All posts filed under: Features

The De-Professionalization of the Academy

The author of the following essay is a Professor at a top-ranking, metropolitan U.S. university. The names of both university and professor have been fictionalized to protect the professor from retaliation. In the fall of 2005, I began working as a full-time faculty member in the General Studies program at Hudson University. I was promoted to full Professor last year. Thus, the tale I tell does not represent sour grapes. Rather, what follows is a jeremiad decrying the direction that academia has taken in order to underscore the threats posed to academic integrity and institutional legitimacy. Over twelve years, I have watched with increasing dismay and incredulity as academic integrity, fairness, and intellectual rigor have been eroded, with the implicit endorsement of administration and faculty alike. I have witnessed the de-professionalization of the professoriate—hiring policies based on tokenized identity politics and cronyism, the increasing intellectual and ideological conformity expected from faculty and students, and the subsequent curtailment of academic freedom. Just to be clear, most of my faculty colleagues are well-educated, bright, and dedicated teachers. …

Reviving “Essentialism” and Other Scientific Straw Men

Cordelia Fine’s latest attempt at human exceptionalism and biology denial Testosterone Rex has drawn rave reviews from (almost) everyone, from the popular press to Nature. Happy to go against this grain, I would like to suggest that these much-circulated rumours of the death of human nature have been somewhat exaggerated. Most of Fine’s targets are probably quite well deserved chunks of popular science, male chauvinism, and journalistic overreach. However, when she turns her sights on serious science she makes some rather egregious blunders. This is a pity—because there is much in the public understanding of sex differences that could really use some popular explication and myth busting. Let’s start with what is positive about the book. Many will find her anecdotal approach to be engaging and charming. I didn’t, but I’m a miserable old curmudgeon who wants to get to grips with the facts, not be reassured via an anecdote about kangaroo testicles that that the writer “doesn’t hate men really”. On this point: I’m always a little unsettled by people who feel the need …

Camille Paglia and the Battle of the Sexes

In the opening to what I consider the most important chapter in Camille Paglia’s new book, Free Women, Free Men—Chapter 17: “The Modern Battle of the Sexes”—Paglia writes the following:  As the millennium approaches, we can look back on 200 years of women’s advance in society after the Industrial Revolution. Women all over the world are moving, country by country, into positions of power in business and politics. That progress is inevitable and unstoppable. However, as we survey personal relationships, it is clear that the sexual weather is cloudy and stormy. There is an atmosphere of tension, of suspicion, of mutual recrimination between the sexes which feminism has not helped but in fact materially worsened. How did we get to this point? What prognosis is there for the future? Unlike Paglia, who’s both a Baby Boomer and a lesbian, I’m a wife and mother who hails from Generation X. I have a daughter who’s 17 and a son who’s 14, so my investment in the question Paglia asks about the future is more personal than …

Conservatives Aren’t the Only Voices Silenced by Academia’s Intellectual Orthodoxy

Over the last three or four decades, the humanities have witnessed a shift so massive that it is barely noticed anymore. What was once an upstart movement has achieved the status of a truly successful usurper—normality. The leather arm patched ancien régime has been exiled to the land of past things. Horn-rimmed glasses, tattoos, and dyed hair no longer occupy the periphery, but the center. It is a revolution so thorough that it has completely painted over the canvas of our mental imagery. If you consider the stereotypical picture of a literature professor at a major university today, a myriad of images might come to mind—so many, in fact, that it might be impossible to conjure a single, coherent figure. However, what almost certainly won’t come to mind is a Byron-quoting septuagenarian in tweed. This revolution has been political. Entire disciplines—Literature, Anthropology, Sociology, and the various interdisciplinary programs that end in the word “Studies” – have all become more strongly associated with a particular species of left-wing interpretation that now influences the broader discourse in …

A Raft of Books

In my workshop with Frank Conroy at the University of Iowa in 2002, he uttered a caveat on the first day that was astonishing to hear at a university. “Let’s not have any political correctness here. If characters can’t think and talk like people—if writers can’t—then what’s the point of literature?” A casual leftist and no friend of the right, Conroy disdained manipulative politics of any brand. His workshop was a godsend. I had just graduated from an Oregon Master’s program in which most professors taught absurd essays and opened the books rarely. For two years we explored Melville’s “homosocial environments” and Hemingway’s “repressive maleness,” etcetera. At the end of it, we were indeed masters—of an academic lunacy that doesn’t matter and won’t last. It’s a rare English department that respects great books and authors. No wonder Conroy had moved the Workshop out of the English department a few years earlier, declaring its independence. He enjoyed discussing literature and how to write it, without any of the identity politics that attends the standard English course. …

How a Culture of Outrage Is Stifling Political Satire

Trump’s presidency should be a golden age for political satire. With the White House engaged in a seemingly endless trail of controversies and absurdities, late night talk show hosts, satirical writers, sketch shows, and cartoonists are being handed some of the richest material of their careers. Unfortunately satirists must also contend with a creeping culture of outrage that is desperate to find offence. While satire is often controversial, it has become increasingly common for it to be accused of bigotry where none exists. Especially worrying is that this outrage is exacerbated by news outlets and those who work for them; people who should be able to provide context and a nuanced understanding of satire rather than contributing to the hysteria. During both the election cycle and Trump’s current administration, there has been a proliferation of images reimagining Trump and Vladimir Putin as lovers. SNL had Alec Baldwin’s Trump plant a kiss on Beck Bennett’s Putin in their last show before Americans went to the polls. A recent cover of the Economist depicts Putin and Trump facing each …

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Explains How To Combat Political Islam

What happens when we let fear, muddled thinking, ignorance, and political correctness guide us in confronting a threat to our constitutional freedoms? We lose everything. In the United States, our ability to enjoy our rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness rests largely on the protection the First Amendment accords to freedom of speech and its corollary, the freedom to exercise the religion of our choice – or, of course, to profess no religion at all. It follows, then, that we should both vigorously defend the First Amendment and subject to withering criticism any challenges to it. If we begin dodging or concealing the truth about a threat to free speech, whether out of fear of appearing improper or even of knowing the consequences, we place ourselves at risk of losing our freedom of speech – and everything else we cherish in a democracy. Speech consists of words. Words and how we use them matter. So, in the annals of self-defeating political inanities, the Obama administration’s term for Islamist terrorism – “violent extremism” – stands out …

When Good Men Fail to Stand Up to Danger

I spent most of last Wednesday watching the news from Westminster. Unfortunately, keeping an eye on the BBC News channel as reports of a terrorist attack in Europe filter through has taken up much of my time in recent years. Usually, the newsreaders quickly run out of verified details and resort to repeating the same headlines on repeat until new facts become available. The coverage of the Westminster attack followed the same pattern but with one change. Soon after the attack, it became clear that MP Tobias Ellwood – who served in the Royal Green Jackets during the 90s – had rushed into the danger as other fled in order to give emergency CPR to the fatally wounded PC Keith Palmer. For the best part of two days, tributes to Ellwood’s stunning bravery kept coming. Journalists, who were generally opposed to sharing images of the attack, circulated the photo of Ellwood hunched over PC Palmer. Most MPs in parliament on Thursday, the day after the attack, included some tribute to Ellwood and his heroism in …

The Troubles and The Terror

It is rather ironic that a day after the death of Martin McGuinness, terrorism was inflicted on Londoners. Once it was the Irishman’s Republican movement that was the leading cause of terrorism in Britain. From the 1970s to the 1990s dozens of bombs exploded in London alone. Outside the House of Commons, for example, in 1979, where five innocents would be killed thirty-two years later, Airey Neave MP died when an explosion blew his legs off. In the Docklands bombing, twenty-one years ago, the IRA killed two men and did a hundred and fifty million pounds worth of damage. That bombing was in revenge for Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Republicans, being excluded from peace talks. The British government accepted their demands and the IRA slowly began its decommissioning. Years on, Martin McGuinness shook hands with the Queen and was considered a statesman and not a terrorist. It is difficult to imagine the time when Republicans and loyalists were slaughtering each other. It is painful to remember. It is also impolitic. So, as …