With a few notable exceptions, our most prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities have installed the entire radical menu at the center of their humanities curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. Every special interest—women’s studies, black studies, gay studies, and the like —and every modish interpretative gambit—deconstruction, post-structuralism, new historicism, and other postmodernist varieties of what the literary critic Frederick Crews aptly dubbed “Left Eclecticism”—has found a welcome roost in the academy, while the traditional curriculum and modes of intellectual inquiry are excoriated as sexist, racist, or just plain reactionary.
And the solution?
As with any disease, the malady besetting academia requires two stages of therapy: first accurate diagnosis, then effective treatment. In some ways, the diagnostic stage is the most difficult, because it is the hardest to sustain. One corollary of society’s natural obedience to the unenforceable is the tendency to assume that those institutions in which we have invested great trust are inherently trustworthy. “Academic institutions are expensive, socially respected bodies whose imprimatur is a powerful door-opener and tool of accreditation, ergo they must be doing a good job.” Some such sentiment is the prevailing one, so when someone like Ward Churchill comes along to remove the scab, the shock is great—and unwelcome. One of the chief tasks for critics of what has happened to academic life in this country is to show the extent to which Ward Churchill, the Kirkland Project, the transgender follies at Smith College and elsewhere, and similar deformations are not exceptions but the predictable result of institutions that have gradually abandoned their commitment to education for the sake of radical posturing. The prime difficulty facing the aspirant diagnostician is not the elusiveness of symptoms—they are florid and ubiquitous—but the patience required to set forth chapter and verse repeatedly and in language that effectively conveys the depredations on view.
The bright side of the Ward Churchill affair was the fact that public scrutiny brought dramatic, if local, changes. The melancholy side of the affair lay in the fact that the scrutiny had to be enormous and unremitting and that, as the media’s attention wandered so did the public’s interest. If real change is going to come to academic culture, criticism must be ceaseless, pointed, and deep. It is not enough to expose Ward Churchill. The academic culture that breeds and rewards such figures—and their name is legion—must be exposed for what it is: a thoroughly politicized rejection of the principles that inform liberal learning.
In one sense, the diagnosis of the calamity that has befallen academic culture is inseparable from the task of treatment. Which is to say that the job of criticism is never finished. Basic questions, the answers to which one could once have assumed were taken for granted, must be asked anew. To whom is the faculty accountable? To the extent that it holds itself accountable to its pedagogic duties, it is accountable to itself. To the extent that it repudiates those duties, it is accountable to the society in which it functions and from which it enjoys its freedoms, privileges, and perquisites. Faculties often take it amiss when critics appeal over their heads to alumni, trustees, or parents. But ultimately teachers still stand in loco parentis, if not on everyday moral issues then at least with respect to the content of the education they provide. Many parents are alarmed, rightly so, at the spectacle of their children going off to college one year and coming back the next having jettisoned every moral, religious, social, and political scruple that they had been brought up to believe. Why should parents fund the moral de-civilization of their children at the hands of tenured antinomians?
This is an extremely interesting and thought-provoking article and I would recommend it to anyone concerned about the abysmal intellectual state of our colleges and universities today. Believe me, those of you who are not connected with academia cannot possibly imagine--even with the recent increased scrutiny because of the Ward Churchill and other university debacles--how inbred and perversely leftist are most of the departments in academe.
This past weekend I was at a dinner where I met several academics--one from English and one from a Social Work department. As is usual in such activites the topic turned to politics and unsurprisingly, the gratuitous comments about "those awful Republicans, don't you know" and "BushHitler" were made.
I've been to too many of these affairs to be surprised at this, but everytime it happens it is simply mind-bogglingly breathtaking to me that my esteemed colleagues could possibly assume that everyone thinks exactly like they do!
The tragedy is that they actually stopped thinking some time ago.