An enormous academic scandal is not sitting well with some students at the University of North Carolina — but not for the reasons one might think. On Wednesday, UNC student group The Real Silent Sam hosted a “Rally Speaking Back To The Wainstein Report,” expressing disappointment with the recent investigation that found that at least 3,100 students over 18 years were enrolled in “paper classes” in the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies — that is, courses that effectively did not exist. Why are these students up in arms? Per the event notice on Facebook:
The Wainstein report and the administration’s handling of what has been labeled an “academic scandal” reveals ways in which our university participates in the “American” system of white supremacist, heteropatriarchal capitalism and brings our understanding of what it means to be a Tar Heel into question. This report is only the most recent example of the onslaught of continued assault and commodification of bodies of color that is integral to the inception and continued practice of our institutional bureaucracy.
To the students’ credit, this is a paragraph of which Michael Eric Dyson would be proud. It is a prose gem of pseudo-intellectualism, from words such as “heteropatriarchal” to phrases such as “commodification of bodies of color” to provocations such as putting “American” in scare quotes. It is precisely what one would expect from a liberal-jargon-spewing automaton — which, of course, is a good description of many college students.
Especially those who spend their four (or, increasingly, five or six) years in academic departments that exist mainly to salary ex–Haight Ashbury types with a passion for Foucault or Derrida or Malcolm X. Consider Omolulu Babatunde, a UNC senior who spoke to Campus Reform:
“I guess what motivated me was my raw emotions when I first heard about the scandal,” Babtunde said. “I was angry. . . . It’s happening because our society doesn’t understand and doesn’t value black studies so much so that it can be scapegoated. . . . Society, which is reflected in the media, understands blackness in such a discredited way that it’s able to corrupt something that is much broader than one site.”
But the chronology here is wrong. It is not that the academic fraudsters searched about for the ideal department in which to perpetrate their scheme — one with, say, low academic standards and minimal oversight. Rather, UNC’s AFAM department was guilty of these things already, which caused it to hire and promote the type of people who were more than happy to commit large-scale academic fraud.
The myriad “-studies” programs that cropped up over the last half century were created to give an academic patina to political activism on behalf of this or that aggrieved identity group — which means that departments so conceived, cart preceding horse, had already violated any reasonable principle of intellectual integrity. Who can be surprised, then, that it finally led to this?