Higher Education Theatre of the Absurd
Higher education today is a nightmare. There are a trillion dollars in potentially toxic student debt. We see people with PhDs on food stamps, a 400% rise in tuition over 20 years, and only 49% of college grads finding jobs within a year.
According to the left, these woes result from a "conservative war on professors."
But wait. If conservatives dislike the professoriate, it is because the professoriate has done an excellent job excluding right-wingers. It is natural for people to hate those who hate them first. It doesn't surprise me if American communists hate Joe McCarthy and Ann Coulter. If educators do not want to be fighting conservatives all the time, maybe they should not have blacklisted and embargoed them for 40 years.
An April 2012 report by the California Association of Scholars provides all the necessary number-crunching: With each decade, conservative professors become scarcer. The discriminatory practices in credentialing, hiring, publication, tenure, and promotion are harder to hide. Lefties blow off any complaints as more Nixonian or "culture war" claptrap, and go back to reading Maureen Dowd.
How to blame the right? Perhaps Republican governors in some states have cut funding to higher education, but there were precious few Republicans in teaching or administrative positions to force tuitions to rise 400% or in positions to market a trillion dollars in debt to hapless young people. It is difficult if not impossible to pin higher ed's nightmares on anti-intellectual and professionally minded Republicans, especially in an election contest between Mr. Romney, who majored in English, and political-science pre-law major Mr. Obama.
Roughly 0.6% of the United States population emerges from the 120-130 most expensive colleges in the country and goes on to run the government, media, courts, economy, and academy. These are non-profit corporations. The incorrigible elitism of higher education is ironically the fruit of the most progressive and "counter-hegemonic" brain trust in the world. Professors from Columbia University (Judith Butler), MIT (Noam Chomsky), and NYU (Andrew Ross), were among the most popular supporters of Occupy Wall Street.
In 2011, Obama suggested jump-starting the economy by transferring $500 million in taxpayer money to six elite colleges, of which all but two appear on the list of those charging in excess of $50,000 per year, an act which contributed to the absurd fact of Harvard receiving millions in federal funding while sitting on a tax-free "non-profit" endowment of $31.7 billion. The plan doesn't seem to have worked.
Harvard employees were the third largest contributor to Obama's 2008 campaign. Number one was the University of California, whose flagship Berkeley is the most expensive public college in the country, charging over $55,000 a year to non-Californians.
Am I being too hard on lefties? Go read a letter from Chronicle of Higher Education editor Liz McMillen announcing the firing of Naomi Schaefer-Riley, one of only two conservatives who published blogs in the editorial "Brainstorm" section.
Schaefer-Riley wrote a scathing criticism of Black Studies on April 30, 2012. (To be fair, I found the column awful. It was simply equal in awfulness to the rest of Brainstorm.)
Within a week, over 6,000 academics had signed a petition demanding that she be fired. Their rationale combined some of the predictable salvoes ("she's a racist") with new particulars ("she was particularly wrong for singling out specific dissertations," "she admitted that she didn't read the dissertations before dismissing them," "she should not be writing on areas in which she has no degree.") With Riley gone, the only conservative on Brainstorm is Mark Bauerlein. He writes alongside some other bloggers who have increasingly questionable rights to be in Brainstorm, given the logic behind Riley's firing. Let me introduce them to you:
Laurie Essig is a white sociologist who lives in Middlebury, Vermont -- one of the wealthiest and whitest towns in the world. She wrote a piece last fall calling Herman Cain an example of "minstrelsy" because of how he talked. She remains on Brainstorm.
Gina Barreca is an English professor from the University of Connecticut. Her most recent post was a rhyming schoolgirl taunt against Naomi Schaefer-Riley, written in the childish style of a sixth-grade bully pulling on the braids of the odd girl out. She remains.
Jacques Berlinerblau is a Georgetown professor who directs the university's program in Jewish civilization. He writes about secularism and atheism a lot, preaching to readers not to confound the two. I must ask forgiveness for not knowing how to characterize his expertise, but I am fairly confident that someone whose career landed him a directorship in Jewish civilization, secularism, and atheism, who lives in the Washington DC area, is probably not going to have time to develop an additional "rigor" in the theology of the middle American "Christian Right" (whatever that is). Yet Berlinerblau wrote a piece with the classy title, "Message to the Christian Right: Go Bifurcate Yourself."
Then there is Michael Ruse, an expert on Charles Darwin who writes about his charming trips back to his native England, where he says, "England was, and still is, a very class-ridden society [...] the sort of society that the Republicans are desperately keen to impose on the USA. These divisions were reflected in the sea-side resorts." Before you can shrug and ask, "huh?", Mr. Ruse is on to his next aside, such as when he suggests in the middle of a meditation about evolution that supporters of Intelligent Design hate gays or that conservative Christianity is a cancer causing racism and hatred of transsexuals, which can only be solved by American Christians acting more like people from Alberta.
With the Yahoo message boards readily available, none of this low-brow commentary is remotely necessary in the country's most revered professorial publication.
There are more interesting characters in the Chronicle's Brainstorm section, all of whom seem to think that because they are professors and blogging in the Chronicle, they can opine about anything whether they are experts in what they are talking about or not. With Naomi Schaefer-Riley gone, they will be freer to swipe with impunity and blog while Rome burns. The tragedy goes on.
Robert Oscar Lopez teaches American literature and Classics at CSU Northridge. His book, Colorful Conservative: American Conversations with the Ancients from Wheatley to Whitman, came out in 2011.