The Academic Establishment Goes After Bruce Bawer

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An apologist like Delbanco no doubt would argue that these programs are too few and too small to warrant concern. But the theoretical, political, and ideological assumptions behind them can be found all over the university, in traditional departments like history, philosophy, and English that increasingly have abandoned their curriculum for courses focused on victim identity. In English, for example, fewer and fewer students are exposed to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and the other great writers of the tradition. Instead, they take courses that focus on contemporary writers from those minority groups officially designated as victims. Students read novels, essays, and poems that revolve around the experience of victimization at the hands of white, racist, patriarchal, homophobic Western culture. When the old masterpieces are assigned, they are interpreted through the victim studies lens, with generous dollops of postmodern and “postcolonial” theory alleging showing that all literary and aesthetic values and truths are mere arbitrary constructs favoring and legitimizing an oppressive, exploitative power structure dominated by white males. This is why Edward Said’s Orientalism––“a work of malignant charlatanry,” historian Robert Irwin writes, “in which it is hard to distinguish honest mistakes from willful misrepresentations”––is one of the most assigned books in English courses.

Finally, the ideological assumptions of Identity Studies are institutionalized in the university’s various programs and offices promoting “diversity,” policing “hate speech,” and rooting out “sexual harassment.” All such administrative offices are given investigative and punitive powers over the faculty on the assumption that certain “protected groups” are by definition victims of oppressive behavior, hateful speech, invidious exclusion, underrepresentation, and discrimination at the hands of their non-minority colleagues––precisely the assumptions underlying Identity Studies. This intrusive, ubiquitous administrative apparatus, which institutionalizes and validates the bad theory victim studies programs traffic in, makes Delbanco’s claim that they are a “shrinking sector of academic life” either myopic or duplicitous.

Delbanco’s attempt to make the corruption that Bawer documents disappear is buttressed by other tricks of misdirection. He claims, for example, that whatever the damage done to the university by what Bawer calls the “victims’ revolution,” the old university was worse because it excluded women and minorities or failed to teach “social history.” Yet even if true, this fact has nothing to do with the intellectual corruption and politicization wrought by victim studies programs, which is Bawer’s point. If universities had been concerned about correcting these ills Delbanco decries, all they had to do was hire more faculty trained in the disciplines of English, history, or philosophy who would develop courses and practice scholarship in these neglected areas. There was no need to create new departments predicated not on scholarly methodology and disciplinary competence, but on identity politics and newfangled theories.

No more pertinent to Bawer’s critique is Delbanco’s bathetic complaints about the “many young people mired in poverty, damaged by dysfunctional schools, languishing in prison or drowning in debt.” Just how does the jargonish, incoherent scholarship of elite university professors help with these problems? Indeed, many of those students “drowning in debt” did so pursuing useless degrees like Chicano Studies or Women’s Studies, which in most cases only prepare them to be university professors, having given them precious few of what Delbanco calls “marketable skills.”

So too with his hypocritical rhetoric lamenting utilitarian “corporate-minded universities” that exploit adjunct faculty who “struggle to piece together a living with multiple part-time jobs.” The “corporate-minded” university has been a gold-mine for tenured faculty like Delbanco, who make 6 times what a part-time faculty member makes while doing one-third the teaching, and who grow fat on release-time, research grants, travel-money, and other goodies that a lot of that student debt Delbanco weeps for went to pay for. And what could be more utilitarian than the victim studies’ aims to “effect social change” or “transform society” or, Delbanco’s stated goal for education, to “find themselves”? The old liberal education wasn’t about students finding themselves, but about developing a critical intelligence that gave them intellectual autonomy by liberating them from the received wisdom and stale orthodoxy of the sort peddled in the politically correct classroom.

Delbanco’s review illustrates how the university patrols the borders of institutional orthodoxy in order to protect its power and privilege. But Delbanco’s Marxist (as in Groucho) argument––Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?––is unconvincing for anyone who has seen the dysfunctions and failures of politicized American universities.

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  • fmobler

    And yet, Delbanco is accidentally right on an important point. X Studies departments are discredited.. The rest of us are simply waiting for the faculties of X Studies to die off, along with their fellow arthritic travellers in Sociology.

    • Joe Ordinary

      There's a lot of truth to that. Post-Modernism is over. Like most theories, it had good and bad.

  • southwood

    "The Victims’ Revolution, an expose of “Identity Studies” in American universities. These are the programs predicated on the allegation that certain minorities in America, mainly women, gays, blacks, and Latinos, are victims of continuing prejudice, bigotry, sexism, and racism." The minorities list leaves out men, whites, straights and Christians. These groups seem to me the ones who just don't fit the liberal agenda, not blacks, women or homosexuals who often get favored status as in affirmative action and quotas. I recently visited a website where it listed the great explorers and inventors. Women were noticeable by their virtually total absence in these lists. The feminist response is that these are not "inclusive" lists and must not be published. Dishonesty and a sign of envy. Blacks are also missing in the lists. Of course this must be racism, eh ?

    • Joe Ordinary

      I hear that a woman invented the manual windshield wiper. That's pretty good.

      • southwood

        You forgot the greatest female inventor : necessity, the mother of inventions.

  • Schlomotion

    Bruce Thornton does not actually establish in his article that Mr. Bawer is an intrepid international journalist and not merely a guy who writes opinion pieces and has lived in more than one country. Walter Cronkite was an international journalist.

    You can see by the way the article is arranged in thick blocks of unreferenced bluster, that it is merely an opinion piece, a reaction, not an investigation or an inspection of facts. Mr. Thorton does not establish that "The Academic Establishment" in the form of one man is "going after" Mr. Bawer. This persecution of Mr. Bawer by the saber rattling academic establishment is as fake as the critical acclaim Janice Fiamengo also of PJ Media tried to give the book yesterday.

    • Advocatus

      Right. Now,all that safely off your chest and out of the way, if you could address the actual point under discussion — namely the allegedly sorrowful state of liberal studies in academia — you might be able to contribute something meaningful to the debate.

      Oh yes, and don't forget to include one of your superfluous anti-Semitic rants.

      • Schlomotion

        Sure. It's simple enough. When The USSR collapsed and Jews changed their allegiance from the Communist Party to the Likud (Beginite Fascist) Party in droves in 1989, the "problem" of "liberals" in academia arose. Liberals in academia used to mean Jews. Liberals in academia were pushing multiculturalism and Identity Studies as a bulwark against white Christians. However, under the paradigm of Identity Studies, Jews and Muslims have to be treated as equals. Jews and Muslims don't want to be equals. Muslims and Jews want to exterminate each other, and Jews want Muslims' property.

        So, fresh out of support from the USSR, academics couldn't toe that line anymore, nor could they be openly racist and join Likud without abandoning the platform of "academic liberalism." They took the ultranationalist, piggish really, Zionist position. Then they led an onslaught of fighting across American college campuses to disenfranchise Black Studies, spew hate against Muslims and lead a purge also in the Israeli university system. Supporting scumbags like Natan Sharansky, and flattering the Christian Coalition, they remodeled themselves as the eternal enemies of the left, but remain the same racist ghettoized intellectual charlatans that they were before.

        • Joe Ordinary

          You have quite an imagination. Good for you.

          • Schlomotion

            It comes from avoiding games like World of Warcraft.

          • Ron Karsh

            you're getting better and better, Schlomotion (seriously). And it is so excellent that all that those Horovitz-following sheep can reply is the usual anti-semitism, blah, blah, blah

          • Schlomotion


        • Advocatus

          Nice done, Schlomo.

          Let me get this straight: So by help of support from the Soviet Union (which collapsed in 1991, not 1989, as you would have it, but we don't expect you to be too familiar with facts, not to worry) Jews who were diehard Zionists in secret inundated American university programs to transform liberal studies into cesspools of anti-Zionism so that they can carry on dispossessing Arabs in Palestine. Yes, makes complete sense to me.

          Thanks, man, you're a philosopher king with peerless insight and reasoning powers.

          • Schlomotion

            The Berlin Wall enforcement started ebbing away by mid summer 1989. Maybe you should not lecture people who lived through something when you were still sucking Enfamil out of cans.

          • Advocatus

            Err, no. The Eastern Block collapsed in 1989, not just "started ebbing away," whatever that means. The Soviet Union hung on until 1991. So get your facts straight.

            I doubt you lived through those turbulent times other than vicariously.

            Be that as it may, your hare-brained "analysis," if you want to call it that, about the root causes of the parlous state of affairs in liberal academia remains pathetic.

            But do carry on, professor.

          • Schlomotion

            You have your doubt. You have Wikipedia. And you have your Pound Puppies. I have my chip of the Berlin Wall. Knock yourself out.

          • Advocatus

            Yeah, right, Wikipedia. Your primary source of wisdom eh. I happen to have been in Central-Eastern Europe when the Berlin Wall came down, for what it's worth, but unlike you, I fail to see how that should give me bragging rights. Clearly you must have been high at the time if you can't even remember dates that well.

            Flipside, changing your tag to Schlomotion will not make you any less of a pathetic idiot rapping in his mother's basement.

          • Schlomotion

            Oh… Can't move…. Feelings too hurt… Crying too hard… Need… tissues.

          • nina

            I thought that your uneducated drivl was the result of hatred or self-hatred, and scant knowledge of facts. But your answer to Advocatus convincsd me that it could be your brain just works in

        • traeh
        • traeh

          Muhammad says the earth belongs to Muhammad and Allah, warns the Jews to accept Islam if they wish to be safe, and says he wants to deport them:

          In Sahih Muslim, a canonical hadith collection:

          Book 019, Number 4363:

          It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira who said: We were (sitting) in the mosque when the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) came to us and said: (Let us) go to the Jews. We went out with him until we came to them. The Messenger of Allah [Muhammad] (may peace be upon him) stood up and called out to them (saying):

          O ye assembly of Jews, accept Islam (and) you will be safe.

          They said: Abu'l-Qasim[father of Qasim], you have communicated (God's Message to us). The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said:

          I want this (i. e. you should admit that God's Message has been communicated to you), accept Islam and you would be safe.

          They said: Abu'l-Qasim, you have communicated (Allah's Message). The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I want this… – He said to them (the same words) the third time (and on getting the same reply) he [Muhammad] added:

          You should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I wish that I should expel you from this land. Those of you who have any property with them should sell it, otherwise they should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle (and they may have to go away leaving everything behind).

        • traeh

          From page 464 (690 in the Arabic) of the earliest Muslim biography of Muhammad, Muhammad presides over the beheading of 600 to 900 captive Jews:

          Then [the Banu Qurayza tribe] surrendered, and the apostle [Muhammad] confined them in Medina in the quarter of d. al-Harith, a woman of B. al-Najjar. Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy b. Akhtab and Ka`b b. Asad their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. As they were being taken out in batches to the apostle they asked Ka`b what he thought would be done with them. He replied, 'Will you never understand? Don't you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!' This went on until the apostle made an end of them.

        • traeh

          On page 369 (554 in the Arabic) of the earliest Muslim biography of Muhammad, Muhammad says "kill any Jew who falls into your power":

          It's a "charming" story of two brothers, Muhayyissa and Huwayyisa: (To avoid confusing the two brothers, keep in mind that the brother whose name begins with M is the Murderer in the story.)

          "The apostle [Muhammad] said, ‘Kill any Jew that falls into your power.Thereupon Muhayyisa bin Masud leapt upon Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant with whom they had social and business relations, and killed him. Huwayyisa was not a Muslim at the time though he was the elder brother. When Muhayyisa killed [the Jewish merchant] Huwayyisa began to beat [his brother Muhayyisa], saying, 'You enemy of God, did you kill him when much of the fat on your belly comes from his wealth?' Muhayyisa answered, 'Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you I would have cut your head off.'…[Huwayyisa] replied, 'By God, if Muhammad had ordered you to kill me would you have killed me?' [Muhayyisa] said, 'Yes, by God, had he ordered me to cut off your head I would have done so.' [Huwayyisa] exclaimed, "By God, a religion which can bring you to this is marvellous!' and [Huwayyisa] became a Muslim."

        • traeh

          Muhammad says that one day the very trees and stones will help Muslims to kill Jews.

          He says it both in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, Islam's two most canonical hadith collections:

          Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 791:

          Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar:
          I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "The Jews will fight with you, and you will be given victory over them so that a stone will say, 'O Muslim! There is a Jew behind me; kill him!' "

          Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 176:

          Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar:
          Allah's Apostle [Muhammad] said, "You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, 'O 'Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.' "

          Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 177:

          Narrated Abu Huraira:
          Allah's Apostle
          [Muhammad] said, "The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. "O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him."

          Sahih Muslim, Book 041, Number 6981:

          Ibn 'Umar reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding himself behind me); kill him.

          Sahih Muslim, Book 041, Number 6983:

          Abdullah b. 'Umar reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You and the Jews would fight against one another until a stone would say: Muslim, here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.

          Sahih Muslim, Book 041, Number 6984:

          Abdullah b. 'Umar reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: The Jews will fight against you and you will gain victory over them until the stone would say: Muslim, here is a Jew behind me; kill him.

          Sahih Muslim Book 041, Number 6985:

          Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger [Muhammad] (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

    • Ghostwriter

      Once more,we get a fact-free rant from Schlockmotion. Even more surprising that there are other anti-semites willing to defend his swill.

  • academic under cover

    Women's Studies turn out queers and man-haters, and Ethnic Studies, racists.

    • amused

      but wait a minute , Akin says breastmilk cures homosexuals .

      • Roger

        Is that the best you can do as one of Wee's parallel profiles?

  • Mik

    Really this is nothing new. I graduated with my BA in 1977. I was not an English major, but took more than one course in the English department and in what was called the Comparative Literature dept as well. Back then we did study the historical masters of the English language, but more than once the prof superimposed a modern interpretative lens. We read Shakespeare, but we reinterpreted him through the lens of Marxism. Marx was only about three hundred years too late.

  • Tanstaafl jw

    We are not victims, we are all masters of our own fate.

    • Chiggles

      You can still be hit by a truck.

  • PAthena

    Bawer is right about the anti-intellectualism of "identity" studies. Women's Studies is a ridiculous example of this. How can you study women without studying men? Women's Studies is Marxism with men as the oppressors and women as the oppressed, and is as dishonest as Marxism.

  • Marty

    The so-called academic establishment is as morally bankrupt as the cause it so often champions – the so-called palestinian nation. The good news is that students are beginning to avoid identity studies classes like the plague because they are smarter than the academic imposters who teach them. And no employer in her or his right mind wants to higher indoctrinated zombies who know nothing and have been told that they are entitled to the benefits a middle class life style without working to earn them. I'm a college professor who does not indoctrinate, but calls islamic terrorists, well, islamic terrorists, document my lectures, and welcome student questions and contrary opinions. College students tend to respect intellecutal honesty.

    • janice

      Good for you Marty! Too many professors spew their ultra-liberal crap to students then demand students vomit it back at test time. If they don't..or won't..they are graded accordingly. I wish I could have taken one of your classes!!

      • traeh

        I've had that experience. I recall one art history class where the young white female teacher went on a little threatening rant and said she would fail anyone who contradicted some PC shibboleth. She thought she was protecting black students or students of color, and I don't at all fault her for that intent, as I'm all for embracing people of different colors and making them feel as welcome as anyone else, but this teacher went way overboard in assuming that anyone who did not agree with her particular leftie biases and interpretations of race relations and discrimination was not merely someone who disagreed with her interpretation. No, if you disagreed with her take on it, you were necessarily a racist. I wonder what she might have done with a student like Thomas Sowell.

        I love how tolerant and open to the Other our society is, and yet people often go overboard in that direction and lose any sense of discriminating good from bad in the Other. I recall how an anthropology professor was discussing some culture — I think it was somewhere in Southern Asia — where polygamy was practiced. And she was talking about some man she had met there, who had like eight wives. And she never considered the questionable aspects of the institution of polygyny, and in fact she went so far as to express a very subtle ideological swoon of sorts about this man — she expressed a certain admiration for how much stamina and virility the man must have to maintain eight wives, and she almost seemed to suggest she might have considered becoming a ninth.

        It's important, in teaching young people, for teachers to set an example of generosity and open-mindedness in evaluating what is foreign, different, and exotic. But there should be balance at the same time. My professor should have given consideration also to the social and human problems with polygyny, of which there are many more, I think, than there are to monogamy.

    • The Hammer

      Thank you Marty. But be careful – the liberals will be gunning for you.

  • clarespark

    Here is a brief account of identity politics were institutionalized at Pacifica Radio during the 1970s.…. "Who Is A Racist Now." As an integrationist I deplore these separatist departments of women's studies and ethnic studies, believing that all history courses should be taught with up to date knowledge of the history of women, minorities, and labor. But that was considered to be a heresy in graduate school, and I was punished for advocating such integration. The blog emphasizes the importance of "strong images" as "role models" to women and minorities. Keep in mind that it was white liberals who came up with this strategy as a response to mid-60s urban riots.

  • jemaasjr

    The key to figuring this stuff out is to accept a simple premise. It is that people, by in large, are full of it. Logic is only in very rare instances disinterested. Through the evasion of true logical association, or the selective acceptance of fact, or the acceptance of things that are not fact, the logic is produced to reach the conclusion. It can be called the stalking horse as it is a distraction, or triangulation in that it seeks to draw attention elsewhere, or the scape goat in that it is a way of evading blame, or it is the smoke screen in that it hides the truth, or the fall guy in that it assigns blame elsewhere, or whatever.

    Now from the standpoint of figuring out why people believe what they believe, if most logic is outcome based in that it exists only for the sake of the outcome, then you can not really get to why people reach their conclusions by going through the logic offered because the logic offered is bunk. It may be self deceptive bunk or it may be manipulative bunk , but commonly it is bunk. Thus if one disagrees, rather than debate or study the logic, a much quicker and easier way of getting to motive is to ask why the person reaches the conclusion. What is there about the conclusion that appeals?

    Hint: it is self serving. And there in lies the solution. Figure out why it is self serving. And for discussion sake that is what needs to be debated. Not the logic offered, but why the conclusion is self serving.

    • traeh

      That is only true when you have first carefully, thoroughly and objectively examined the logic and facts from every possible angle, and discovered a warping of the argument. Only after a really thorough examination of the merits and demerits of the argument might it in some cases make sense to look for ulterior motive. If you attempt to invalidate an argument not on the demerits of the argument itself, but instead you do so on the basis of who is making it and their alleged motives, you are committing ad hominem, which is a logical fallacy in itself, not a valid disproof of any argument. What's more, even after you have thoroughly and from all angles examined an argument and found it warped, it is often doubtful whether it is worthwhile to start speculating on someone's hidden motives — because speculation is all one has, since one cannot see inside someone else's head, not usually anyway.

      That said, there is of course some truth in what you say, that what people believe and think is often to some extent a reflection not of the objective state of affairs, but of peculiarities of their fears, desires, needs, psychology, etc. I think that is especially true of political ideas. I think leftism and rightism are often just opposite types of cerebral hemiplegia — one half of the brain is paralyzed, as it were.

  • Joe Ordinary

    The department of Women's Studies in my institution is leading an empirical study into the psychological effects of living in a burka. They are conducting it over five years of interviews with women in the field. The plan is to present their findings at a special session of the Women's Secretariat of the United Nations.

    Just kidding.

    • Alvaro

      That would be insensitive, islamophobic, not to mention insulting and racist.

      Just kidding as well.

  • Michael

    Pseudo academics in the pseudo studies.

  • vidya246

    One point: Women aren't a minority. In fact, they may be a slight majority and should not be lumped in with the "minorities". Half of the human race may deserve to have a department devoted to studies regarding it–as they have not been given equal status or opportunity. In many parts of the world, they are still second class citizens and often fare far worse. It is interesting to note that societies that discriminate and persecute women (relative to the times they are living in) are unsuccessful on every level.

  • Alvaro

    Studies of Marxism, no less.

  • traeh

    Identity studies are to a significant extent based on the Marxist idea that "infrastructure," that is, power relationships, particularly economic power relationships, the material social relations of society, secretly determine "superstructure," that is, "ideology" — what intellectuals write about and think. Thus the classical academic canon is considered to be not in any sense what traditional views thought it was or pretended it was — cultural life, the neo-Marxist often thinks, is not anything like a striving for objective truth. Instead it's a secondary superstructure created by those with power as part of their project to maintain their power over others. Thus one of the orthodox Marxist ideas was that to change society, one needed to overthrow and revolutionize the power relations in economic life, not merely seek to influence public opinion and the life of ideas, since the life of ideas, according to Marx, was more or less just an epiphenomena determined by underlying economic relations. If you revolutionized economic life by putting all property in the hands of the "proletariat" — i.e., the communist State — then cultural and intellectual life would of itself go right, since the economic relations had been made right.

    It is a reductionist view that makes material factors the cause of everything else. Obviously, there is some truth in the view that power relations can warp what public opinion and what is taught in universities. But the Marxist solution to this problem — to put intellectual life and culture into the hands of the socialist state — can only make the problem of a power-warped cultural and intellectual life a million times worse. If power corrupts cultural life and weakens its objectivity, the solution is not to put culture into a closer embrace with state or economic power, but rather to work toward social arrangements that give greater independence to cultural, educational, and intellectual life vis-a-vis economic and state power.


    "… being a female is not a question of nature, but of cultural and social 'constructs' that reflect not nature but 'privilege and power'.”

    This should be easy to disprove. If the above statement were true, then any woman who gained power would automatically grow and actual penis. There have been many powerful women in history. Has that ever happened?


    "Delbanco’s main tactic is to deny that the problem even exists."

    Then how does he respond to "A Crisis of Competence", a report by the National Association of Scholars?

  • Ozzy

    'The emphasis on “gender” ' is there to include men not what you claim. But keep it up, equivocation will always work in some instances.