All posts filed under: Education

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. …

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. …

Why British Academics are Guilty of Groupthink

According to recent studies, the majority of British and American academics are to be found on the left wing of the political landscape. It is estimated that up to 80% of professional academics are left-liberals, leading to warnings of the dangers of groupthink in universities. The current anti-Brexit, pity party mood within UK universities is part of this culture of academic groupthink prevalent in the higher education sector. Academic unions and senior university managers have, in a rare show of shared values, sought to console those seemingly traumatised by the result of a democratic referendum. One obvious possible reason for the apparent lack of EU naysayers within universities is the inverse correlation researchers have found between the level of educational attainment and the likelihood of voting to leave the EU. It is reassuring to think that ignorance and bigotry are the cause of all our woes. But what about the nonintellectual reasons why academics might support membership of the EU so uncritically? When experts are viewed with such famous disdain, perhaps academics should ask themselves …

Methods Behind the Campus Madness

Unless you are living under a rock, you should know that a recent talk by Charles Murray was shouted down by a group of Middlebury College Maoists and was followed by random acts of violence and assault in a carpark. As Murray was escorted out, by Professor Allison Stanger, a renowned scholar of International Relations, a lady more courageous than any of the wannabe Red Guards acting like brutes in a pack, she was pulled by her hair, which affected her neck, and she was forced to go to the hospital and wear a neck brace. Murray, a scholar known for his provocative, and hitherto unreplicated 1994 opus, The Bell Curve, was invited to the college to give a talk about his more recent book, Coming Apart. The rest, is well archived and painful. I wrote recently that the campus violence won’t stop with the violence in Berkeley against Milo. I wasn’t wrong. One look at the protesters would be enough to fathom that none of them even bothered to read Murray’s scholarship; that would …

Sociology’s Stagnation

Emile Durkheim is the father of modern sociology; he is a titan. Over a century ago the great man issued an edict that would forever alter — or you could say, forever derail — the course of the discipline that he established. His proclamation, paraphrased loosely, was that any social occurrence was a product of other social occurrences that came before it. Society and culture were “prime movers”, an ultimate cause of things in the world that, for its own part, had no cause. Social facts orbited in their own solar system, untethered from the psychology and biology of individual humans. It’s almost as if this idea originated from a burning bush, high on some ancient mountain, as it would to this day steer the direction of much social science thought. Durkheim’s insight would be a hall pass for social scientists to spend decades ignoring certain uncomfortable realities. Let me try and give you an idea of just how fetid the waters really are. In 1990 (over two decades ago) the sociologist Pierre van den …

Negotiating Standpoints Outside the University Classroom

When a protest on a college campus occurs over an issue, an explosion of articles appear, arguing why one position is right and the other is wrong. Tensions rise when no semblance of agreement is reached, and a second wave of essays appear, which take the form of what Michael Sandel calls a “shouting match.” Each side screams at one another instead of engaging with each other. These recriminations shut down any chance of reasonable conversation. How do you react when someone calls you an idiot? In a small hookah lounge in the East Village in New York, I regularly meet with a close friend to discuss all things political and philosophical. Recently, as we sat blowing smoke rings together we found ourselves digging into some of the political correctness controversies arising on college campuses — things like sexual harassment in academia, trigger warnings, and microaggression policing. The two of us had taken a philosophy course together in undergrad, and so naturally we examined these topics through a philosophical lens. We went back and forth debating …

Make Expertise Great Again

A review of  by The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols. Oxford University Press, (1 April, 2017) 272 pages.   The long-awaited book by Professor Tom Nichols, (AKA @RadioFreeTom) The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters is finally out this year. And perhaps no other topic can be as important, given the tectonic shifting year in global politics we just had. Political Scientists don’t often get credit for genuine predictions or trend recognition, although the majority of them invite flak for failed ones. Credit, therefore goes to Nichols. He identified, what is currently one of the most destructive trends in this post-truth world, a disdain towards any sort of acquired knowledge and expertise, and he identified that trend in 2013 in this famous blog post. That blog post was expanded to a full length Op-Ed for The Federalist in 2014, which came out as a complete thesis in the first month of 2017. The book, which  is soon to be …

Stereotypes Can Hold Boys Back in School, Too

By age six, girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as brilliant and express interest in activities described as for “really, really smart” children, according to new research published in Science. Many major media outlets reported these findings. Most of the coverage, however, overlooked another key finding from the same study: Boys were less likely to say their own gender gets top grades in school. The beliefs of children matter because they could shape students’ interests and achievement over time, other research suggests. For instance, one 2013 experiment found that telling elementary school children “girls do better than boys” in school made boys — but not girls — perform worse on a series of academic tests. These expectations can work both ways: When researchers told children that boys and girls would perform the same, boys’ academic performance improved. There are real and persistent gender achievement gaps in the U.S. For instance, boys tend to get worse grades than girls, but girls are few among top scorers on standardized math tests. While much research …

Diversity for the Sake of Democracy

“Stand up if you identify as Caucasian.” The minister’s voice was solemn. I paused so that I wouldn’t be the first one standing, and then slowly rose to my feet. “Look at your community,” he said. I glanced around the auditorium obediently. The other students looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as white. ¨Thank you,” the minister said finally. After we sat down, he went on to repeat the exercise for over an hour with different adjectives in place of “Caucasian”: black, wealthy, first-generation, socially conservative. Each time he introduced a new label, he paused so that a new group of students could stand and take note of one another. By the time he was finished, every member of Princeton University’s freshman class had been branded with a demographic. This mandatory orientation event was designed to help us appreciate our diversity as a student body during the first week of classes. But what did it really accomplish? In compressing us into isolated communities based on our race, religion or gender, the minister belittled every …