Latin American Studies at The Ohio State University
There has generally been a distinction in academia between a university and a seminary. At a seminary one usually explores or confirms a faith, dogma, or theological belief of some sort. Universities are supposed to be much different.
When I applied to graduate programs in Latin American Studies, there were several more notable universities that I could have attended, but I chose to attend The Ohio State University. With my degree completed, this seems an appropriate time to tell the faculty, administration, and general public what I think of the program and my time at OSU. What follows will offer a more accurate account of what OSU actually offers, despite the public posturing.
OSU asserts to the public and its funding politicians its openness to different ideas and points of view. If the Latin American Studies faculty, curriculum, and classes are any indication, this assertion is either delusional or dishonest or some degree of both.
It is impossible to miss the department's primary patron saint, Karl Marx, the man who loathed the very people he claimed to champion. As we mimicked his resentment, parroted his slogans, and regurgitated his analysis, we steadfastly ignored the over 100 million civilian deaths in the twentieth century implementing Marxian "brilliance." Whom it didn't kill, it impoverished, but that didn't affect the reverential treatment of his basic ideas and animus. In our classes, Marx's theories, attitude, and rhetoric trumped historical and economic facts, just as the department's desire to produce an enlightened "vanguard" trumped meaningful education.
We received the obligatory Leninist view of capitalism and free trade. Never in history have two systems produced more prosperity for more people than these (the better to pay the comfortable salaries of tenured faculty and the ever-metastasizing class of administrators). There are readily available materials that document the origins of and reasons for this prosperity. For instance, there is the work of Peruvian, Hernando de Soto; as ignored in my classes as his observations. Instead, you offer American prosperity as little more than ill-gotten gain. And not once did I hear anything about American economic policy in any class beyond some variant of "orientalism," "imperialism," "oppression," and "exploitation"-- all this implemented in English, "the language of power."
The faculty evidently held up its collective wet finger to the trendy, progressive winds. So, when not reiterating some variant of Marx, the curriculum and discussions consistently channeled the likes of Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Michel Foucault, and Noam Chomsky, all canonized saints in this woke seminary. Is this what you call the pursuit of truth?
We were taught that the nation-state, in general, and American immigration laws, in particular, are, of course, xenophobic and racist. I never heard any recognition of the need for restrictions for those who enter the US. Can a reasonably functioning, democratic republic with very expensive entitlement programs legitimately be concerned about inviting the entire world for the "free lunch"? How many dependent migrants make that system no longer sustainable, especially now when "sustainability" is otherwise such a fashionable issue? Can the US legitimately be concerned about its security? I never heard these questions answered or even seriously considered.
No defenses of borders or even the concept of sovereignty were ever presented in my classes. This department provided no serious thought or scholarship about the nature and obligations of citizenship (as opposed to mere presence or residence in a polity), or about the benefits of the nation-state (as opposed to an inherently tyrannical universal state). There are plenty of reputable and interesting sources available that explore these issues, all resolutely ignored.
It seems that there cannot be any course of study at OSU without that obligatory dose of tattooed, purple-haired feminism; a particularly narrow and strident form whose incessant indignation is not-so-mysteriously selective. Of course, the only impoverished and oppressed women worthy of mention are those who can be traced, no matter how ridiculously, to American policy, free markets, free trade, and "neo-liberalism"-- an all-purpose, undefined term that means "something horrible."
In the name of feminism, we listened to the endless flogging of capitalism and the American economy. We never heard anything about those millions of women who have endured the depredations of the Castro family or the Venezuelan regime, where food and toilet paper are as scarce as free expression. There was no mention of the effects on women of last year's inflation rate of 1,743% in Madero's socialist paradise. Instead, we received the usual accusations of American-caused oppression, imperialism, and impoverishment, all so "patriarchal" and "toxically" masculine.
The topics and their discussion that we endured were tedious exercises in academic political orthodoxy. Readings were usually banalities and jargon-filled pseudo-scholarship in often worthless journals (the kind that cheaply meet a professor's publishing requirement).
I came to campus expecting political preaching coupled with the fascistic zeitgeist and the oppressive cancel culture. That's the devolution of "higher education" that you so supinely accept and even encourage. I had the delusion that there would be at least some recognition of other ways of looking at political and economic policies, international relations, and the United States itself, even if only for the sake of argument. That could be robust and interesting. In this department (at this university)--when pigs fly.
I played the game and struggled to overcome what was near-terminal boredom. I performed like a trained seal, and you tossed me my good grades like fish. I take no pride in these grades. They took no hard thinking beyond how to seem as if I cared. It was a titanic waste of time instead of what should have been a golden opportunity. If OSU were honest, it would refund my tuition.
Peter Zenger is the pen name of a recent master’s degree graduate of the Ohio State University Latin American Studies Program