by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Now teaching at the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Public Policy, Steven Hayward devotes a National Review cover story to the academic year he just spent as the token — er, explicitly designated — conservative visiting faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The whole article is worth a read, as Hayward’s fans might expect, but one particular passage struck this observer as especially interesting. It follows Hayward’s description of the “hospitable” reception he encountered among fellow faculty members, even those with an openly liberal political viewpoint.
Gradually coming into focus is the plain fact that today we have two universities — the traditional university, which, while mostly left-liberal, still resides on Planet Earth, and the grievance university, mired in the morass of postmodern obsession with oppression and privilege. You can still get a decent education, even from very liberal professors — I had several excellent ones as both an undergraduate and a graduate student — if they teach the subject matter reasonably, and I came to respect several far-left professors at Boulder who plainly held to traditional views about the importance of reason, objectivity, and truth. But these traditional hallmarks of the university — one might call them the original holy trinity of higher education — are fighting words to the postmodern Left, which openly rejects reason, objectivity, and truth as tools of oppression.
Bit by bit, the traditional university is losing ground to the politically correct university by an academic version of Gresham’s Law: Politicized scholarship drives out old-fashioned objective scholarship. The self-refuting character of postmodern ideology — isn’t the statement that “reason, objectivity, truth, and language are ‘socially constructed’” itself “socially constructed”? — might provide hope that it will go the way of previous academic fads. Will we look back 40 years from now on gender studies as a quaint and embarrassing misadventure like the Freudian obsession of the 1950s, which burst the bounds of psychology and cut a wide swath through many academic disciplines before fading of its own dead weight?
Probably not, for two reasons. First, the grievance industry has achieved critical mass, institutionalizing itself at the administrative level, especially in the domain of feminist “gender equity,” with a strong assist from the federal government’s tendentious application of Title IX and a copious flow of federal grants for “research” into politicized topics. The radical temper is typically knitted tightly together through a variety of campus “centers” and interdisciplinary programs. It’s hard to count all of the leftist programs at Boulder; examples include CLASP (the program in Culture, Language and Social Practice), the Gender Justice League, the Women’s Resource Center, the GLBTQ Resource Center, the Program in Peace and Conflict Studies (in the communications department?), as well as a student group whose sole purpose is making sure The Vagina Monologues stays in regular production in Boulder. Second and more important, the Freudianism and Marxism of a generation ago were at least based on purported scientific theories, grounded in ideas about nature, however defective. You could argue with a Marxist. Today’s ruling campus leftist ideology is indistinguishable from nihilism and rejects any consideration of nature as the ground of anything. In fact, invoking human nature is one of the surest ways of calling down ferocious denunciation from the campus Left.