Grievance Studies and Reputational Leaches
At a time when we are inundated with accusations of just about everyone being some form of an ist or a phobe, we have also seen the proliferation of all sorts of victim studies departments at various universities. For example, one count has found over 900 departments of women's studies worldwide. It's not hard to see a connection there.
It's these various grievance studies departments, be they women's studies, gender studies, African-American studies, Chicano studies, whiteness studies (in this case, the whiteness is obviously bad), or whatever, that have done more than anyone else to bring us the modern curse of intersectionalism, where everyone is divided by supposed privilege and then sorted by how much victimhood his immutable characteristics bestow upon him.
It's no longer disputable that the scholarly standards of these departments leaves something to be desired. Three academics, Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay, and Peter Boghossian, succeeded in hoaxing some of "the best journals in the relevant fields." By the time they were finished, they had seven papers accepted, of which four were published, all in peer-reviewed journals. They also had seven more papers "in play" and had received four invitations "to peer-review other papers as a result of our own exemplary scholarship."
As one might expect, the subjects and methodologies of these hoax papers were utterly ridiculous. One that was accepted by the journal Gender, Place and Culture was titled "Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon." Another claimed that men who masturbate while thinking of a woman are committing sexual violence against her. Another was a rewritten chapter of Mein Kampf from a feminist perspective.
None of this should be surprising. Just look at the non-hoaxes these departments churn out like the "study" of "gender and glaciers" or the "Hegemonic Masculinity among Men Experiencing Homelessness." Or just peruse the Twitter account of "New Real Peer Review."
Or you could just get rid of all the intellectual-sounding fluff and get to the point, as did Suzanna Danuta Walters, an esteemed professor of women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Northeastern University, in writing a Washington Post op-ed about why it's perfectly reasonable to hate all men.
The so-called grievance departments are by far the worst, but even the humanities in general have more or less been infiltrated with this nonsense. Even normally left-of-center academics like Jonathan Haidt, Steven Pinker, Heather Heying, and Richard Dawkins have spoken out against it. Even the hardcore leftist Noam Chomsky pilloried the quality of such postmodernist-infected departments:
In the humanities, literary criticism, anthropology and so on there's a field called theory. "See, we're just like the physicists. They talk incomprehensibly; we talk incomprehensibly. They have big words; we have big words. They draw far-reaching conclusions; we'll draw far-reaching conclusions. We're just as prestigious as they are." And if they say, "Hey, we're doing real science and you guys aren't," well, that's white male, sexist, you know, bourgeoisie or whatever...
Chomsky's point is that humanities departments (and, even more so, the grievance departments) are trying to emulate the sciences with their use of big words and complicated theories. The interesting question is how these departments have any clout to begin with.
After all, not a single university or research institution has ever built up its prestige or reputation based on any of these grievance studies departments. Instead, these universities built their prestige on their science, engineering, computer programming, business, and economics departments, or, to a lesser extent, their philosophy, education, classics, history, and architecture departments.
Grievance studies departments have been able to leach the reputation of institutions they had no part in building to grant themselves a credibility they have no right to. "A Harvard professor" sounds pretty impressive even if it's a professor of medieval Chicano women's military art studies. Yet such a title sounds impressive only because of what Harvard as an institution has accomplished outside the Medieval Chicano Women's Military Art Studies Department.
Whatever prestige Northeastern University has built up over the years, I can guarantee it didn't come from Suzanna Danuta Walters or the Department of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies.
These various victimhood studies departments act as reputational leaches who enhance their own credibility by getting to use the same label as useful and legitimate departments.
Indeed, often what is taught in one "reputational leach" grievance department is completely at odds with what is taught in a legitimate one. The most obvious example is gender studies, which teaches that "gender is a social construct." On the other hand, the biology departments teach that, no, much of the differences are hardwired.
It shouldn't be surprising that the SAT scores of those who enter STEM are higher than the humanities. The job prospects of STEM majors are going to be a lot better, too. This is exacerbated by the fact that more students are going to college than really should be and the benefits of college are greatly exaggerated by its proponents. While it may be a bit of a waste to get a degree in accounting if you are going to become a carpenter, it's a complete waste to get a degree in medieval Chicano women's military art studies.
It gets worse. The Chemistry Department doesn't try to make the rest of the university bow to its whims. It's the grievance departments that demand speech codes and give extra credit for participating in whatever inane campus activism is going on (or editing Wikipedia articles to make them comport with social justice).
Much of the drive to get rid of due process and free speech, and turn universities into giant safe spaces for the far left, comes from granting far too much credibility to fields of study that got a free ride on the coattails of others. These departments (and much of the humanities in general) are so transparently ideological that any serious study of these topics was doomed from the start. Instead, they just served as launching pads to remake the university and American society in their image.
Thus, the tragically ironic circle is complete. Legitimate fields of study build up the reputation of various universities. Then blatantly anti-scientific and ideological departments spring up and leach the institutions' reputations. Those reputational leaches then demand that the entire institution remake itself as they would desire. The fall of the American university is complete.
Undoing this process requires that we deny the institutional credibility many of these departments have unfairly claimed for themselves.