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The Approaching Disintegration of Academia
Jacques Derrida, French philosopher, poses during a portrait session held on January 25, 1988 in Ris-Orangis, France. Getty

The Approaching Disintegration of Academia

Universities cannot withstand the assault on objective truth.

· 7 min read

Several years ago, in the pre-pandemic world of in-person meetings, a newly hired colleague at Fashion Institute of Technology proposed an LGBT-themed sociology course before the School of Liberal Arts. This is a necessary step in getting the course approved by the college-wide curriculum committee. It’s a time for constructive feedback and occasional tweaking before the final committee vote.

It was a good course. The proposal was clear and concise, indicating not only a command of the relevant literature but a sensitivity to students’ interests, expectations, and ability to handle the workload. But I noticed an apparently minor, easily correctable issue. Among the learning outcomes listed was a requirement that students develop a greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ perspectives and rights. That struck me as problematic. I happen to think that such acceptance is a good thing, but to stipulate it as a learning outcome raises a knotty question. If a student masters the course material, turns in the required work, and passes the exams, but doesn’t exhibit that acceptance, is he going to fail?

After expressing my general admiration for the course, I raised my misgiving in the following way (and this is nearly an exact quote): “We need to keep in mind that we’re a state university. Our mission is to pursue, ascertain, and disseminate objective truth, and to equip our students to do the same. Given that mission, I don’t think we can list a learning outcome that requires students’ assent on a matter of personal morality. The other learning outcomes are fine. You don’t need that one, so I’d just cut it.” My colleague was fresh out of graduate school and not yet tenured, which (theoretically) put her in a vulnerable position. Nevertheless, she became apoplectic; so angry, in fact, that she had difficulty getting out her first sentence. “I can’t believe people still think that way!” she spluttered. “Queer Theory has deconstructed objectivity!”

Her words hung in the air as I glanced around the room. Not a single faculty member, not even those in math or sciences, seemed fazed by her categorical statement. Since I was a tenured professor, I was reluctant to debate an untenured colleague during a school meeting. So, I let the matter drop. The course was approved without revision by the School of Liberal Arts, and went on to gain approval by the curriculum committee. And that is how my college got into the business of winning converts.

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