The reader and personal friend I spoke of in this morning’s post writes about why he decided that he has no future in academia, even though he has spent the last decade acquiring expertise in his field:

When I applied to Ph.D. programs in 2012, I kept telling myself that I had done my due diligence. I knew that the deck was stacked against heterosexual white Christian men. I knew that the job market was awful, and that “success” would likely mean having to relocate at least twice after finishing. I applied anyway, because I had already learned a great deal about my area of expertise—not just in prestigious university classrooms, but through the better part of a decade spent in the real-world environment of my discipline—and I wanted to share what I had learned there with students who were interested to learn it. I loved my discipline, as I loved the university, the pursuit of knowledge and the careful maintenance of a tradition of learning. I was rewarded with multiple fully-funded offers from top programs, and accepted an offer that included an additional internal fellowship.

What broke me wasn’t the exponentially increasing hostility against whites and against men and against Christians in the American university system over the past six years. The rate of acceleration and the biliousness of the hatred have come as something of a surprise, but to some degree, I expected it. That writing has been on the wall for a long time. No, what broke me was not that they hated me, but that they hated the very idea of excellence, the existence of such a thing as mastery.

It’s difficult to explain to people who aren’t in the academic humanities, both because it is a subtle phenomenon and because it is so utterly insane. “Don’t you spend years writing several-hundred-page monographs? Don’t people complain about academics knowing more and more about less and less?” The truth of the matter is that accusations of “overspecialization” need to be carefully qualified. Yes, the nominal objects of academic inquiry have become narrowly circumscribed to the point of de facto irrelevance. But the actual contents of these inquiries are all more or less the same, because every grant, every teaching position, every course demands these inquiries be justified in terms of their “relevance.”

What does it mean for an academic study to be “relevant”? It will surprise precisely no one to learn that “relevance” typically means that the study has left-wing political cash value, in terms of e.g. “social justice.” However, in my view even more insidiously, “relevance” also means that these studies must be “interdisciplinary.” These studies must “contribute” to the “discourse” of academic humanities. They must, in other words, be intelligible to academic humanitarians in disciplines other than one’s own.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with writing for a general audience, nor for a general audience of other academics. The problem is that the presuppositions and requirements of the academic humanities “discourse” have metastasized and taken over all the individual fields of study. Again, it will surprise precisely no one to learn that this discourse is inseparable from a vaguely Marxist, “social justice” left-wing political stance. But the requirements of this discourse are the actual death of scholarship. One must write in a peculiar sort of patois, using words like “frame” and “problematize” and “discourse.” (Example: this essay is framed as a problematization of the discourse of academic humanities). One must never defend the correctness of one’s conclusions, in fact it is ideal to be as vague as possible about what one’s conclusions actually are. The notion that certain ideas or conclusions are correct, and others incorrect, is hopelessly retrograde. Nothing simply is as it is; everything must be “framed.”

Above all, though, one must be “inclusive.” One may not “privilege” any type of literary canon, or those (high status men) who put it together. If for example a literary tradition, Western or non-Western, represents itself as the transmission from highly-learned scholar to highly-learned scholar of a definite body of knowledge—including, most especially, the Western academic tradition up until about 1990—this transmission must be “problematized” and deconstructed. One may study this transmission only as an ancillary feature of something else: its social-historical context, perhaps, or the autobiographical narratives of the women who cooked the scholars’ food. One must prioritize the “subaltern,” the “marginalized.” One must focus on a graffito scrawled on the outside wall of the palace; one can only under great epistemological duress, and with many methodological apologies for one’s prurient interest in “privileged” points of view, be allowed to look inside it. One must under no circumstances simply study texts, or the ideas expressed by texts, in and of themselves. If one is studying a text in a language other than English, for example, it is never enough to simply translate and analyze that text, as was common scholarly practice late into the twentieth century. Such simple projects of translation and analysis are not “relevant” to the wider audience of academic humanitarians, who do not care about the text or the ideas in the text, but for whom one must nevertheless write.

The final result of all of this has been a decline in the quality of scholarship even more precipitous than the plunging admissions standards for undergraduates. This is not about jargon or the infamously turgid academic prose. It is a basic question of standards. And increasingly the only standard in effect is: does this study conform to the expectations of academic humanities discourse? Does it adopt the half-sociological, half-deconstructionist vocabulary of that discourse? Does it possess the correct political implications? If so, a great deal of methodological and analytic error, indeed a great deal of ignorance about one’s supposed area of expertise, may be forgiven. Conversely, the more detailed and technical the study; the more it conforms to pre-postmodern notions of expertise and scholarship; the more it concerns the deep and abiding concerns of human knowledge and human existence; in short, the more it demonstrates mastery of a traditional discipline—the more likely it will be ignored, cast away, punished. Academics in the humanities desire nothing so much as the endless reproduction of the discourse. Anything that threatens this reproduction, or which is not reproducible in the terms of the discourse, is shunted aside.

Naturally, the fewer languages or other skills are required in a given area of study, the more aggressive the cancer. High barriers to entry serve as a natural bulwark against the encroachment of mediocrity. Thus, as the pseudonymous Sandra Kotta detailed in a brilliant series of essays, the rot is perhaps the worst in English literature and Creative Writing programs, where open hostility to the very idea of being educated in a definite body of knowledge (that is, rebellion against “elitism”) is celebrated. But, in essence, all academic writing must now be pitched such that professors of English and Sociology are able to read it, irrespective of whether they possess any prerequisite knowledge or skills. Failure to do so would constitute a politically suspect lack of “relevance.”

And this, in the end, is what broke me. I could perhaps have endured the indignities of dhimmitude, if it meant studying what I loved and teaching it to interested students. But it has become clear that the academic humanities, as a whole and at their highest levels, just are not interested in what would have been recognizable as quality scholarship even two decades ago. There do exist, of course, brilliant people doing great work. But they always have to look over their shoulder, always have to carefully justify themselves, always have to express themselves in the language and thought-patterns of the discourse. No one can simply excel at what they do, everyone must instead be factored into the lowest common denominator. The problem is, as the number of factors in the lowest common denominator increases to infinity, the value goes to zero.

UPDATE: Alan Jacobs says this guy is wrong.  Excerpt:

What my experience — and that of several of my friends, not just Chad — tells me is that the state of the humanities in the American university is far, far more complex and variable than Rod’s friend thinks. Look at how universal his judgments are, how often he speaks of “all,” “every,” “no one,” “always.” These statements are simply incorrect. I know first-hand many exceptions to his universal judgments.

Generally speaking, Christians in the academy have a pretty tough go of it these days. But there are, occasionally, open doors for people who have the wit and the strategic nous to get through them. Rather than throw up our hands and walk away, I think we should redouble our efforts to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. There are some good examples out there for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

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  1. Seoulite says:

    @liberal arts faculty

    The fact that it doesn’t seem to occur to you that something may be rotten about large amounts of money (universities pay thousands of dollars for access to these journals that no one is bothered enough to read, and where do universities get their money again?) being paid to you but students and tax payers to do pointless filler work is deeply troubling. You must be far, far inside the bubble, and have a very high estimate of your hourly worth.

    Since you do so much pointless filler, how much can we cut your salary by? Let’s start with 30%? Then we can cut tuition fees by a good amount too. Sounds good, right?

  2. Q says:

    In Winston-Salem in the 80s it was the custom that all school principals were former P.E. teachers. Don’t know the chicken/egg provenance of that but there it was. By 11th grade or so the difference-in-kind between e.g. my brilliant AP English teacher and the thuggish a.p. was pretty stark, and nothing that happened to me in college or grad school gave me reason to unthunk the thought that there was where the rot was. God bless, there must have been some good ones among em.

    (And it must be said that P.E. was a fine redoubt for secret N.C. lesbians and I mean no disrespect. The principals were of course all men.)

  3. St Patrick says:

    I’m sorry for the individual concerned. It’s a tough situation.

    But (1) sometimes conservatives valorise the academic past, as if there was once a golden age of scholarship within which Christians could operate without challenge. But that hasn’t been the case since the Renaissance – those Enlightenment and Romantic theorists were operating with presuppositions that are antithetical to the faith, if not in such an immediately obvious way as those of the current crop of theorists.

    (2) There are plenty of campuses – even in the top 1% of universities worldwide – where Christians can find a home, where non-Cristian colleagues recognise the absurdity of some of the political re-education programs that are expressed in campus policies, and where (as in my case) we can push on with whatever research and teaching we want without intervention. And other opportunities do exist: there are very generous funding programmes that can link US scholars who have recent PhDs with colleagues in Europe who can host a 2 or 3 year fellowship. It’s not USA or bust.

    Anyway (3), in Europe, we are dealing with two problems simultaneously – the neoliberal revolution in thinking about the purpose of the university (“make it relevant”) and the left-wing and identity politics causes that challenge (not always in an unhelpful way) the way we think about knowledge (“make it equal”). In my university, one of the current proposals is to make sure that all bibliographies are constructed of work by male and female authors in equal measure. Never mind that women’s studies courses draw mostly on women authors, and that the proposal will really eviscerate that discipline. And never mind that the proposal itself is entirely binary in its thinking about gender. After a while, campus radicalism, even when it’s supported by university policy, deconstructs itself. So we just sit it out and wait for the inevitable.

  4. dvxprime says:

    I am pressed for time and getting ready for work, so I won’t try to match in length or ideas the comments posted here.

    However, I find it ironic that people claimed that mostly uneducated (w/o college degrees, maybe?) people voted for Trump. If this, and other examples well posted by Rod, is what academia is passing out as higher education, then the American Left have one more reason to blame themselves for electing Donald Trump as President.

  5. Pat says:

    Old West wrote: When there really is a right answer and the consequences for coming up short are unacceptable, people don’t much care about your ideology or religion. Whether you were a Jewish doctor in the 1950s or a black pro basketball player in the 1990s or a Pakistani engineer in the 2000s, it has always mattered to choose something with objective standards if you don’t have connections.

    While I share your feelings about objective standards and the advantages of working in areas where whether you’re right or wrong actually matters, the examples you chose have given me pause – considering how many jewish scientists ended up in this country because they were escaping persecution in Europe, and how difficult life off the ball field could be for even an expert black ball player.

    We can trust nature to reward accuracy and expertise, but not society. I think this is part of the appeal of frontier life, as well as of science; that you’re up against an honest adversary.

  6. Northmoor says:

    “. . . humor and fun go a long way in places where there seems to be nothing but earnest, self-righteousness politicized rage-based sophism.” [Mac61]

    Words to live by, even if you find yourself in a sort of modern-day “La vita è bella”. Resistance can take many forms, even if sometimes the best you can do is syncopate the elites’ rigid rhythms.

    With respect to the “graffito on the palace wall”: mebbe so, but perhaps at least sometimes a welcome correction. I can take or leave (OK, mostly leave) Mary Beard’s politics, for example, but she seems to have a pretty good sense of humor, can convey her scholarship to a wide audience, and her focus on how the commoner sort viewed the great events of the day is refreshing.

  7. Mark VA says:

    To the scholars among us:

    This predicament, sadly yet fortunately, is not unprecedented. Thus, please get over the shock and the anger rooted in having seen and experienced this hostile takeover and purge. Now is the time to start the construction of the American version of Václav Benda’s Parallel Polis;

    Consider the present advantages: you are still free to associate and speak in recognizable English, and today’s technology is overwhelmingly favorable to the Parallel Polis. Also, how difficult can it be to create one’s own accreditation standards, and offer education based on the “Flying University” predecessors? Most important, if history is any guide, once you demonstrate your mettle, serious students will flock to you in droves, for they are hungry;

    History also shows, over and over, that some of the greatest works can be created when the artists, writers, and civil society in general, are assaulted by the powerful. However, a lower path can lead to the “one scholar, one book, one 40-watt light bulb” way of eking out an existence – the “Tenebrae” model. As a pragmatic idealist, I believe it will be the former, and it will to the rebirth of all that is best and noble about America.

  8. Thymoleontas says:

    I agree. The problems listed above are leading already to the institutional death of the academic humanities, since they are having a really hard time competing with the STEM disciplines in the battle for funds and faculty lines.

    Institutionally, higher ed is in a crisis, which I think will alter the entire enterprise. The university as we now it may be gone by 2030.

    So, let’s make something new. I would like to see the divorce of undergraduate programs from the Research 1 university. Let’s create an archipelago of compact, flexible, well-led institutions devoted to resurrecting liberal learning.

  9. RealAlan says:

    If all Jacobs can say by way of rebuttal is “But there are, occasionally, open doors for people who have the wit and the strategic nous to get through them.”, while Jacobs himself states “I am almost certainly unemployable in my field (English literature) outside the world of Christian higher education”, Jacobs’s post seems to me more a confirmation of the original poster’s claims than a rebuttal.

    I read the original poster not as saying that employment in the academy and publication is impossible, but that he did not wish to spend his entire career in the position alike to member of the Resistance in a totalitarian regime. They broke him; perhaps there are people who can’t be broken, or who think they can’t be.

  10. Roger says:

    Alan Jacobs is right: there ARE exceptions to the dire situation described by Rod’s anonymous friend. But they are few, and becoming fewer. I teach in a humanities (languages) department myself, but my language only has a minor (East Asian), and I am so out of every loop that I don’t often feel immediately pressured by campus orthodoxies. It’s on those occasions when, against my better judgment, I attend a faculty lecture series that I really feel like an outsider. Most of them are like attending political chapel, and leave me wondering what the hell I’m doing pretending to be one of them. I’m extremely pessimistic about the future of the humanities. Each paper I read, each lecture I attend, seems to be an attempt to outdo the others in transgressiveness, a sort of one-upmanship in “edginess.”

  11. Chris - the other one says:

    As someone also in the academic humanities, I would like to reply to a number of the commenters on this post:

    So-called ‘canonical texts of the Western tradition’ are actually at the root of the problem. Not because they’ve been abandoned by the academy but because they’ve been studied to death.

    There are only so many dissertations and books that can be written about Thucydides, Plato, Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare, Don Quixote, etc before people start repeating themselves. So in order to find new topics for their dissertations, people started turning towards the apparatus of critical theory, examinations of the other, et al in order to find news ways to look at these texts which were original enough to pass muster for a dissertation, or to get published in a major journal.

    This is the real reason why, as the original letter writer notes, “the rot is perhaps the worst in English literature and Creative Writing programs.” The rot is there because all the great texts of English literature have been studied to death, and people had to figure out a way to say new things about them in order to come up with something barely original. This is also the case in medieval studies, Classics, and literature departments in other major European languages (German, French, Italian).

    All of these fields have taken a major turn towards critical theory in recent decades, and the roots of that turn are found not in critical theory itself but in the ‘publish or perish’ research ideal of the modern university which demands that its professors regularly churn out new scholarship in the fields that they study.

  12. Ain't Ben says:

    If this had been written by a woman or a black man or anybody other than a white male conservative Christian – just change a few details here and there, make it a law firm or tech company or public office instead of a university – nearly all of the commenters that are nodding along in uncritical sympathy would be singing a very different tune.

    Of course, if it were written by some other type of person, we wouldn’t be reading about it here because it doesn’t fit the the narrative.

    It’s tribalism, through and through. Do I think myself above it and unbiased? No, but I do think myself more fair and less automatically biased than most. I am, at the very least, more capable of seeing my own biases.

    If I read a woman or person of color writing something like this, my first thought would still be to roll my eyes and wonder if they’re really half as excellent as they claim to be, if their antagonists are real, or really out to get them. If I read “I knew the deck was stacked against homosexual, black atheist women,” I’d know that I had a narrator with a deep investment in their own story of persecution and blame. An unreliable narrator, to say the least.

    If you’re one of the people expressing uncritical sympathy for this guy, ask yourself what your reaction would be to the exact same self-pitying, self-exonerating, “they’re all out to get me” story coming from a different sort of person. Maybe you’ll start to see your biases too.

  13. mp says:

    I understand the general point of view of this blog and the writer, but it is at least a partially ignorant point of view. It’s the point of view of an intelligent young scholar, but also the point of view of someone who doesn’t know the various pressures his humanities department is under. “Interdisciplinary studies” is often loved more by administrations and students than by departments. Students get to take a variety of classes and plan their own programs; administrators get to say they’re being innovative. Departments, meanwhile, receive less money. Interdisciplinary studies and politically obvious material are also easier to explain the practical benefit of research.

    To receive funding, members of his department must annually show, to people who never read books, the practical value of their work. They also want to be able to call themselves innovative. Classical, traditional scholarship is not sexy to them.

    Let me say this, too: the idea that no one in his department supports his research into the work of an important canonical author strikes me as unlikely. If that is what happened, he chose the wrong school. That is, he did not research the professors at that school before applying for admission. If he had, he would’ve seen that no one was actually interested in what he was interested in, and he would’ve looked elsewhere.

    I counsel lots of students before they go on graduate-level work. Your teachers are more important than the name of the university. Know their work before you sign up to study with them.

  14. I remember a discussion in grad school (literature MA and PhD candidates) about a scholarly article about a book: Can the Subaltern Speak? I’m still shocked to consider the young women who thought it was “bad” for white men to try to save “brown women” from being burned alive on their dead husbands’ funeral pyres.

    “Maybe they want to do that,” a fellow student said.

    And maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re just feeling social pressure. Maybe they wish they had a society in which they could survive without a man.

    What a difference a Christian perspective makes. We are to care for widows and orphans, not burn them alive.

    That didn’t seem like such an odd concept to me. I still have trouble comprehending that young feminists who grew up in America could consider anything else.

  15. ROB says:

    Christians haw a pretty rough go – can’t say it wasn’t obvious even if the fund raisers never mention it.

  16. Tim says:

    This essay tracks very closely with my own experience in graduate level study in the humanities over the last decade, first at a state university (M.A.) and then at an ivy (PhD). One objective, observable measure of the decline in standards is the gradual ratcheting down of requirements for passing general exams before proceeding to the dissertation, and I witnessed this in my departments at both universities.

    When I began my M.A. at the state univ., passing your PhD generals meant first mastering the discipline’s canon, beginning with medieval texts and ending in the late twentieth century. By the time I had to pass them myself at the ivy (in a department famous for its erstwhile academic conservatism), all I had to do was write and orally defend three long essays that demonstrated a good familiarity with texts that would form the basis for my dissertation.

  17. RBH says:

    Alan Jacobs sounds like one of the Christians that Rod says is in denial about the decline of Christianity in the West and the resulting decline in our cultural institutions, still saying that Christians should “engage the culture,” whatever that means. Well, guess what, they don’t want to be engaged, not by a bigoted Christian that doesn’t even believe in same-sex marriage. Once they decide before the discussion begins that your views are off the map, you don’t get to speak.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    What I get from reading this is someone who has a huge chip on his shoulder because his life didn’t turn out the way he thought it should have. And chooses to blame academia.

    I’m not impressed. Alan Jacobs is right.

    (And so is Jefferson Smith. Find me a time when before-tenure profs DIDN’T keep their heads down and keep away from publishing anything controversial. It’s notorious in all fields, even in physics.)

  19. Jonathan says:

    After five years of work I left the PhD program in English at the University of Chicago — in 2010, when and where things weren’t half as bad as they are now, in terms of the cultural Marxism, most everywhere. I was not a Christian at the time, though I was growing susceptible to the claims of the religion. What drove me away was the pseudo-intellectualism and the enforced homogenous mediocrity, the lack of real knowledge and expertise, i.e. more or less what your first correspondent talked about. There is very little real mastery left among the experts. Those who flourish are experts in the “discourse.” However, it’s also true — or at least it was when I was in the game — that there are still a small number of real scholars, people who possess both a mastery (and coherent conception) of the field and a certain kind of creativity, and who genuinely love their material. The number of such people — and I don’t mean only Christians, I mean old-school humanist scholars who may or may not be Christian — is diminishing. I am a free-lance writer now and finishing a MFA. I will soon be teaching in the university system again, though I’m not settled on doing this for a paycheck the rest of my life. I have on the whole profited from the MFA, because it has truly been a master of fine arts degree, that is, a training in the technical expertise of an art form and mostly uncontaminated by ideology. When I reflect on it now, though, it seems to me that the best and most exciting part of the eleven years I have spent in post-secondary education was as an undergrad, when I was studying foreign languages, English, and Classics. That was in the early years of this century, at a blessedly backward state school. Even then and there, I had to work out my education on my own. I wanted an old fashioned philological expertise. That’s how it is, I think, in every institution at every time, you have to bend it to your will to the extent possible. But the university today may be too brittle to accommodate that sort of individualism. I also wonder whether we have failed to inculcate a beneficial sort of individualism in the people who were born around the turn of the century and afterwards. In the elite educational institutions today there seems, to me, to be more blatant groupthink than my peers and I would have tolerated when we were in college. I believe the internet, particularly those more recent aspects of it (e.g. Facebook and YouTube) that do not encourage critical and discursive thought, is largely responsible for this change.

  20. Raskolnik says:

    perhaps you ought to pay more attention to your distinct lack of charm (not to mention your poor reading habits). I wrote ‘people’, not students

    No, you wrote:

    that statement wouldn’t make much sense (I think) in the wider context of the university as a whole.

    If anything it’s stacked (see, I’m more of a “victim” than him!) against black people and women.

    I understand that, as you are a non-British non-European, you may not have had English as your first language, but the clear implication of the sentences you wrote, as you wrote them, is to say that “in the university as a whole, the deck is stacked against black people.”

    I’m not sure what kind of black “people” apart from students you believe the deck to be stacked against in the university, but in any case the point remains that universities have gone out of their way to bend over backwards in support of the black population. If anything, the rewards given to blacks simply for being black are even greater for the non-student population: plum jobs in the diversity racket, the creation of garbage departments like “African Studies” requiring both faculty and administrative staff, and lowered standards for teaching positions in actual serious departments compared to white and Asian applicants for those teaching positions.

  21. liberal arts faculty says:

    @Seoulite: I think you’re confusing my point. My work is not read by my colleagues, deans, and students. That doesn’t mean it’s not read at all–my scholarly peers at other universities read it, and I read their work. But yes, it’s on topics of little interest to anyone other than scholars of similar topics. That’s true of the vast majority of all scholarly research, since forever. Your position presumes scholarship is an illegitimate activity for universities. I reject that.

    But you’ll be pleased to learn that my teaching and service duties easily take up a full 40 hour workweek, or more, so the 0-10 hours a week I spend on my own research while under contract (I spend a lot more time on it during the summer, but I’m not paid in the summer) aren’t taking away from the portion of my work that directly serves students and the institution.

    Kevin on the left,

    Good idea. Here’s the list of winners of Leo Strauss award, which is the award for the best dissertation in political philosophy. (Named for a conservative white man!) Arguably, the 2016 winner is on a topic some will consider trendy-lefty. But…that’s it. The rest are typical intellectual history projects like ” Popular Sovereignty, Roman Law and the Civilian Foundations of the Constitutional State in Early Modern Political Thought” and “The Stranger’s Knowledge: Political Knowledge in Plato’s Statesman.”

  22. LFM says:

    kevin on the left writes “Dhimmitude is not an academic term. It became part of online lexicon in the Bush years, when Eurabia was a athing, and now some seem to adapt it to the horrible human tragedy that occurs when conservatives become a minority and the majority treats them as conservatives think majorities should treat minorities..” Historically speaking, this is a crock. It’s the left that insists that majorities should always rule, no matter how self-destructive the policies they wish to introduce (cf Venezuala). The fact that some strands of conservatism in the US embrace this point of view only goes to prove, once again, how un-conservative American conservatism can be.

    p.s. I’m sure that in other contexts Kevin-on-the-left likes to rant about how elitists conservatives are…

  23. Rick says:

    Rod the main issue is the lack of funding for permanent tenured staff for two major reasons.

    1. In the 1990’s states cut tuition support in many states as part of gop efforts and at the same time cut spell grants and other educational supports Federally.

    2. Federal Student loans became no longer supplemental but necessary to attend colleges and Universities.

    The results have been huge non local cash flows into the States University systems and an explosion of unnecessary administrative staff as an industry within that system.

    This has led to — among other things — a cutback in full time teaching positions in favor of adjuncts.

    In many systems 80% of those teaching are non full time adjuncts who will never get tenure and can be cut any quarter or semester.

    What does that mean? It means that with no tenure tracks, dissenting voices no longer occur in university departments as they once did.

    If you’re an adjunct hoping for a tenure track and/or full time position the last thing you’re going to do is challenge any aspect of the prevailing ethos of a department.

    The author really is pretty ignorant of what’s going on or being intellectually dishonest.

    As a result

  24. Egypt Steve says:

    I just received $28,000 in grant money (from three separate internal grant programs at a major midwestern state university) to hold an international conference on applications of computer visualization in Egyptology. Not one of my applications even tried to be “relevant” to anything other than the field itself, except for some language about how this sort of presentation of archaeological material could make it more accessible to the general public, as well as to students and scholars. Not a word, not a syllable, about any social justice or political issues was included in the proposals, which were all fully funded.

  25. Egypt Steve says:

    By the way, my advice to classicists: if you want to do something original with Greek, instead of writing one more dissertation or monograph on Aeschylus or whoever, go into payrology. That will test your mettle and you can work on lots and lots of things no one has worked on before.

    Just sayin.

  26. Egypt Steve says:

    Er, “papyrology.” Wish you had an edit function, Rod!

  27. Phillip says:

    Only peripherally related to this post, but what goes on at the university doesn’t stay at the university:

    From Niall Ferguson’s 4/02 piece at the Boston Globe:

    “The process of indoctrination starts early. My six-year-old son stunned his parents the other day when we asked what he had been studying at school. He replied that they had been finding out about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. “What did you learn?” I asked. “That most white people are bad,” he replied.

    This is America in 2018.”

  28. Franklin Evans says:

    My friends and fellow readers, the elephant in the room is affirmative action.

    Disclosure: my first career entailed professional expertise in federal employment statutes and regulations. This is an “at the time” set of assertions, worthy of close examination now.

    The term “affirmative action” stopped being used accurately pretty much within a few weeks after it was coined. It was a slow and subtle departure from its origin. It remains one of the (IMO of course) most heinous linguistic crimes of all time.

    AA was not quotas. It was not diversity for its own sake. It was simple and clear: entire classes of people were being arbitrarily excluded from any access at all to the job opportunities that one majority class — white males — took for granted. Be clear on this, please: the excluded classes had candidates for jobs who were at least as qualified as the white males being hired. No measurement of proportions were made or is possible at this late remove. The only criterion for the hiring decision was skin color and gender, and accommodations were ubiquitously made for lesser performance indicators like school transcripts in favor of nepotism or other crony considerations.

    AA started simply enough: the pool of candidates for a job — not the actual person hired — must reflect the demographic diversity of the pool of applicants. Other considerations were not affected, prominent amongst them was actual qualification for the position being filled. Again, please be clear on this: no executive order, federal statute or federal regulation existed or exists requiring a hiring decision to ignore qualifications.

    Since I must acknowledge it, the one caveat is not private-sector hiring policies. The ridiculous litigations were almost solely out of union, public job situations (fire departments for one). There was a different cause for the ridiculous outcomes in the private sector, and that was quotas.

    AA never imposed quotas. Not in any respect. Quotas were the response by employers who, to be polite, were stumped by the complexities of converting their white-male focus on hiring to making the process blind until the personal interview. Think about it: a hiring manager, having no trust outside of his gender and skin color, balked at the notion of having a highly-qualified candidate female person of color walk into his office expecting a fair interview and chance at the job. I exaggerate the hypothetical for effect. Such people were never allowed in the door to begin with before. It didn’t mean that all hiring managers were racists or misogynists (some were each or both). It meant that they didn’t know what to do.

    One final dive into cynicism: quotas were a deliberate weapon used to sabotage the original intent of affirmative action. Here is a summary [Link confirmed: 04/04/2018]:

    /Affirmative Action explained.

    JFK’s executive order (EO) 10925 in 1961 established the concept of equal employment
    opportunity. Lyndon Johnson’s EO 11246 in 1965 established AA and its enforcement. The EEOC was and is the primary source of measurement of discrimination in employment, and the primary motivation for enforcement of the law when AA was and is violated. EO 11246 was revised in 2002, and contains this explicit statement:

    Affirmative action is necessary to prevent discrimination and to address
    stereotypical thinking and biases that still impede employment opportunity.
    emphasis preserved.]

    Department of Labor facts on EO 11246. [Link removed, no longer valid.]

    Prior to EO 11246, there was no recourse. EO 11246 is Affirmative Action.

    When you complain about it, that is what you are complaining about, not some nebulous philosophy that conservatives concoct out of thin air.

    They and you should read the timeline.

    1969: Initiated by President Richard Nixon, the “Philadelphia Order” was the most forceful plan thus far to guarantee fair hiring practices in construction jobs.

    1995: President Clinton asserted in a speech that while Adarand [Constructors, Inc. v. Peña] set “stricter standards to mandate reform of affirmative action, it actually reaffirmed the need for affirmative action and reaffirmed the continuing existence of systematic discrimination in the United States.” In a White House memorandum on the same day, he called for the elimination of any program that “(a) creates a quota; (b) creates preferences for unqualified individuals; (c) creates reverse discrimination; or (d) continues even after its equal opportunity purposes have been achieved.”

    Department of Labor guidelines with many other links. [Link confirmed: 04/04/2018]

  29. Mark VA says:

    Chris – the other one:

    Bullseye. I call this cultural encapsulation. The list of canonical texts of Western Civilization (the model “Great Books Scheme” of the Chicago School) was compiled early in the 20th century, and includes 145 authors:

    49 English or American
    27 French
    20 German
    15 Classical Greek
    9 Classical Latin
    6 Russian
    4 Scandinavian
    3 Spanish
    3 Early Italian
    3 Irish
    3 Scots
    3 assorted East Europeans.

    (Norman Davies, “Europe”, p. 21, and App. III, p.1230)

    The biases of this list are self evident, and only invite the pathologies of Critical Theory, as you’ve noted. One could credibly ask, why not supplement this list with Nobel Prize winners in literature from every inhabited continent, or just re-balance it better with respect to all European cultures.

  30. Captain P says:

    I wish these anonymous writers blasting “The Humanities” would be willing to share their field of scholarship. Having done graduate school in philosophy recently, I know for a fact that Rod’s emailer’s characterizations do not accurately describe that field — and philosophy is the root of all humanities disciplines.

    (On a different note, Chris – the other one is completely correct in pointing to the “publish or perish” ideal as so much of the problem. People who enjoy teaching (such as myself) rather than the publishing grind are weeded out and less likely to end up in teaching positions. How is that a logical system?)

  31. ludo says:

    This quote from Wikipedia I think perfectly elaborates the sophism inherent in what I´ve been calling ´Wittgensteinian sophism,´ even though it antedates Wittgenstein by two two millennia, on the ‘White Horse Dialogue’:

    ´“To use an attribute to show that attributes are not attributes is not as good as using a nonattribute to show that attributes are not attributes. To use a horse to show that a horse is not a horse is not as good as using a non-horse to show that a horse is not a horse…the ten thousand things are one horse.”

    The non-woman is argued to be a woman, thus ultimately undermining the social reality of woman as independent biological reproductive existent and force, a phenomenon (the biological ´predicatedness´ of women) which still anthropologically translates into the coherent and operable concepts and units of womanhood that have so easily, in conjunction with empirical scientific advances, resulted in the immensity of the world’s present human population.

    “The ten thousand [gender dysphoria] etiologies are one [woman].”

    The present-day humanities ´Akademia´ appears to be dominated by the (´discursive´) exercise of humanistic-category questioning and destruction in the name of the struggle for intersectional liberation, however, the applicability/efficacy of category questioning and destruction in terms of the improvement real world material conditions and populations seems marginal at best (not to the mention the fact that such´discursive´ strategies are in themselves inherently sophistical and anti-epistemological, thus reminiscent of the standard sophistry of state diplomatic chancelleries and foreign ministries, for whom ´fake news´ has historically and ongoingly always been de rigueur).

  32. I Don’t Matter says:

    Raskolnik, it does indeed takes a special… gall? blindness? for a white guy to “explain” to a black guy how he’s being overserved, as a black guy, in a “bend over backwards” fashion.
    Reminds me of how pranksters think their pranks are so much innocent fun. Haven’t met a single prank victim who thought the same…

  33. Steve says:

    Alan Jacobs post is an understatement to what is going on. George Yancey, sociologist at UNT, speaks to the “Christianphobia” on American college campuses:

    He not only speaks to it (which Jacobs only does) but has researched it extensively: “Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias” and “So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States?”

    I have been documenting this off and on since 2015:

  34. JonF says:


    Both the Left and the Right embrace majoritarianism when they are convinced they can muster a majority in their support. When they can’t they concoct strained reasons why they ought prevail despite only minority support, generally along the lines of “the People are dumb (wicked etc.). We are the Enlightened (virtuous) ones and hence should prevail.”

  35. Ain't Ben says:

    @ Ain’t Ben:
    Wow, compared to the relatively straightforward, balanced appraisal in the letter Rod posted, the bile in your comment really stands out. Whence that chip on your shoulder?

    Well, Eric, I’ve got at least three chips on my shoulder today.

    First, I’ve lived my entire life as a heterosexual white male and never had any sense that I was persecuted, excluded, or in any way discriminated against. While I did have some strikes against me that made things tougher (poverty, an abusive father, struggles with alcoholism and addiction), my overall experience of life in America as a heterosexual white male has been one of boundless opportunity, second chances and a lot of people treating me with courtesy, deference and respect. And I’ve lived a broad life – I’ve pushed brooms and waited tables, I’ve sat on board meetings and made multi-million dollars decisions. I’ve enlisted in the military, studied at schools both public and elite, worked in the private sector and nonprofits and done some government contracts. I’ve lived in the North, South, East, West and smack in the middle too. Everywhere I’ve gone and everything I’ve done, people have, at the very least, allowed me to succeed.

    Meanwhile, I’ve seen the s**t my mother and sister have had to put up with at home and in the workplace, I’ve seen my black friends treated very differently by teachers and cops and courts and bosses, I’ve seen gay friends beaten just for existing in the wrong place, and I’ve seen how the world prejudges and presorts various people into little boxes in a way that I’ve never had to put up with. So when I hear anybody whining about how tough it is to be a heterosexual white male, well, I just don’t have much tolerance for that sort of piss poor attitude. Especially coming from somebody who’s had the privilege of spending a decade in academia already, engaged in the life of the mind instead of a life of labor. Not many people get to do that sort of thing.

    Second, I don’t like people who act like they’re owed something, and this guy reeks of entitlement. He’s succeeded thus far and thinks he’s supposed to be guaranteed to stay on that trajectory? That the only thing that could possibly knock him off of it is outside forces? That everybody and everything in his entire career field is biased against him and his self-proclaimed excellence? That his failure is because he’s just too good for an entire industry? I don’t buy it, not for one second. Nobody should buy such a fantastical, self-serving tale.

    Third, I’m repelled by the commenters who are full of boundless sympathy for this entitled, blame-everybody-else whiner, because that sympathy is based entirely on the identities of the complainer and the people taking away what’s supposedly his. If these exact same complaints were coming from a black woman or somebody else, most of those commenters would be sounding a lot more like me – “what a whiner, what entitlement, what arrogance, etc.” The identity-based bias – and the blindness to it, the blithe denial of it – disgusts and angers me.

    Anyway, Eric, thanks for asking. I’m not as articulate as I wish I were, but I hope I’ve successfully explained why I’m so short on sympathy and long on irritation today.

  36. chris403 says:

    There is an easy way to tell whether Alan Jacob’s position is reasonable or not. Let’s take the University of California system, with its many universities, and let’s look at all of the faculty in the English, history, and philosophy departments. How many of them are conservative Christians in public?

    If the number is zero or close to zero, then Alan is wrong. A quarter of the country is conservative Christian, let’s remember. The most obvious explanation is they are being systematically excluded.

    It must be nice to be tenured and 60 years old and tell everyone else to suck it up.

  37. Erin M. says:

    If this had been written by a woman or a black man or anybody other than a white male conservative Christian – just change a few details here and there, make it a law firm or tech company or public office instead of a university – nearly all of the commenters that are nodding along in uncritical sympathy would be singing a very different tune.

    It’s tribalism, through and through.

    If you’re one of the people expressing uncritical sympathy for this guy, ask yourself what your reaction would be to the exact same self-pitying, self-exonerating, “they’re all out to get me” story coming from a different sort of person. Maybe you’ll start to see your biases too.

    Yep, this is right on. Ultimately it sounds like I am a lot more likely to think that discrimination and stacked decks actually exist out there–especially for women and minorities–than Ain’t Ben is, but I agree with this so very much. And in most cases I will also view anyone who says blithely asserts that, “I knew the deck was stacked against [my identity]” without any caveats whatsover with a fair bit of skepticism.

  38. I Don’t Matter says:

    “There is an easy way to tell whether Alan Jacob’s position is reasonable or not. Let’s take the University of California system, with its many universities, and let’s look at all of the faculty in the English, history, and philosophy departments. How many of them are conservative Christians in public?

    If the number is zero or close to zero, then Alan is wrong. A quarter of the country is conservative Christian, let’s remember. The most obvious explanation is they are being systematically excluded.”

    Hm, no. The most obvious explanation is that the population from which the faculty – in California! is recruited is not even close to being 1/4 conservative Christian. This is like looking at employees at a factory in NH, and assuming they discriminate against blacks because the faces are all white. Yes, the country is 20% black, but NH is only 3% black.
    Now, it’s possible that the UC discriminates against conservative Christians (how they would be able to tell during hiring? Better not ask), but this data point by itself doesn’t prove it.
    What it does prove is that excellence in understanding statistics is hard to come by.

  39. C Y says:

    This phenomenon of repression in academic circles is not something new. Allen Bloom observed this first as a societal decline, before it became entrenched in higher education. In 1987, he published his legendary book “The Closing of the American Mind” which provided some brilliant insights on the causes of this problem. Ultimately, this problem will have tremendous consequences on future generations.

  40. DRK says:

    Your Shutterstock photo makes me laugh, considering the subject of this post. That’s the most macho “failed humanities grad student flouncing off in a huff” pic I’ve ever seen ?

  41. Brendan from Oz says:

    “The most obvious explanation is that the population from which the faculty – in California! is recruited is not even close to being 1/4 conservative Christian. This is like looking at employees at a factory in NH, and assuming they discriminate against blacks because the faces are all white.”

    Universities in California only hire people from California, never interstate or international? Really?

    If so, this is an astonishing case of bigotry and they should be castigated in public for their exclusionary policies.

    Understanding statistics is tricky, isn’t it?

  42. Brendan from Oz says:

    The first job I ever had, back in the 1980s, for Government we had to memorize the target groups for favourable selection: Women, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, the disabled and Indigenous people.

    My entire working life I have been publically, openly, been put at the end of the line if someone from one of the favoured groups can be hired instead.

    It hasn’t stopped me from modest success, but ageism has also crept in – most of the new homeless people in Australia are white people over 55 who cannot get the Welfare Age Pension until 67, but cannot access their own superannuation.

    I know people this has happened to and fear it myself. If that is whining instead of the reality I face, so be it for you to think so.

  43. grumpy realist says:

    I suspicion that a lot of this victim identity po mo stuff has showed up for two reasons:
    1) it’s easier to strike attitudes than to do actual, hard research.
    2) the ever-increasing fluff in the academic sandwich, a.k.a. all those assistant deans and people put into place to hold the hands of modern helicopter-parent-raised students. Said fluff is constantly running around looking for reasons to support their overly-reimbursed existence, and with yelps and glee have fallen upon “diversity” and “support”.

    (I suspect that college students who have been able to stampede all the adults around them with their claims about “lack of diversity” and “discrimination” are going to find the world not quite so supporting when they go out into the real world and try to bully their employers. They’re more likely to get fired.)

    P.S. If you plan to do research, and your humanities graduate program doesn’t insist that you learn at least one foreign language, it’s a piece of crap. The M.A. program I applied for insisted on a knowledge of both Latin and another European foreign language even before I could enter.

  44. Chris - the other one says:

    The comments here are full of both of the following posts:

    1) “College is dumb and conservatives have the sense to flee this collapsing system.”

    2) “The lack of conservative professors is proof that colleges are discriminating against hiring conservatives.”

    Could it be that (1) leads directly to (2)?

  45. St Louisan says:

    Both this post and the previous one on BenOp reactions point to the same contemporary problem: the heirs of complex, deep traditions taking those traditions for granted so much that they forget that the tradition needs to be passed on to the next generation to continue to exist.

    Scholars in the academic humanities scoff at merely studying the classics, because everyone has always studied the classics–they want to delve into the “subaltern,” the marginal, the other perspectives. Which can be a worthy goal…except that after one generation of the classics being neglected, they aren’t the classics anymore.

    Spadaro and Cupich complain that the BenOp doesn’t encourage Christians to go out into the world and proclaim…but Christian catechesis has been so bad for the last sixty years that few Christians have a firm idea of what exactly they’re even supposed to be proclaiming.

    To a point, it’s useful to say “we’ve been looking at this from a single perspective–we need to expand our horizons.” The point at which it stops being useful is when we simply invert the problem we originally noticed, and suppress the old perspectives just as thoroughly as the marginalized ones ever were.

    All revolutions continue denouncing the oppressor long after the oppressor has been defeated. The generation of ’68 insists on casting itself as the plucky rebel against the old eurocentric, bourgeois empire, refusing to notice that it was defeated decades ago and they themselves have built a new empire just as severe as the old.

    Maybe when my grandfather was young, it was a real problem that studies of, say, Dante were too focused on repeating the same truisms about the Divine Comedy, and true learning would be deepened by an interdisciplinary approach. Maybe in those years it was a real problem that the Church was too internal and unwilling to go out into the world. But that is clearly not the problem now. Now the problem is much more that no one even knows what the Divine Comedy says at all. It’s that we’re told to go out into the world without the first idea of what to say.

  46. Josep says:

    @ Brendan from Oz
    I’ve always suspected that the situation in Australia, being a Western country, would be just as bad as the one in the US. And I fear that Western Europe isn’t any better.
    I haven’t been a victim of such discrimination at my university (yet!), nor have I seen anyone get discriminated (yet!), but I hate it when white males get excluded just for being white or male, and women, non-whites and the disabled are favored instead. To me this is sexist (misandrist) and racist (anti-white).
    Thanks for sharing your anecdotes.

  47. Eric Mader says:

    @ Ain’t Ben

    First, I’ve lived my entire life as a heterosexual white male and never had any sense that I was persecuted, excluded, or in any way discriminated against.

    Your response re: my asking about the chip on your shoulder is well put in a general way–BUT, from where I’m sitting, that very generalness is also what makes it pretty much irrelevant. For a few reasons.

    First, you claim to have a broad perspective because you’ve worked here at there at different things in different areas, but what does that broad background have to do with the topic of Rod’s posted letter? It’s almost as if you’re saying “I’ve worked waiting tables, been in the military, been in the corporate world, and never had problems with discrimination, so therefore what this writer is referring to about current academic culture must be BS.” Where’s the logic in this? There isn’t any. Nobody here is claiming that white heterosexual Christian men can’t get ahead in the US. That would be absurd. The only claim being made in this post is that there’s an illiberal ideology now deeply entrenched in our universities, one that insists that all these categories (white, male, heterosexual) are suspect, if not, as in the case of Christian, being the Actual Enemy of Progress Incarnate. And with this whole ideological spiel being now weaponized through the new woke doctrine of intersectionality, well, there’s very obviously a growing systemic attempt to change the whole purpose of humanities education, to make of it a vast SJW training camp. Do you deny this is happening?

    Second, you keep attacking Rod’s posted writer for being a “whiner” or “entitled”, but while you do so, you somehow manage to ignore the main thrust of his letter. He’s not so much lamenting his own personal fate–“Oh, woe is me!”–as lamenting this takeover of American humanities and the decline of scholarship. And I’m guessing he is doing so because 1) he once believed in these things, and 2) he’s put the best years of his life into them. You don’t seem to get that the main point of this post is not to claim that “Oh, we poor white men, we have it so bad,” which would be ridiculous, but to underline the damage being done (to education, to scholarship, to future generations) by this particular clique that has come to wield enormous power in our academies. Many of us who write about these issues–we don’t so much care about our own personal stakes in this as we care about the humanities. Or, alternately: We care about free speech and open inquiry, both of which these SJWs, in their own f***ing words, are against.

    Third, your remark that he’s “somebody who’s had the privilege of spending a decade in academia already”, well, given the context, it shows you don’t realize certain fundamentals. Yes, it is a privilege to be working in academia, agreed. But I’m sure many many grad students or young profs in the humanities, as was the case with me in the 1990s, often envy their acquaintances on the outside: those waiting tables, driving a cab, working normal jobs–because the work load for young scholars in most of these areas is virtually insane, the hours upon hours poring over books, mastering languages, reworking drafts–all facing the fact that finally getting a job was far from guaranteed. Working in the humanities is a privilege only because of the importance of the work, one’s contact with the greatest minds of the past and present, NOT because one gets to just hang around and read cool books and have coffee with students. No, it’s constant pressure and a lot of lonely hours. So if a young scholar does well, doing serious work, then sees the nature of the game shift just as he or she is moving into the job market–shift to cheap and easily reproducible political hackery–it’s more than a small let-down. And you who don’t like whiners, you would have him/her do what? Quickly take up the SJW discourse so as to “go along to get along”? Begin ritually demeaning himself/herself as a white person? Pretend not to be Christian? Yes, these are options, and some follow them. Which is only more proof that this whole topic is not simply about entitled people whining.

    Finally, you claim that people here wouldn’t care at all if black woman came forward to complain about being discriminated against. What do you base this claim on? I think all of us know discrimination is real, it is toxic, and it is often systemic, depending on the industry or field. Myself, if a black woman complained about discrimination or being marginalized, or if she complained about the decline of her profession into nonsense, I’d consider her explanation, listen to her story, then look at the evidence from the field in general, then decide if I thought her claims were valid. I wouldn’t generalize from other fields or from the experience of some other black woman elsewhere, and wouldn’t assume from the get-go that she was just out to whine.

    IMHO, you might try this same approach with this man you keep calling an “entitled whiner”.

    [I’ve had to repost this because the last time, clicking “post”, it seemed to have disappeared. Happens now and then.]

  48. JonF says:

    Re: most of the new homeless people in Australia are white people over 55

    I’m unsure what your point is, Brendan. Australia is an overwhelmingly white country so of course most of its homeless will be white. And it sounds like age discrimination (which is a separate issue from affirmative action) is a problem down under too.

  49. connecticut farmer says:

    @ Mark VA

    Yes. Perhaps we should follow the example of the curriculum offered at the University of Rwanda.

  50. Gerrit says:

    A salute to cosimanian orthodoxy.I’m retired. Along the way I picked up three degrees. I suppose this isn’t the time to tell the story of the time I declined the admission into and Ontario Psych grad school because I thought the notion of objective truth hilarious…:-)

    Hang in there folks. Thanks, Rod, for all the fun.

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