We Are All Marxists Now

In an unintentional, if powerful, commentary on the grip that groupthink has on some quarters of the economy, LeMoyne professor Dolores Byrnes informed readers of the NEA’s Thought & Action that “some professors of education recently told me during a department retreat: ‘We are all Marxist, it doesn’t even need to be said.'”
No wonder Education schools—from Minnesota to the aggressive practitioners of the “dispositions” criterion—have proven so eager to purge from their ranks those with dissenting opinions. And no wonder LeMoyne’s Ed School was sued for dismissing a student because of his (non-Marxist, naturally) political beliefs. Byrnes’ anecdote also shows just how out of touch the higher education establishment has become—and how the nation’s colleges and universities have suffered as a result.
Essay after essay in the NEA’s annual higher-education publication complains about how professors lack respect from the public, without ever pausing to consider how the image of colleges and universities as the bastion of out-of-touch ideologues might have caused the problem.

Take, for instance, Troy Duster, a California-Berkeley professor who is a former chair of the board of directors of the diversity-obsessed Association of American Colleges and Universities. Duster managed to produce an essay about African-Americans in higher education in which he misidentified the year of the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision (it came in 1896, not 1898, as Duster claimed). NEA editors also failed to detect the error.
Duster’s essay advanced an extraordinary claim regarding the legal position of race in America: “We are, in effect, back to where we began in the early 1960s,” due to a counterattack by (unidentified) “elites” to weaken the use of “disparate impact” measurements to mandate racial preferences. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m unaware of any states that currently discriminate on the basis of race in public accommodations, as occurred in the “early 1960s.” Or prohibit interracial marriage, as occurred in the “early 1960s.” Or use quasi-legal mechanisms to deny blacks the right to vote, as occurred in the “early 1960s.” This sort of claim only shows how far out of touch Duster is with reality.
Or take Kim Emery, whose website reveals that she is “currently at work on a book about queer theory and the future of the university.” In Emery’s imagined reality, “in the wake of 9/11, the McCarthyesque tactics and patriotic rhetoric associated with that earlier witch-hunt era have been resurrected in new battles over the control and curricula of public institutions in particular.”
In response, she maintained, the academy should move toward a “postmodern” or “Foucauldian” conception of academic freedom, abandoning the outmoded idea that academic freedom “extended only to a professor’s properly academic activities—i.e., teaching and research as defined by the relevant discipline.”
Who has engaged in these “McCarthyesque” tactics, thereby requiring such a radical reconception of academic freedom? Emery came up with only one person, David Horowitz—whose signature legislative proposal, the ABOR, has never even been voted on by a full state legislature, much less adopted into law. Beyond Horowitz, Emery got even vaguer about the enemies of higher education. She claimed to have uncovered a “concerted conservative attack . . . in the decades following W[orld] W[ar] II.” She also detected pernicious, if unidentified, activities of unnamed “elites.”
In an almost comical conclusion to her essay, Emery lamented how “an image took hold of universities as politically correct dens of tenured radicals”—blissfully unaware of how her writings confirm such an image.
And take Steve Street, a member of the Coalition for Contingent Faculty and an adjunct as Buffalo State University, who bizarrely claimed that academics can obtain respect from politicians and the media only by “redistributing more equitably the responsibilities, resources, and respect given those of us inside.”
In other words: as academics demand more money and resources from taxpayers, public universities should “redistribute” their funds to benefit those in their employ who have not obtained jobs through peer-directed, national searches. Why legislators should want to fork over money for such a purpose Street doesn’t say.
In the world as presented by the higher-ed establishment, civil rights law has returned to the condition of the early 1960s despite the Supreme Court permitting the use of racial preferences in college admissions; colleges and universities are experiencing a wave of “right-wing” McCarthyism despite race/class/gender devotees tightening their vise on the academy; and Education professors are so confident everyone in their discipline is Marxist that they don’t even bother asking colleagues about the issue.
Is there any wonder that state legislatures have grown reluctant to fund public universities?


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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