The Attack on Academia?

An assault from within.

Aaron Barlow—a professor of “cultural studies” at the City University of New York and the executive editor of Academe Blog, of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)—recently referenced in a blog post of his to one of my Front Page Magazine articles on academic corruption.  

His comments are telling.  The critics of Big Academia couldn’t have asked for a better respondent to our critiques than Barlow. 

To hear Barlow tell it, far from controlling our academic institutions, he and his colleagues constitute an embattled class, the subject of a relentless barrage of legal and social attacks. 

Because the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case regarding the constitutionally questionable union practice of coercing members to contribute “agency fees” even on those occasions when members disagree with the causes to which their labor monopolies plan on deploying their dues, Barlow sides with a fellow Academe contributor who claims that this amounts to a legal “attack” on “social justice and fairness for all employees.” 

And who is behind this coordinated attack?  Among others, the nefarious…Koch brothers. 

It isn’t just legally that academics find themselves under “attack.”  Socially, on “social media,” academics, particularly those who “attempt to assert their own rights to free expression,” are under assault as well.  

Quoting another Academe contributor, Hank Reichman, Barlow cites as the proverbial textbook illustration of the beleaguered academic, George Cicciarello-Maher, the Drexel University professor who resigned from his tenured position following the backlash to his charming little tweet: 

All I Want for Christmas Is White Genocide.”  

Cicciarello-Maher “bravely stood up to the onslaught for as long as he could,” Reichman writes.

That Barlow and company select this professor as their heroic martyr speaks for itself:

First, Cicciarello-Maher is a caricature of precisely the kind of anti-intellectual, anti-white, leftist politicization of the academy to which its critics have been tirelessly calling the public’s attention.   

Second, Cicciarello-Maher invited the firestorm by tweeting something that he knew in advance was sure to ignite it.

Third, neither academics nor anyone else is entitled to be shielded from responses to those of their remarks that they decide to make public.  Or is Barlow suggesting that only academics, or only those academics who share his hard left ideology, should have “freedom of expression?”

Finally, Cicciarello-Maher, a tenured professor, resigned. He was not fired.  

In the Front Page essay of mine that Barlow cites, I discuss Donna Riley, the Purdue University professor who repudiated the notion of academic “rigor.”  Barlow reinterprets her stance as a call to academics to simply consider that “‘rigor’ can have the result of narrowing academic pursuits with its generally unspoken adherence to the ways of the power structure.”  “As citizens of a racist patriarchy…‘rigor’ is something we need to constantly re-examine,” Barlow writes.

Barlow’s reinterpretation is revealing of the thought-bubble within which he and his colleagues reside. It is also less than fully honest. 

“Power structure,” “racist patriarchy”—in just a handful of words, Barlow lays bare the talking points of the dominant ideology of the university, proving that, fundamentally, intellectual diversity—and, for that matter, intellectual heft—is virtually nonexistent in the academic universe.  This is the first point to grasp.

The second is that, contra Barlow, Riley was not merely encouraging the continual “re-examination” of the concept and practice of rigor. She explicitly says that rigor “accomplishes dirty deeds”—including the “dirty deed” of “demonstrating white male heterosexual privilege.” 

For this reason, it needs to be “relinquished” entirely. Riley is adamant: “This is not about reinventing rigor,” but “doing away with the concept altogether.” 

Barlow insists that my disagreement with Riley is rooted in my animus against those, presumably those like himself, who are trying “to fight racism through academia[.]” Those on “the right” resent these efforts because “the right…relies on racism (the new ‘opiate of the masses’) to gain and maintain power[.]”

Idiotic though it undeniably is, this comment is gold insofar as it is all too predictable, unveiling the modus operandi of your average academic: When the ultimately anti-Western ideology that is the Groupthink of academia is exposed, to say nothing of critiqued, its self-styled guardians simply accuse the critic of being…“racist!”

Yet Barlow also claims that “people like Kerwick, [David] Horowitz and the battalions of politicians who make up the Koch army” employ “a typical tactic of the right against higher education” inasmuch as “the right” “create[s] a divide between what goes on on campus and what goes on in ‘regular’ American lives [.]”  While he admits that academics “do tend to be liberal,” Barlow maintains that this “has no more significance to what goes on there than does the fact that most in corporate America tend to be conservative has on the ways of doing business.”   

Most academics are “liberal” (leftist) but this “has no significance” for how affairs are conducted on campus.  

So, a belief-system is irrelevant to how those who endorse it will conduct themselves?  This is preposterous.  If Barlow really bought this, then he shouldn’t think that the religiosity of academics at a seminary or a Christian college should have any relevance to its climate.  Yet one could be forgiven for suspecting that Barlow would be upset indeed if his employer began hiring Evangelical Christians and Eastern Orthodox Catholics.  

I reluctantly confess to experiencing some measure of Schadenfreude knowing that Barlow thinks that “the right” has got the militant academic left on the ropes.  I’m also flattered that he thinks that this non-tenured 45-year-old philosophy instructor, inhabiting an infinitesimal location in the academic cosmos at a little community college, has as much influence as he attributes to me.  

Tragically, both ideas are but further evidence that Barlow is profoundly self-delusional.  That the left remains solidly, overwhelmingly in control of academia is self-evident to anyone who is so much as remotely aware of its current state.

Within academia, what Barlow calls the “right” is the David to the left’s Goliath.  

There is one final point. 

I have no interest in “attacking” academics, as Barlow would have readers believe.  I am an academic. And I love it. I remain as impassioned as ever about philosophy, my subject matter, and I am equally passionate about teaching it to my many students. I love helping students realize their potential while familiarizing them further with the civilization—the Western civilization—that is their inheritance.  

However, it is exactly because I remain staunchly committed to the traditional ideal of a liberal arts education that I am just as motivated about calling out those who would undermine that ideal by writing it off as a legacy of, well, something like a “racist patriarchy.”  

There is an attack on academia.  Yet the enemy is within.  The relatively few of us who refuse to succumb to the Groupthink and who are determined to continue calling out the abuses are academic dissidents motivated by a desire to protect liberal learning from those who would destroy it.