Reading Anne’s Defense of ACTA’s most recent report, “How Many Ward Churchills,” one comment from her critics made me laugh out loud. Professor Timothy Burke of Swarthmore complains that the report’s authors “want to avoid REAL argument of the kind that scholars routinely engage in.”
And exactly what kind of argument is that, Professor Burke? Is it this: “Seriously, unless you bother to get off your ass and stop reading catalogues online, you have no idea what happens in classrooms.” Professor, we all know the kind of argument that scholars engage in, and we also know what happens in classrooms. In my experience, whenmost professors discuss their specific and narrow fields (unless their field of study is explicitly and pervasively ideological, like “women’s studies”), the argument is much like you imagine: technical, logical, relatively calm, and reasoned. Veer even a little from that area of expertise, and you often get the exact kind of sneering condescension evidenced by the professor’s “ass” comment.
There are many, many professors that are consummate professionals. My best law school professors did not share my political views, but their classes were fair, intellectually challenging, civil, and extremely interesting. But there were other professors at that same school who larded up classes like contracts, civil procedure, and torts with extended diatribes against the Bush administration’s foreign policy and the Clarence Thomas nomination (I’m dating myself here).
In a typical college career, a student will take between 30 and 40 different courses. How many of them have to be ridiculously politicized to constitute a problem? 5? 10? 15? At law school, easily one third of my classes were absolutely polluted with condescension and vitriol towards conservatives (and especially Christian conservatives). Of course I chose to wade into the minefield of classes like “Family Law” and “Child, Family, and the State.” But why must classes that deal with stereotypically “women’s” issues be no-go zones for conservatives?
To understand the essential ridiculousness of Burke’s argument, imagine his response to a group of conservative academics denying systemic problems in academia if the reality were reversed. Imagine that 90% of elite college academics were conservative with a large group of those conservatives anchoring the absolute extreme right wing. Then imagine that thousands of those professors offered courses that, by design, glorified military service, defended American involvement in Vietnam and Iraq, and routinely mocked protesting leftists as idiotic, evil, murderous, or racist. Imagine that the professors least likely to obtain tenure (even after controlling for educational background and numbers of publications) were self-described liberals. Imagine that “women’s studies” trained women to become pro-life activists, argue for a return of the nuclear family, and glorify homemakers as the feminine ideal. And then imagine if the conservative status quo defended those realities by saying, “well, it’s only a minority of classes that are truly political.”
The great bogeyman of the academic Left is the Christian conservative movement. Yet an academic never has to go to church or send his children to church. The polar opposite of the evangelical mega-church in American society is the great leftist tent revival in academia, but to participate fully as citizens in this country, we have to attend that revival, and we have to send our children and grand-children there as well. Oh, and (when it comes to public universities) we spend our tax dollars to pay for it, regardless of the school our kids attend.