This speech was presented at the College Abuse Conference in Durham, North Carolina, on May 8, 2004. Thanks to Robert "Whit" Whitfield for sponsoring the event, and to Dr. Christina Jeffrey of Spartanburg, South Carolina, for her hard work in organizing the conference. I have added an occasional line here and there, and retitled the speech for LewRockwell.com.
I am an Independent Scholar. That is, I do intellectual work and sometimes publish scholarly articles and reviews without an academic position. I am, however, an ex-faculty member. I have no special need to talk about myself, but since this is an academic abuse conference and since I can speak to that topic from a wide spectrum of experiences, let me say this: there are (at least) two brands of abuse occurring in academia today. There is the familiar ideological abuse of professors or would-be professors who are not sufficiently left-liberal. Then there is the petty abuse of junior faculty by senior faculty who feel threatened when their juniors surpass them in achievement. I have experienced both but will limit my remarks to the first.
I was one of those who began warning 15 years ago where affirmative action was taking us. Later in my book Civil Wrongs I argued that political correctness (PC) developed in part to protect affirmative action from sustained criticism. I also argued both there and elsewhere that identity politics and group entitlements would spread. We would see efforts to suppress criticism. Increasingly brazen leftists would sabotage the careers of their opponents if they could. And if unchecked, PC would spread from academia to the rest of society. I also predicted in 1994 that the rising homosexual movement, just then being embraced by the PC crowd, would place PC and Christianity on collision course. All these predictions have come true. But for having made them, I became a pariah in South Carolina, a state whose major philosophy departments are dominated by the cultural Marxist element.
We could use reminding that affirmative action's academic charity cases have said some genuinely loopy things. For example, radical feminist "philosopher of science" Sandra Harding described Newton's and Bacon's ideas as constituting a "rape manual." (A presumably masculine Science penetrates a presumably reluctant feminine nature's secrets: get it?) Radical feminist law professor Catharine MacKinnon once characterized all traditional voluntary sexual intercourse as akin to rape. Radical feminist "philosopher" Alison Jaggar once characterized a candlelight dinner between couples as a form of prostitution. Afrocentrists proclaim that black people began civilization on an Africa that was plundered by Europeans for slaves. Afrocentrist Leonard Jeffries distinguished aggressive and competitive "ice people" from peaceful and communal "sun people." I could go on. The research is wretched; the writing reads like that of student revolutionaries in terminal adolescence. The most recent justification for the domination of academia by leftists is that "liberals are smarter." This was actually said by Robert Brandon, chair of the philosophy department at Duke University, in a statement replete with logical fallacies. Example: "most stupid people are conservative," he said, clearly intending us to infer that "most conservatives are stupid." That is like arguing from all dogs are mammals to all mammals are dogs (the formal fallacy is called illicit conversion). Such is academia in 2004: comparable not so much to a sinking ship as to a train in free fall, having gone off an unseen cliff.
As for the spreading of PC beyond the walls of ivy, there is an abundance of horror stories. We are at the point where it can be hard to work for a corporation if you violate PC taboos. A Christian man named Rolf Szabo was fired from Kodak after protesting an emailed memo about homosexuality. John Rocker, one-time relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, told the truth about the denizens of New York subways and was ordered by Major League Baseball to have a psychiatric evaluation. Successful business people are vulnerable. In the Columbia area, Maurice Bessinger's wholesale barbecue distribution business was wiped out after a scurrilous story in the local newspaper accused him of believing in slavery. To come full circle, I should mention North Carolina historian Jack Perdue who taught a course on the War Between the States at a community college co-sponsored by Sons of Confederate Veterans. A hostile reporter described the course as stating that slaves were happy as slaves. No one bothered to check the story for accuracy (Perdue had said no such thing). After a year of being savaged mercilessly by the national news media, Jack Perdue died of a heart attack.
These are just a few examples of the effects of PC on the larger society. It started in academia, then spread via the media and the political system. It has infected corporate America with a vengeance. Ideas do have consequences; bad ideas are destructive.
But the real question is, Where do we go from here?
Let's acknowledge that the PC crowd controls higher education. Its influence is in evidence everywhere. There is, however, an increasingly determined counterassault in progress. Armed with documents such as the Academic Bill of Rights – not to mention the U.S. Constitution itself – there are students, faculty and former faculty who refuse to be silenced. Let me discuss one promising arena for the counterassault.
Even as PC was spreading, we saw the meteoric rise of a remarkable new medium: the Internet. Websites devoted to uncensored commentary began appearing in the late 1990s. The first was the Drudge Report (which first broke the Monica Lewinsky story), soon followed by WorldNetDaily.com, LewRockwell.com, and VDare.com, among others. Also emerging were online universities, the largest of which is the University of Phoenix. Many if not most colleges and universities now have "distance learning" facilities where course content can be uploaded. Their students can be anywhere in the world.
We have also seen the rapid growth of homeschooling. Homeschoolers realize that government schools are in serious trouble, from their having been co-opted by agendas that have nothing to do with genuine education. After the Columbine killings it became clear that government schools are not even necessarily safe. Christian parents are removing their children from these schools.
The prospects exist for a remarkable dovetailing of interests here. I see a potential for the formation of new institutions, their primary base of operations online (but not limited to that). They will operate at different levels: higher, secondary and elementary. They will not be business-technical schools organized around the purely vocational or "school-to-work" model of education. Why not an online liberal arts college employing the classical model of education, for those who want the kind of learning that is capable of producing citizens of a free republic, as opposed to subjects of our present welfare-warfare state? To fulfill their goals, they would have to be degree-granting institutions that can compete head-to-head with the existing ones, however that minefield is negotiated. Be this as it may, these new institutions will be unafraid to be explicitly Christian if this is the choice of their founders and their students. They will teach traditional subjects in traditional ways. There will be, that is, an explicit commitment to learning and communicating truth as an end in itself. They will be committed to educating individuals capable of becoming citizens of a free society – a society of individuals devoted to the ideals of Constitutionally limited government under the rule of law. Such citizens will be suspicious of concentrations of power because their education will have made them aware of the reality of original sin.
If this conference is the first in a series, it is important that we do not just have "gripe sessions." We must think strategically towards new institutions. Even though we will not have the media on our side, we must not fail to translate our beliefs into constructive actions. I look forward to working with any and all toward the creation and building up of "parallel institutions" capable of competing openly with an educational mainstream that has turned against this country's founding principles with a vengeance.
May 15, 2004
Steven Yates [send him mail] has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (1994). He is an adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His new book, In Defense of Logic, is almost completed. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and plans to launch his author's website soon.