What the hell is the National Association of Scholars?

The Wall Street Journal published an OpEd last Friday by Peter Berkowitz, titled “How California’s Colleges Indoctrinate Students.”  Berkowitz argues that higher ed has been “politicized” by “activist professors and compliant university administrators,” leading to the hollowing out of education and erosion of civic cohesion.  He bases these claims on a provocatively-titled new report by the California Association of Scholars (a division of the National Association of Scholars), “A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California.”

I don’t teach in the UC system.  I have some friends who do, and I’ve never heard them talk about waves of activist professors, but maybe that’s because their attention has been diverted to the furloughs and salary cuts that they have faced for the past several years.  The UC system has plenty of problems, but those problems stem from the defunding of  higher ed.

Still, what really caught my eye with this report was the organization behind it.  I am a scholar.  What’s this national association all about, and how come I’ve never heard from them before.  Did I miss the signup date?  What gives?  It’s not as though I’m that hard to track down.  I go to a TON of conferences.  Where’s their booth at the APSA annual meeting?

A few minutes of snooping around their website answered that question.  NAS is a conservative front-group concerned with issues like “Broad imposition of the “sustainability” agenda on university activity and campus life” and “neglect of character education.”*  Their membership includes “all who share a commitment” to their core principles, be they “undergraduate students, teachers, college administrators, independent scholars, [or] non-academic citizens.”  They also have their very own journal, “Academic Questions.”  There’s probably a very good reason why I’ve never heard of this journal before.

…So, by “National Association of Scholars,” they actually mean “DC lobby of conservative opinioneers.”  That’s some fiiiiiine corporate double-speak.  What’s interesting to me is that they have never even tried to interact with an actual professor like myself.  If their goal is to improve the quality of rational debate on college campuses, they might consider participating in one from time to time.

Falsely-labeled conservative front-groups are nothing new, of course.  The environmental movement has had to face up to groups like this for decades.  “Concerned Citizens for Responsible Energy Policy” (a name that I just made up, then googled to make sure it isn’t a thing), which turns out upon deeper inspection to be a shell title for Shell Oil’s lobbying efforts.  It’s a solid investment on their part — journalists will turn to them when looking quotes from “both sides” of a debate.  Those same journalists are unlikely to devote a whole paragraph of their article to explaining that the group is pure astroturf (that would be godawful prose).  Then readers are left believing that the debate is between serious-sounding citizens groups and think tanks, rather than between citizens groups and Big Oil.

Still, I’d like to make one modest proposal: when we engage in debates about university research, how about if we hold ourselves to the standards of university research?

Apply a dollop of academic integrity and call your organization what it is.  You are not a National Association of Scholars if you do not even make an attempt to engage, associate with, or provide representation of professional scholars.  The name demonstrates equal parts media-savvy and intellectual hackery.  Do better than that.

In their mission statement, the NAS states that “The NAS advocates for excellence by encouraging commitment to high intellectual standards, individual merit, institutional integrity, good governance, and sound public policy.”

…High intellectual standards, institutional integrity, and good governance.  This organization does not even live up to its own mission statement.

What an embarrassment.



*I’ll be working on some new course designs for the fall.  I’m curious where on the syllabus I ought to include “character education.”  Are they envisioning Socratic method or lecture?  Scantrons or essay questions?

6 thoughts on “What the hell is the National Association of Scholars?

  1. Remember Dave, just because you ARE a character doesn’t mean you HAVE character. I learned that from Harvey Keitel. I’ve just started a new organization called the League of Scholars Concerned About The National Association of Scholars (LOSCANAS). You’ll find me in my APSA booth peddling our new report entitled “What an Embarrassment.” We’ll also be handing out free copies of the U.S. Constitution.

  2. DF, you better grab that domain name while you still can!

    I’m thinking about starting a new organization called “Conservative Scholars of America.” We will mostly concern ourselves with producing counterarguments to stupid NAS “reports” and “articles.” Tagline: “There’s nothing conservative about blatant misrepresentation.”

  3. I was googling this group and had the misfortune of stumbling upon this poorly constructed critique. I was actually mildly interested in your eventual forthcoming opinion, an opinion that inevitably was never created. I think readers would take your column more seriously if you directed your energy away from the Ad Hominem attacks on the organization, and focused them on the content of the report. I made the mistake of reading and reading and reading, waiting diligently for the moment in which you would take the major topics of the report and analyze them. Such an analysis never occurred. I have not read the report myself, but have since become more intrigued since punishing my eyes with this elementary opinion.

    P.S. I got a great laugh after you briefly concluded the conclusion of the report MUST be false considering you have a couple of friends involved in the UC system. Scientists like yourself CERTAINLY know that a couple of examples out of an incredibly large sample group without a doubt constitute an accurate an accurate analysis.

    A+ friendo.

  4. Oh cool, a troll! Hi, troll.

    To clarify/feed-the-trolls, I didn’t say that the report “MUST be false.” I said that the problems I hear about from University of California professors stem from the defunding of higher ed. That’s a series of factually true statements: (1) I don’t teach in the Cal system (so I don’t have firsthand knowledge), (2) I do hear about Cal system problems from friends, and (3) those problems are unrelated to the subject of this report.

    The narrative purpose of that passage was to highlight the disconnect. I’m a scholar. I know California scholars. They’ve never mentioned this issue. So this report, coming from the “California Association of Scholars,” leads me to wonder “hmm, who is the California Association of Scholars?”

    I’m not sure where you reached the conclusion that this blog post was a critique of the report.* The title of the post is “What the hell is the National Association of Scholars?” The topic of the post is about this organization that I had never heard of, and how it clearly has engaged in some… creative self-naming. The conclusion of the post is that such self-naming is dishonest, and runs counter to their own mission statement. So, please explain further: how and why do you feel the critique is poorly constructed?

    *Yes I am. You’re a troll. You reached that conclusion because its the trolly thing to do.**
    **See, THAT was an ad hominem. My critique of the organization, notsomuch.

  5. David,
    Thank you for the research and subsequent blog. The fact that there are organizations that continue to represent rational discourse and research while having already arrived at a conclusion before beginning is nothing new. The most insidious events of this however are the ripple effects down through the different media outlets. My local newspaper picked this up and reported it as gospel. Some will investigate this as I did, but many will just accept it. By the way, nice handling of the troll. Trolls can be so cute.

  6. After reading the article (“How California’s Colleges Indoctrinate Students.”), which appears to have triggered this related blog article(?), I too was extremely curious as to just who the California Association of Scholars actually were. Like all good modern day associations, who really don’t want their identities/agendas to be easily known, they turned out to be a division of the ‘National Association of Scholars’, who in their own right are a bit vague in identifying themselves, and what they represent.
    It didn’t take a lot research, however, to determine their right wing leaning status/agenda. That, of course did not really surprise me. The fact that they have carefully groomed themselves to appear as a politically/socially concerned organization, looking out for the welfare of Americans everywhere, also did not surprise me. I’ve seen this sort of thing already in very pervasive numbers, and of course usually tied to organizations affiliated with far right conservative agendas, such as ‘creative intelligent design’, etc.

    What was really spooky however, was when I went to trace the NAS a bit further, and found them involved with things such as a Supreme Court case (regarding minority affirmative action in college admissions [you guess which side they were on]}, where they used numerous research articles, from seemingly forthright academic institutions, to support their arguments. The spooky part is not that they were involved in such arguments, that was to be expected. The spooky part was when you go a bit deeper and research the institutions/academies behind the research articles, quoted by the NAS in their arguments, and you find what could be considered a somewhat scary, and very well organized web of right wing academies/institutes, with no further apparent purpose than to support modern day far right ideologies, and whose research articles are anything but scientifically based. The whole thing sort of makes the Illuminate look like a bunch of disorganized Cub Scouts.

    If there is anything to be really concerned about, it would be this seemingly vast web of right wing groups hiding behind seemingly innocuous titles/mission statements that appear to actually portray them as liberal to middle of the road organizations. Nothing like truth in advertising.

    But, hey, back to the main point here. If you want a really good retort to the recent CAS report, I came across the following, which went well beyond any expectation I had for finding something of its nature, and I do mean well beyond. My hat is off to them. http://academeblog.org/2012/04/03/a-crisis-of-censorship-a-response-to-the-national-association-of-scholars/

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