If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.
— Ward Churchill, from his September 11th essay
Under normal circumstances, a two-bit academic radical like Ward Churchill would never gain national notoriety, nor garner any attention outside of his Colorado campus and the academic-activist speaker circuit.
But when he was invited to speak at Hamilton College in February of last year, Professor Churchill’s earlier words (about the victims of the 9-11 attacks in New York) created a perfect storm in the blogosphere.
I’m sure he would have preferred the relative anonymity of his earlier stature. After all, he had a nice little racket going — a tenured position that gave him a platform from which to launch his radical revolutionary sorties, his stature as an authentic “Native American” voice, a series of lucrative speaking gigs, a sideline of plagiarized art works, and a sinecure in a nice, hermetically sealed academic environment. Who could ask for more?
His notoriety focused attention, not just on his outlandish views and alleged fraudulent activities, but also on the entire “tenured radical” phenomenon in the modern academy. How many other Ward Churchills are there? Is it likely that he toils alone in his tower of radical pedagogy?
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) had reason to ask the same question. After all, it represents those who (aside from the government) collectively raise the funds to pay for the tendentious nonsense that passes for humanities education in America’s universities.
Last month ACTA published its report, How Many Ward Churchills? (pdf format). As ACTA President Anne D. Neal says in the Foreword:
Is there really only one Ward Churchill? Or are there many? Do professors in their classrooms ensure a robust exchange of ideas designed to help students to think for themselves? Or do they use their classrooms as platforms for propaganda, sites of sensitivity training, and launching pads for political activism? Do our college and university professors foster intellectual diversity or must students toe the party line?
To answer these questions, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni went to publicly available resources — college and university websites, electronic syllabi, and faculty web pages. And what we found is profoundly troubling. Ward Churchill is not only not alone — he is quite common.
By this, we do not mean to suggest that issues of alleged plagiarism, dubious claims of ethnicity, or inadequate credentials — problems specific to Ward Churchill — apply broadly to all academics. What we do mean to suggest is that the extremist rhetoric and tendentious opinion for which Churchill is infamous can be found on campuses across America. In published course descriptions and online course materials, professors are openly and unapologetically declaring that they use their positions to push political agendas in the name of teaching students to think critically.
None of us is really surprised to find that Ward Churchill has many comrades working alongside him in the academic cloisters. If you pay any attention to the History or Sociology sections of Barnes and Noble, or have a kid in college, you can’t help but be aware of the prevailing academic fashions.
But what is surprising about the report is the scope of the problem, the sheer breathtaking extent of the penetration of the Little Churchills into every corner of what used to be known as the Liberal Arts. The smelly little orthodoxies are everywhere, spreading a thick blanket of ideological smog over our college campuses.
Many young people receive little or no education in their high schools. When they arrive at college, their minds are blank slates, ready for the Little Churchills to write their manifestos on. With no alternative ideologies offered, these youngsters emerge from college unable to think for themselves, unable to form a coherent argument or debate ideas other than by name-calling and yelling slogans. They are the shock troops for the radical graybeards, the Hitlerjugend of the 21st century left.
Reading the ACTA report makes me glad that my son, the future Baron Bodissey, is a chemistry major. Mathematics and the sciences are largely exempt from the ugly cant that infests the humanities courses.
One of the notable features of the classes listed by ACTA is how much alike they all are. According to the report:
Our survey revealed a remarkable uniformity of political stance and pedagogical approach. Throughout the humanities and social sciences, the same issues surface over and over, regardless of discipline. In courses on literature, philosophy, and history; sociology, anthropology, and religious studies; women’s studies, American studies, and ethnic studies; global studies, peace studies, urban studies, and environmental studies; education, political science, and economics, the focus is consistently on a set list of topics: race, class, gender, sexuality, and the “social construction of identity”; globalization, capitalism, and U.S. “hegemony”; the ubiquity of oppression and the destruction of the environment. In class after class, the same essential message is repeated, in terms that, to an academic “outsider,” often seem virtually unintelligible. What is that message? In short, the message is that the status quo, which is patriarchal, racist, hegemonic, and capitalist, must be “interrogated” and “critiqued” as a means of theorizing and facilitating a social transformation whose necessity and value are taken as a given.
Our review of college and university courses revealed a remarkable level of homogeneity. As individual disciplines increasingly orient themselves around a core set of political values, the differences between disciplines are beginning to disappear. Courses in such seemingly distinct fields as literature, sociology, and women’s studies, for example, have become mirror images of one another — a fact that colleges and universities openly acknowledge in their practice of crosslisting courses in multiple departments.
With the elimination of the traditional “core requirements” in most colleges, a Liberal Arts major can emerge from her respected institution holding a baccalaureate yet almost entirely lacking in education. Oh, yes, she is well-versed in the vocabulary of postmodern cant, and is ready to do battle in the trenches of race-class-gender warfare, but it is an open question whether she actually learned anything while in college.
The ACTA report summarizes the course offerings in the different disciplines, outlining the themes that are common to all of them: coursework as sensitivity training, “Social Justice”, “Whiteness”, “Hate Studies”, “Queer Theory”, animal rights, and so on. The ideal humanities course covers all of these topics and crosses the boundaries of all the academic disciplines to do so. From the instructor’s point of view, teaching a college course is an opportunity to fire up his young charges to go out and mount the barricades to “speak truth to power” and fight for “social justice.” Any education that occurs along the way is an accidental byproduct, and may even be counter-productive.
Appendix B to the ACTA report is a full listing of all the courses surveyed in the report. Each is offered at a major university, and is representative of courses in its field. The published description is taken from the course catalog, or from listings on the internet.
This is where the real meat of the report is found. I cheerfully read the entries aloud to Dymphna, but she soon made me stop, pleading a weak stomach.
I love being filled with loathing, so I persevered. But a cup of strong coffee is recommended if you want to read the whole thing, because your eyes will tend to glaze over after the first three or four. They all sound alike, and after a while the litany of transgressive gendered oppression whiteness colonial racism community activism imperialism social change blurs into a meaningless background drone.
Here’s a representative entry, from Princeton:
American Studies 320: Asian American Cultural Studies: Remembering Race, Domesticity, Globalizations
Grace Hong, Department of English and Program in American Studies
This course will exam how “Asian American” texts remember the history of exclusion, bars to citizenship, racialized and gendered labor exploitation, dispossession of property, and U. S. imperialism and militarism in Asia differently than the American literary canon does. We will study the construction of an Asian American literary canon in the 1970s, as well as later Asian American feminist, queer, and post-colonial contributions.
After reading a few of these, you say to yourself, “You can’t make this s**t up!” These course listings are like lefty Mad-Libs, with a predictable script and blanks to be filled in. Like little kids, these Radic-Libs have a very limited vocabulary, but instead of filling in the blanks with “poop” and “booger” and “underwear”, they use “racist”, “gendered”, “justice”, “transgressive”, “imperialism”, etc.
To prove it to you, I’ll design one of these courses myself. Below are four course listings. Three are real courses from major universities funded in part by your tax dollars. One is a Gates of Vienna creation. Can you tell which is which?
SOC 31: Prisons: The American Way of Punishment. Prison as a place of confinement, punishment and rehabilitation is the focus of this survey of the history, philosophies, structure and operation of corrections in the United States. The course critically examines the concept of prison as a total institution and its panopticism as a model of social control that extends to other social contexts. The course will explore the world of inmates and their strategies of subcultural adaptations to and resistance against incarceration; as well as the role of the prison staff. Particular attention will be paid to how gender, race, economics and politics structure prison policies and dynamics. Specific topics may include cultural representations of prison life, implications of current sentencing practices, privatization and the prison-industrial complex, incarcerated mothers, capital punishment, juvenile justice, and alternatives to incarceration.
ARHI 186wBK. Whiteness: Race, Sex, and Representation. An interdisciplinary interrogation of linguistic, conceptual, and practical solipsisms that contributed to the construction and normalization of whiteness in aesthetics, art, visual culture, film, and mass media. Course questions the dialectics of “blackness” and “whiteness” that dominate Western intellectual thought and popular culture, thereby informing historical and contemporary notions and representations of race, gender, sexuality, and class.
English 341: The Etymology of Oppression. This course examines the development of the English language as an instrument of the Anglo-Saxon power structure. Topics include: the removal of gender from English nouns, and how this process accelerated the suppression of the Feminine in thought and discourse; the Great Vowel Shift, and how the replacement of diphthongs with monophthongs helped enforce oppressive masculine power-oriented language structures by removing the softer and more intimate vowels; the development of eccentric, irregular, and inconsistent word forms and spelling, which created a despised and subservient class of “ignorant” and “illiterate” people, ripe for capitalist exploitation.
Sociology 384b: Black Marxism. The growth of global racism suggests the symmetry of the expansion of capitalism and the globalization of racial hierarchy. In this context, global racism works to shatter possibilities for solidarity, distort the meaning of justice, alter the context of wrong, and makes it possible for people to claim ignorance of past and present racial atrocities, discrimination, exclusion, oppression, and genocide. By concentrating on the works of Black Marxist intellectuals, this course examines the discourse of confrontation, and the impact of Black Marxist thought in contributing to anti-racist knowledge, theory, and action.
In The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Roger Kimball famously said:
To an extent scarcely imaginable three decades ago, the long march through the institutions promised, or rather threatened, by the leaders of the counterculture has finally been accomplished.
That was six years ago. Since then the Long March Through the Institutions has continued unimpeded, with 9-11 not even a speed bump along the route.
How did it get this way? When I was in college in the early 1970s, subjects like History and English were still taught in the traditional fashion. We studied poems, analyzed style, read original sources, cross-checked alternative sources, and generally behaved in a scholarly fashion (assuming we wanted to pass the course). Oh, there were the with-it young professors, the wannabe hippies with longish hair and a hip vocabulary, teaching Marcuse and Verlaine and generally being subversive of the system. But they were the exception, not the rule, and they were mild by today’s standards.
So how did we get here from there?
To start with, those cool young professors with their hippie-envy nurtured and encouraged the radicals among my cohort, bringing them in as graduate teaching assistants and then adjunct professors, finally putting them on a tenure track. There were so many of them! All those dope-smoking smash-the-state baby boomers, moving up and into the faculty, practicing their subversion by institutionalizing it.
The hippies are bald-headed graybeards now, but they are firmly entrenched in a well-funded and lucrative shakedown racket, and they will be very difficult to dislodge.
Time was, they wanted to stick it to The Man. Then they became The Man, and now “speaking truth to power” means talking to yourself.
So, as Lenin said, “What is to be done?”
None of the pernicious nonsense described in the ACTA report will be easy to alter or remove. In order to persuade the universities to change, we will have to hit them where it hurts: in the pocketbook. Unfortunately, in addition to the generous federal and state subsidies, the tenured radicals are funded by a network of liberal trusts and foundations which are inherently sympathetic to their agenda.
That leaves the alumni and the parents to have an effect. If you are sending an occasional check to your alma mater, you might want to grab a current course listing and examine it, and possibly reconsider your gift. Drop a letter to the president of the institution, and let him know why your modest contribution is being withheld. Multiply your case by a few thousand and believe me, the University will sit up and take notice.
And parents who must pay the outrageous tuition fees have the choice of which institution will receive their check. If your kid isn’t going to major in the sciences or business, you might want to consider a private college like Hillsdale or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. They don’t have the cachet of Princeton or Dartmouth, but they’ll give your child a real education, which is more to the point. Not only that, they may even be cheaper.
Aside from that, all we can do is to keep the glare of publicity on all the Little Churchills. Just keep turning over the rotten logs, exposing the wriggling grubs to the light of day.
As Ward Churchill himself must have noticed by now, it’s hard to keep running these little rackets when everybody is watching you.
Hat tip: Fjordman.