By Robert Weissberg
Let's face it, our noble efforts to detoxify today's PC-infected university have largely failed and the future looks bleak. This is not to say that the problem is incurable--though it is--but it calls for a solution different from the current approach. Here's how.
Begin by recognizing that all our proposed cures impose heavy burdens on foes. For example, demanding an ideologically balanced faculty means fewer positions for PC zealots to fill. Asking them to abandon anti-Americanism requires revising lectures and reading assignment, no small task for those working 24/7 for social justice. And the assignment may be beyond their intellectual abilities. Why should tenured radicals surrender life-time employment to prevent professorial abuses? In a nutshell, our side insists on painful reform from within, all of which have zero benefits to the PC crowd. Victory requires measures that appear as net benefits, not bitter medicine.
My solution arrived one day in a casual conversation with a fellow political scientist. He recounted that when his university initially proposed a separate Department of Women's Studies, the faculty objected. Resistance was futile, however, and the separate department came to pass. There was, however, a silver lining in the defeat--with all the department's strident feminists exported to an autonomous homeland, intellectual life suddenly improved dramatically. No more silly quarrels about inserting gender into international relations, no more struggles over subtly-hidden, invisible sexism and so on. Civility and reason reigned.
The pathway to detoxification is clear: the 19th century leprosy- or tuberculosis-style quarantine. That is, if you cannot cure the infectious pathology, and any attempt to do so only exacerbates the situation, isolate the Typhoid Marys. And, if properly managed, the pox may well dwindle and vanish.
As a university lifer, let me explain a bit more. First, though the PC crowd in the social science and humanities attracts ample media attention, fervent ideologues are seldom a majority. Most faculty, I’ve observed, are just run-of-the-mill liberals who generally behave professionally but, and this is critical, just lack the time and energy to tangle with agitated true-believers. Disengagement is especially pronounced among serious teachers and scholars—why waste endless hours in a futile debate over the contribution of gays to American history? PC types actually relish what most serious academics try to avoid. Just visit a typical faculty Senate and observe the come-early-stay-late style and the infatuation with issues divorced from the university’s intellectual mission.
Here’s the plan. Create a brand new school, perhaps named the School of Oppression Studies (SOS) staffed with all those sharing the PC vision. Pay them a few thousand extra to entice relocation. The especially loony might be given high-sounding titles to encourage migration—“Benedict Arnold Professor of White American History.” The usually tough issue of tenure will be solved by permitting them to carry over tenure in an already established department (this is a common academic and perfectly safe arrangement). PC professors will now have their own building, support staff, graduate students and even a honey pot to invite friends for lectures, sponsor conferences, travel, journal subscriptions and all the usual academic perks. The School could also fund ideologically sympathetic journals where faculty members can receive academic credit (i.e., salary increases) for their obtuse raving and ranting.
This freshly created school will offer its own courses, cross-listed with established departments so as to avoid the bureaucratic ordeal of securing new courses approved. Now, instead of racial grievance mongers twisting Sociology 101 to excoriate the US, the course will just be labeled, “Evil Racism in America.” There will also be the usual student programs, things like “Junior Year in Newark” or internships with Mexican gangs in LA.
Non-academic outsiders will, no doubt, be initially appalled, even write blistering essays on Minding the Campus. But, such condemnation is naive. The School of Oppression Studies will eventually wither away to irrelevance and the university will be saved.
Since none of these SOS courses are required, and all will be instantly recognized for their empty calories agitprop content, enrollments will be modest, far less than what these PC professors would have drawn in their home department’s required courses. I’d further guess that offering will quickly gain a Mickey Mouse reputation and their very appearance on a transcript might be the kiss of death for graduate study. After all, these SOS professors know that grades are “arbitrary” and just sustain societal unfairness while lowering self-esteem while larger enrollments (even if students skip class) mean bigger budgets and greater opportunities to proselytize. SOS professors will preach to an ever shrinking choir, if the choir bothers to attend class (and fewer will even do the reading).
But more consequential will be the implosion that comes from putting all these diverse, typically contentious ideologues under one roof and with a single budget. Permanent chaos punctuated with dysfunction. Tickets could be sold to watch a toxic-brew faculty meeting of Queer Studies scholars, angry feminists (including multiple aggressive lesbian factions), black revolutionaries and Afro-centrists, Chicano/a separatists, elderly white Marxists (with a few younger Maoist sprinkled in), devotees of deconstruction and post-modernism, even a few stray philosophers worried about repeated violations of animal rights, plus a divinity school scholar preaching the social justice gospel. Finances permitting, perhaps a few fans of Fatah and Hamas could be added as adjuncts. That these professors typically have insatiable appetites for academic in-fighting, back-stabbing, over-the-top histrionics and similar collegiality destroying vices will only add to the fun. I wait with great anticipation all the quarrels over whether it is race, gender and class or class, race and gender. School security may have to be called when this issue arises.
This solution may strike academic reformers as eccentric but, in fact, it is standard when handling deep, contentious differences. Just put all the trouble-makers far away from decent and stable folk. Many towns have “bad sections” where criminals, drunks, hookers and the other unsavory types flourish provided they stay put. School systems routinely have special facilities (or classrooms) for “troubled youth” where they can be closely monitored and so teachers are freed from their disruptive behavior. Prisons have heavily guarded high-security sections for the most violent inmates. Even college fraternity systems have their “animal houses.”
Though it might be tempting to dismiss this solution as Swiftian humor, it is serious though watching the assembled PC multitude implode will generate raucous laughter. The key is not trying to expel the trouble-makers but limit the damage via isolation, and this approach far out-shines unrealistic rival solution. It will work, and rest assured, once the project gets underway schools will compete to build bigger, more diverse Schools of Oppression (these schools will also allow administrators to find places for “under-represented” group members who might have difficulty securing appointments in traditional departments). If we are lucky, Yale and Harvard might “steal” the most wacko, contentious leading scholars of oppression, much to the relief of everybody else. US News and World Report will rate these cutting-edge departments and the prestige race will be on. And those of us not obsesssd with oppression will be much better off.
Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science, Emeritus at the University of Illinois-Urbana, and occasionally teaches in the NYU Politics Department MA Program. He is the author of Bad Students, Not Bad Schools.