The editors of the Cornell Daily Sun refused to print this column. This decision is further evidence of the column’s central thesis, as well as the need for the Academic Bill of Rights. - The Editors.
Worship of academicians has its place in opinion journalism. Conservatives rightly praise economists Milton Friedman and Walter Williams for their tireless promotion of free markets. Liberals applaud William Julius Wilson and Cornel West for their analyses of race relations. But a famous professor’s reputation should not blind students and reporters to his shortcomings. A seasoned academic should not be immune from criticism, nor should he be elevated to demigod status. Not even Cornell government department Prof. Ted Lowi.
Last Friday, the Cornell Daily Sun published a “news” story on Prof. Lowi. In reality, the only small piece of news in the article was that Lowi would be taking a sabbatical in January. Every other detail in the piece was so sickeningly sappy that his mother could have been the author
Lowi was described as a “true renaissance man” and “a social leader” who is “unpretentious,” “highly regarded,” and “influential.” We are told that “students love Lowi...and can’t seem to stop talking about him.” Lowi’s colleagues were quoted as saying that “he’s just an exuberant bundle of energy,” “a rare example of collegial responsibility,” “the most renowned professor in the department,” “in a league of his own,” and “one of the jewels in the crown at Cornell.” For those of you keeping score at home, this article was a “jourgasm,” a journalistic orgasm. It is unimaginable that the Sun would have published such a flattering piece about Cornell’s only right-wing professor, Jeremy Rabkin.
The academy is supposed to be a place where students question their professors’ ideas. tudents and journalists should not be fawning all over their leftist professors like boy band groupies. Ted Lowi may very well be all of the nice things the Sun reporter claims he is. But he is also a liberal blowhard who has been astonishingly wrong in his political analyses over the last 12 years. Any fair analysis of Lowi’s legacy at Cornell must include the negative aspects of his academic career.
There has never been a balanced presentation of Ted Lowi’s record because, we are told, he is “in a league of his own.” Mere mortals cannot possibly touch him. Reputation, however, should not preclude serious inquiry into a professor’s academic record. Let’s take the gloves off.
Ted Lowi is a left-winger who has spent the better part of the last 20 years beating the drum for the creation of a leftist third party in America. Anyone who took one of Lowi’s courses in the 1990s can attest to his unhealthy obsession with third parties. They were going to be the wave of the future, he said, and would change America forever. Ross Perot was just the beginning of the new movement, he claimed.
In August 1992, Lowi penned an article for The Oregonian titled “Goodbye to the U.S. Two-Party System.” In his piece, Lowi wrote of the 1992 campaign:
“Whatever the outcome of this year’s presidential race, historians will undoubtedly focus on 1992 as the beginning of the end of America’s two-party system.”
Well, not quite, but he was close. Had Lowi inserted the word “insane” in front of the word “historians,” he would have gotten it exactly right. Lowi went on to argue that:
“The extraordinary rise of Ross Perot and the remarkable outburst of enthusiasm for his ill-defined alternative to the established parties removed all doubt about the viability of a broad-based third party.”
Actually, there was and is a lot of doubt about the viability of third parties, much as there has been for 227 years. America’s Constitution establishes a “winner-take all” electoral system — that is, the presidential candidate who wins the majority of electoral votes takes the White House. There is no proportional representation, whereby political parties are granted seats in the legislature proportional to their popular vote totals and then choose a chief executive. There are strong incentives for political factions to form a majority coalition so as to win. Hence, the two-party system remains dominant in American politics.
Ross Perot received zero electoral votes in 1992 and 1996. Voters correctly perceived that a vote for a third party was a wasted vote. The only influence that Perot had was to shift some votes from George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton. In fact, the most that a third party can hope for is to get one of the major parties to adopt some portion of its agenda. Still, in the face of the facts and the evidence, Lowi was undeterred. He pressed on through the 1990s like Linus in the pumpkin patch, insisting that the “Great Third Party” was coming.
By 1999, Lowi was back to making hysterical predictions. In a September 1999, article in the Cornell Chronicle, Lowi was heralded for his political “expertise.” He predicted:
“If Pat Buchanan succeeds in getting the Reform Party nomination, this could be the most significant event in this decade, if not since the beginning of the Reagan era, which is coming to an end.”
In reality, the selection of Pat Buchanan was irrelevant. Buchanan never formed a “Christian Party,” as Lowi alleged he would. And even the leftist New York Times has stated that George W. Bush is continuing the Reagan Revolution.
Making a few bad predictions is not a fatal flaw. But Lowi has made the rise of third parties his cause de jour over the last few decades. And history has rendered its verdict: Lowi’s theory is wrong. If he had been employed in the non-academic private sector and had spent decades making wild predictions like the ones described above, he would have been humiliated and fired. But in academia, the liberal establishment wraps its arms around Lowi and his colleagues call him a crown jewel. This is because there is far less accountability for tenured professors than for chief executive officers. And tenured professors have far more groupies.
The Sun began its ode to Lowi by stating that he is “not what one would expect of an Ivy League professor.” This is laughable. Given his liberal ideology, his flawed historical judgments, and his demigod status among academic elites, Ted Lowi is exactly what one would expect of an Ivy League professor.
Students and journalists must not be blinded by a professor’s reputation. They must view even the most respected academician with a skeptical eye. And they must never be afraid to criticize - especially where criticism is warranted.