In Defense of My Chosen Profession

There seems to be a never-ending stream of cries about liberal bias in academia. Thus far, I’ve kept myself out of this debate about my chosen profession. Today, however, I’d like to point to two reasoned responses to recent claims about the kind of “harm” we are causing in the halls of our colleges and universities.

Last week, Sean Hannity expressed the following concern on the FOXNews show Hannity & Colmes: “Kids are indoctrinated. They’re a captive audience. What can be done to remove these professors with these radical ideas from campus?” Michael Berube, a literature professor at Penn State, provided this (amusing) response. It starts out:

The process all starts with the captivity, really. As you know, Sean, in America, students are assigned to their universities by the Federal Education and Re-education Committee. Once they arrive on campus, they are subjected to a rigorous system of mandatory coursework. We like to call it “basic training,” and let me tell you, the foreign language requirements are especially punitive. Now, the FERC records tell of a student who tried, in 1988, to “choose” an “elective” course at a Big Ten university. That student was sentenced to twenty years in the Nevada silver mines, where she works today. And I don’t think I have to tell you what happens to undergraduates who violate curfew!


Now, you mentioned indoctrination. Let me dilate on that for a bit.

Once they get into my course (required for graduation), Advanced America-Blaming and Applied Appeasement of Terrorists, they are graded primarily on attendance and recitation. They are also required to turn in two essays, one in which they blame America first, the other in which they propose a strategy for appeasing a terrorist enemy. I am very strict about these essays. I demand that their essays conform to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition, and that they spell America with a k. (Extra credit for three k’s!)

Berube continues with his thrashing of Hannity’s thesis – it’s good reading…

THEN, there is conservative David Horowitz’s new book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, where he, according to the book cover, “reveals a shocking and perverse culture of academics who are poisoning the minds of today’s college students.” Sigh. Here is the list, organized by institution of higher learning.

Todd Gitlin (formerly in my department, now at Columbia) reluctantly decided to reply to his inclusion on Horowitz’s list. Gitlin retorts, in part:

…here are a few observations on Horowitz’s slovenly methods at work in his little blast at me, which, along with his other laughable errors and distortions, should get him laughed out of any hall except “The Daily Show” as a serious researcher, let alone an expert in what universities do and should do.

1. Horowitz has absolutely no idea what I do in the classroom. Probably he is assuming that I do what he would do had he the chance: indoctrinate innocents. So he claims that I “immerse” students in the “obscurantist texts of leftist icons like Jurgen Habermas.” In fact, I have indeed assigned a book of Habermas’–along with many others–to a graduate seminar. I have also, to take only the last few years, “immersed” students in texts by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Burke, Adam Smith, and, for that matter, the Gospels. Horowitz might benefit from any or all such immersions.

2. And by the way, if Habermas is in fact “obscurantist,” how is he supposed to compel students to “understand the oppressive nature of capitalist media”? Habermas is, in fact, difficult, but the book I assign is not obscurantist. There, Habermas takes on the important question of the conditions under which communications are and are not conducive to democratic debate. To explore such questions is one reason why we have universities.

Continue reading Prof. Gitlin’s reply here.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s