Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bias in Academia

Rose Nunez (one of whose paintings I really want to buy) has a round-up of some discussion about the left-wing bias of academia and why it exists.

This is one of the problems that drives me crazy because there are some many conflations on both sides that it becomes almost impossible to compare apples to apples.

For example, there are two separate questions intermingled in a lot of the discussion about academic hiring: the first, is the problem of explicitly identified people with certain political positions being rejected for jobs. I have not seen this actually happen from the hiring side, because I have never seen a 'conservative' application submitted. But I state with utmost confidence that any applicant in English who somehow indicated that he or she was Republican would be passed over even if that word was never discussed. I think this is a really serious problem on one hand, but on the other, it's easy enough to disguise things like this and un-do the screen. The existence of the bias is so obvious that one can avoid it. I don't think it should exist, and I think it is small-minded, immature and pathetic to discriminate against members of the other political party (it shows that you take partisan politics way too seriously to ever be a good literary scholar, in my opinion), but it's not a killing bias.

No, the real killing bias is built into the graduate programs and the fields of literary study and the way they've accepted explicit, partisan political objectives as part of the field's definition. I also think this is pathetic. I don't need to justify medieval studies with the laugh-worthy claim that it is going to undermine some oppressive social order. I could undermine orders much more effectively as a politician or a lawyer than as a professor. But due to the deep, deep insecurity that so many humanities fields have internalized, it becomes necessary to make grandiose political claims for one's scholarship. There's an 'arms race' here where each succeeding Ph.D. has to claim that his or her research will overturn more of the social order. Ain't happenin.

This screen very effectively blocks out many individuals who haven't drunk the Kool Aid and don't believe that the reason to study medieval literature is to be able to deconstruct 21st century advertising or yammer about how much one hates Geo. Bush. You can learn to avoid this screen as well, 'talking the talk' of whatever is fashionable, and then, when you have your tenure, you can do whatever the hell you want. That's very difficult, and there's a lot of self-repression necessary, and of course this is unfair to students, but the system is only going to be changed by rebellion from within.

One thing that would help--and this is for another post, as baby did not take a long nap today and I'm doing the bobbing chicken right now--would be for people to start developing different models of scholarship that don't go 'back' to the new criticism or the old philology, but also reject, say, Foucault, Derrida, and the other continental philosophers and instead try to build something new. That's what I'm trying to do in How Tradition Works, which should be published soon. Then you'll see if it worked.

And since the NEA rejected my application today, I have no problem with that particular band of toadies and incompetents being dissolved and the savings used for kudzu eradication efforts.


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