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.