Thursday, June 05, 2008


I wrote an 'overshare' article about my personal life in which I discuss my secret blog--and which is accompanied by shots of my many arm-tattoos. You can find this article by clicking here.

Just kidding, as you will see if you click on the link. What I wrote was an explanation of why conservative critiques of academia are usually so lame. No tattoos, arm or otherwise.


JMR said...

They don't require arm ink to get a graduate degree any more? Wish that was true back when I was in school. Academic standards really are going downhill.

Anonymous said...

Terrific essay Phoebe - I'm pretty liberal these days, but I was to the right of my undergrad Profs and high school teachers - No doubt, I was punished grade-wise for disagreement.

I can't stant over-the-top PC teachers - They just breed chickenhawks who want to attack Iraq when they grow up and start writing for right wing journals.

That Dartmouth woman - Ridiculous. But she probably has mental health issues when you get down to it.

Btw - lets have a look at those tattoos

Anonymous said...

A nice Jewish girl oughtn't have tattoos if you hope to be buried old-school.

Phoebe said...

Oh, goodness. This post was in reference to this article, not to me actually having any tattoos.

Withywindle said...

Conservative critiques of academia also build on a tradition; there have been several decades of cogent critiques of various things awful about modern academia; you don't have to rebuild the wheel each time you add to the critique of academia. If you like, if conservatives are unfamiliar with all the the traditions of academia, it is possible that you are unfamiliar with the tradition of the conservative critique of academia. And, perhaps, after several decades of sober-minded critique of This Studies and That Studies, mockery of ingrained idiocies is reasonable, and yet one more Sober Critique a waste of time for all concerned.

I'm perfectly willing to accept that there are second-rate conservative critiques of academia. As in so much a life, I take this as a challenge.

The variety of opponents to the liberal-PC hegemony over academia, and the negative nature of the critique, of course go hand in hand; it is easier to unite in opposition than to frame a coherent, positive program. This strikes me as a standard aspect of politics, and entirely appropriate for the current situation, where the balance-of-power lies with the liberal-PC component, and the opposing alliance is more concerned to resist further degradations of the university than to engage in plans for university reform of no cogency, since no fraction of the conservative coalition will regain control of any institution of left academia any time soon. Any plan, in any case, would have to be modified by circumstances, and institutionalized in some concrete suited to a particular university--seize power first, then make plans. The first wave of the counter-revolution, in any case, would most easily consist of reversing some part of the most recent generation of policy impositions. And the most cogent policy change would simply consist of control of personnel--no longer hire the deadwood who substitute leftist ideological fervor for minimum professional competence. To achieve an academy whose liberal politics is less ideological and less incompetent would satisfy a good portion of the conservative program.

Phoebe said...

I'm quite aware of the tradition you're speaking of, if what you mean is Allan Bloom.

"And the most cogent policy change would simply consist of control of personnel--no longer hire the deadwood who substitute leftist ideological fervor for minimum professional competence."

Isn't declaring academics incompetent something of a generalization? Most I've met are quite competent. Your comment, like the articles I cite in my piece, assumes everyone reading it will agree that that there have been "degradations of the university," and will agree on what that means. What does it mean? I'm in the academy and I don't know. Is it the very presense of a gender-studies field? Is it coeducation? Where is a line being drawn and why? A conservative of 'things were once better, the end,' goes nowhere.

Mike said...


I was linked here from your DoubleThink article, which I saw linked on Book Forum.

I agree with your claims made in the article, which is very well-written and cogent. But my problem with the "right-wing" attack of "left" academics, at least from my experiences in academia, is that it's overblown and way too exaggerated.

I just finished my undergrad at Berkeley, and even at a so-called "liberal" campus as Berkeley, I really didn't find anything that might resemble a "left hegemony" of any kind. Sure, I did my fair share of reading of Marx, Foucault, and Deleuze, but I was also assigned Hobbes, Schmitt, Bloom, and Burke.

It's too easy to stereotype professors as liberal nutcases just because they belong in the Frankfurt School or call themselves feminist thinkers. Case in point, one of my political theory professors is a renowned critical theorist who does work in gender studies, but I never got the sense that her class was "ideological."

Most professors I have studied under are too smart and sophisticated to trap themselves into these neatly-constructed, over-simplified categories like "left" and "right," "liberal" and "conservative," and it annoys me to no end when critics, of both the left and right persuasion, put their enemies in these pigeonholes. This kind of typecasting inevitably happens, because as you say, most of the critics don't even bother trying to read or understand what it is that they are critiquing.

Withywindle said...

Allan Bloom isn't the only writer in the tradition.

As for the existence of incompetent academics -- I make this judgment from some mixture of personal witness, and the witness of family and friends. I've been puttering on and off in the academic world since 1989, both my parents are college professors, and so was one grandfather, so I have some sources of knowledge about academia, independent of the conservative commentariat, dating back to the 1910s.

As for the quality of professors--great variations. Entirely too many of the Ward Churchills, the Leonard Jeffries, buffoonish frauds whose presence in the academy is unjustifiable. What percentage? I don't know--but any number is too high, and evidence of deep rot in the academy. Then the professionally mediocre -- all too often the beneficiaries of some quota system or another -- who, if not buffoons, should not have gotten tenure. The Barnard professor you discussed, who got tenure despite writing a book on Israeli archaeology that 1) used no Hebrew sources because she knew no Hebrew; and 2) sacrificed minimum standards of scholarship for a Palestinian polemic, is all too typical. My own most unfortunate experience was TAing for a black professor whose lectures consisted of semi-demented leftist rants at his students, who assigned bizarre homework assignments, and who got tenure despite a lackluster publication record. I cannot imagine that his race played no role in his receiving tenure. Beyond this, the many scholars who do meet minimum standards of teaching and scholarship--but not my much--who know fewer languages than their predecessors; who know a great deal of recent scholarship and theory, but little else; who catechize politics to a remarkable extent. The distinction between professors educated before ca. 1968 and afterward is remarkable; the slippage in knowledge, in scholarly ethic, if not universal, pervasive.

Three anecdotes: The French professor (so this speaks to France rather than America) who, having studied religious history for most of her career, had recently realized that the substance of religious doctrine was worth studying, in addition to the socioeconomic status of priests. The man who published the Sokal hoax--rather intelligent, I should say, but that failure speaks volumes. The Marxist history professor blackballed from presenting papers at the AHA because he had come to the conclusion that the US was a socialist paradise. (The behavior of the blackballers is what is at issue here.)

I suppose I would say that most professors I've encountered personally displayed minimal professional competence--but that disturbingly many veered near that minimum. I was more dismayed by my fellow graduate students, many of whom knew shockingly little history. (Many of them are now professors.) I hear worse stories from various friends--English seems harder hit than History, so far as it goes--but I suppose I would attest to a decline largely toward mediocrity, not toward outright incompetence. The mediocres, of course, are the ones who protect the incompetent, so these problems are not separable.

Anonymous said...

Just a note - that second anon comment above, after the first on I left, was a different anon commenter. Just a bit too familiar for blog comments.