Just as I overdosed for years on conservative talk radio (I’m better now, thanks), I spent way too much time last weekend reading the columns of Mike Adams.
Adams is the conservative college professor whose Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture last week at the University of Montana turned out both protesters and defenders. The most surprising defender was U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who, we now learn, is all for free speech when it doesn’t involve answering questions posed by Montana reporters.
“Faith and conscience can’t be swept aside when people walk through university gates,” Daines said in a video message. As usual, he missed the point. Adams’ faith and conscience were not under attack. His manners were.
My reading of Adams’ work suggests a fairly conventional conservative thinker. It also suggests nothing particularly distinguished.
I confess that my reading skipped his sometimes controversial Twitter feed. Apparently, excessive use of Twitter results in bad hair and an inflated sense of self.
Adams is perhaps best known for a seven-year legal battle against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He alleged that he was denied promotion to full professor there because of speeches and columns he wrote for Townhall.com. The university won a summary judgment in district court, but Adams won a jury trial after an appeals court sent the case back to district court. The two parties then settled, and Adams got his promotion plus back pay. Neither party admitted liability.
Even the appeals court did not find that Adams was discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. The case turned on a much narrower question: whether Adams’ speeches and columns were the protected speech of a citizen speaking on matters of public concern or whether they became part of his university work when he submitted them in support of his application for promotion.
His columns are not exactly scholarly work. The record suggests, at least to me, that what continues to get Adams in trouble is not his beliefs but his arrogant and dismissive way of expressing them.
For example, in a column called “The Whiteness Protection Program,” Adams suggests that white males in the classroom can expect to be “attacked viciously by Marxists” and “tenured bigots” and “Starbuck Stalinists.” He suggests white males enroll in an online degree program using their “temporary black lesbian identity,” leaving the traditional classroom as “a safe space for the sharing of grievances by minorities, feminists, and alphabetically marginalized Americans.”
Let me just say this: I have been an American white male for half of the 20th century and nearly a quarter of the 21st. It’s great. As far as comfort and privilege go, the simple act of birth probably put me in the top 1 percent of all humans who have ever lived. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
But that may not be good enough for Adams. When he was criticized in a letter to the editor by a “Marxist sociologist” at his university, Adams responded by reprinting negative comments by the sociologist’s students on the Rate My Professors website.
In a column about leftist professors at his university, Adams wrote, “My Marxist colleagues are not true revolutionaries. They are cowards in a civil war of their own creation. And they are poisoning the academic climate with their toxic and highly contagious intellectual cowardice.”
In yet another column, he says his leftist colleagues are “trying to fundamentally transform America into a Marxist utopia.”
In a recent column, Adams warned future students that professors will try to destroy their faith, that they will say science has disproved the existence of God, that they will attack the unborn and that they will insist there is no objective basis for truth or morality.
Now, I am no expert on the academic thicket. But I have two degrees, and I have attended five colleges and taught at six. Not once have I ever heard a professor try to do any of those things.
Yet Adams makes it sound inevitable. He even committed the grievous offense of attacking a student by name in one of his columns.
I have never insulted a student in print, and no faculty member or administrator has ever asked me about my political convictions or religious beliefs. No political standards for instruction have ever been imposed or even suggested. Nobody checks my work to see if I conform to any politically correct standard.
I don’t doubt that abuses occur. I have heard too many troubling anecdotes to think otherwise. But I have been around long enough that I ought to have encountered at least some shades of leftist indoctrination. Yet I haven’t.
It’s true that liberal professors predominate on college campuses. All my experience and all of the academic studies I’ve seen agree on that.
It’s also true that more educated people tend to be more liberal. For example, in the 10 best educated states, based on the percentage of adults who hold at least a bachelor’s degree, only two voted for a Republican presidential candidate in any of the last three presidential elections before 2016. That’s two states carried by Republicans in 30 tries.
In the 10 least educated states, only three Democrats won the presidential vote in those same three elections.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean that liberal professors create liberal college graduates. Studies suggest that professors do not indoctrinate their students and actually have little influence on their beliefs. Some professors have found, as I have, that on at least some cultural issues, students are already way more liberal than their teachers.
Evidence also suggests that academic life isn’t as hostile to conservatives as public opinion seems to have it. A self-identified conservative Republican found in a survey that only 7 percent of Republican faculty considered discrimination against those with “right-wing” views a serious problem on their campuses. Ninety-three percent said that if given a chance to do their careers over, they would still want to be college professors.
So Adams may be an outlier. Typically, he took shots at the University of Montana after controversy arose over his speech there. He said that UM “has never been a selective university with a stellar reputation,” and he accused Larry Abramson, dean of UM’s School of Journalism, of “smug academic hypocrisy.”
It’s true that Abramson didn’t present his case against Adams very well. You may also be sympathetic to many of the views Adams expressed in the columns I cited. No doubt he has taken some helpful stands on behalf of the First Amendment, and he apparently is a popular instructor.
But while his high-handed, antagonistic style brings many words to mind, “distinguished” is not one of them.