The Closing Of The Academic Mind

Gerard Baker has an excellent piece on resignation of Larry Summers at Harvard and what it implies about the academy in America. Baker observes:

Though a liberal Democrat, Summers had a traditional view of what a university should be doing, pursuing truth and excellence wherever it led.As he surveyed the vast ranks of well-paid academic celebrities at Harvard, puffing out their ideologies on women’s studies and black history, he wondered what it was all about. His first run-in was with Cornel West, the black professor, who had produced more rap music in recent years than he had books or papers. After a very public row, West left for the more forgiving pastures of Princeton.

Mr Summers quickly challenged the other pillars of political correctness on which most American universities sit. He opposed an effort to block university investment in Israel and condemned attempts to ban the US Armed Forces from recruiting on campus. Note that these were not assertive steps designed to enforce a particular world view, but the opposite — attempts to keep minds open to the possibility that their accumulated prejudices might need to be re-examined.

But his campaign was a challenge to the view that the approved answers of America’s academic elite to the great issues of our time and history were the whole truth, never to be reopened or re-examined.

The fact is that the academy, especially in the humanities, is less ideologically diverse than nearly any institution in American society. Doctrinaire political correctness is enforced with a zeal that would make the most committed Jesuit look like a slouch. While the academy is supposed to be about the values of the free expression of ideals, intellectual curiosity, and observing the world as it is, the reality is quite the opposite. The secular Trinity of Race, Gender, and Class are the foundation for a worldview that pits the Oppressed against the Oppressors in the kind of Gramscian-Marxist morality play that has long been the hallmark of the New Left. Questioning such ideologies is strictly out of bounds in the academy – the equivalent of thought crime that can quickly see an academic career cut short.

The Summers case indicates precisely why the academy is in desperate and dire need of reform. You can’t achieve the goal of encouraging free discussion in the marketplace of ideas when there is a stultifying climate of ideological repression. When Larry Summers can be dismissed for being political incorrect while Ward Chamberlain can commit academic fraud and lie about his credentials with impunity, it shows exactly how the academy has lost integrity.

It is sad that an institution whose very purpose is supposed to be to encourage free thought and expression seems to be pathologically unable to live up to their own values.

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