Why I'm Glad I'm Gone from Academe

I have two confessions to make. 

First, I was a university professor from the late 1960s to the late 1990s.  Over four-plus decades at the same institution, I went from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Full Professor.  I enjoyed my career, most of the time.

I took early retirement for personal and professional reasons.

Subsequently, I was an adjunct professor at another university where a close family member is also employed.  I retired from that post mostly for personal reasons.  After nearly 40 years of teaching -- I was a high school social studies teacher for two years before pursuing the Ph.D. -- I no longer enjoyed teaching.

My second confession is that I’m glad I’m no longer in Academe.  There are several reasons for this.

Since my relative is still in the profession, I continue to hear and read about developments in Academe.  I have also read about the history of American higher education, so I believe I understand where colleges/universities have been, are now, and are headed.

Let me start by mentioning some factors that are not major reasons why I feel good about leaving Academe.

It is not, for example, a financial matter.  Granted, my salary never exceeded five figures, but I never expected to become rich as a professor, an expectation that panned out.

Nor do I harbor very strong ill-feelings about the changes in Academe -- especially the issues of scheduling and time -- that have transpired since the 1960s.  One of the incentives for choosing an academic career back then was the flexibility in setting one’s schedule and the freedom in picking a sub-field of specialization, which influenced the subject matter one taught.

I loved doing research and writing; still do.  I also enjoyed interacting with faculty from other disciplines.  I was able to choose most of the classes I taught.

It was also a joy to have students who respected the life of the mind and wanted to learn.  (Long ago, I over-heard one student tell another, “I hear that Dr. [X] is a tough professor.  I’ve just got to take his course!”)  I could require multiple books per class, and no student complained (to me, at least).

All that changed.  Students increasingly wanted to be credentialed; learning was incidental.  If one assigned more than two books, for example, the wailing was incessant.  Institutions of higher education became more and more bureaucratized, and did all they could to pound square pegs into round holes.  Schedules became more onerous, and one increasingly found oneself teaching what would formerly have been remedial classes.  Toward the end of my career, I was told to teach subject matter to college undergraduates that I’d learned in high school.

Nevertheless, issues like changes in scheduling, course content, students, etc., were minor irritants. 

Unhappily, worse things also occurred.

One was the rise of political correctness.  I wish I could remember when first I encountered that by-now hoary concept.  Two developments, however, forcefully brought home the impact of PC’s rise in institutions of higher learning.

The first was reading the late Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind in 1987.  Although Bloom did not deal directly with political correctness, he showed how American colleges and universities had been impoverished by so-called avant garde notions that increasingly undermined freedom of thought in the U.S.

About the time I read Bloom, my department was accused -- by one of its members -- of being “racist” and “sexist,” “crimes” which my university would not tolerate.  Faculty were hauled before a kangaroo court chaired by an individual known to be sympathetic to the person who leveled the charges.

Department members were required to appear before the court, sans legal representation.  We were required to testify -- i.e., confess our guilt.  (All I could think of as I went through the ordeal was the Moscow show-trials under Stalin.)

Even though the kangaroo court could not convict the department, its reputation was tarnished.  At that university, to be charged with racism and/or sexism was to be guilty.  We were as lepers.

After reading about PC, and especially after that witch-hunt, I knew what political correctness is, and why it’s rise in Academe spelled trouble.  This was long before Chris Rock and especially Jerry Seinfeld announced they would no longer appear on university campuses because of PC.

I stayed in Academe, hoping that decency and common sense would prevail.  That expectation did not pan out.

Worse was yet to come, and at least two of those calamities cause my satisfaction about leaving Academe.

One is the rise of left-wing totalitarianism in American colleges and universities.  American institutions of higher education have long been bastions of liberalism, of course, but it’s only in the last few decades that leftist totalitarianism has become as suffocating as it is now on college/university campuses.

Two recent essays explore the rise and nature of totalitarianism in America.  Although neither focuses on the phenomenon in Academe, the information they convey can be applied to the ivory towers.

The first is Tom Nichols’ “The New Totalitarians Are Here,” which appeared in The Federalist on July 6th.  Nichols opens by differentiating between authoritarians -- who insist upon being obeyed, but otherwise leave people alone -- and totalitarians -- who not only require obedience, but also demand that people think the way they think. 

The second is Rush Limbaugh’s essay, “The Left Goes Totalitarian,” which is the lead article in the August, 2015 number of The Limbaugh Letter.  In addition to summarizing Nichols’ main points, Limbaugh lists several instances of left-wing totalitarianism -- such as LGBT activist George Takei’s racist slur of Clarence Thomas -- and notes that, even when they win, leftist totalitarians are angry.  According to Rush, leftists -- who have been winning the culture war -- do not express “a sense of triumph -- just pent-up rage ….”

Why?  Limbaugh believes that leftist totalitarians realize -- although they won’t admit it -- that most Americans reject their kooky ideas, and that they’ll probably lose in the end.

I’m not so sanguine.  I’m told that local left-wing university types assert that “tolerance [of politically incorrect ideas] is not enough.”  Those who express politically incorrect sentiments must be forced to see the light, or else, which isn’t specified.  (Re-education camps, perhaps?)

This example illustrates how firmly PC and totalitarianism are embedded in Academe.

PC and totalitarianism on campus are bad, but if Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s essay in the September, 2015 number of The Atlantic is correct, things may be getting worse in colleges/universities.  They detail the rise of the belief that college/university students’ self-esteem is so fragile that they must be protected from thoughts and deeds they don’t like, and that people who engage in “microaggressions” -- anything that might offend anybody, especially minorities, women, Muslims, and LGBTs -- and faculty who fail to provide “trigger warnings,” i.e., alert students that they might encounter unpleasant ideas -- should both be punished.  Even feminists and admitted liberals have run afoul of this belief.

As the 2015-16 academic year begins, I can’t fathom how today’s college/university personnel who aren’t leftists cope with the academic world.   I’m glad I’m gone.

Richard Winchester is the pen name of a retired academic.