by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Warren Treadgold, a professor of Byzantine studies at Saint Louis University, uses a Commentary magazine column to highlight the factors that block conservatives from gaining footholds within university faculties.
The entire article is interesting, but a North Carolina audience might find particular passages intriguing.
In 2015, the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni denounced Republican efforts to cut funding for higher education by describing how he had been “transformed” by a marvelous course in Shakespeare he took from an outstanding teacher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid-1980s. He promptly heard from his old teacher, now at the University of Pennsylvania, that such courses on “dead white men” are thoroughly out of favor in English departments today. “Shakespeare,” she told Bruni, “has become Shakespeare and Film, which in my cranky opinion becomes Film, not Shakespeare.” She advised him to look at the current course offerings of Penn’s English department—“Pulp Fictions,” “Sex and the City,” “Global Feminisms,” “Comic Books and Graphic Novels,” “Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Film,” and “Literatures of Psychoanalysis.” The sort of class that Bruni loved 30 years ago is not the sort that universities now teach.
Treadgold identifies that teacher later in the piece.
Many people outside academics still cannot believe that things are this bad. Often, they know professors from earlier generations who have a genuine interest in their subjects and in scholarship. They know people like Frank Bruni’s brilliant teacher of Shakespeare, Anne Drury Hall. Dr. Hall, who holds the rank not of professor but of lecturer, is now in her early seventies. Her generation, of which I am a somewhat younger member, is either retired or not very far from retirement. Such professors with traditional interests, having first been hired in the dismal academic job market of the ’70s and ’80s, have seldom gained senior positions in prominent universities. These traditional professors, who care more about their fields than about ideology, have only the most marginal influence in their universities, become fewer every year, and in 10 to 20 years will be gone.