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Weekly Standard

The Politicization of the MCAT, by Devorah Goldman

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday, May 4, 2018

Tags: Audio, College Campuses, MCAT, Medicine, Women's Colleges

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It's Friday, May 4, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Examining the radical worldview and ideological imbalance on America’s college campuses

Sometimes it really helps to put numbers on a question. The question would be this: is it true that there is a worldview imbalance, an ideological imbalance on American college and university campuses, especially when it comes to faculty?

It seems that there must be a radical imbalance, because when we see what's going on on these college and university campuses, it becomes abundantly clear that the messaging the students are receiving and, for that matter, the public in general from faculty is overwhelmingly liberal, sometimes even radically so. But is that just conservative paranoia? Well, this is where numbers help.

The National Association of Scholars recently released a study indicating, as Bradford Richardson of The Washington Times reports, "There are more than 10 professors affiliated with the Democratic Party for every faculty member who is a registered Republican." Now we're looking here at something far more fundamental and important than a mere partisan divide.

But what's important here is that such a divide is documentable because of voter registration records. Even as other questions trying to get at moral worldview would be impossible to document, voter registration is quite possible. If you look at those registration records, you could pretty much come up with the kind of partisan divide that represents a larger worldview divide on American college and university faculties.

Richardson's article goes on to cite Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business management at Brooklyn College. He reviewed the party affiliations not just of a few, not just of a few dozen, but of 8,688 tenure track, PhD-holding professors at 51 of the top 60 liberal arts colleges listed in the 2017 rankings by US News and World Report.

Before we look at those numbers, let's just remember we're talking about almost 9,000 professors. These aren't adjuncts or temporary professors, these are tenure track, PhD-holding professors, and they're not just at some kind of peripheral institution, they're measured in 51 of the top 60 liberal arts colleges identified by US News and World Report. What are the findings?

"Nearly 60 percent of all faculty members were registered as either a Republican or a Democrat. Of that sample, there were 10.4 times as many Democrats as Republicans." Langbert wrote in the article published by the National Association of Scholars, "The political registration of full-time, PhD-holding professors in top tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic. Indeed," he said, "faculty political affiliations at 39% of the colleges in my sample are Republican-free, having zero Republicans." That means not even a single Republican on the faculty.

But a closer look at the data is incredibly revealing. For example, and I'm reading here from the article in The Washington Times, "Two military colleges, West Point and the Naval Academy, had relatively balanced Democrat to Republican ratios." Now they're not exactly balanced. They are 1.3 to 1 at West Point and 2.3 to 1 at the Naval Academy. "But," he says, "when the military colleges were excluded from the sample, the overall imbalance ballooned to 12.7 Democratic professors for every Republican."

It's also interesting and very important to look at the fact that this study looked not only at where the professors were teaching, but what they were teaching, that is what subject field. According to the study, the most politically balanced field was engineering. It was 1.6 Democrats for every Republican, but computer science, economics, mathematics, and the natural sciences tended to have ratios below 10.1. That was at least better than what you find in the liberal arts.

But the study went on to say, as The Washington Times reports, "The disciplines with the least intellectual diversity were communications and anthropology." In the study undertaken reported here, those two disciplines had no registered Republicans in the schools that were considered. Three fields had Democrat to Republican ratios greater than 40 to 1. Again, that's 40 to 1. Those three disciplines: sociology, English, and religion.

Now the fact that sociology is on this list should come as no real surprise. We should remind ourselves that the discipline of sociology emerged originally out of an effort to provide a secular alternative understanding of human social behavior to the understanding that had been provided by Christianity, so there's no real surprise there.

The second is English. For the better part of the last several decades, English as a discipline has been the playground of ideologies. Again, no real surprise. This isn't a new development. But some people will be surprised to see that religion is on the list, but we need to remember that this is religion taught as a subject area in liberal arts universities and colleges. That means you're talking about a discipline that basically reduces religion to just another branch of anthropology.

There would be very, very few professors in the religion departments of these prestigious liberal arts universities who would identify in any way with any kind of historical Orthodox Christianity. For that matter, there would not likely be that many who would be clearly identified as any kind of classical theist.

The vast majority would probably indicate that they consider their secular discipline to require them to have absolutely no faith commitment or at least no demonstrable faith commitment. That tells you something again about why there would be a 40 to 1 ratio when considering this kind of partisan divide in the sociology, English, and religion departments.

The major point made by the author of the study was the danger of what he identified as homogeneity. We can understand why he would be concerned about this kind of homogeneity, because the very idea of a liberal arts education is for there to be a legitimate, actual objective exchange of ideas. You can't have that exchange of ideas in a liberal arts environment if everyone seems to hold to the same ideas or, in this case, overwhelmingly, and that's an understatement to the same partisan identification.

But there's something else implicit in this article that we ought to note. The study considered the faculty composition identified by partisan identification at what are considered to be the elite to liberal arts campuses in the United States. Now what we need to note is that when you're talking about the elite institutions, you're talking about the institutions that other schools are trying to emulate.

Even if you look at the college in your town and say it doesn't look that bad, what you really need to understand is that it just doesn't look that bad yet.

Part

Historic women’s colleges struggle to answer the question, ‘What is a woman?’

But next, as we're considering this kind of confusion and what it means to study in some of the elite academic institutions of this country, we need to turn to an article that appeared on April the 6th in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is something like the Wall Street Journal of the higher education culture in the United States. The article has the headline: Women's Colleges Evolve on Transgender Applicants. The article by Julian Wyllie, she writes, "Back in the late 1800s, when brain fever was used as an argument for denying women a formal education, Mount Holyoke College was amongst the first to offer an all-female undergraduate program." But she goes on to say, "A lot has changed since the first women's colleges were founded. Today there are nearly 40, and many of them," she says, "have been grappling with one specific aspect of that identity in recent years: how should transgender applicants be considered?"

Now this article seems to be important, I can assure you it's even more important than it may seem. The article continues, "Propelled by increasing social pressures and Title 9 guidelines issued during the Obama administration, many of these institutions have rewritten their admissions policies to change and clarify who will be counted."

The scene then turns to Mount Holyoke College, which now, according to the article, says, "Students who self-identify as women can be considered for admission," and that, according to the policy statement that is cited, and I quote, "We recognize that what it means to be a woman is not static. Traditional binaries around who counts as a man or a woman are being challenged by those whose gender identity does not conform to their biology." Well, that's a statement from an official document at the college, and you can imagine where this is going.

But, of course, it turns out that this is an acute problem for many of these very liberal prestigious women's colleges is that they're not sure what a woman is any longer. Even as recently as 2014, we're told at Wellesley both students and faculty members questioned "whether admitting a transgender student who identified as male conflicted with the mission of a women's college". Well, go figure.

But once you look at how the story continues, it becomes very clear that what you have here is the attempt to embrace an irrationality that eventually cannot be fully embraced. The irrationality is so irrational that it simply makes no sense that a women's college can't decide who a woman is or who and is not a woman. We have recently seen that some of these colleges have come up with grids, one of them has eight different possibilities. The only person who cannot be admitted or be a student or graduate is a male born as a male, identifying as a male, any other permutation that's possible at some point between admission and continuing studies and graduation.

Cedar Crest College, according to the article, has already adopted new rules. I quote from the article, its admissions policy now says the college is committed to offering a women's college experience to applicants. Here are the statements from the college: "Who were assigned female at birth and/or applicants who self-identify as women." Now recall that means that the college is committed, these are the words, to offering a women's college experience to people who are not actually women.

Tatiana Diaz, director of diversity and inclusion at Cedar Crest, according to the article, says that the overall goal of the college is to "provide education to the breadth of who identifies as a woman to provide access to education to populations that have been traditionally marginalized". She went on to say, "Gender is much more fluid and much more complex than the conversation 20 years ago."

Now I want to look at those words for a moment because the words are very important. Those last words included her statement that gender is much more fluid and much more complex than what? Than "the conversation 20 years ago". Now just to make reference to that conversation 20 years ago is to forfeit any understanding of objective reality when it comes to what it means to be male or female. This is the irrationality that is now being not only openly embraced by so many institutions, but it's the kind of irrationality that is being forced upon us even by the point of coercion by many who have levers of power within the society.

The Chronicle article goes back to a New York Times column from 2014 in which Audrey Smith, then vice-president for enrollment at Smith College, was quoted as saying that the college, here are the words of The Chronicle, "Wasn't in the business of defining what constitutes a woman." In the words of this vice-president of the college, "We leave that to other entities or agencies to affirm."

Now to use normal language, that's just passing the buck, but it's a very interesting passing of the responsibility, saying that the college now doesn't have any idea who is or is not a woman, "We leave that to other entities or agencies to affirm." It was hard to imagine who those entities or agencies might be. Perhaps that's a reference to accrediting agencies or groups such as the NCAA or even perhaps eventually to state or federal government. But it's also interesting to note that in our contemporary age, the agency or entity comes down to the self-defining plastic individual.

The Chronicle article continues, "By 2015, however, Smith had changed its approach. Now it considers whether a student identifies as being female as the primary basis for who is eligible for admission. At Smith," says the article, "there are more parameters on the policy than at some other women's colleges. The college prohibits the admission, for example, of transgender men. For gender queer or non-binary students, the policy website emphasizes that the college's focus is on women's education."

You've got to love this. The college announces the fact that it has joined to the confusion even over gender queer or non-binary worldviews. Then it goes on to say that it really leaves to the individual, that plastic, changing, atomistic individual we mentioned before, to decide whether or not the individual is a woman or, for that matter, wants to study in a college that focuses on women's education, but doesn't have a clue who or what a woman is.

It is interesting that the only kind of student that is now to be prohibited from admission at Smith, according to this article, is a transgender man. According to the contemporary worldview, that means someone who was born female, assigned female at birth, who now identifies as a man. That individual, apparently, is amongst the very few who cannot apply for admission to Smith College.

A column at the journal The New Criterion also looks at the new regulations at Mount Holyoke College. As the article says, "If you go the college's website, you will find that it describes itself as a liberal arts college for women that is renowned for educating women leaders, but then, "says The New Criterion, "those phrases may soon have to be revised."

A recently released faculty guide, which is entitled Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Students, according to The New Criterion, advises teachers to avoid calling students women or referring to the two genders. Now remember this is a college that says it is a historically women's college, and faculty are now told they're not to use the word "women" when actually referring to real students.

The article of The New Criterion continues, "Of course, all this is merely business as usual at elite American colleges these days. No one is shocked or surprised by this carnival of rubbish any more than they are shocked or surprised to find such student organizations at Mount Holyoke as these: Fempowered, Gender Plus, Coalition for Asexual, Aromantic Awareness, or the campus resource known as MoZone, gender trainings for the entire campus community." "It is," says The New Criterion, "as we say, almost old hat at this point in the devolution of American higher education." "Nevertheless, we do wonder what parents think about sending their daughters to such patently twisted institutions."

Then, listen to this, let's leave the moral, social, and intellectual defamation of such places to one side. It costs $64,658 per year to attend Mount Holyoke. The article concludes, "Think about that, ladies and gentlemen." You got that right. Not only is this what is now characterizing elite higher education in the United States, this is not limited to those schools identified as the historic women's colleges, this is now common to elite higher education in America. This is what students and their parents are paying for and, in so many cases, borrowing for.

Again, it costs more than $64,000 a year to be indoctrinated in this new morality at one of these colleges. You do recognize that the final line is incredibly tongue-in-cheek: "Think about that, ladies and gentlemen." we live in a world in which it's almost impossible to use the words "ladies" and "gentleman", certainly on these kinds of very expensive elite colleges.

That leads me to wonder just how long will it be plausible for the chief executive of the United States of America to be introduced with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States". The faculty at Mount Holyoke, identified proudly as an elite historic women's college, is now being told not to refer to real students as women, but rather to refer to them as Mount Holyoke students.

That sounds remarkably similar to the kinds of revolutionary language, that depersonalizing language, we've heard before in the French Revolution, when all French persons were told to refer to one another simply as citizen, or in the Soviet Union or in other places under a communist ideology, where the only thing you could say about one another is "dear comrade". But, of course, the most amazing thing is that there are many people who are buying this. Remember that tuition bill. It's expensive.

Part

MCAT changes highlight the transformation of medicine as a profession

Well, as we're thinking about how these higher education institutions are changing the culture and its worldview, you might say, "Well, it's one thing to talk about those very liberal historic women's colleges, it's another thing to talk about the most elite liberal arts colleges and universities, but certainly the professions are safe, and certainly the top of those, say, professions like medicine," but we're actually watching the transformation of medicine as a profession before our eyes, and it's starting where the profession starts: with admission to medical school.

The Weekly Standard recently ran an article by Devorah Goldman entitled The Politicization of the MCAT, that's the Medical College Admissions Test. As Goldman writes in 2015, "The Association of American Medical Colleges revised the MCAT for the first time in nearly 25 years, stretching," she says, "the full exam day experience from around five hours to eight or more. The test drew attention at the time for its sheer length. Less widely noted," she points out, "was the explicitly ideological bent of the new exam."

Goldman points to the influence of MCAT scores on admission to most American medical schools. She says that the authority behind it has immediate and significant authority over its constituent medical schools in academic health centers. She writes, "In recent years, it has used this leverage to fundamentally alter the way medical schools assess applicants."

She points behind this to Dr. Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges in what she describes as a candid 2011 speech at the University of California at Davis. Kirch said, "I am a man on a mission. I believe it is critical to our future to transform healthcare. I'm not talking about tweaking it, I'm not talking about some nuanced improvements here and there, I'm talking about a true transformation." Well, what would that look like? Well, he cited the AAMC's holistic review project, which, says Goldman, the organization launched in 2007 with the goal of, here's a quote, "redefining what makes a good doctor".

Now all of this has led to changes in the test that is taken by prospective medical students, the score of which is extremely influential in who does and does not gain admission to America's medical schools. As Goldman writes, "A series of new guidelines, some of which have yet to be implemented, called upon medical schools' admission teams to place less emphasis on applicant's grades, change the requirements for letters of recommendation, and altered the standardized application by requesting a great deal more information about students' upbringing and life experiences."

Goldman goes on to say that the AAMC is also planning to add situational judgment tests, carefully crafted interviews in which applicants will be presented with a variety of hypothetical scenarios involving ethical conflicts to the current admissions requirements. She points to the new MCAT test, saying that one new section of the exam, which is entitled Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and these are her words, "requires test-takers to respond to multiple choice questions in which both the question's premise and the available answers are, at best, often distantly related to medicine". For example there are questions about immigration policy, about the wage gap between men and women, asking whether or not that gap is explainable by biology, sexism, racism, or biological differences."

Then another section of the exam, and just remember the previous story we discussed, "ask test-takers to select from a list of debatable definitions for the terms 'sex' and 'gender'". Goldman then assesses, "Taken on their own, these questions may not seem to be particularly invidious and it would be easy enough for a good test-taker to select answers that will be marked as correct, whether he or she agreed with him or not." But the changes, nonetheless, affect that greater goal announced by Dr. Kirch to test "not only what students know but how they think".

But going back to the warnings about the dangers of intellectual worldview homogeneity we discussed in the first section of the briefing today, just consider the fact that what we are now finding described is a homogeneity enforced increasingly in American medical schools. It's not just medical colleges.

As Goldman points out, the American Psychological Association that accredits a variety of graduate programs in psychology in American institutions, in her words, "has taken strong positions on topics such as pay equality and gun control". She goes on to say the Council on Social Work Education, which accredits college-level and graduate social work programs, has also been outspoken on a range of issues, particularly regarding social and economic justice.

I especially appreciate the language Goldman uses in concluding that paragraph. She says, "One would expect the leaders of a scientific discipline to carefully distinguish between verifiable fact and opinion. The new MCAT blurs that line." What we see here, of course, is ideological conformity coming at the beginning of the process of who will and will not become a physician.

Now remember what we've discussed already on The Briefing, and that is that in Canada, there is an open proposal that students who will not perform abortions should not be accepted to medical school because they represent physicians who will not practice the full range of the physician's task. Once again, many Americans take comfort in thinking, "Well, that's there, not here," but this article's about here, not there.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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