Phi Beta Cons

‘Banner Year for Academic Reform’?

Well, not quite “banner,” as a world of “rot” perdures.
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial, which lauded recent “victories” for reform in higher education, was a touch too panglossian for my taste. (“A College Education,” June 16, 2007)
A lawyer-campus reformer, Jeffrey Duban, concurs, rebutting in a well-considered email:

You and I both know that the real-life battle against P.C. is not a succession of dragon-slayings, but of long-term rot and infestation clearings. Yes, the disposal of Ward Churchill is all well and fine, as are other “victories” this past year.

But the Journal seems overly congratulatory. It forgets that it was but a year ago that the rotted Harvard faculty forced the resignation on P.C. grounds of its president, Laurence Summers. Now there was an event of dire academic consequence, clearly one for the bad guys.
And although the Duke case (by the grace of God) has ended as one for the good guys, we cannot forget that scores of Duke faculty – the Gang of 88 – signed on with D.A. Nifong from the very outset. (See “Nifong’s Enablers,” New York Post.) Gang members should be punished along with Nifong. Instead, they survive to perpetrate other outrages, both individually and collectively. Would it be Duke otherwise?

The Post editorial singles out Columbia president Lee Bollinger as a consistent rights-trampler, noting that “[w]hat happened at Duke and Columbia constitute the latest examples of how the American academy has been turned into a giant P.C. playpen.”

Indeed, the day before, the Post published “Hassled at Hopkins,” showing that “[n]o school demonstrated greater contempt for the rights of its students this past year than Johns Hopkins University. . . nearly destroying the academic career of one student.”

The supreme irony, of course, is that Summers was ousted over a casual remark, even as Bollinger presides over repeated offenses to academic freedom, with the blessings of Columbia’s radicalized faculty and indifferent trustees. Myself a professor-turned-attorney, defending faculty and students in disciplinary matters, I get more calls from Columbia students than from students at any other university.
The rot ascends, blowing down from on high. Stanley Fish, our first academic “superstar,” made a shambles of Duke, from his perch in the influential English Department; and, as its director, he made a travesty of the Duke Press. When the party was over, he recanted (as did the equally culpable Frank Lentricchia), moved on to a posh deanship at Chicago (also home to the fraudulent, P.C. icon Martha Nussbaum), and now editorializes on the ills of academe.
Oh, the extent of the rot, which leads me to share Duban’s distress at the Journal’s complacency, for:
Even as Western culture and civilization are battered from without, the American academy continues the assault from within, its recent cause-célèbre losses notwithstanding. Death by P.C. encroaches, as the indisputable fruits of the Classical and Judeo-Christian traditions wither beneath “multicultural” pandering and other perceived orthodoxies.
Yet, in truth, the academy rarely dares offend, even at the cost of the West’s survival. And one expects more discernment from the Journal.


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