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Paper grading post I

The good people at Free Exchange on Campus have given me permission to re-post my interview with them on this humble and harried blog.  Thanks, Free Exchange—for this, and for everything you do!

Free Exchange:  First of all, thanks for taking the time as clearly you have a lot on your plate.  Let me start by asking a question that might seem to have an obvious answer given that the NYT has anointed you David Horowitz’s “most engaged critic” (we defer of course), but what prompted this book? More specifically, why did you think that the focus of this book was important and worth writing at this time?

Me: Well, the funny thing is that this book really isn’t a direct reply to Horowitz.  (And I do hope he’s dismayed at the degree to which the book is not about him.) It’s not even a reply to Horowitz’s designation of me as one of the 101 most dangerous professors in the country; my book doesn’t mention The Professors at all.

I began writing it in 2004; at that point, Congress was considering an amendment to the Higher Education Act that would have created an “advisory board” for all Title VI international studies programs.  The board would have been made up entirely of political appointees, and it would have been empowered to investigate the “activities” (quite a vague term) of all “grant recipients” (i.e., entire programs or individual students and professors).  That amendment had passed the House unanimously in October 2003, and it was motivated by the sense, among some conservatives, that Middle Eastern studies programs were anti-Israel and therefore anti-American.  But I don’t think I need to explain how dangerous such a board could be—or how, for that matter, it might discourage smart graduate students from studying Arabic and aspiring to jobs in the State Department.

Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights” was drafted around the same time—the fall of 2003—and Horowitz had sent me the first draft, which actually spoke of audiotaping faculty search committee meetings and providing every academic job applicant with a detailed rejection letter explaining the reasons for his or her rejection—all in the name of combatting “bias” in hiring.  And, of course, although we were still a year away from the ludicrous Ward Churchill Extravaganza of early 2005, numerous other scholars had been vilified and hounded for making statements after (and about) 9/11 that were far, far more innocuous than Churchill’s vile remarks.

A pamphlet released in late 2001 by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, for example, went after Joel Beinin for saying, “if Osama bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United States should bring him before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.” Apparently anyone not calling for World War III at that time was an enemy of the state, as far as ACTA was concerned.

So even though I was aware that one wing of the culture-war right has been outraged by liberal campuses and liberal-left professors for many years, I believed that some aspects of the post-9/11 political climate had gotten especially toxic for those of us who believe that academic programs should be intellectually independent from the state—and from whatever political party happens to be in power at any moment in history.

Free Exchange:  Well, we certainly would be interested to know what your response to Horowitz was!  However, in the interest of not feeding his ego with more press, let me follow up on your sense of the “climate.” Do you feel the attacks on higher education have changed since you began this project, and if so, how?

Me: I don’t think there’s been any significant change in the climate; the right’s attacks on higher education were pretty frantic in 2001-03, and they’re pretty frantic now.  I do, however, sense two important developments.  The first is that liberals, progressives, moderates, and some conservatives have begun to realize just how radical these attacks are, and how dangerous—I use the word advisedly—it would be to place universities under direct state control, particularly in states where you’ve got a large body of legislators who don’t like this whole “science” thing.

The other, unfortunately, is that the meaning of “academic freedom” has been almost hopelessly confused by these attacks.  “Academic freedom” actually means (according to the American Association of University Professors, whose definition is actually the foundation of the idea) that “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties.” It has to do with teaching and research—not with the right of students to speak up in class, or with “campus climate” in general.  So, for example, when conservative Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein testified to the Georgia legislature (on behalf of the so-called Academic Bill of Rights) that “Academic freedom isn’t the property of the faculty.  It is the responsibility of campus dwellers, yes, but the property of all citizens,” he was precisely wrong—and statements like this, I believe, have the effect of confusing academic freedom with freedom of speech in general.

Free Exchange: Given those developments, do you believe that professors need to, in fact, get more politically active outside of the classroom?  And does this mean anything in terms of how academics talk to state legislators and the public in general about their work?

Me: The short answer is yes.  As I note in the book, professors are an exceptionally weak constituency, politically speaking.  College professors, it seems, are especially disorganized when it comes to political advocacy and political organization.

At the same time, I’m not suggesting that professors should organize simply to protect their own interests—though that would be a decent start, with regard to the virtues of protecting the intellectual independence of college teachers.  Professors also need to learn how to address the legitimate concerns of legislators and the public in general-about everything from academic freedom and civil society to grade inflation and tuition hikes.  Very, very few people understand how public universities are funded, for example, and I think if they understood the relation between state budget cuts and tuition increases at places like Penn State, they’d see the wisdom of the social contract we had in place until quite recently, in which universities were seen as a public good that offers all kinds of intellectual and financial returns on public investment.

Free Exchange:  Let’s turn to the classroom. You spend two substantial chapters of your book discussing what goes on in your classes and your opening chapter discusses your own personal and professional struggle with how to best meet the needs of one of your outspoken students, “John,” as well as the other students in that class.  How common do you believe that struggle is for professors teaching in today’s environment and is one hope that your book helps other liberal arts faculty members think through their own class situations and these issues?

Me: Well, I think every responsible professor struggles to meet the needs of his or her students.  My own standard for this, as I explain in the book, is the standard of “reasonable accommodation”:  every student and every perspective should be accommodated in the classroom, within reason.  Now, that standard is drawn from disability law, so when I first elaborated it, back in 2003, a few opportunistic critics on the right tried to make the bizarre claim that I was suggesting we treat conservative students as if they have mental disabilities.  But, of course, I was arguing that every student should be accommodated.  As I argue in the book, the beautiful thing about the standard of “reasonable accommodation” is that it is a universal imperative that requires one to acknowledge individual idiosyncrasies (because not every “accommodation” will take the same form).

The real challenges come when you find yourself with a student who makes arguments you consider unreasonable.  In my case, it was “John“‘s defense of the WW2 internment camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry.  For other teachers, it might be a student who won’t question the Biblical account of creation, or who insists that homosexuality should be cured so that we can save gay men and lesbians from eternal damnation.  In my book, I mention the case of Ann Marie B. Bahr, who teaches philosophy and religion at South Dakota State University and had a bunch of students walk out of her lectures (though they continued to show up for exams, remarkably enough) because she had assigned readings that were critical of the white supremacist and anti-Semitic group Christian Identity.  I think that for professors whose courses touch on politically volatile matters—from the Middle East to African-American history to gender and sexuality—the question of how best to stimulate and lead productive classroom discussion is absolutely central to their teaching.  But yes, I hope that some aspects of my book encourage all of us, even those of us whose course material is not quite so volatile, to think through our politics and our pedagogy.

Free Exchange:  In your closing paragraph, you eloquently argue that the teaching of the liberal arts strengthens our democracy. In your mind, are our colleges and universities vis-à-vis the liberal arts doing a better or worse job of strengthening our democracy today than say we were 50 years ago-or has it changed?

Me:  Better, I’d say—but not necessarily because of the liberal arts.

Let’s go back 50 years, to 1956.  Though the GI Bill had enabled a new generation of middle- and working-class adults to attend college, most American universities were still racially segregated; the real opening of the gates didn’t happen until the 1960s, when universities witnessed an extraordinary decade of expansion, fueled in part by women and minorities and in part by massive Cold War funding in the wake of Sputnik.  (It is something of a historical irony that so many academic liberals and progressives of the era were supported by the National Defense Education Act.  Ah, those were the good old days.)

I can illustrate what’s at stake by looking back at my own degree-granting institutions:  I was part of the last all-male cohort of Columbia University when I graduated in 1982.  That’s right, Columbia didn’t admit women until 1983.  Even more amazingly, my doctoral institution, the University of Virginia (a public school, though it often likes to imagine itself otherwise), didn’t admit women until 1970.  It’s now one of the so-called “public Ivies”; before 1970, it was known widely as a place where the gentry learned to hold their liquor while cruising through the curriculum with the “Gentlemen’s C.” Fred Barnes and Brit Hume both graduated from Virginia in the 1960s.  Back then, white guys only had to compete with about 44 percent of the population for spots at U.Va.  So think about that the next time a conservative writer tells you that affirmative action has led to a decline in academic standards, or the next time the College Republicans hold one of their charming little “affirmative action bake sales” on campus.

But at the same time, we’ve done a good deal of backsliding over the past twenty years when it comes to making college accessible for poor and working-class families.  For too many Americans, elite universities are out of reach, and millions of students graduate with crushing debt loads.  It’s time we began taking on Adolph Reed, Jr.’s suggestion for Free Higher Ed:  a 50 to 60 billion dollar federal program to subsidize higher education throughout the United States.  Would it break the bank?  Not at all—it’s a pittance compared to the war in Iraq.  And look what happened to Ireland after it decided to subsidize its citizens’ college tuitions:  it’s now the Celtic Tiger, the economic star of the European Union.  Ireland!  Twenty years ago it was almost a third-world nation economically.  Now it’s booming beyond belief.  Celtic Tiger, indeed—it’s almost as weird as seeing the Detroit Tigers make the playoffs.  And it reminds me that the greatest periods of American economic expansion, after the Civil War and after World War II, just happened to coincide with massive investments in American universities.  I think there’s a lesson there for sensible Republicans as well as the entire Democratic party.

Free Exchange:  We at Free Exchange have always admired your writing on your blog and this book has moments of “blog-like” writing.  Does your blog influence your academic work stylistically or substantively?

Me:  Sure—though I’ve always had a more or less colloquial prose style, I think.  But there’s a difference between my blog writing and my more formal writing:  the former tends to be more playful, even silly at times (I get to indulge my love of Monty Python and the Simpsons more often), whereas the latter tends to have a lower snark content.  I simply assume I’m writing for a more diffuse and diverse audience in What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? than I am on the blog, where I have a regular readership that is usually fairly indulgent about my moments of self-indulgence (or silliness).

While I was writing Liberal Arts, though, I sometimes felt a conflict between the blog and the book.  News stories about conservatives in academe would pop up every now and then, and there was a flurry of such stories right after the 2004 election.  At the time, I wrote something fairly facetious on my blog—a post entitled “Keeping Conservatives Out of Academe” about how I was screening job applications for the codewords that would give away the Republican Ph.D. candidates.  I was kidding, of course; my real point was that conservatives hadn’t (and they still haven’t) provided any evidence for their numbers in the applicant pool.  And I do think that one weird effect of the right’s attacks on liberal professors is that it allows some conservatives to pretend that they are too interested in teaching the arts and humanities and are just being prevented from doing so by nasty liberals.

But at the time, I remember Ralph Luker, a smart conservative historian and prolific blogger, taking exception to this post—I think he considered it cheeky and evasive.  I wanted to say, “no, that’s just the snarky blog version—I promise you I’m working on a more substantial and sustained argument for the book,” but of course I didn’t want to give away that argument ahead of time, either.  So at times during 2004-05 as I was writing the book, I found myself writing in one mode for the blog and quite another for the book.

My education as a blogger, though, has involved my gradual realization that I had developed a readership that would actually stay with me for 2000- or 3000-word posts on politics, literature, literary theory, and disability issues.  And not only that:  this readership would respond with smart and challenging and sometimes hilarious comments day in and day out.  That’s been a truly delightful surprise; I didn’t imagine that blogging could be so substantive or so fun when I started out in early 2004.

Free Exchange:  Lastly, you talk about what you look for in your students’ writing.  You say that you “tend to be especially impressed by papers that ask themselves the simple but profound question, so what?” What do you believe the “so what” question is that your book considers?

Me:  I guess I’d put the “so what” question this way:  Universities are under attack from an ascendant wing of the Republican Party that would like to see them placed more directly under the control of government-so what?  Why should average Americans care about this when they’ve got so much else to worry about, from health care costs to pension-looting scandals to the Bush-Cheney attack on civil liberties and habeas corpus?

And my answer is that the attack on American universities is part and parcel of that ascendant wing’s larger program for American society.  They now control all three branches of government, they’ve got their own Philip K. Dick-like alternative-universe media in Fox News and the vast right-wing noise machine, and they’re striking out at the few areas of American life they don’t dominate—Hollywood, unions, college campuses.  (You know, the real centers of power.) It’s a little hard to believe, at first; if I were a conservative, I’d be quite happy with an arrangement under which my allies control the country and my opponents control the survey courses in American fiction.  But it helps to understand that the ascendant wing we’re talking about is not, strictly speaking, a conservative wing.  We’re talking, instead, about the radical right—some of whom believe in the theory that the President can set aside the Constitution at will, some of whom believe that America went wrong when its founders decided to separate church and state, but all of whom regard with distrust or disdain any and all arenas of intellectual independence and political pluralism in American life.

As I argue in the book’s final chapter, these people don’t simply hate this or that “liberal” social policy, from Social Security to the minimum wage; they hate procedural liberalism itself, the very idea that there should be plural and competing centers of power in a flourishing civil society that has some degree of autonomy from the apparatus of government.  The defense of the intellectual independence of American universities is therefore part of the defense of a democratic, procedural liberalism, and it is a defense that all liberals—and most conservatives, if they are truly conservative—should be willing to undertake. 

Posted by on 10/13 at 08:40 AM
  1. I understand this trope about the “true conservatives” vs the radical right as a splitting-off gesture, but is it actually true?  I don’t think that I’ve ever met a true conservative.  Was there ever one who was not a closet authoritarian?

    Or, rather, in order to remove the immediate objection that brings up one possibly mythical person somewhere, are there really more than just a scattered handful of intellectuals who are “true conservatives”?  I don’t see anything resembling even a percentage of the voting public by that description.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  11:01 AM
  2. They now control all three branches of government, they’ve got their own Philip K. Dick-like alternative-universe media in Fox News and the vast right-wing noise machine, and they’re striking out at the few areas of American life they don’t dominate—Hollywood, unions, college campuses.

    This is true and quite scary. The radical right waited forty years or so for the stars to align, with the aim of annihilating disagreement and dissent. In one way we’re lucky that ultimately the leaders of the movement turned out to be glaringly corrupt and incompetent. They’ve done enough damage as it is, but it could have been much worse had the leaders been competent enough to execute a few of their warped missions successfully.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  11:41 AM
  3. ---Or, rather, in order to remove the immediate objection that brings up one possibly mythical person somewhere, are there really more than just a scattered handful of intellectuals who are “true conservatives”?

    So far, Rich, the results of my little experiment are inconclusive.  But my lab report isn’t due for another couple of years yet. 

    Posted by Michael  on  10/13  at  01:01 PM
  4. And I totally resent the implication that I’m not good enough for you, Rich.

    Posted by One Mythical Person  on  10/13  at  01:05 PM
  5. My education as a blogger, though, has involved my gradual realization that I had developed a readership that would actually stay with me for 2000- or 3000-word posts on politics, literature, literary theory, and disability issues.

    I’ve been training for that Stuart Hall steeplechase.  I figure [captcha word] I’m ready, but you never know for sure until the gun sounds and you hit the course.

    Posted by J—  on  10/13  at  01:14 PM
  6. Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
    Go ahead and cheat a friend.
    Do it in the name of Heaven,
    You can justify it in the end.
    There won’t be any trumpets blowing
    Come the judgement day,
    On the bloody morning after....
    One Mythical Person will not survive the giant nuclear fireball.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  02:00 PM
  7. Riffing on stereotypes—True conserva-tive: “minimal government, relying on market forces for economic/social growth, socially abominable, miltary buildup”; true democrat:  “high taxes, government intervention/spending on social/educational programs (sink-holes)”; true liberal: “peripheral (universities, hollywood, protestors) unpractical to anarchistic, local farming and greenery at best, forced/violent rebalancing of social/ environmental you name it! injustices at worst"-- university liberal arts=leftist deviant cabals with a few balding male holdovers; hollywood = wild riches, horrific morals, mixed with tours of the third world and adopting their children.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  02:22 PM
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    Posted by  on  10/13  at  03:19 PM
  9. You call this a hiatus?  I’ve experienced more thorough hiatii waiting for my soup to cool!

    In one way we’re lucky that ultimately the leaders of the movement turned out to be glaringly corrupt and incompetent.

    Yet look at how long it’s taken for this self-evident description to sink in for the electorate.  And remember: the Foley scandal, David Kuo’s new book, etc, actually help the true believers perpetuate their “no true Scotsman” fallacy.  See, President Bush isn’t actually conservative; Republican leaders aren’t really “Christian.” Even if 2006 and 2008 lead to them losing their grip on two branches (and man-whore McCain’s popularity makes this uncertain), it will just be a matter of time until the next “Goldwater, except genuinely deranged” arises from the slime pit.  Americans repudiated Goldwater, then hailed Reagan as the nation’s savior, and now some of them are praying over cardboard cutouts of George W. Bush.  So don’t count on the incompetence of the anointed to be sufficient to save us from the sickness of the anointers.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  03:27 PM
  10. when universities witnessed an extraordinary decade of expansion, fueled in part by women and minorities and in part by massive Cold War funding in the wake of Sputnik.

    There was also the massive increase in tax revenues from the buildup of the military-industrial complex across the country, providing endless lines of automobiles and trucks, electronics and appliances, layers upon layers of tract and apartment development on top of previously single family homes and farm lands, etc.  There was also the giant war machine fighting in Southeast Asia, Central America, Middle East, South America, and the Caribbean; providing incredible Federal, State, and local revenues for the burgeoning civil infrastructure.

    These universities of the sixties (some newly opened) became the 2S deferment homesteads of millions of baby boomers as well.  Between 1945 and 1960 nearly 70 million US citizens were born, and in CA the UC system was expanded under Earl Warren, and then Pat Brown, to offer enrollment to all of the top 10% of each years’ high school graduating seniors. 

    Hiding in a UC, or one of the several new CSU’s, taking minimum units, then bailing before failing, repeatedly, became the paramount draft/ Vietnam war avoidance strategy.  It got so bad, that Reagan mandated (literally ordering the UC Regents to act; he did that a lot then) six-year term limits on undergraduate matriculation.  Tens of thousands of CA students figured out, early on, that joining ROTC’s (all branches of service available) paid for the education, offered all manner of training opportunities, medical discharges (upon graduation), and very minimum actual service (except for those that took it all too serious and ended up being fragged). 

    One of the real motivators of Title IX was the expansion of sponsored “mens” sports on most campuses.  When a UC (for example) had sufficient funds to field teams in 25 or 30 sports (and both freshman and varsity teams in those sports), they could easily offer some of that money for the women (they were already getting some subsidies for the “club” sports at the time).

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  03:31 PM
  11. just a scattered handful of intellectuals who are “true conservatives”?

    I have struggled with this as well.
    Challenge: Find a large enough gathering of “true conservatives”, where it would be worth flogging WLAtLA by the tried and true method of airplane-towed banner. (I’d suggest using the graphic of the WLAtLA girls with the GNF bearing down on them.)

    ... but do “true conservatives” even go outside, and if they do, would they ever look up. Maybe they would, if only to judge how well the “pollution credits” program is working and then they might just see the banner through the particulates. Make sure to use bright colors!

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  04:42 PM
  12. You call this a hiatus?  I’ve experienced more thorough hiatii waiting for my soup to cool!

    Fine.  Starting now, I’m really gonna hiate.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  05:00 PM
  13. I haven’t found any evidence that Horowitz wants government oversight of academic programs.  He says over and over in his preface that he just wants the left to look at their own bias, and to correct it themselves.

    Meanwhile, a true link between politics and the humanities HAS been made by the left.  It is a shadow government that polices the humanities perhaps, or a government from a utopia that will never happen, but it is a government nevertheless.

    Lyotard spent all that time trying to snip the link, and decry the Hegelian-Marxists as a monstrosity, but he ended up as a blank in the Hegelian-Marxist encyclopedia as a result.

    He even tried to separate representation and politics. 

    I guess he was shouted down or dismissed. 

    It’s too bad.  I was on that boat, but it didn’t dock.

    And, as he said, terrorism is the result.

    The other terrorism, that of the Calvinist right, is really no worse than the Marxist variety.  In Texas a teacher is fired for bringing her students to the Dallas Art Museum where they are exposed to a nude from classical Greece.

    Marxism to the left, Calvinism to the right.

    Same difference.

    Actually, I have a small preference for the Calvinists.  They’re more learned and are funnier and they won’t kill everybody once they get in power.

    Posted by Kirby Olson  on  10/13  at  06:36 PM
  14. Calvin killed one of the founders of Unitarianism.
    That wasn’t so funny. Didn’t display much learning either. It’s true, he didn’t kill everybody once he gained power, but then, few do.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  07:10 PM
  15. Shorter Kirby: Just because Horowitz lobbies state legislators to create government oversight of higher education, doesn’t mean he wants government oversight of academic programs; indeed, his mission, like Lyotard’s, is to fight terrorism.

    I think that’s the most wrangled equation of professors and terrorists I’ve yet seen, Kirb. Well done.

    captcha: respect

    Posted by Pat  on  10/13  at  07:23 PM
  16. "Calvin killed one of the founders of Unitarianism.”

    Ah yes, Servetus.  I’ve always liked the distant impression of his personality; he would make a good patron saint of Internet flamers.  He wrote letters to Calvin under various pseudonyms and pissed him off with personal abuse, writing insulting marginal notations in one of Calvin’s books and returning it to him, and so on, so Calvin resolved to have him executed.  A UU church that I once attended had a mural that showed him being burnt amidst his books.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  07:53 PM
  17. "So far, Rich, the results of my little experiment are inconclusive.  But my lab report isn’t due for another couple of years yet.”

    Did you model your experimental protocol on the Poor Man’s from the end of this post?

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  08:13 PM
  18. Well, I was getting all excited about imminent doom - and then it was only a test. What a huge disappointment.
    Speaking of nukes… I am just watching Washington Week on PBS, and D. Sanger said something to the effect “well, the US already has almost complete sanctions on North Korea, since the Korean war” - meaning they can’t do much more. No awareness that maybe having all those sanctions for 50 years might have made the Kims more paranoid.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  08:25 PM
  19. "I was part of the last all-male cohort of Columbia University”

    No, Michael.  You were part of the last all-male cohort of Columbia College.  Columbia University has been admitting women, graduate and undergraduate, for over 100 years.  My mother received her MA there in 1946.  And Columbia University has had a women’s college, Barnard, since 1900.  When I entered (all-male) Columbia College in 1973, the resident upperclass person in my dorm was a Barnard senior and the dorm was co-ed, and was evenly split between men and women. (The bathroom was unisex.) Columbia men could take classes for full credit at Barnard - I did - and vice versa.

    Posted by  on  10/14  at  12:17 AM
  20. For too many Americans, elite universities are out of reach, and millions of students graduate with crushing debt loads.

    The college where I teach is not at all elite; a certain percentage of students graduate with no debt load as they have received full scholarships. These students can shine in a smaller environment, though it is true, that elite universities offer opportunities that they will not have. And there are still plenty of students, even at my small and modest college, who graduate with debt as it is.

    Posted by kristina  on  10/14  at  01:48 AM
  21. Right you are, JR.  Columbia College.

    And I took four classes at Barnard, too.  Sure, there were female undergraduates and graduate students all over Morningside Heights.  But if you check Columbia College’s admission rate before and after coeducation, JR, you’ll find that you and I, back in the day, had a much easier time getting in.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/14  at  07:12 AM
  22. And Rich (17):  damn that Poor Man!  damn him!  My little experiment was going to make me famous—and he beat me to it by three months!

    But there’s gotta be a horse in here somewhere, I just know it.  Or a Mythical Person.

    Captcha:  freedom.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/14  at  07:17 AM
  23. Still think that Horowitz is something of a straw man in the argument. 

    Lots of people inside academia too who hate the single-issues departments and their denizens.

    Especially perhaps the comp. lit people who have suffered the most since their departments have dwindled.  When you build new departments other departments must go.  Comp. lit has been hit especially hard by the new Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Black Studies, and other gobble gobbles.

    And in terms of quality it’s hard to say but I think that the comp. lit departments had more complexity in the profs, but it’s true that few American students could make a go of three languages as demanded.

    Now we have “monoglot multiculturals” (phrase owed to Matei Calinescu) streaming out of the spigot, but vot’s der use?

    Inside academia there have been some signal betrayals: Daphne Patai’s Heterophobia for instance attacks the gender industry of women’s studies even though she’s a big player in the industry and has been head of women’s studies departments.

    An issue of Literary Recherche/REcherche Litteraire out of Canada’s U. of W. Ontario had an interesting series of smashes against multiculturalism in their 2000 issue.  Dorothy Figueira from the U. of Georgia Comp. Lit dept.

    “Multiculturalism, as it is practiced in institutions of higher learning, also feeds the intellectual’s need for engagement and the pretense that academic criticism can function as a political act… However, the chimera of institutionalized multiculturalism poses a significant threat to the discipline of Comparative Literature and the teaching of world literature.  It has taken over the activity of comparative analyses between cultures and literatures and it has achieved this importance in venues that preempt the traditional role of Comparative Literature” (249). 

    Having usurped the study of the Other, the new ethnic studies programs combined with “discussions of canonicity whose referents consisted of comic books, jazz reprint liner notes and Penthouse letters to the editor” (251).

    Comparative literature’s “commitment to comparison, exegesis and linguistic competency fostered multiculturalism far better than any institutional mandate”

    “What began as an attempt to combat the existence and/or perception of endemic racism has resulted in defining globalism within the narrow focus of the American ethnic experience” (252).

    Comparative Literature began as the attempt to “embrace diversity” in Germany but in American hands, Figueira writes, “The teaching of world literature, packaged as multiculturalism, has become a pawn in the hands of a cadre of cynical professors and administrators seeking legitimacy for the political engagement they never quite achieved in more propitious times” (254).

    Figuiera was head of the Comparative Literature department at the U. of Georgia at the time the essay was composed for Literary Research.

    It’s not hard to find hundreds of other such texts from within academia, by much brainier academics than the current boobs trained as a wave of Red Guard police dogs to sniff the politics of the undergraduates and grade them accordingly.

    Posted by Kirby Olson  on  10/14  at  12:15 PM
  24. I for one have always opposed the new women’s studies, queer studies, and black studies programs because they were drawing students away from Comparative Literature, which isn’t worth majoring in anyway.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/14  at  12:41 PM
  25. The captcha word being “boy” and all that, going back to those boy/men only days of yore:

    Fifty years ago you could head off the SoCal coast in large ChrisCraft to seek out and catch swordfish, yellowfin, and marlin.  To be successful you had to cast out two or three trolling lines and some chum (mackeral and/or bonita), then exhibit patience as well as choppy whitecapped seas, to later reel in some fine quality meals.  Trolling was an art form, necessitating awareness of conditions, water temp, feed stock schools, currents, and so forth.  Unfortunately it wasn’t too difficult to be successful in those days, and after another two decades, most of those big fish (and the bait fish) were gone.

    That was okay though, because by then the cravenous appetite for all things oceany, demanded that fleets of trawlers and tenders would head forth dropping huge nets, then drag lines, and finally giant trolling drag nets that scraped up everything.  Now we get all the bottom dwelling trolled species; you know, lobsters and crabs appearing as something all gourmet and smart like when they really are nothing more than species that sustain themselves on effluent and scavenging of anyform of protein chunks that fall to the bottom of the sea.  Nets, tubes, lines--they seem to find the bottom troll species, no matter what environment these days.

    Posted by  on  10/14  at  01:58 PM
  26. Though i dread referring any group that might include a troll or two towards an important online discussion, it is altogether worthwhile to visit Cosmic Variance and a post put up by frequent Bérubé commenter, and CalTech physicist Sean Carroll.  Just as an enticement, he asks responders to act as an Emperor of Learning for their universities and reform and restructure the curricula.  In that most of the commenters are either grad students or practicing physicists, the thread is dominated by those who are heavily science focused.  They seem to forget that professors are educators first, and need something more than a single disciplinary field to garner the requisite teaching skills.  Anyway, here is Sean’s edict:

    So here is the curriculum I would insist on if I were the Emperor of Learning. The courses every college undergraduate should take:

    * Two semesters of English Literature. (No specific writing requirement, but writing would be emphasized in many of the courses across the board.)
    * Three semesters of History, at least one of American history and one of non-American history.
    * Some degree of proficiency in a foreign language, as measured by some standardized test.
    * Two semesters of Philosophy or Religious Studies.
    * Three semesters of Social Sciences, at least one but not all to be in Economics.
    * Two semesters of Mathematics, either a year of Calculus or one semester each of Statistics and Algebra/Geometery at a fairly high level.
    * Two semesters of Physical Science — Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, etc.
    * Two semesters of Biological Science.
    * One semester of Fine Arts.

    Now why would the captcha be “light” as in photons representing the paramount object of the study of physics?  Maybe there is a need to shed more “light” on these issues; in that my favorite critical comment over there is:
    As far as philosophy goes, I would only condone that if the historical background (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc.) were kept to a minimum. If I was interested in rubbish written hundreds of years ago I’d take a history class.

    Posted by  on  10/14  at  02:24 PM
  27. Speaking of philosophy, am I right in suspecting that the parlous straits the Oaklands find themselves in is caused by confronting a ballclub that is even billier than they?

    Plus Leyland, of course.

    Posted by  on  10/14  at  03:23 PM
  28. The main problem with the new departments isn’t the intention behind them but the fact of their necessary engagement.

    Engagement means lack of aesthetic distance.

    And so, simpler activist values come to the fore: hence, Marxism jumps to the aid.  Just as for Mao a good story was one in which the worker wins, now it’s one in which the woman triumphs, or in which the black woman is president, or the queer man is president.  Nothing wrong with these things, but they get kind of obvious.

    It doesn’t necessarily make for interest.

    It’s agit-prop transplanted out of Zhdanov’s aesthetics into our new race and gender concerns.

    Comp. lit was better because it could stand back and compare.  Grow Ming fingernails and tap them on an ashen desk.  Reflect some more.

    Agit-prop.  Vagit-prop. 

    Now Horowitz is screaming that there are 50,000 profs in America who support Al-Qaida over the president.  But I think the number is way too small.  Do the math. If there are 5000 colleges and universities in America, and if only TEN on each campus thinks Osama and his ilk are justified in their attack on 9/11 (we deserve it and are a bunch of little Eichmanns) and if only ten on each campus think privately “Bush is worse than Hitler” that’s 50,000 profs.

    Horowitz is way off in his estimate in my estimate.

    And why should poor Ward Churchill be the only one to be stuck as the selective enforcee of this clearing the slate?  Simply because he landed on Fox News? 

    I would guess that there are more like a half a million further to the left than Churchill who want America burned to the ground, and nothing left but remorse over all our wrongs. 

    Still, I’m glad to hear you say that you’re against Ward Churchill here.  But I think you’re way out of mainstream on this, Michael.  Personally, I like Churchill.  His moronic comments at least had a certain dash to them.  His scholarship can’t be much worse than anyone else’s in his field.  His whole department defended him, too.  I really don’t see how he’s any worse than anyone else.  And at least he had the guts to speak his mind.

    Posted by Kirby Olson  on  10/14  at  06:06 PM
  29. I would guess that there are more like a half a million further to the left than Churchill who want America burned to the ground, and nothing left but remorse over all our wrongs.

    But, Kirby, with all due respect, unless you can give some kind of rational basis for your “guess” you come off as rather paranoid and delusional to those of us who actually spend a lot of time on college campuses and don’t encounter anyone fitting your description.

    Posted by  on  10/14  at  06:41 PM
  30. "Just as for Mao a good story was one in which the worker wins, now it’s one in which the woman triumphs, or in which the black woman is president, or the queer man is president.”

    Hey Kirby,

    You’re an interesting writer, and I do enjoy it when you spin your narratives out. But I have to ask--you *do* realize that these “good stories” of yours have never actually happened yet, right?


    Did Martha Stewart or Patricia Dunn triumph in their struggles with the male corporate world?


    Is Condi Rice ever in a million years going to be the President? Oprah has a better chance, unless there’s some serious Diebold action going on.

    And Jim McGreevey couldn’t even hold his seat as Governor when it came out that he was gay, so I don’t know where you’re going with this “happy ending” program. Maybe we’ll all be electing Foley for President in your world?

    Still, I have to agree that I like Ward Churchill, though I honestly don’t understand anymore what the hell he actually *did.* Does anyone know???

    Posted by  on  10/14  at  07:00 PM
  31. Venerable Ed, what department are you in?  In English, you hear a LOT of people who sound like the Churchill dude.  In business, you wouldn’t.  You even hear people say that Bush ordered the hit on the WTC.  In fact there is a French book that sold a million copies that claims that.  A prof from the U. of Minnesota was on TV the other night claiming he had “hard evidence” that Cheney was laughing as the planes approached the WTC.  He claimed to have a video in his possession that showed it.  This man was emeritus.  He was on Hannity & Colmes and even Colmes was laughing and rolling his eyes.

    I’m sure there are some professions that are slanted bizarrely to the right, too.  And I’m told by a local police officer that unless you’re for Bush you’re not going to make it as a police officer. 

    I think the idea of groupthink goes two ways.  Leftists should get on that case and start a political profile of police departments.

    Btw. The whole legal case against Ward Churchill was made public by the committee that worked on his case.

    There are about four substantiated charges.  The most crucial seem to be that

    His scholarship is faulty in hundreds of places.  He invents incidents, exaggerates statistics, and steals whole passages from other scholars without attribution.  The passages stolen, and the invented scenes and statistics are trotted out in great detail.  The document is a hundred pages in length, and took thousands of hours to compile, and is in the shape of a legal brief.  Just search the net for it.  I found it by clicking on a link that I found here about a month ago, but can’t remember who posted it or under what link.

    All I can say is that there are thousands and thousands of activist profs in the history and English business, and most of them don’t have an original bone in their body.  If they can’t pad their work with stolen material they’d be out of business.  I think if we wanted to spend 300,000 dollars looking into every person in these departments half those professions would be bagging groceries. 

    There are also a few great and original scholars who can do the work, but I think those are rare in any profession from the police force to English departments to the senate.

    We DO have some black female senators.  We have a few gay legislators don’t we?  I don’t pay that much attention to this but I imagine there must be some.  If there are 100 senators, and just one of them is gay, that’s about proportionate according to the U.S. census bureau statistics on numbers of gay people in America if not to activist statistics. 

    I think Foley’s crime was not that he was gay but that he was molesting children.  The pages he allegedly slept with were under 18.  In most states that’s the age under which it is considered statutory rape for an adult to sleep with an underling.

    Even if it’s consensual.

    I think the first director of the FBI was gay.  His name was J. Edgar Hoover.  Some people say that Buchanan was a gay president.  The case has even been made for Lincoln. 

    But the cases are weak, and are based on wish-fulfillment, as is so much activist scholarship.  For instance, Lincoln shared a bed with some other man for a while.  But in the Civil War era this was common.  I guess there weren’t enough beds to go around or something.  If you Wikipedia Buchanan you get lots of links that go far toward disproving the case that Buchanan was a homosexual.

    At any rate, I think we need some merit in all fields and should try to forget about demographics and orientation as much as we can.

    What’s relevant to being president is a bit of wisdom.

    In the last race we had Lurch on quaaludes and Alfred E. Newman on speed.

    Some choice.

    The only commonality is that both had belonged to the Skull & Bones club at Yale.

    Posted by Kirby Olson  on  10/15  at  04:10 PM
  32. Heh, those 17th C Puritans in England and America sure were the paragons of righteousness.  Now I understand KO conservatism!  Forget rolling back the Great Society or the New Deal or changing the outcome of the Civil War!  Let’s bring back the death penalty for sodomy and adultery!  Let’s bring back total war against those we label “savages” and “heretics.” Let’s proclaim ourselves “God’s chosen people” so everything we do is not only justified but foreordained!  Hip hip hooray!

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  10/15  at  04:20 PM
  33. On a completely unrelated tangent, and here’s Austin Cline on Christian right propaganda (h/t Jesus’ General).  In the spirit of a perfect circle....

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  10/15  at  04:57 PM
  34. All I can say is that there are thousands and thousands of activist profs in the history and English business, and most of them don’t have an original bone in their body

    I try to stay out of this trolling for bottom feeders, but the statement above borders, and possibly exceeds, the standards for tort claims on libel and slander.  To defame this class of professors, across the US, with the suggestion that their work is not original, is not only inappropriate, but also a lie.  It constitutes both slander and libel and needs to be retracted; unless of course one can prove: that"most" equals a significant quantifiable majority; that this majority has failed to produce original work verifiable among the peer reviewed journals and other quality validating resources; and that you are capable of making this distinction claiming “fair comment’ privileges because you are referring solely to famous and/or only well known public figures.  If you cannot prove these assertions, please refrain from making these sorts of comments. 

    I would recommend, as much as it pains my own sensibilities of freedom of speech, that the blog host remove the comment, in order to avoid possible litigation.

    “Defamation per se includes allegations or imputations ‘injurious to another in their trade, business, or profession’ “

    Posted by  on  10/15  at  06:25 PM
  35. OK, I’ll check in.  Actually, spyder, if K.O. had a lick of sense he’d retract everything he’s ever written on this blog, and I haven’t banned him and his hee-hee-hee kiddie antics only because he’s been good for comic relief.  But I wouldn’t get on his case for writing

    there are thousands and thousands of activist profs in the history and English business, and most of them don’t have an original bone in their body.  If they can’t pad their work with stolen material they’d be out of business.

    -- because I read this as a rueful (and embarrassingly ungrammatical) self-indictment rather than as a serious piece of slander.

    I’m inclined to give him a bit more rope for now, on the grounds that he’s put it to exceptionally good use so far.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/15  at  06:36 PM
  36. The noted population statistician Kirby Olson:

    If there are 100 senators, and just one of them is gay, that’s about proportionate according to the U.S. census bureau statistics on numbers of gay people in America if not to activist statistics.

    The shameless activists at the Urban Institute:

    Census 2000 counted 601,209 same-sex unmarried partner households in the United States.... While concluding that the Census 2000 undercounted the total number of gay or lesbian households, for the purposes of this study, we estimate the gay and lesbian population at 5 percent of the total U.S. population over 18 years of age, (209,128,094). This results in an estimated total gay and lesbian population of 10,456,405.

    So as a result of not understanding the most basic facts about what the census counts (same-sex partnership households, NOT “gay people"), Kiby’s only off by a factor of 5. Now a real troll like Gary Ruppert would never produce such a mediocre performance. C’mon Kirby, you can do better than that!

    Posted by John Protevi  on  10/15  at  07:24 PM
  37. And, you know, Kirby, even the Troll of Sorrow has moved on to dada. Surrealism is so passé.

    Posted by  on  10/15  at  07:35 PM
  38. The use of the word “Troll” on the Internets is quickly approaching a state of no-meaning. Whatever you think of Kirby, he isn’t a troll. He may be antagonistic (who isn’t?), obtuse, medieval, or even delusional, but his grievences are genuine, and his behaviour isn’t remotely outside the constraints established within the Berube community (if I can even call it that).

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  10/16  at  01:37 AM
  39. I probably don’t speak for all the billy goats, Central, but I think for the most part a troll’s rhetoric can be identified as bearing, minimally, three distinguishing characteristics:

    1. idée fixe
    2. gratuitous insult
    3. logorrhea

    I admit that when Kirby says I would guess that there are more like a half a million further to the left than Churchill who want America burned to the ground, and nothing left but remorse over all our wrongs or I think if we wanted to spend 300,000 dollars looking into every person in these departments half those professions would be bagging groceries or If there are 100 senators, and just one of them is gay, that’s about proportionate according to the U.S. census bureau statistics on numbers of gay people in America if not to activist statistics he’s probably just indulging his self-described Lutheran solipsist surrealist humors. But I don’t see how any of this explains or advances whatever genuine grievances he may have, except to the extent that falling face forward is an advance.

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  10:56 AM
  40. But CCP my whole point is that Kirby isn’t even good enough to be a real troll. He’s a troll manqué, and that’s just plain sad. I’m just trying to goad him to try harder so he can match the high standards for trolls that places like Sadly, No have established, hence the Gary Ruppert reference. But if you prefer, I’ll just call him a buffoon from now on, until his performance improves.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  10/16  at  11:23 AM
  41. Yeah, I know a troll when I see one, and Kirby Olsen is no troll.

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  02:36 PM





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