Pardon the "Seinfeld" reference: Elaine turns some work in to her boss at a clothing catalogue, Mr. Peterman. His response: "That looks like a lot of words." Which is how I'd respond to this dissertation-length take-down of a liberal-arts college in Maine, one Miss Self-Important pointed me to in the comments to her post about conservative critics/critiques (which did I want this to be?) of education, or CCOAs. My complaint was/is that these critics tend to take the things that rile them (or, more to the point, that rile their readerships outside academia) out of context, giving the false impression that Dildo Studies seminars have replaced Shakespeare. So MSI pointed me to the thorough version. Which I did my best to get through.
It's not an easy read, in part because of minutiae about when students choose an advisor, or which sports are offered, and the fact that it's incredibly repetitive* (just how many times do we need to learn about that cancelled "Queer Gardens" course? or "Modern Western Prostitutes"?), and because why exactly are the presidents of Bowdoin introduced by their religions (a tragic downward spiral leading to the first Jew, one who promotes "diversity"!), but mostly because of bits like this:
“Global citizen” and its family of related terms such as “citizen of the world” are, it should be noted, metaphoric phrases. No one can be, literally, a “citizen of the world,” as the “world” is not a polity. “World citizenship” has no defined or agreed upon rights or responsibilities and, despite such institutions as the World Court, no binding law.Or this:
Relations between Protestants and Catholics at Bowdoin seem placid.Or my favorite:
If this sample group accurately reflects the Bowdoin student body as whole, then approximately 462 Bowdoin students had sex on that one Saturday.One imagines them all in one heap!
Anyway. The document is a somewhat quantitative accounting of things we kind of all already knew existed at liberal-arts colleges - interdisciplinary humanities classes, bins of free condoms, a hippie-dippie social environment that's not for everyone, and programs for LGBT and minority students.
But there's virtually no engagement with the case for, say, gender studies. Or with what it even is. Like, the whole gender-is-a-construct thing. This doesn't mean there aren't biological sexes. It means, well, in part it means that transgender people exist, but it also means that gender is performed. That it isn't biology putting women in dresses and men in pants. It means that when one notes a difference between the behavior or status of men and women, boys and girls, one doesn't automatically assume it's rooted in biology, but first considers social pressures.
Meanwhile, all courses of study that look at the non-Western world are treated as political propaganda and not, you know, courses on the history, literature, or politics of various parts of the world.
And student social life is a decadent orgy, even if it's not.
Point being, while the document is indeed lengthy, and within its length there's more context, the same CCOA problems arise. The same buzzwords inspire panic, rather than inquiry. Specific examples below, by heading from the document itself:
-These "were founded to advance political goals." Do these courses consist of political indoctrination, or is it "political" enough that black or gay people were deemed worthy of being studied? Like, would some other framework for studying these groups, within pre-existing disciplines, be acceptable? Unclear.
"Hooking Up at Bowdoin"
-Starts sensibly enough: "The term 'hooking up' is a bit ambiguous, as it can refer to sexual interaction on the spectrum from kissing to sexual intercourse." Indeed - people "hooked up" on dates in the 1950s. Then we get the usual discussion of sexual promiscuity, which is apparently what kissing more than one person before getting married amounts to.
-"Sometimes students who hook up do form a relationship in the sense of becoming frequent sexual partners—though without the expectation of sexual exclusivity or personal commitment." I know nothing of Bowdoin specifically, but in the world of young people generally, hookups, or whatever we're calling this, is very often the start of a long-term monogamous relationship or even a marriage. Other stats cited give the impression that students in serious relationships, or not involved with anyone, abound. Once you factor in the number of hookups that don't include anything plausibly defined as sex, things start to look a bit less libertine.
-Bowdoin is accepting of gay people, less so of anti-gay people. That the school makes LGBT students feel comfortable is, apparently, a political agenda.
"Identity and Race: Being Different":
"What Students Study":
-Some vague reference to there being more non-canonical than canonical English and History classes, but no ratio. We get a list of "conspicuously nontraditional courses with fairly strong ideological overtones," although I'm having trouble ascertaining the overtones. What's the message behind "Entering Modernity: European Jewry"? That European Jews should or should not have done so? Or of "Comparative Slavery and Emancipation" - I'd imagine the prof thinks slavery's bad, but is that really ideological? And most bafflingly, "Colonial Latin America" - why is a world-history course controversial? We also hear yet again about the cancelled "Queer Gardens" course.
"Faculty Research and Publications":
-Professors sometimes teach courses related to their dissertation topics. The problem being... that students hear about a topic from an expert, along with whichever broader courses? Are any PhDs not trained in teaching fields unrelated to their topic? From the offerings shown, it seems as if there's a mix of general and specific - why is this bad? I'm not sure what the problem is, other than that some dissertations deal with gender, which is squicky, or race and gender, which is doubly squicky. The tone makes clear that we should find the sample partial CVs damning, but why?
-So Bowdoin doesn't teach a single "course on Edmund Spenser." Does every dead white male who could be included in a syllabus merit a single-author course?
-Does Bowdoin really not teach "wisdom" or "culture"? What does that even mean? How could that have been demonstrated, even with over a thousand footnotes?
-I am very nearly asleep. Not entirely the fault of that document.
*"The report as originally written was much longer," we learn. There's additional material on some website. I can't.