July 30, 2007


What kind of discipline would nurture a hate-filled academic such as fired professor Ward Churchill? (Gregory Rodriguez, July 30, 2007, LA Times)

Rather than targeting Churchill and making him a martyr for academic freedom (the American Civil Liberties Union has chimed in on Churchill's behalf), university officials should have been more self-reflective and asked themselves how someone as intellectually irresponsible as Churchill got to be head of a department at their esteemed institution in the first place. Sure, Churchill might be gone, but that doesn't solve the problem that his notoriety brought to public attention: the presence of activists posing as scholars on college campuses, particularly in colleges supported by taxpayers' money.

For years now, conservatives have been railing against what they consider the leftist takeover of elite U.S. universities. And many of their complaints are not without merit. But I buy the self-selection argument -- those who pursue a career in academics tend to be more liberal to begin with -- so I don't think surveys showing that a majority of professors are Democrats proves there's discrimination against talented GOP PhDs. Efforts to create ideological -- or at least partisan -- balance on campus would only lead to the creation of a new form of affirmative action. Furthermore, despite arguments to the contrary, Democrats are at least members of a mainstream political party.

What should concern us all, however, is academia's nurturance of loons like the hate-filled Churchill. No, they are not many, but they shout louder than their numbers would suggest. And though their influence is minor in American higher education overall, they can be very influential in particular fields, such as comparative literature and gender and ethnic studies. That's because the problem on campuses isn't rigorous Marxist materialists, as conservative stereotypes would have you believe, but craven emotional warriors in the arena of identity politics.

Ethnic studies departments, such as Churchill's, may be the worst offenders. Created in the wake of the ethnic pride movement in the early 1970s, many simply never had the same kind of academic oversight as more established and prestigious fields. Those professors generally toiled with little funding in isolated intellectual ghettos. Their scholarship wasn't tested in the high-stakes, high-profile competition that hones other academics and other fields. They earned their "psychic income" -- a phrase coined by former Gov. Jerry Brown -- trying to turn minority undergraduates into activists. (Meanwhile, the quality work on ethnicity was being done in more traditional disciplines.)

But by most accounts, today's undergraduates of all backgrounds tend to be in search of good jobs rather than ideological causes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2007 7:42 AM
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