News flash! Universities are liberal!

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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When our daughter Jennifer graduated from the University of Southern California in 1999, she had something that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity still don’t have: a college degree. Then, after gaining her master’s at George Washington University, any connection she might have had to those three men grew even more strained. Now that she’s working on her doctorate at the University of Washington, Jennifer has virtually nothing in common with the talk-show titans other than her co-residence with them in the homo sapien species.

But this 32-year-old woman is not without her flaws. For example, I have to keep reminding Jennifer that her alma mater USC has (or had) a superb sports program. “We’re the Trojans, right?” she keeps chortling. Now that Jennifer is in Seattle, the Huskies’ recent return to football prominence elicits from her only a glazed stare. I doubt if she even knows that the man who built USC’s most recent football dynasty (Pete Carroll) now coaches the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL.

Our daughter — unlike Rush, Glenn and Sean — remains blithely oblivious to what’s happening in sports, but she and I share interests in the UW beyond athletics, such as a recent “exposé” by CampusReform.org. It noted the proliferation of liberal ideology at the university. Jennifer responded in the jargon typical of high intellect: “So?”

Broader insight was provided by Caleb Hannan of seattleweekly.com. He says the “wrongheaded” exposé about the UW revealed “three times as many left-leaning student political groups as right-leaning student political groups (here I would repeat my daughter’s response), almost all political contributions from faculty and staff go to Democrats, and last year’s assigned freshman reading was Barack Obama’s ‘Dreams of My Father.’”

Jennifer added this perspective: “The UW campus is full of professors and students who value advanced learning and cultural diversity. What, you expected a bunch of Republicans?”

I hope CampusReform.org expands its research beyond colleges. I wonder if there might have been any political bias yesterday at the Lincoln Memorial, where the aggrieved Mr. Beck was impersonating Martin Luther King.

Alarming prison statistics

Another subject of shared interest is incarceration, which, to the best of my knowledge, neither my daughter nor I have experienced but which we find intriguing. She sent to me a column by The Seattle Times’ Jerry Large, who cited a recent report by Becky Pettit, associate professor of sociology at the UW (the department where Jennifer is studying.) Large wrote that the prison system is “an institution of social stratification rather than crime control,” citing these findings by Pettit:

More than two-thirds of black men born since the mid-1970s — and who dropped out of school — have prison records.

Imprisonment rates in the U.S. have soared since the early 1980s due to get-tough legislation and particularly the war on drugs.

Unemployment rates generally do not include people behind bars. Pettit found that 40 percent of black dropouts were unemployed in 2008 but that rate jumps to 75 percent when incarcerated black men are included.

Mass incarceration is intergenerational. Pettit (and co-author Bruce Western of Harvard) wrote that “children of incarcerated parents, particularly the boys, are at greater risk of developmental delays and behavioral problems.” To which Large responds: “We get people who come out worse than when they went in, and we get a potential new generation of prisoners.”

Solutions? They’re costly, but clearly defined. They include helping kids finish high school. Large wrote: “Early-childhood education programs show striking results in reducing delinquency and crime.” Emphasizing more jobs programs for ex-prisoners is another answer. “If we truly care about community, family, safety, and seeing that tax dollars are spent wisely, we should spend efficiently on bridging gaps, not deepening them,” Large concluded.

Sadly, though, I doubt that Americans really care. We’re too absorbed with Ground Zero mosques that aren’t at Ground Zero and aren’t mosques.

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.