Camile Paglia takes Harvard to task on diversity, "diversity in everthing but thought".
Academic, Heal Thyself
By CAMILLE PAGLIA
WHAT went wrong at Harvard?
Tomorrow, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences will meet for the first time since the resignation of the university's president, Lawrence H. Summers, two weeks ago. The dean of Arts and Sciences, William Kirby, resigned in late January, reportedly after clashing with Mr. Summers. When Mr. Summers leaves on July 1, there will be a serious leadership vacuum at Harvard, which has been torn by strife during his short five-year tenure.
Larry Summers, a former Treasury secretary, assumed the presidency with a high sense of mission. Determined to effect change, he took bold and confrontational positions. He endorsed proposals to expand the campus across the Charles River to Allston, attacked anti-Semitism and rampant grade inflation and laudably argued for the return of R.O.T.C. to Harvard.
But whatever his good intentions, Mr. Summers often inspired more heat than light. His stellar early career as an economics professor did not prepare him for dealing with an ingrown humanities faculty that has been sunk in political correctness for decades. As president, he had a duty to research the tribal creeds and customs of those he wished to convert. Foolishly thinking plain speech and common sense would suffice, he flunked Academic Anthropology 101.
While many issues are rumored to have played a role in Mr. Summers's resignation (including charges of favoritism in a messy legal case involving foreign investments), the controversy that will inevitably symbolize his presidency was the manufactured outcry early last year over his glancing reference at a conference to possible innate differences between the sexes in aptitude for science and math. The feminist pressure groups rose en masse from their lavishly feathered nests and set up a furious cackle that led to a 218-to-185 vote of no confidence by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last March.
Instead of welcoming this golden opportunity to introduce the forbidden subject of biology to academic gender studies (where a rigid dogma of social constructionism reigns), Mr. Summers collapsed like a rag doll. A few months later, after issuing one abject apology after another, he threw $50 million at a jerrybuilt program to expand the comfort zone of female scientists and others on campus. That one desperate act of profligate appeasement tells volumes about the climate of persecution and extortion around gender issues at too many American universities.
In a widely reported incident four years ago, Mr. Summers's private conversation with Cornel West, one of Harvard's short list of distinguished scholars who have the title of "university professor" (because they teach across department lines), resulted in Dr. West angrily decamping to Princeton. Whatever critique of affirmative action Mr. Summers intended was lost in what became a soap opera of hurt feelings and facile accusations of racism.
There was a larger issue of campus governance at stake. While it is certainly in Harvard's best interests to ensure that its university professors remain productive at a high scholarly level (the president reportedly slighted Dr. West's recording of a rap CD), it is unclear on what authority Mr. Summers was challenging Dr. West in the first place. The provost, not the president, is the chief academic officer of any university. But Harvard reinstituted a provost only in the early 1990's, and the weakness of that position is suggested by the provost's near invisibility through the public battles of the Summers regime.
The ideological groupthink of Harvard's humanities faculty does patent disservice to the undergraduates in their charge, but it is the faculty alone that should properly determine curriculum and academic policy, a responsibility that descends from the birth of European universities in the Middle Ages. Over the past 40 years, there has been a radical expansion of administrative bureaucracies on American college campuses that has distorted the budget and turned education toward consumerism, a checkbook alliance with parents who are being bled dry by grotesquely exorbitant tuitions.
Mr. Summers's strategic blunders unfortunately took the spotlight off entrenched political correctness and changed the debate to academic power: who has it, and how should it be exercised? Nationwide, campus administrations faced with factionalized or obdurate faculties have in some cases taken matters into their own hands by creating programs or reducing and even eliminating departments. The trend is disturbingly away from faculty power.
Hence more is at stake in the Harvard affair than merely one overpriced campus with an exaggerated reputation. Support for Larry Summers was strong among Harvard undergraduates and outside the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which constitutes only one of Harvard's many colleges and professional schools. The Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz protested that Mr. Summers had been removed by "a coup d'état." But by his failure to provide a systematic rationale for his words and actions, Mr. Summers gave the impression of governing by whim and impulse. The leader of so huge and complex an institution cannot be a whirling dervish.
IT now remains to be seen whether Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences is capable of self-critique. Will its members acknowledge their own insularity and excesses, or will they continue down the path of smug self-congratulation and vanity? Harvard's reputation for disinterested scholarship has been severely gored by the shadowy manipulations of the self-serving cabal who forced Mr. Summers's premature resignation. That so few of the ostensibly aggrieved faculty members deigned to speak on the record to The Crimson, the student newspaper, illustrates the cagey hypocrisy that permeates fashionable campus leftism, which worships diversity in all things except diversity of thought.
If Harvard cannot correct itself in this crisis, it will signal that academe cannot be trusted to reform itself from within. There is a rising tide of off-campus discontent with the monolithic orthodoxies of humanities departments. David Horowitz, a 1960's radical turned conservative, has researched the lopsided party registration of humanities professors (who tend to be Democrats like me) and proposed an "academic bill of rights" to guarantee fairness and political balance in the classroom. The conservative radio host Sean Hannity regularly broadcasts students' justifiable complaints about biased teachers and urges students to take recording devices to class to gather evidence.
These efforts to hold professors accountable are welcome and bracing, but the danger is that such tactics can be abused. Tenure owes its very existence to past intrusions by state legislatures in the curricular business of state universities. If politicians start to meddle in campus governance, academic freedom will be the victim. And when students become snitches, we are heading toward dictatorship by Mao's Red Guards or Hitler Youth.
Over the last three decades of trendy poststructuralism and postmodernism, American humanities professors fell under the sway of a ruthless guild mentality. Corruption and cronyism became systemic, spread by the ostentatious conference circuit and the new humanities centers of the 1980's. Harvard did not begin that blight but became an extreme example of it. Amid the ruins of the Summers presidency, there is a tremendous opportunity for recovery and renewal of the humanities. Which way will Harvard go?
Camille Paglia is the university professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
very interesting article, especially as paglia is, sadly, one of those "mock at all costs" feminists according to arfcom dogma. she, along with simone de beauvoir, temper their feminist worldview with common sense and critical thought.
That is liberal arts for you. They are broken beyond repair. Fundamental problems in their outlook.
The sciences are broken too, but in a different way and not as badly. They still manage to limp along. The sciences mostly suffer from a funding problem. For the past 60 years, the biggest partner of the universities was the federal government. Not anymore. Industry is being tapped to fill the gap, but they do things their own way and are cutting blue-sky funding now also. Short term, short term.
Then you have the people. Some do original work and get results. Those carry the rest of them on their backs. The rest are just interested in parroting their pre-conceived notions. Instead of letting experimental data determine things, they manipulate and selectively present to support whatever position they advocate. Or they just ignore the real world because they are theory and "pure", which does have its purpose but is often misused.
Maybe it was always this way? I don't know. There was more money to throw around then and stiffer competition for fewer positions, so maybe it didn't show up as much or wasn't as big an issue. Or maybe it was and people just selectively remember the past or the deadweight gets lost in the sands of time.
Scientific awards and the scientific community is just as big a circle-jerk scam as the Oscars and Hollywood, only a)they aren't rich and b)they don't have the exposure, so no one cares.
For what it is worth, the money issue will sort out a lot of these problems. The purpose of a university in society has changed though. It has gone from a center of higher learning to a trade school. That needs to be addressed, too.
The biggest problems with the sciences is they graduate far more scientists than the research universities or private industry can use.
This has always been true. Scientific research has always paid squat unless you are one of the few elite. Most people don't get tenure. Positions have always been scarce. It took Albert Einstein years and years to get a university position. The trend has been for things to get worse, but it is cyclical. The bottom fell out of the physics business in the 1970s, but what will happen once all of those old guys who worked on the Manhatten project die off? That's right, some of them are still working. Still, it is all relative. The academic world is a bad one to make a career in. If you want to be rich, go into business. If you want a comfortable living, go into engineering. Anything else and you are wasting your time.
People choose careers in academia because...who knows why? It doesn't make any sense to me. But plenty of people do. It just kind of happens. Idealism or masochism? It all comes out the same in the end.
Its true - academia is not for those who want to be fabulously wealthy unless you are one of the elite or Danish
For me it was mostly idealism, but with a little masochism thrown in too.
I decided to get my Ph.D. because I became enamored with the creation of knowledge -- especially through experimental design. I had some talent for it and I did well through graduate school. Unfortunately for me I followed my bliss and chose to study a small niche in a relatively unpopular area of my field and not many univerities were looking to hire someone like me. But I did find one school and they pay me a little better than average. I can live with my choices, but sometimes I do consider a career change when money gets tight.
But most days are good in academia. I like teaching, I like doing research, and I like doing service to the community.
Plus my university it 73% women -- southern women (hubba hubba).
Summers will be vindicated. More and more people in the social sciences are embracing genetic based differences between individuals and groups -- including differences between men and women that may play out in career choices and career achievement.
Genetic based differences in mental and behavioral traits has a long history in social sciences but it has been rocky. Prior to to WWII the idea that psychological traits were inherited was very mainstream. Intelligence, for example, as an inherited characteristic seemed self-evident. Research certainly backed up the assertions (although some of the research was flawed). Scientists and politicians started thinking about improving society by increasing the number of people with more desirable inherited traits. Its started off with encouraging those with desirable traits to breed more (google fitter family contests), but it also involved preventing some individuals from passing along their undesirable traits (google forced sterilzations). Eugenics, both positive and negative, was very mainstream.
Things got murky when wholesale action was taken against groups of people without measuring the traits of individuals. For example, many Americans and US politicians were trying to keep out eastern Europeans and mediterranean types because they would taint the gene pool. Of course the epitome of a eugenics disaster was realized in Nazi Germany. After the holocaust was revealed, eugenics became a dirty word and the usefullness of the science of inherited characteristics was questioned. People generally feared being called a nazi if they discussed genes and human behavior/traits.
The pendulum swung. The default position was that every person has the same potential for success in any area of life and that social prejudices and socially dictated experiences were the only thing that kept people down. The humanities professors and social scientists who voted against Summers were probably educated in that intellectual environment. But they are getting old and will die off or retire soon enough. This is not to say that racism, sexism and other discrimination doesn't exist, but discrimination is but one piece of the puzzle.
Genetics research never died away, but behavioral geneticists learned to keep their heads down. And now it is their time to come back to the table. The description of the basic human genome has reopened the doors to the study of genes and human traits. Much more will be revealed soon.
(sorry for the typos, its late and I had a few beers).
and I do think it was always this way, in fact it was much worse for much longer.
Another good post.
My friend is in the same boat, he's in school to teach philosophy instead of making big money. He claims he loves it though. I think he likes it for similar reasons (girls etc.)