National Association of Scholars
|Founder||Stephen Balch, Herbert London|
|Slogan||For Reasoned Scholarship in a Free Society.|
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is an American non-profit organization which describes itself as "an independent membership association of academics working to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities." The NAS is generally viewed as a politically conservative advocacy group, although it rejects the label.
History and organization
Originally called the Campus Coalition for Democracy, the National Association of Scholars was founded in 1987 by Herbert London and Stephen Balch with the goal of preserving the "Western intellectual heritage". Peter Wood is the president. The advisory board of the NAS has included several notable conservatives, such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, a U.S. ambassador and adviser to Ronald Reagan. Chester Finn helped to form the conservative movement's education policies. Irving Kristol, founder of the neoconservative movement, "characterized multiculturalism as 'a desperate strategy for coping with the educational deficiencies and associated social pathologies of young blacks.'" According to the association, it has affiliates in 46 states, as well as in Guam and Canada.
The National Association of Scholars opposes campus speech codes, which it argues violate the First Amendment. The NAS strongly objects to racial and gender preferences in college admissions and hiring, but states that it does not oppose all forms of affirmative action. Time Magazine in 1991 called NAS the "faculty opposition to the excesses of multiculturalism." The NAS describes its main work as the defense of "the core values of liberal higher education."
William A. Donohue, former NAS board member and leader of the politically conservative Catholic League, writes in American Conservatism: an Encyclopedia (2006) that the NAS wishes "to foster renewed respect for the proposition that rational discourse and scholarship are the basis of academic life" and to emphasize "the Western commitment to freedom and democracy." On the other hand, Jacob Weisberg stated in 1991 that NAS is "prone to conflating its admirable ideals with far less compelling political prejudices."
Since its founding, NAS has released six official policy statements.
“The Wrong Way to Admit the Other Half: Why We Oppose Class-Based Affirmative Action” (June 2013) critiques class-based affirmative action for undermining the principle of individual merit.
“Fixing Sustainability and Sustaining Higher Education” (April 2011) recommended that colleges and universities protect the academic freedom of scientists who express skepticism of man-made global warming and treat the campus sustainability movement as an object of inquiry rather than a body of precepts.
“Rebuilding Campus Community: The Wrong Imperative” (July 2008) expressed concern over the proliferation of non-curricular, typically residential, programs instructing students in progressive ideologies of social change.
“Sexual Harassment and Academic Freedom” (January 1993) urged colleges and universities to respond to instances of sexual harassment promptly and firmly and to avoid vague definitions of harassment.
“The Wrong Way to Reduce Campus Tensions” (January 1991) articulated NAS’s belief that individual evaluation on the basis of personal merit is central to achieving educational opportunity for all and to maintaining academic community.
“Is the Curriculum Biased?” (November 1989) defends Western Civilization courses.
NAS describes its mission as “to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate.”
NAS has been funded extensively by politically conservative foundations, including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.
The NAS's quarterly journal, Academic Questions, publishes articles and interviews on higher education, with a focus on the perceived excesses of political correctness in academia. Academic Questions describes itself as “a journal dedicated to strengthening the integrity of scholarship and teaching.” Its name comes from the “broad range of questions” it explores, related to “the maintenance of scholarly standards, the quality and even-handedness of peer review, the preservation of intellectual tolerance and civility on campus and within academic associations, and the relationship between government and education.”
In a review in The Times Literary Supplement, Jonathan Rauch noted the journal's ideological tone, writing, "Though written mainly by scholars, it is a missionary journal, not a scholarly one." Rauch concluded: "If at times hectoring, Academic Questions is that rare and useful thing among journals—a live wire."
Most issues of Academic Questions focus on a particular theme in higher education. Previous themes have included “Why Study Islam, India, and China?”; “Why Study the West?”; “Hard Cases: America’s Law Schools”; “Liberal Education and the Family”; and “A Crucible Moment? A Forum on the President’s Call for a New Civics.”
Academic Questions has included articles by Jacques Barzun, Eugene Genovese, Thomas Sowell, and Terry Eagleton, and it contains interviews with Tom Wolfe, Julius Lester, Napoleon Chagnon, and Joseph Morrison Skelly.
Richard Arum, Jill Biden, Andrew Delbanco, Joseph Epstein, Victor Davis Hanson, Wilfred M. McClay, Charles Murray, and Ibn Warraq were among those who contributed to Academic Questions, “One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education,” a symposium in the journal’s 100th issue published in 2012.
The NAS was an early critic of political correctness, engaged the American Association of University Professors over some of its policies, and complained to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Lamar Alexander, who ruled that the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools eliminate its diversity standard. NAS's stands have led critics to label NAS "conservative", a "group of reactionary scholars" and "a leading vehicle for the conservative attack on multiculturalism and political correctness".
The NAS denies that the views it advocates are conservative. Instead, the NAS describes itself as "liberal," referring to classical liberalism. NAS current president Peter Wood, writing in 2007, said: "Both Left and the Right produce their share of intellectual obtuseness. The NAS is not a partner with either. We are not a political organization, but a body of scholars who hope to sustain a vision of the university as a fundamentally good institution that deserves to be sustained."
Chapters of the NAS have been involved in a number of campus controversies related to affirmative action and multicultural studies programs. According to People for the American Way, NAS faculty at the University of Texas, Austin blocked the inclusion of civil rights readings in an English course; the readings had been proposed to address concerns about racial and sexual harassment on campus. In 1990, the NAS placed an advertisement in the Daily Texan (the University of Texas student newspaper), calling for the rejection of a proposed multiculturalism curriculum at the University of Texas. Simultaneously, the NAS encouraged a successful campaign to defund the university's Chicano newspaper.
In 1990, a Duke University chapter of the NAS was formed by political science professor James David Barber. The new chapter provoked "a sometimes bitter debate" about the NAS stances on race and gender, and on whether academic freedom should extend to what NAS critics viewed as intolerance. Stanley Fish, chairman of the English department at Duke, wrote that NAS "is widely known to be racist, sexist and homophobic." In an interview with the Durham Morning Herald, Barber called Fish "an embarrassment to this university for his gross insult to this organization." In response to the NAS chapter formation, a larger group of faculty formed "Duke Faculty for Academic Tolerance".
Also in 1990, the Harvard University community debated the presence of the NAS. Writing in the Harvard Crimson, Martin L. Kilson, Jr. acknowledged some "overzealous behavior by supporters of ethnic studies and women studies" but argued that the NAS was an "overkill neoconservative response." In Kilson's view, NAS had succumbed to "anxiety and maybe phobia" of multiculturalism. He asks, "why shouldn't persons on our campuses go to great lengths to avoid the tag 'racist'"? Or the tags 'homophobic', 'sexist', 'anti-Asian', etc.?"
In 2001, it was reported that the Colorado Commission on Higher Education had paid the National Association of Scholars $25,000 to generate a report on several Colorado universities with education programs. The NAS report criticized diversity curricula and recommended that the University of Colorado's education program be suspended and new admissions to other programs be halted. University of Colorado, Boulder dean William Stanley resigned in protest of what he called "teacher-bashing" by the NAS, while regent Bob Sievers deplored "anti-teaching, anti-C.U./Boulder, anti-women and anti-minority bias." Questions were also raised regarding why money was paid to a "right-wing" organization like the NAS rather than to a group "with credentials in teacher education."
In September 2008, the New York Times described the NAS as among the politically conservative organizations intensively and successfully lobbying for federal funding for programs which emphasize "traditional American history, free institutions or Western civilization". The Times reported that NAS and allied organizations sought to advance conservative causes by attaching conditions to university donations.
In 2011 NAS launched its Center for the Study of the Curriculum to “document and to analyze important changes” to college curricula and “to propose improvements.” The Center conducts yearly reviews of colleges and universities’ common reading programs. The annual Beach Books report identifies the colleges that have these programs, the books they assign, and patterns in the assignments. The 2012-2013 report found that 97% of colleges and universities chose books published in or after 1990. The most popular book assigned was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Writing at The Guardian, the report’s author, Ashley Thorne, criticized the lack of classics: “The choice of a recent book that is often the only book students will have in common with one another points to the death of a shared literary culture. To the extent that colleges want to approach that culture, they display willful selfishness in confining their sights to the present.”
NAS president Peter Wood wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "What is lamentable is the scant attention to important books, let alone classics; the relentless emphasis on the short-term and easily accessible; and the dominance of books that emphasize personal perspectives over efforts to know the world as it really is.” NAS also publishes a list of books it recommends for colleges to assign as common reading.
In January 2013 the Center for the Study of the Curriculum, along with NAS’s affiliate the Texas Association of Scholars, released a report on U.S. history courses taught in the Fall 2010 semester at the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. The report, Recasting History, examined all 85 sections of lower-division courses that satisfied a Texas statute requiring students at public institutions to take two courses in American history. NAS concluded that a preponderance of the courses emphasized social history focusing especially on race, class, or gender. Other topics such as military, diplomatic, religious, and intellectual history were taught less frequently.
After the report’s release, Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy at UT-Austin, called the report “misleading, and frankly dumb.” Writing in The Alcalde, the official alumni magazine, Suri defended the University of Texas’s course offerings, saying, “What we are teaching at UT, in almost all of our history and related courses, is a plural history of how many different people and parts of America relate to one another. What we are teaching is the beauty, the color, the promise, and also the challenge of contemporary America.” Richard Pells, a former history professor at the University of Texas, wrote in an op-ed for the Austin-American Statesman, “I am neither conservative nor a member of the NAS. But I am an American historian who taught at UT from 1971 to 2011. And based on my own experiences at UT, I believe the report’s main arguments are absolutely correct.”
In April 2013, NAS released What Does Bowdoin Teach?: How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students. The 383-page study examined Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, presenting it as representative of trends in elite college education in the United States. The report tracked the college’s decisions over forty years bearing on the curriculum, academic requirements, advising, faculty hiring, faculty committees, core values, key terms, campus controversies, residence life, disciplinary codes, student government, clubs, sports, and administrative priorities. The report cited faculty minutes and other official documents, accreditation self-studies and reports, presidential speeches, statistics from the United States Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, statements by Bowdoin faculty members and administrators, The Bowdoin Orient (the student newspaper), and interviews with students and faculty members.
The authors criticized Bowdoin for abolishing its core curriculum in 1969 and creating the system that remains in place in which there are few general education requirements. They also criticized Bowdoin for what they argued are overly specialized and politicized academic departments, a politically-correct environment, and the college’s disregard for intellectual diversity. What Does Bowdoin Teach? was covered by The Wall Street Journal,The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Examiner, and the New York Post.
David Feith wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the report “demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.” Harvard University government professor Harvey Mansfield called the report “the first of its kind and probably destined to be the best, which shows in the practices and principles of one college what political correctness in our time has done to higher education in our country.”
Bowdoin College’s response to the report was mixed. Writing in the Bowdoin Sun (the college’s official newspaper) Bowdoin president Barry Mills called the report “mean-spirited and personal.” Bowdoin Social Sciences professor Jean Yarbrough wrote in The Bowdoin Orient, "Although I do not agree with all the findings of the NAS report, I believe that it highlights serious problems with the current state of education at Bowdoin and at elite institutions in general.”
- Who We Are, from the National Association of Scholars website.
- Patricia Cohen (September 21, 2008). "Conservatives Try New Tack on Campuses". New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
- Dave Curtin, Denver Post, "CU dean resigns, rips state," 08 April 2001. Accessed 4 June 2008
- Wilson, John (1996). The Myth of Political Correctness. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-1713-3.
- NAS Contact Us
- Bob Campbell, Colorado Springs Independent, "State Education Commission Coming Under Fire," 24 May 2001 Accessed 04 June 2008.
- NAS Affiliates
- Olson, John. "Academics in Opposition." Time, 1 April, 1991
- "National Association of Scholars: Contact Us". 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-23.
- Catholic League website
- Donahue, William A. "National Association of Scholars," in American Conservatism: an Encyclopedia. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2006.
- Weisberg, Jacob. "NAS - Who are These Guys Anyway?" Lingua Franca Apr. 1991: 34-39
- "The Wrong Way to Admit the Other Half: Why We Oppose Class-Based Affirmative Action".
- "Fixing Sustainability and Sustaining Higher Education".
- "Rebuilding Campus Community: The Wrong Imperative".
- "Sexual Harassment and Academic Freedom".
- "The Wrong Way to Reduce Campus Tensions".
- "Is the Curriculum Biased?".
- NAS. "Overview".
- "Anti-PC activists trade war stories at Harvard", Anthony Flint, Boston Globe, 12 April 1994, p.22
- "Buying a Movement: Conservative University Programs and Academic Associations" (PDF). People for the American Way. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- "Sustainability Report". National Association of Scholars. March 2015. p. 10.
- Springer Link. "Academic Questions".
- The Times Literary Supplement, Jonathan Rauch, "Academic Questions" 
- Chicago Cultural Studies Group, "Critical Multiculturalism," in Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader (David Theo Goldberg, ed.) Blackwell Publishers, 1994
- Feldstein, Richard. Political Correctness: A Response From the Cultural Left. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
- Wood, Peter. "Media Opacity." 4 December 2007. http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?Doc_Id=110
- Getman, Julius. In the Company of Scholars: the Struggle for the Soul of Higher Education. Austin: University of Texas P, 1992.
- "Duke Scholars' Group, Accused of Bias, Divides Faculty". New York Times. October 21, 1990. Retrieved June 4, 2008.
- Martin L. Kilson, The Harvard Crimson, "Keep the National Association of Scholars Away From Harvard" 11 December 1990. Accessed 04 June 2008.
- NAS. "Center for the Study of the Curriculum".
- Thorne, Ashley. "Why Are American Universities Shying Away from the Classics?". ’’The Guardian’’.
- Wood, Peter. "The Compromised Life of Common Reading Programs". ’’Chronicle of Higher Education’’.
- NAS. "Recommended Books".
- NAS. "Recasting History".
- Suri, Jeremi. "What Kind of History Should We Teach?". The Alcalde.
- Pells, Richard. "A Fresh Examination of History is in Order". Austin-American Statesman.
- NAS. "The Bowdoin Project".
- Feith, David. "The Golf Shot Heard Round the Academic World". Wall Street Journal.
- Berrett, Dan. "Bowdoin College Suffers from ‘Moral Deficit,’ Report Argues". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Chavez, Linda. "The Decline and Fall of American Liberal Education". The Washington Examiner.
- Schaefer Riley, Naomi. "How Colleges Scam the Working Class". The New York Post.
- Mansfield, Harvey. "The Higher Education Scandal". Claremont Review of Books.
- Mills, Barry. "Setting the Record Straight". Bowdoin Daily Sun.
- Yarbrough, Jean M. Bowdoin Orient "NAS Study, Though Flawed, Points to Bowdoin’s Problems".