Roy Exum: UT’s Genius Stroke

Tuesday, September 25, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

If all goes as (very carefully) planned, the most dynamic president to be hired at the University of Tennessee since the legendary Andy Holt retired in 1970, will be ushered into office today by the university’s board of trustees. The selection of Randy Boyd to take over his ala mater is a genius stroke and certainly seems to solidify two of life’s greatest truths.

The first feat you never sense under after the miracle occurs: “When something bad happens, keep your grip real tight and your emotions level, because every winner knows something better will come along.” In Boyd’s case, it took just weeks.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again and, after Boyd was “first runner-up” in his quest to become Tennessee’s governor last month, it now dawns as if he couldn’t have planned a better way to endear himself to thousands across the state before becoming the new head of our flagship university.

The second of life’s truths is just as easily identified: “God’s delays are not God’s denials.”  While Randy would have made a good governor he’ll make a better university president. Now in his mid-50s, he runs between 10 and 12 marathons every year, is an experienced mountaineer (climber), a multi-millionaire philanthropist and, as a Knoxvillan, has watched UT for years – Boyd is well-versed in both UT’s growth and its groans. The student body will love him.

As Boyd is officially named today, the University will be in the midst of celebrating its Diversity and Inclusion Week. On the surface this year’s panel won’t have nearly the appeal of those gender-free pronouns and the riotous Sex Week that have brought nationwide laughter. UT’s reputation in the State Legislature has been tarnished badly in recent years, as well as those across the state who are disenfranchised by the low graduation rate and the high dropout numbers

Randy Boyd is the ideal guy to return the shine to the Big Orange and it appears he will be more successful in the early stages than the football Vols. His love of exercise and performance will be a Godsend for UT athletics and, if you hear that he’s playing pick-up basketball with the Vols, do not be surprised in the slightest.

Then there’s “the elephant in the room.” At Tennessee and virtually every other university, the fact so many left-wing crazies are huge parts of the faculty is a big worry. Boyd, markedly conservative, will be fair, even-handed, and compassionate but he is believed to have little patience for foolishness in any degree.

* * *

Cass Sunstein was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration and not long ago he wrote a pointed opinion about what has become a huge problem in higher education. Here is an excerpt …

CASS SUNSTEIN: THE PROBLEM WITH ALL THOSE LIBERAL PROFESSORS

Suppose that you start college with a keen interest in physics, and you quickly discover that almost all members of the physics department are Democrats. Would you think that something is wrong? Would your answer be different if your favorite subject is music, chemistry, computer science, anthropology or sociology?

In recent years, concern has grown over what many people see as a left-of-center political bias at colleges and universities. A few months ago, Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, published a study of the political affiliations of faculty members at 51 of the 66 liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News in 2017. The findings are eye-popping (even if they do not come as a great surprise to many people in academia).

Democrats dominate most fields. In religion, Langbert’s survey found that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 70 to 1. In music, it is 33 to 1. In biology, it is 21 to 1. In philosophy, history and psychology, it is 17 to 1. In political science, it is 8 to 1.

The gap is narrower in science and engineering. In physics, economics and mathematics, the ratio is about 6 to 1. In chemistry, it is 5 to 1, and in engineering, it is just 1.6 to 1. Still, Lambert found no field in which Republicans are more numerous than Democrats.

True, these figures do not include the many professors who do not have a political affiliation, either because they are not registered at all or because they have not declared themselves as Democrats or Republicans. And, true, the ratios vary dramatically across colleges.

The faculties of Wellesley, Williams and Swarthmore are overwhelmingly Democratic, with ratios at or above 120 to 1. At Harvey Mudd and Lafayette, the ratios are 6 to 1. At the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, it is 2.3 to 1; it is just 1.3 to 1 at West Point.

But despite the variability, none of the 51 colleges had more Republicans than Democrats. According to the survey, over a third of them had no Republicans at all.

For two reasons, these numbers, and others like them, are genuinely disturbing.

The first involves potential discrimination on the part of educational institutions. Some departments might be disinclined to hire potential faculty members based on their political convictions. Such discrimination might take the form of unconscious devaluation of people whose views do not fit with the dominant perspective …

The second reason is that students are less likely to get a good education, and faculty members are likely to learn less from one another, if there is a prevailing political orthodoxy. Students and faculty might end up in a kind of information cocoon. If a political-science department consists of 24 Democrats and two Republicans, we have reason to doubt that students will be exposed to an adequate range of views.”

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Sunstein’s belief is the same as another scholar, John Stuart Mill: “It is hardly possible to overrate the value … of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress.”

[NOTE: Cass Sunstein is the author of “The Cost-Benefit Revolution” and co-author of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.”]

* * *

And, to think, Randy Boyd thought he was away from politics.  Don’t worry … greatness is back on the menu in Knoxville.

royexum@aol.com


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