Peter Wood’s latest blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Leftist Nostalgia for Academic Standards,” is a must read. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, weaves a fascinating commentary about two unexpected cracks in the current (and ruinous) regime of higher education: one a lament about the impact of literary theory by one of its biggest names, British Marxist Terry Eagleton, the other a rebellion of sorts at UCLA against the continued spread of the “diversity” curriculum at the expense of actual education.
The Eagleton lament, in an interview in the Oxonian Review, contains two arresting sentences: “I fear that literary criticism, at least as I knew it and was taught it, is almost as dead on its feet as clog dancing” and the even more memorable, “Most people I know in academia want to get out.”
At UCLA, the overwhelmingly leftist College of Letters and Science faculty (liberal by a margin of 100 to one), voted down a dreary diversity requirement (“Community and Conflict in the Modern World”) 224 to 175 in a secret ballot. Wood noted that Tim Groseclose, a professor of American politics at UCLA, had posted a blog saying, “Although I was shocked by the results, one of my liberal friends lectured me why I shouldn’t have been so surprised. ‘I know you think UCLA is just a bunch of knee-jerk leftists,’ he explained. ‘But a lot of those leftists are actually academic conservatives.’ By the latter phrase he meant people who value high standards and rigor in teaching and research.”
Wood writes: “I put the UCLA vote nixing a new diversity requirement and the interview in which Eagleton laments the decline in ‘close analysis of language’ and literary sensibility as rhyming instances of a new trend.” Later he adds: “What’s happening? We might think of it as a surfeit of success on the part of those who championed ‘cultural studies’ and relativism in the humanities. They won the institutional war, much of which was fought by dismissing the importance of all curricular standards and capturing students with not-so-rigorous courses centered on progressive political themes. …The bills for these innovations are coming due. Students everywhere are deserting the humanities in favor of business-degree programs–“neo-managerialism”–and those who remain behind in the ‘studies’ programs and the remnants of the old humanities departments are–all too often–not performing at very ‘high intellectual standards.'”
When the demolitionists who led the campus revolution survey the rubble, Wood writes, they aren’t happy: “Leveling monuments was fun while it lasted, but the blank and barren field now stretching to the horizon isn’t fun at all.” Some faculty, weary of the whole thing, “are by secret ballot in one place, by open declaration elsewhere, trying to chart a return to meaningful academic standards. That’s an innovation worth watching.”
Grosesclose ended on a similar note: “Last week UCLA revealed a crack in the wall of campus political correctness. Maybe someday the academic equivalent of a Ronald Reagan will demand that we tear down the entire wall.”