In a piece published today in The Atlantic, John McWhorter writes that he is getting as many as 50 emails a week from academics who are living in fear that their careers could end at any moment. Their fear isn’t the coronavirus it’s the creeping leftist orthodoxy which treats any disagreement as cause to hound someone out of their job. McWhorter labels it a new form of Maoism on campus, complete with struggle sessions straight out of the Cultural Revolution:
A statistics professor says:”I routinely discuss the fallacy of assuming that disparity implies discrimination, which is just a specific way of confusing correlation for causality. Frankly, I’m now somewhat afraid to broach these topics … since according to the new faith, disparity actually is conclusive evidence of discrimination.”
The new mood has even reached medieval studies; an assistant professor reports having recently just survived an attack by a cadre of scholars who are “unspeakably mean and disingenuous once they have you in their sights,” regularly “mounting PR campaigns to get academics and grad students fired, removed from programs, expelled from scholarly groups, or simply to cease speaking.”…
Overall I found it alarming how many of the letters sound as if they were written from Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. A history professor reports that at his school, the administration is seriously considering setting up an anonymous reporting system for students and professors to report “bias” that they have perceived. One professor committed the sin of “privileging the white male perspective” in giving a lecture on the philosophy of one of the Founding Fathers, even though Frederick Douglass sang that Founder’s praises. The administration tried to make him sit in a “listening circle,” in which his job was to stay silent while students explained how he had hurt them—in other words, a 21st-century-American version of a struggle session straight out of the Cultural Revolution…
Especially sad is the extent to which this new Maoism can dilute the richness of a curriculum and discourage people from becoming professors at all. One professor has stopped teaching James Baldwin’s “Going to Meet the Man” after Black students claimed that it forced them to “re-live intergenerational trauma.” I have heard from not one but two philosophy doctorates who left academia. One explained that he was driven out by the “accelerating creep of what felt to me a pretty stifling orthodoxy. The hiring market was dominated by a concern for diversity statements, the ability to teach fairly ideologically-slanted courses on philosophy and critical race theory or philosophy and gender, etc.; and more generally it felt progressively less like a profession where I could opt out of those trends while still being a competitive job applicant.”
McWhorter points out that most of the people he’s hearing from are not conservatives. Most consider themselves left-of-center. But in academia today being on the left doesn’t really matter unless you hold all of the same views as the far left.
How widespread is this? It’s hard to say but McWhorter points to a poll of 445 academics carried out by the Heterodox Academy. Asked how they would feel expressing their views on a controversial issued at work, more than half said they would be “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” that it would hurt their career. That’s obviously not a great situation for having people discuss different points of view about contentious topics. With numbers like that self-censorship is guaranteed. And that only ensures that the cultural revolutionaries have de facto control of what is said and taught on campus.
I’ve said before that as bad as the situation has been on some campuses, the far left is still a minority of the student body. But reading this piece you have to wonder how much longer that will be the case. How long before the meltdown at Evergreen State College is being replicated everywhere? If I had to guess, I’d say it will happen a lot sooner than anyone expects.
As I was writing this, Rod Dreher posted this example. Professors at Northwestern law school were apparently expected to denounce themselves as racists. I wonder if anyone was brave enough to refuse?
John McWorter/John Sexton