Freedom’s just another word
Late last week I came across some trenchant criticism of the “flaws” in my essay on academic freedom, courtesy of Scott Talkington blogging at Winds of Change. I responded briefly in that blog’s comments, as I am sometimes wont to do, but I kept thinking about one passage in particular:
Michael then addresses the testimony of National Association of Scholars President, Stephen Balch, to the Select Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (Nov. 9, 2005):More seriously, Balch is drawing on the history of affirmative action and employment discrimination law in order to argue that universities should make good faith efforts to hire people more to his ideological liking. This is a common theme in right-wing attacks on universities, especially among those critics who have become alarmed that affirmative action has gone too far, insofar as fully five percent of all doctorates are now awarded to black people.
The implication that racism is attributable exclusively to the conservative opposition is a meme so dear to the left that it inevitably proves irresistible. So perhaps we can excuse Michael for being “in the tank.” But I think Dr. Balch was employing irony to make the point that there are distinctly credible arguments against such notions as “multiculturalism” that have been effectively silenced within the academy due to the dominance of a contrived ideological formulation, insisting on the “inherent racism” of privileged cultures.
Now, I don’t quite know what Talkington means by “multiculturalism,” because he seems to have some very strange ideas about it: “Most people,” he writes earlier in the post, “believe ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ are simply synonyms for ‘variety,’ rather than products of the cultural remapping of Marxist ideology produced by the Frankfurt School.” And damn, I looked all through my copy of The Dialectic of Enlightenment for Adorno and Horkheimer’s work on diversity and multiculturalism, but I must be missing something. (He’s right, though, that every professor who has ever criticized multiculturalism has been silenced. Effectively! Sometimes with actual silencers.)
But I do know what Talkington means when he says “the implication that racism is attributable exclusively to the conservative opposition is a meme so dear to the left that it inevitably proves irresistible.” I have a clue about what he means when he says “perhaps we can excuse Michael for being ‘in the tank.’” And I can smell what’s cooking when he follows these remarks with this tidbit:
S. M. Lipset, who with Everett Ladd produced one of the seminal studies of academic bias, The Divided Academy, once said that in the 1960s and ‘70s, when he and Ladd conducted their analysis, the ends of the competence spectrum were relatively immune to social pressure in hiring, tenure and promotion. That is, people of extremely high ability were hired and promoted irrespective of their ideological views or race, while those of manifestly low ability simply didn’t make the grade no matter how ideologically servile or white they were. But for the vast majority in the middle their “ability to fit in” was the primary determinant of hiring, tenure, and promotion.
In response, I wrote:
Well, thanks for excusing me. It’s awfully generous of you, if a bit smug and high-handed. But you really should acquaint yourself with more of Balch’s work before you attribute “irony” to his testimony. He and the NAS have been fulminating about so-called “racial preferences” and “quotas” for twenty years now, just as you do here—even though, as I point out, only 5 percent of all doctorates in the U.S. are awarded to African-Americans. Balch is quite serious about opposing affirmative action for women and minorities while proposing it for conservatives, though it is not clear just how we’re supposed to determine a job candidate’s conservatism in the course of the search. Likewise, Kenneth Lee’s remark about conservatives facing “clear practices of discrimination in American academia that are statistically even starker than previous blackballings by race” is meant quite seriously. That remark is pretty strong evidence that the right’s sense of victimization is real, as is their delusional sense that they have it worse than black folk ever did. Strange that you didn’t mention Lee’s statement here, in the course of suggesting that Balch was just kidding.
As for the state of academe before 1970, just keep in mind that white guys back then were competing with 44 percent of the population for jobs, and the jobs in higher education were plentiful. Professors back then were not uniformly people of “extremely high ability,” as Rutgers professor George Levine admitted when he wrote, “When I got my degree from the University of Minnesota [in the late 1950s], almost all my colleagues, no matter how dumb they were, got at least three job offers.”
The rest of Winds of Change’s comments thread is pretty low-grade stuff, full of complaints that poor Larry Summers has been driven out of academe and that poor Richard Herrnstein probably would’ve taken a lot of heat for his very scholarly book The Bell Curve, had he lived to see its publication. But then Talkington, who styles himself the “Demosophist,” chimes back in, to chastise me a second time:
The idea that one might oppose racial and gender quotas without being a racist or a bigot is apparently something that, for want of a more neutral term, you don’t grasp. This, in itself, is a whisper of the sort of bias we’re talking about.
I was so enthralled by the phrase “for want of a more neutral term” that I adopted it myself:
This response is, for want of a more neutral term, intellectually dishonest. I’ve written about affirmative action in the past, and my own criticisms of it are a matter of public record (and Nick Gillespie of Reason found those remarks to be fair and balanced, for what it’s worth, though most of his commenters didn’t understand why someone would discuss the history of affirmative action in a review essay on books about the history of affirmative action). Plenty of people, including many liberals, oppose quotas. But most sensible—and honest—people know what’s wrong with the claim that conservatives in academe now have it worse than African-Americans ever did.
As for your invocations of academic freedom “with obligations”—that is, with the obligation to hire more conservatives: thank you for making my point for me. Honestly, though, I think I did just fine on my own.
That last paragraph was a response to Talkington’s closing argument, which sounded something like this:
In summary, I can conceive of but three methods to correct the dysfunctions noted above: open or veiled quotas based on ideology that attempt to ensure ideological diversity; some abrogation or alteration of the common conception of “academic freedom” to include revocation of tenure; or some institutional arrangement that allows the creation of new departments or programs that can open career paths for competent people of more traditional classical liberal values. Or perhaps some combination.
Of course, anyone who is liberal, in the classical sense, will oppose quotas and will recognize the dangerous precedent they set. That leaves the latter two. It’s important to recognize that freedom must be balanced by obligation of some sort, and that this is less a matter of principle than necessity. If academia were populated by people wise enough to perceive this necessity themselves there’d be no problem. But since it apparently isn’t, we may need to open the door to markets by ending or attenuating the practice of tenure. I regard this as a loss, so perhaps we could try something else first?
We may need institutional arrangements that at least establish the conditions for a credible contest between the “multi-culti left” and the classically liberal or even theo-conservative right, in order to infuse a little wisdom into the self-satisfied academy. If academia wants relevance, this may be the price.
So there’s your conservative academic freedom in a wingnutshell: because academe is not populated by people wise enough to understand their obligation to undertake affirmative action programs for the classically liberal or even theo-conservative right, we need to consider “some abrogation or alteration of the common conception of ‘academic freedom’ to include revocation of tenure.” That will be the price of academe’s “relevance.” It’s good to know Talkington regards this as a loss: Nice university you have there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it.
Now, why do I bother arguing with people who, as I say, are already making my point for me? Because there are two important issues at stake.
The first is that the right-wing fulminating about “racial quotas” in academe is really quite weird when you come down to it. Once again with emphasis, folks, when we talk about African-Americans in academe we are talking about five percent of all Ph.D.s. Talkington, swinging and missing this point completely, writes, “the paucity of new black PhDs in the academy has been shown to be more closely related the paucity of black candidates in PhD programs, a fact that quotas or quota-like strategies probably won’t cure.” Yes, Scott (since we’re on a first-name basis here), I’m aware of the paucity of black candidates in Ph.D. programs. That’s precisely why I think right-wing fulminations about “racial quotas” in this context are so bizarre. My goodness gracious, it’s not as if the professoriate is being overrun by scholars of tint. For the record, however, since the point has been missed twice already: the fact that conservatives whine about all the preferences given to black folk, and the fact that some conservatives believe they have it worse than black folk ever did, does not necessarily mean that those conservatives are racists. It merely suggests that they might—just might—be overreacting a tad to that five-percent black presence in the professorial ranks, for reasons about which it would be irresponsible to speculate.
On a related note: Talkington refers in passing to “the sort of genuine discrimination that’s leveled at ‘ethnic traitors’ like Thomas Sowell or Jean R. Cobbs.” Again, I know I’m awfully slow on the uptake when it comes to right-wingers’ beliefs about liberals and black people, but I’ve just never understood the claim that liberals criticize black conservatives like Sowell because they’re “ethnic traitors.” The problem with Sowell is not that he deviates from some mythical party line; as most informed people are aware, many African-Americans are socially conservative on a wide range of issues. Rather, the problem with Sowell is that he has become a third-rate hack, as I pointed out—politely!—in my treatment of his book (from that same Nation review).
And for Ba’al’s sake! Are liberals supposed to refrain from criticizing black conservatives because they’re black? What in the world would that look like? “Privately,” says one white liberal to another, “I think Shelby Steele’s latest book is the work of a crude, ranting ideologue. But I’m not going to criticize him, because he’s black, you know.” Now there you’d have yourself a racial double standard, folks. The fact that white liberals criticize black conservatives is evidence not of liberal duplicity but of simple, single-standard consistency. We criticize conservatives of all genders and races and sexualities, especially when they slander us! (Indeed, this humble blog criticizes crude, ranting ideologues of all kinds!)
OK, now for that second issue. I’ve had my fun with poor old David Horowitz in the past, and I confess that in my dealings with matters Horowitzian, I have sometimes indulged my abiding love for Monty Python. As Mark Bauerlein notes on Phi Beta Cons, “Berube is solidly to the Left, he slips into sarcasm too often, and he’s made several of the contributors here the object of criticism. But amidst all that there are some substantive points.” Now, that may sound a tad condescending to some of you, who might think it’s possible to be on the left, to employ sarcasm, and to criticize some of the Phi Beta Cons while making some substantive points, but I take it as a mark of grudging respect; it certainly beats being praised for the quality of one’s prose while having one’s essay drained of all its propositional content. And clearly, there are more measured and credible critics of academe than Horowitz out there: your Mark Bauerleins and your Erin O’Connors are vastly more civil and circumspect than the sclerotic Horowitz, who, as you probably know, has lately devoted himself to championing Ann Coulter as a “national treasure.” In a recent post, O’Connor writes,
I’m not a fan of mockery as a mode of analysis myself—like Timothy Burke, I dislike intemperate, snide, and snarky criticism, no matter what side of the debate it comes from. I also dislike how, in the current polarized climate, one person’s snark is another person’s temperate utterance. That this is so points both to how little communication is actually taking place in our debates about higher education and to the importance of free, unfettered debate. We might all be talking past one another much of the time, but that’s far better than one side trying to silence the other.
While it’s laudable that Professor O’Connor no longer has the enthusiasm for Horowitz that characterized her early work as a blogger (which I found stunning years ago when I first started reading blogs, though that’s no excuse for my losing my temper with her back in 2003), I have to say I just don’t understand her temperate, well-spoken, and civil complaint about the fact that the University of Louisville has created an Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality. Maybe I’m obtuse about such matters, but when O’Connor writes,
It seems safe enough to assume that the Audre Lorde chair is reserved for a black woman, even though that would hardly increase the “variety” evoked by the job description. One can only conjecture—but one can also conjecture with some degree of certainty—what the politics and even the sexuality of the new holder of the Audre Lorde chair will be. Audre Lorde, it’s worth remembering, described herself as a “Black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” A dedicated activist, she was once described by Mario Cuomo as a woman whose “imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice.” It seems safe to assume that the ideal candidate for the Audre Lorde chair will likewise be a black lesbian feminist activist. I could be wrong. The Audre Lorde chair might end up going to a straight white male whose idea of activism is to recycle and take public transportation—but I doubt it. What’s more likely is that such men know they need not apply.
. . . I have two responses. One, she’s got a point: I’m a white guy, and I’m fond of recycling and public transportation, and I’m not thinking of applying for this chair. Two, so what? I mean, how many Audre Lorde Chairs do there have to be in this country before conservatives start complaining about them? Only one, apparently.
So what’s the issue here? I have no problem with Audre Lorde—in fact I quite admire her and possess a well-worn copy of The Cancer Journals. And I certainly have no problem with either women or minorities or gay people or activists holding jobs in the academy. What I do have a problem with is the manner in which being female, or non-white, or gay, or politically engaged, can function as a job qualification within academe. It’s not just that jobs such as the Audre Lorde chair seem to be reserved for academics with particular biologies and beliefs (how else could such a chair be honorably filled?), but that those biologies and beliefs are tacitly treated as part of an overall scholarly package. This is identity politics in action: the idea that professional excellence cannot be separated from personal characteristics, or even that it includes certain personal characteristics, is simply assumed in certain academic fields. I might be less annoyed by job descriptions such as this one if there were also, say, advertisements for the Christina Hoff Sommers Chair in Equity Feminism, or the Friedrich Hayek Chair in Liberty Studies. But there aren’t. This sort of thinly veiled demographic screening only runs one way in academe—even though political correctness is a myth and even though accusations of liberal bias in the academy are totally unfounded..
Well, some people might question whether Christina Hoff Sommers has achieved the kind of intellectual stature that merits a chair endowed in her name. That Hayek guy, however, he’s in the clear.
But can O’Connor be serious about this? She would be less annoyed by an Audre Lorde Chair if there were ads for a Hayek Chair? You know, at some point I don’t care how “temperate” someone claims to be: if that person is complaining about an Audre Lorde Chair on the grounds that there are no comparable positions in academe for scholars wanting to study Hayekian economics and social thought, they’re just not playing by the rules of argument recognized by knowledgeable, responsible people. And quite apart from O’Connor’s violation of the protocols of serious argument here, there’s also the element of ingratitude—yes, ingratitude. Ingratitude for all the hard work done by the John M. Olin Foundation over the past thirty years. I mean, the good people at the Olin, a charitable nonprofit explicitly charged with spending the Olin inheritance within one generation, have been crazy busy creating endowed chairs, entire programs, and even a brand new libertarian discipline called “Law and Economics,” all for the benefit of conservative scholars, and do they get any thanks, I ask you?
Is the Pope a black lesbian activist?
Don’t get me wrong. The day that someone creates a John M. Olin Chair in Law and Economics and writes the job description in such a way as to suggest that a black lesbian feminist activist would be the ideal candidate for the job, then I’ll begin to get the sense that the whole black lesbian feminist activist thing in academe has finally gone too far. Let me know when that happens, and I’ll be sure to blog about it.
You forgot immigrant and atheist. Black lesbian atheist immigrant-activist. It has a ring to it.Posted by Central Content Publisher on 06/19 at 02:25 PM
You’re right, I totally forgot immigrant and atheist. Whew! The short list for that chair just got a whole lot shorter.Posted by on 06/19 at 02:36 PM
Posted by on 06/19 at 02:49 PM
I call your Immigrant and Atheist and raise you a Disabled and Muslim.Posted by Saltydog on 06/19 at 02:50 PM
It’s certainly possible--indeed, we can only hope--that the Audre Lorde chair will be filled by someone like Audre Lorde. But that’s partly because of conservative attacks on affirmative action. When I was in grad school and trying with my peers to press my department to diversify its faculty, we were told that according to our university counsel, “targeted searches” for minority faculty had been declared illegal because of conservative legal challenges. What our department did instead was to open searches for specialists in ethnic literatures, expecting to thus hire professors of those ethnicities. In response, I switched from African-American studies to Irish Studies (where ethnic chauvinism is unfortunately still a problem, but a problem that works in my favor), while a friend switched from American realism to Asian-American Studies. It was a rational response to the market, but, of course, could have the effect of dediversifying “ethnic” literary studies and indeed, all literary fields and periods, so that every scholar matches up--whatever that means--to his or her field of study. And, as well, I might point out that conservatives have now moved to attack ethnic studies itself/themselves (though curiously Irish Studies has been immune from these criticisms), which at this point can be seen as a further attack on affirmative action. It’s therefore quite an act of rhetorical chutzpah when those who are attacking our colleagues of color are then favorably comparing themselves to those very same embattled colleagues.
Capture word: “all.”Posted by on 06/19 at 03:04 PM
The thing that kills Demosophist’s critique—and most of these “Academic Freedom” movement defenses—is the very fact that seems to underpin the “Liberal Academia” label:
In 1969 the Carnegie Commission found that 45% of faculty identified as left/liberal and 28% as right/conservative. Over the next two decades the situation didn’t change much, but then by 1999 72% identified as on the left with only 15% on the right. What changed?
I’ll give the conservatives some theories about what changed:
1) Conservatives moved the ideological lines so far rightward that the exact same group of people could suddenly find themselves self-identifying within a different ideological group over the span of 30 years.
2) The type of people attracted to university-level academic careers has changed. If any conservative college student today were asked whether he/she was looking to pursue a career in academia or an MBA, what do you think most would pick?
So here we have self-identification and personal preferences leading to a particular field becoming seemingly “dominated” by one ideological group. But until they show use the statistics regarding conservative academics who cannot find jobs, what do they propose? That we draft a certain number of conservatives and force them into academic careers?Posted by on 06/19 at 03:24 PM
Finally, of course, there are plenty of special centers and programs that in various ways lean rightward, from well established entities like Stanford’s Hoover Institution and Duke’s Gerst Program in Political, Economic, and Humanistic Studies, to newer initiatives like the University of Minnesota’s Tocqueville Center for the Study of Liberty and Free Institutions.
It seems, therefore, that we already have plenty of institutional arrangements that promote conservative thought—classically liberal or otherwise—on campuses across the country. I should add that this is fine with me. But I would like to see academic conservatives, who benefit mightily from these institutions, stop whining about being oppressed.
Oh, that’s all very well, Ben Alpers, but you’re studiously ignoring the fact that Larry Summers was martyred by uberleft feminista political correctness. And the University of Minnesota’s Tocqueville Center for the Study of Liberty and Free Institutions doesn’t count, because it wasn’t named the Hayek Center for the Study of Liberty and Free Institutions. Don’t try to switch the dice.Posted by on 06/19 at 03:25 PM
I like this comment:
How many people in academia have ever even had to do something as simple as make payroll? Admit that a product has no market and scrap it? Take a big financial hit because of a mistake? Deal with getting shafted by a customer?
That’s a great point. All you academics are probably wondering why you never get paid; it’s because no one at the academy can figure out how to make payroll.
Because you never get paid, due to the payroll snafu, you have no idea what it’s like to lose money due to a mistake, get shafted financially, or to have to scrap an idea. Well, I can tell you, in the real world these things happen, and they suck.Posted by on 06/19 at 03:29 PM
He he he
Your posts are so devestating. Like a well placed assasins dagger. Once unsheathed, it’s over.
You know stepping back and looking at the content of all the conservative complaint it is hard not to form an opinion that they just don’t want to have to defend their ideas. So, they are tying to control the personnel.
Trying to do to academia what they did to American Journalism.
Ain’t gonna happen.Posted by on 06/19 at 03:54 PM
When I was in grad school and trying with my peers to press my department to diversify its faculty, we were told that according to our university counsel, “targeted searches” for minority faculty had been declared illegal because of conservative legal challenges. What our department did instead was to open searches for specialists in ethnic literatures, expecting to thus hire professors of those ethnicities.
Terrific point, Betsy, and you’ve deftly explained precisely what’s wrong with O’Connor’s complaint that Louisville’s Department of Pan African Studies doesn’t have any white people.
Irish Studies is not a problem, by the way, because Irish Studies does not involve identity politics of any kind.
Now that that’s clear, I turn to Dobby:
But until they show use the statistics regarding conservative academics who cannot find jobs, what do they propose? That we draft a certain number of conservatives and force them into academic careers?
Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: David Horowitz has been pointing out for just over eight years now that Michael Savage was denied an interview for the job as dean of Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism, and still, no one has done anything about it:
The Savage case will perform a public service if it succeeds in highlighting the current political subversion of America’s institutions of higher learning. In today’s polluted academic atmosphere, “Afrocentric” racists can expound theories of blood destiny and “queer theorists” can defend reckless sexual practices in the face of a mortal epidemic; and they can do so with the imprimatur and all the resources at the university’s disposal. And while such charlatans and extremists control entire departments and liberal arts faculties, conservative scholars are treated as pariahs.
The politicization of the university and the debasement of the academic calling is a national disgrace. Savage’s suit is a small but meaningful step toward the restoration of democracy and institutional integrity to the nation’s university culture.
That was written on June 15, 1998. It is now June 19, 2006. Michael Savage has still not been interviewed for that job. Exactly how much more evidence of conservative persecution do you need?Posted by on 06/19 at 03:57 PM
And thank you, Mr. Observer, but despite the rather uncharacteristically menacing photo featured on the masthead of this blog, I own no daggers, and I categorically renounce all rhetorical violence.
Though I’m keeping the sarcasm for special occasions.Posted by on 06/19 at 03:59 PM
Maybe the Red Menace has been replaced by the Liberal Menace. Oh sorry… did I say maybe?
I wonder what a survey of Horowitz quotes and McCarthy quotes would yield?Posted by Central Content Publisher on 06/19 at 04:18 PM
CCP, we did that already. It turns out that Googling “David Horowitz” and “Jenny McCarthy” generates 39,000 hits, or four times as many results as you get for “David Horowitz” and that other McCarthy.Posted by Michael on 06/19 at 06:57 PM
"One longitudinal study (Milem and Astin 1993) concluded that the ‘most striking finding about the participation of women and minorities in different types of institutions is how little things seem to have changed over 17 years’ (p.22). Despite more than a quarter century of affirmative action, the percentage of women with tenure remained constant (at 38%) between 1975 and 1995. The fraction of blacks and Hispanics with tenure increased marginally (from 36% to 40% and 41% to 45% respectively). Although the proportion of whites with tenure did not change, the percentage (54%) was substantially higher than any other group (Roey and Rak 1998, p. 2-12). Full-time women faculty were far more likely than men (37% versus 24%) to hold non-tenure track positions ...” (Richard P. Chait, “Why Tenure? Why Now?” in Richard P. Chait, ed., _The Questions of Tenure_ [Harvard UP, 2002]).Posted by Tyler Curtain on 06/19 at 10:32 PM
I post those numbers to underscore the realities of who is being employed and under what conditions, using tenure as the benchmark: the “steady state” percentages are difficult to read outside the contexts of the original studies, but they do seem to gesture to a failure of affirmative action to live up to the sunny expectations of many proponents not to mention the palest of conservative’s Grand Guignol pronouncements about tenure’s horrors.Posted by Tyler Curtain on 06/19 at 10:45 PM
The Venerable Ed has clearly never been involved in the all too common university payroll snafu. Fun when it is your students, utter hillarity when it is your check on the line.
The bit about never having to make payroll is a joke to anyone who runs grants, especially when the renewals come in late.
Finally, it seems to me that our radical rightist friends are daring us to call them racists. Fine. Let us tell the truth and call them racists.Posted by Eli Rabett on 06/19 at 10:59 PM
Is the Pope a black lesbian activist?
Reminds of the time the Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality was urged to not fail a conservative student whose father was a friend of President Bush’s. “The President!” she snorted derisively, “How many Linguistics departments does he control?”Posted by on 06/19 at 11:42 PM
First of all, my compliments on a delightfully entertaining post. You are a person of uncommon rhetorical gifts and perhaps you are insightful as well.
But I think O’Connor’s point may not have been that it is a bad thing that there an Audre Lorde Chair has been established, or that it was in Race, Class, Gender and Sexualty.
If I read her right (and I may well not have) it was her suggestion that if such a chair was to be reserved for a person who fits a particular demographic profile that is unrelated to competence, then there is room for concern. Unless, of course, it is also acceptable to offer (for example) a Friedrich Hayek Chair in Liberty Studies that is reserved for a white male from Austria, which are personal qualities that are unrelated to competence.
I for one would be highly critical of such a Hayek chair being filled by a white Austrian were there a gay, black, female economist of superior credentials who was passed over because she was of the incorrect demographic.
Or have I missed something?Posted by on 06/20 at 12:25 AM
Irish Studies is not a problem, by the way, because Irish Studies does not involve identity politics of any kind.
Maybe not yet, but just wait until the publication of the forthcoming interdisciplinary multicultural study, How Irish Studies Became Whiteness Studies. It will transform the field.Posted by eb on 06/20 at 03:45 AM
Unrelated to competence?Posted by on 06/20 at 03:46 AM
Thanks for the, er, compliment, Clawmute. I’ll try to deliver on some insight.
As I said, O’Connor’s got a point, insofar as the Audre Lorde Chair seems to be pitched toward someone more or less like Audre Lorde. That person may not have to be a black lesbian atheist immigrant feminist, but one imagines that the holder of the chair will carry on some aspects of Lorde’s work somehow. And perhaps—if Betsy in comment 5 is right—this is Louisville’s way of trying to recruit a black woman to the post. However, on the basis of this ad, I don’t see any sign that the appointment will be made without regard to competence.
First, I think it’s a bit premature for O’Connor to complain about an appointment that hasn’t been made yet. But what if she turns out to be right, and the Audre Lorde Chair goes to someone who is somewhat like Audre Lorde—or, as O’Connor puts it, “someone whose scholarship will be complemented by a particular phenotype, a particular set of preferences, and a particular set of non-scholarly commitments”?
Remember that O’Connor’s complaint in this post is about “the institutionalization of advocacy—in the form of various affirmative actions, and in the form of the academy’s overall leftward tilt.” The Audre Lorde Chair is adduced as evidence of this institutionalization of advocacy, and O’Connor seems especially exercised by this passage:
The Audre Lorde chair will teach courses in both Women’s and Gender Studies and Pan African Studies, and will develop coursework in lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer studies. A preferred area of focus is the study of social activism along and across these axes of difference, and the optimal candidate will serve the university’s urban mission by enhancing both departments’ connections with the local community.
Apparently, for O’Connor, either “the study of social activism along and across these axes of difference” or “serv[ing] the university’s urban mission” is “non-scholarly.” I can’t find any other reason for O’Connor to complain about this future professor’s non-scholarly commitments.
I find this complaint remarkable. The study of social activism is not quite the same thing as social activism, and I do not see what is unscholarly about it. Likewise, many universities have multiple obligations to their local communities, and sometimes, members of those local communities are black. Again, nothing out of the ordinary here. Perhaps O’Connor is complaining that there are too many job ads like this, too many academic positions in which black folk, lesbians, and feminists implicitly have the inside track. If that’s the case, her complaint is both quite remarkable and quite wrong.
But what’s really objectionable here—and, I think, what really answers your question—is O’Connor’s claim that “I might be less annoyed by job descriptions such as this one if there were also, say, advertisements for the Christina Hoff Sommers Chair in Equity Feminism, or the Friedrich Hayek Chair in Liberty Studies. But there aren’t.” The second sentence, as I hope Ben Alpers has convinced you, is patently false. In fact, it is so false that it casts doubt on the first sentence: for, after all, there are dozens of chairs and departments and programs like the Hayek Chair in Liberty Studies, and yet O’Connor remains mightily annoyed at the one Audre Lorde Chair in the country. The Audre Lorde Chair is evidence of the institutionalization of illegitimate and unscholarly forms of “advocacy”; yet somehow, the chairs and departments and programs for conservative scholars are not.
This is what’s called selective outrage. There just aren’t that many black lesbian feminists teaching in American universities, so even if O’Connor’s prediction comes to pass, I have to say that I still wouldn’t see this chair the way O’Connor does. Rather, I would see the Audre Lorde Chair as a means by which the University of Louisville tried to attract a black female scholar to the school, and I’d be willing to bet my copy of The Cancer Journals that black women don’t make up very much of Louisville’s faculty.
Would I prefer it if the black women recruited to Louisville (or anywhere) were also recruited in fields that have nothing to do with their identities? Yes, emphatically. I’d like to see lots more black female Ph.D.s in psychology and architecture and physics. But you know, there’s a funny thing about identity politics. It seems that only other people practice identity politics. Black people especially! I don’t know why that is. By contrast, professors of Irish descent who identify with Ireland and teach Irish literature do not seem to trigger the same degree of outrage. Go figure.Posted by Michael on 06/20 at 08:30 AM
Quite apart from the Audre Lorde Chair at Louisville that is being discussed and Michael’s excellent post, I’d like to say a few words about the “Black Lesbian Feminist” phrase that is used so ubiquitously in discussions of affirmative action and diversity to symbolize the Ultimate Minority in our society. It’s hard to describe the reasons why people throwing out that phrase willy-nilly always tweaks me, but I’ll so my best to put it to words.
First, it bugs me that it always has to be Black people used as the Ultimate Minority symbol. I mean, indeed I know why people’s thoughts go there first. As my Uncle says, “Everybody’s White but Black people”. But come on, can’t we mix it up a little? Always using Black people as the Ultimate Minority symbol only serves to further solidify the idea of Black people being “other”, not “regular” people. And I get damn tired of that.
Then of course, there’s the female part. A woman in a highly patriarchal society clearly has second class status. I get it. But as a Black female, I feel like, damn, why does it always have to be me and mine that get used as the extreme example of “otherness”?
And finally, there’s the lesbian part. Put it all together, and it has the not so subtle implication of Circus Freak about it. Not that Liberals think Black lesbian feminists are freaks, but it continues the promotion of the idea that this is what White Middle America views as a really scary and freaky example of humanity. And promoting that idea only gives it strength. It feels like this - Somewhere in “Middle America” at the County Fair: “Step right up. Ladies and Gents, and see the Black Lesbian Feminist! Whoa - don’t get too close, young man, she’ll cut your balls right off! And dads – watch out for your daughters! She’s been know to date White women!”
In the (not so?) unlikely event that my comment here is followed by a string of these: Hey – how about Latino Transgender Pagans? let me reiterate my point. I’m not trying to stop people from using the ol’ “Black Lesbian Feminist” trope. I just ask that they do it consciously, not unconsciously, and hopefully, after reading this, with just a little more insight and awareness.Posted by on 06/20 at 09:08 AM
and even a brand new libertarian discipline called “Law and Economics,”
Law and economics is neither “brand new”, nor libertarian. The Journal of Law and Economics was founded in 1958. While many scholars in the field have quite libertarian views, there are people like Cass Sunstein, who are extremely critical of libertarianism.Posted by on 06/20 at 11:33 AM
I don’t mean to appear ungrateful for this entertaining fisking, but I believe that Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals was played last night. . . Shall it pass without comment from Le Bérubé?
Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a $&%! about the rules?
It was a league game, after all.Posted by Matt on 06/20 at 12:01 PM
Great point, and post, Oaktown Girl. Though I can imagine it’s just that kind of gentle, rational point based on lived, examined experience that will get labeled “PC whininess” by those who let no gentle, rational point go unpunished.
I was watching Margaret Cho’s “I’m the One That I Want” this weekend; she ends by proclaiming, “I’m going to rock the mike until the next fag hag, shit-starting, trash-talking Korean-American comedian comes to take my place.” Maybe the Audre Lorde Chair announcement isn’t really a sneaky way to recruit a black lesbian feminist: maybe it’s really a sneaky way to recruit the next nearsighted West Indian-American librarian to the mike. And what fault could anyone find with that?Posted by on 06/20 at 01:04 PM
Thanks to Michael Greinecker for the fine-tuning of a broad-brush statement on my part. Though from the perspective of the truly ancient discipline of literary study, you know, 1958 is brand new.Posted by on 06/20 at 01:04 PM
By the way. We are the champions. No time for losers, cause we are the champions. Of the world.Posted by on 06/20 at 01:08 PM
Amanda, a sneaky way of recruiting the next nearsighted West Indian-American librarian to the mike is still sneaky.
If the nearsighted West Indian-American librarian does work on cancer and disability, though, that’s OK with me. I approve of only very specific kinds of identity politics, namely, the ones that involve the identities of people I know and love.
And I like your comment 27! It sounds very lyrical. You should put it to music, perhaps. Nothing too bombastic, though.
Oaktown Girl, thanks yet again for a great comment. What do you say we print up a bunch of copies of the Combahee River Collective Statement and distribute them throughout the length and breadth of the blogosphere? You know, just to refresh everyone’s memory about the ol’ “Black Lesbian Feminist” trope.Posted by on 06/20 at 01:27 PM
While preparing to teach a course on contemporary multicultural literature, I just came across this statement from Martha Nussbaum’s excellent chapter, “The Narrative Imagination,” in her work *Cultivating Humanity*:
“The identity-politics view [of democracy] . . . depicts the citizen body as a marketplace of identity-based interest groups jockeying for power, and views difference as something to be affirmed rather than understood. Indeed, it seems a bit hard to blame literature professionals for the current prevalence of identity politics in the academy, when these scholars simply reflect a cultural view that has other, more powerful sources. Dominant economic views of rationality within the political culture have long powerfully promoted the idea that democracy is merely a marketplace of competing interest groups, without any common goals and ends that can be rationally deliberated. Economics has a far more pervasive and formative influence on our lives than does French literary theory, and it is striking that conservative critics who attack the Modern Language Association are slow to criticize the far more powerful sources of such anticosmopolitan ideas when they are presented by market economists. It was no postmodernist, but Milton Friedman, who said that about matters of value, ‘men can ultimately only fight.’ This statement is false and pernicious. World citizens should vigorously criticize these ideas wherever they occur, insisting that they lead to an impoverished view of democracy.” (pp. 110-11)Posted by on 06/20 at 05:35 PM
Has anyone pointed out that there’s an entire Hayek Institut? (http://www.hayek-institut.at/english/1161/cms/) Just asking.Posted by on 06/20 at 06:14 PM
Mr. Berube said about the Lorde issue: “. . . I don’t see any sign that the appointment will be made without regard to competence.”
Strawman. Nobody said competence should be disregarded.
As I see it, there are three issues here, and they should be kept separate.
First, how greatly should one’s race, gender, sexual preferences, etc. act as a counterweight for “less-than-greatest” expertise?
And should such a counterweight, if you believe one should exist, continue indefinitely, or should there be some marker that will tell us when such personal attributes should be discarded in deference to pure merit? (How will we know when such counterweights are no longer needed? Elapsed time? Some quota in one or more disciplines)?
The second issue has to do with the Hayek Chair. There may well be a “Hayek Chair” on some college campus somewhere, but should it be filled by someone who is a white male Austrian, preferably one who hales from Vienna, when a competing candidate has superior credentials?
The third issue is O’Conner’s Christina Hoff-Sommers Chair of Equity Feminism. I’ve done a quick survey, and I suspect that there are precious few chairs—indeed precious few Women’s Studies departments—in which one can find people who might wander in CHS’s philosophical direction, but I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong. Do you see the under-representation of the Hoff-Summers approach to feminism, if not its complete absence, to be a problem of viewpoint-discrimination?Posted by on 06/20 at 06:16 PM
Clawmute, comment 18:
If I read her right (and I may well not have) it was her suggestion that if such a chair was to be reserved for a person who fits a particular demographic profile that is unrelated to competence, then there is room for concern.
Clawmute, comment 31:
Mr. Berube said about the Lorde issue: “. . . I don’t see any sign that the appointment will be made without regard to competence.”
Strawman. Nobody said competence should be disregarded.
I wish people would stop bringing straw men into my comments section and then complaining about the straw. As for Christina Hoff Sommers, I honestly don’t think her work is worth a pitcher of warm spit, so I don’t consider it a problem if people ignore it. But that’s just me.Posted by on 06/20 at 07:41 PM
Has anyone pointed out that there’s an entire Hayek Institut?
No need to even go overseas! This country has the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which unlike the Hayek Institut sports that all important “e” at the end, showing its commitment to God’s own language. The Mises Institute spreads the good word about “classical liberalism” and the Austrian school of economics to undergrads from around the country through a week-long summer program called Mises University, held annually on the campus of Auburn University in Alabama.
Now, much as the name “Mises” always makes me think of Hanna-Barbera’s Mr. Jinks ("I hate Mises to pieces"), the truth of the matter is that the smartest, most interesting, best educated (and open-minded) conservative student I had last semester was a graduate of this outfit, so they must be doing something right.Posted by on 06/20 at 08:08 PM
Mr. Berube said about the Lorde issue: “. . . I don’t see any sign that the appointment will be made without regard to competence.”
I said: “Strawman. Nobody said competence should be disregarded.”
My bad . . . and I apologize to you and the readership for my error.
But my mistake doesn’t let you off the hook for the issues I raise. Or does it?Posted by clawmute on 06/20 at 08:12 PM
No, it doesn’t. I was a bit abrupt in comment 32—I was actually running out the door to play baseball with Jamie and Nick.
I think Martha Nussbaum disposed of Sommers (and identity politics too! thanks for the reminder, Luther) quite deftly and thoroughly in Cultivating Humanity, showing that Sommers’ reading of John Stuart Mill—which she uses to criticize feminists as undemocratic—has no plausible basis in fact. And that reminds me: “feminism” comprehends people like Nussbaum, Judith Butler, Ellen Willis, Laura Kipnis, and Patricia Hill Collins, among many many others. I don’t see any lockstep uniformity of thought there, really I don’t.
As for your first issue, I think it’s a red herring (not a strawman). O’Connor is clearly objecting to the idea of hiring someone who has expertise in matters Lordean. Who knows? Maybe a younger version of Michael Awkward will wind up in the job—if you’re not familiar with Awkward’s work on black feminism, check it out. But the idea that the best available expert in Audre Lorde’s work will be passed over for someone who looks more like Audre Lorde is so thoroughly hypothetical, in this known universe, as to be a herring that is red.
Your second issue is, I think, well taken—though, again, a bit overstated. No one has yet demonstrated that the holder of the Audre Lorde Chair will duplicate Audre Lorde in the way you suggest for the Hayek Chair. But again, in this known universe, the overwhelming likelihood is that the holders of Olin and Hayek and Mises positions will be conservatives, and at the moment, for reasons I do not yet understand, most of those will be white. For the record, though, I don’t think that kind of close demographic matching is a good idea. Recruiting more black, female, and black female Ph.D.s to all fields is a better idea. Check out Derrick Bell’s Confronting Authority and Lani Guinier’s Lift Every Voice for better explanations of this than I can provide here.Posted by Michael on 06/20 at 09:00 PM
Wow. Has O’Connor heard of Jay Greene? The Waltons created a whole department for him in Arkansas.Posted by on 06/21 at 09:28 PM
I always try to stay informed, especially about matters which don’t actually concern me. And since I’m a numbers guy, I think numbers are information--so Michael, thanks for the very helpful number that African-Americans receive 5% of PhD’s. But that makes me think of anothe rnumber that I’d like to know, since it’s no longer true that PhD=tenure-track job; African-Americans make up what proportion of tenure-track hires?
SamChevrePosted by on 06/22 at 12:59 PM
That’s a good question, SamChevre, and I’m sorry to say I don’t know the answer. Perhaps these folks would have a clue. . . .Posted by Michael on 06/22 at 04:42 PM
Sam Chevre’s question does not have a single answer. For example: in which subject, at which types of institutions. What survey’s exist tend to be by field.
For example from http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2005/nsf05586/nsf05586.jsp
“According to the 2003 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) report on engineering faculty, there are 9.9% women, 2.0% African American, and 3.2% Hispanic tenured/tenure-track teaching faculty members, with little variation from 2001 to 2003. In a recent NSF study, it was found that among engineering faculty only 13.7% of assistant professors were women. This figure dropped to 6.3% at the associate professor level and to an even lower 1.4% at the full professor level. Comparable percentages for African-American faculty are 2.9%, 2.8% and 1.5%, while percentages for Hispanic faculty members are 4.6%, 4.0% and 2.2%. The percentages of tenured/tenure track teaching faculty in electrical engineering are 8.0% women, 2.6% African American, and 4.7% Hispanic. Similarly, the percentages for environmental engineering are 14.7% women, 4.9% African American, and 2.9% Hispanic and for biomedical engineering are 16.6% women, 1.5% African American, and 1.8% Hispanic.”
But, in fact it is even worse, with large concentrations of under-represented minority faculty teaching at institutions which serve under-represented minorities.Posted by Eli Rabett on 06/23 at 12:53 AM
Thank you, Michael and Eli!
Eli--I’m vaguely familiar with the numbers you cite, but they aren’t the numbers I want. What I’m looking for is new hires (not total faculty), since total faculty reflects hiring policy and PhD pools from 1970-today.Posted by on 06/23 at 10:08 AM