The -isms Are Running the Academy

The modern academy expends an enormous amount of energy generating and then entertaining cultural left bullshit. The endless talk about multiculturalism, feminism, environmentalism, racism, sexism, sexual orientation-ism; the pseudo-controversies that erupt around these issues; the shallow academic departments (Gender Studies, anyone?) that have been created to address said issues; the misguided policies such as admissions affirmative action which in one sense attempt to create hyper-local laboratories for these grand ideas; then the ironically over-firm application of the "tolerance" value that conveniently suffocates conversations skeptical to any of the above.

I don't question the ends of these recent additions to the academic scene. I have, many times, conveyed my support for gay marriage, old and new feminist ideals, environmental issues, and the like. But the conversations about these issues in academia seem rigged from the start and always weighed down by an overwhelming deference to political correctness. Does anyone really believe, in this post-Larry Summers-gets-lynched-for-contemplating-gender-differences era, that universities are the finest source of free and open dialogue about the critical issues, specifically tricky political topics involving race and gender?

This rambling and only semi-coherent introduction is all to link to this review of a book of essays from the New Criterion where the author makes the following assertion:

Multiculturalist pedagogy; the promotion of “cultural diversity” through arts administration, philanthropy, and public policy; academic departments of Women’s Studies and Afro-American Studies; the project of “critical theory”; and in general, the greatly increased weight — in teaching and research, hiring and funding, programming and grant-making — given to explicitly political considerations: altogether these things have done more harm than good. They have undoubtedly made possible some valuable work and attracted some people to culture who would otherwise have been lost to it. But they have also generated a really staggering amount of mediocre and tendentious work. And not only do these ideological priorities make for less accomplished artists and scholars; they also make for less effective citizens. Attempting to turn one’s professional enthusiasms and expertise to political account can distract from — can even serve to rationalize the avoidance of — everyday democratic activity, with all its tedium and frustration.

(hat tip Andrew Sullivan)

3 comments on “The -isms Are Running the Academy
  • Thanks for the post, Ben. I’ve been a reader for a couple of years and appreciate your thoughts.

    The problem with the -isms is they tend to disconnect us from a larger meta-narrative, splintering off our humanity from each other in the process. I’m a lot more interested in what I have in common with someone than what makes me different from him or her.

    Ironically, the way to get at that is not through forced multicultural education but through intentional human community. Call me an idealist (or worse, depending on your commenters, I suppose), but I would submit the local church (in its best but still-flawed form) can be a part of that solution.

    Interested in your thoughts. Keep thinking and writing.

  • Absolutely. The multicultural movement as practiced in schools thrusts upon minorities the idea that their skin color ought to be central to their identity…

  • Let’s not forget to bash traditionalist ideologues while we’re at it. Both positions are mostly political, but there’s the rub: How can we run a large institution without politics at various layers?

    The best solution I know of is always the market test, which is often sorely lacking in the market for education due to the massive subsidies and compulsory schooling.

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