Last week, the president of Emory University, James W. Wagner, was censured by faculty members, and may even be forced to resign when faculty reconvene later this month to decide his fate.
Wagner’s great sin, you see, is that in an article in his school’s magazine, he cited “the three-fifths compromise over slavery” as a paradigmatic illustration of the art of political comprise.
In response to the backlash against this act of his, Wagner issued the obligatory mea culpa and deplored the “clumsiness and insensitivity” of his piece.
Still, the enlightened professoriate at Emory has thus far withheld its mercy.
This week, Kurt Schlichter published an article that appeared at Townhall.com. It had the catchy title: “Let’s Help Academia Destroy Itself.” In addition to arguing that the contemporary university is a parasite on society—a “liberal tick,” is how he describes it—Schlichter welcomes the demise of academia on the grounds that it is a tax-payer subsidized “reservoir of leftism” that produces little except for an endless supply of unemployed and underemployed Democratic voters.
This episode at Emory is not at all atypical of life behind the iron tower. And while Schlichter is guilty of oversimplifying matters here and there, the essence of his analysis is spot on. As an academic who also happens to be a conservative, it brings me no joy to assure the reader that I know that of which I speak.
Another person who is just as painfully aware of the grim realities of the contemporary university setting is Mary Grabar.
Hot off of the presses is Grabar’s “Exiled: Stories from Conservative and Moderate Professors Who Have Been Ridiculed, Ostracized, Marginalized, Demonized, and Frozen Out.” Grabar and six other academics, including yours truly, contributed to this anthology of insiders’ accounts of daily existence in the academic world. Short, readable, and inexpensive, it is the ideal primer for parents preparing to march their children off for four or more years of college.
Since I participated in this project, I will not review it. I would, however, like to elaborate upon some of the themes that I sounded in my essay (and elsewhere).
The treasure that parents of college students and/or the students themselves can plan on pledging to the academic institution of their choice promises to be staggering enough. At least as costly, though, is the intellectual toll that academia is guaranteed to extract from them.
To put it simply, as things stand at present, the ideal of a free marketplace of ideas to which academia is ostensibly committed to promoting is a fiction. Between this ideal and the current reality, there exists a chasm that is as unbridgeable as it is glaring. Only the self-delusional, the ignorant, and the deceitful can say otherwise. For the rest of us, it requires spending all but five minutes in any given liberal arts or humanities department in the country to grasp the painful, ugly truth.
And the truth is that for many academics, not only is there no such thing as “the disinterested pursuit of truth.” There is no such thing as truth. I’m not kidding. Truth, along with such related concepts as “reason,” “fact,” “logic,” and “objectivity,” are routinely treated as Eurocentric social constructions by which white men have traditionally oppressed women, non-whites, homosexuals, non-Christians, and the environment.
World famous “post-modernist” philosophers, like Jacques Derrida, make it their task in life to “deconstruct” Western civilization so as to convict it of “logocentrism”—its faith in reason to access reality.
Far from challenging the prevailing status quo for no other reason but that it is the status quo, the average academic is an avowed apologist for it. Yet even this way of characterizing matters grossly understates the extent to which academia suffers from a poverty of vision.
It is more accurate to think of academia as a quasi-religious cult of a sort. This is no hyperbole. Intellectual life in the university has been constrained by the straightjacket of the creed.
Formally, of course, there is no such thing. But, in practice, the creed is almost everywhere affirmed. If it had to be summed up, it boils down to contempt—contempt for Western civilization generally, and America in particular.
More specifically, the creed demands that the entire history of the West be viewed through the narrowest—and most cartoonish—of lens: white, heterosexual, Christian men are villains, and everyone—and everything—else are their victims. It isn’t just racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and any and every other conceivable crime against humanity for which Western civilization stands condemned. Western (white) Man is also convicted by academics of specieism, bias against non-humans, and homocentrism, bias against the environment.
To be clear, the widely held belief among academia’s critics on the right that the university is a bastion of “moral relativism” is wide off the mark. There are no real relativists among academics. The latter are absolutists of the worst sort, crusaders or jihadists forever vigilant against deviations from the creed. And those who style themselves as relativists tend to be the most committed of its guardians.
The creed is more or less pronounced, depending on the institution. But aspiring college students and their parents should know that, with all too few exceptions, regardless of where they are in the academic world, the creed is impossible to avoid.
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