Killing the PC Pox: A Suggestion and a Note of Pessimism

As a university professor I’ve witnessed the intellectual carnage afflicting today’s campus firsthand, including the suicide of two distinguished colleagues. And it grows worse as it spreads from the academy’s soft side to the hard sciences, even escaping the campus’ ideological wet markets to infect organized religions, professional societies (especially law and medicine), sports, and, perhaps most significantly, the mass media and government itself (think the mania to exorcise so-called “implicit racial bias”). The long march through the institutions is virtually complete save a few holdouts hiding in the jungle.

I have tried to resist this march, enlisting in countless organizations dedicated to fighting the battle, occasionally donating a little money and writing for friendly websites, and I’ve long lost track of all the banquet speeches celebrating intellectual freedom.

Alas, the resistance movement has generally failed. Don’t be misled by what comes over the Internet, an occasional alarmist book, and proliferating organizations. Taken together, all of this only reflects effort divorced from outcomes. Ironically, recounting the generic horror stories about professors getting fired for saying sex is biological only helps the enemy by demonstrating the fate awaiting heretics. Further, forget about pointing out stupidities—even the most bizarre ideas are indestructible zombies.

Our victories are largely hollow, exemplified by such gestures as high-sounding but unenforceable declarations calling for intellectual diversity. Yes, occasional legal settlements in individual cases are real, but on larger issues our occasional court victories are almost always undone by devious diversicrats.

This failure partially reflects our inability to calibrate the damage. We know the rot in academia grows worse as the woke march from triumph to triumph, but how much worse and at what rate? Outside of FIRE’s college free speech rankings, there is no one keeping score, and without some baseline, it is all too easy to tolerate defeat. It is as if the CDC failed to quantify mortality to keep people from worrying about getting sick while dead bodies piled up.

Absent a yardstick, accountability is impossible for those who command our armies. They organize conferences, edit websites and much else, but in the final analysis they are totally insulated from failure. This is a “business model” akin to kiddie sports where nobody knows who won or lost and everyone receives a participation trophy. It is hard to think of any other human endeavor—sports, business, military conflict—where outcomes and effort are not linked. Even in Communist regimes where economic competition was unmentionable, those failing to meet Five-Year Plan targets were cashiered.

If the Campus Pox is to be defeated, we must follow what is commonplace elsewhere—pay substantial salaries for discernable results and sack non-performers. The lobbying industry is the model, and while it may be expensive, the benefits will certainly be commensurate, if not greater. Campus luminaries can be figureheads for public speech-making, but the real work will be done by salaried employees whose personalities combine the aggressiveness of, say, Bobby Knight and General Leslie Groves. That is, professionals, not amateur academics, motivated to accomplish objectives in ways undoubtedly beyond the ken of those pursuing the life of the mind.

This business model explicitly rejects the current 501 © 3 fund-raising approach of multiple contributors rewarded by tax deductions or funding via foundation grants. If this strategy performed, it would have succeeded decades ago when Political Correctness initially metastasized. Clearly, it has failed. Moreover, that liability is built in—tax-exempt groups are limited, especially today, by politically driven IRS scrutiny. More importantly, as I spelled out elsewhere but which perhaps cannot be repeated often enough, keeping donors happy may be antithetical winning the battle, given that “conservative” benefactors live in terror of being associated with anything “controversial,” that is, anything condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center or the New York Times. It is difficult to image donors pleased by, say, a forceful media campaign publicizing the racial vitriol espoused by the Diversity and Inclusion apparatchiki paid fortunes by Ivy League schools. They can already hear cries of, “That’s racist!”

As with all professional lobbyists, these advocates will necessarily develop ties with office holders and bureaucrats to fight the battle in ways beyond the reach of tax-exempt academic organizations. For example, they may push the Department of Justice to crack down on campus administrations which spend student activity fee money on the likes of Angela Davis, a devious ploy to subsidize the Left, often with tax-payer money. Furthermore, lobbyists are not bound by restrictions on campaign money, so donations from non-woke faculty can be raised to target our enemies in government. In other words, lobbying opens up entirely new avenues of influence directed by paid, experienced professionals, not swamp outsiders. Hopefully, this lobby will become a feared force like other small but shrewd pressure groups. And, of the utmost importance and fundamentally different than today’s arrangement, failures will be fired, and replaced by a new crew.

The downside is, of course, that compared to what currently transpires, this new business model will require several millions per year to fund office space in Washington, DC, hire a professional staff, engage in publicity, and underwrite all the other expenses incurred by K-Street folk.

For reasons I cannot fathom, the super-rich who are happy to give billions to fight racial injustice or even millions to build a new football stadium and hire a winning coach have minimal interest in detoxifying the academy. In fact, the wealthy are more likely to do the very opposite by donating to programs that exacerbate the woke take-over, perhaps hoping that appeasement will buy peace. In other words, the same problem faced by obtaining tax-deductible donations may well apply more generally.

All of this adds up to a paradox: why is so little being done to reverse the slide into intellectual destruction when the onslaught seems so unpopular? Do most Americans really want speech codes, the undermining of intellectual rigor, and de-platforming, let alone using the classroom for ideological indoctrination? One would think that millions of dollars are pouring into the battle on our side, but that hardly seems to be the case. Elsewhere I have suggested possible remedies, including creating more traditional schools of education and professors putting more of their own skin into the game, but, as far as I can tell, the response has been underwhelming. Nor am I optimistic that my present proposal regarding professional lobbying will draw much attention.

Though the warning about the decline of intellectual life on campus grows louder and the damage indisputable, matters look bleak. There is something very wrong here. Surely we can do better. Any suggestions?

Image: stevepb, Public Domain

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a professor emeritus of political science at The University of Illinois-Urbana.

9 thoughts on “Killing the PC Pox: A Suggestion and a Note of Pessimism

  1. Why do you think that Donald Trump got (at least) 80 million votes?

    The left is attempting to steal this election through fraud, but the reason they are having difficulty is that so damn many people voted for Trump. And it’s the Trump/MAGA movement that’s going to clean this mess up — Middle America is starting to realize that a college education ain’t what it used to be and that, more than cost, is going to force reforms. A lot of IHEs are going to fold, and that will force reforms.

  2. Prof. Weissberg, you need to look to the philosophical roots of the problem. The “Long March” didn’t just happen…

  3. Perhaps calling upon the retired but most respected professors will help. They are not worried about losing tenure. Maybe some monetary incentives could spark their sense of courage to again take on the challenge to point out the “king has no close”. Challenge the elite, essential, most productive professors to point out the absurdities of this situation and its consequences.
    Personally, I try to use humor to show their absurdity. Wherever past indigenous wrongs are addressed, I usually reply that, ” And I am still mad at the Romans for invading Brittany and Normandy. But many of my friends and families are from Italy.”
    Wouldn’t it be great if “Enlightenment Now” was selected as the required pre entry reading for all freshmen at XYX Univ.?
    Push the progressive extreme administrators to further heights, “fire a tenured math professor for insisting the Axiom of Choice is a rational point of view”. Then hold the Title IX administrators accountable for any decisions they make because some 20’year student felt uncomfortable with this view.
    Perhaps some monetary and career damages against PC administrators will curtail the continuation of this nonsence.

  4. I deleted a much longer post because I admit I fear, should leftist faculty members or adminstrators have gotten a hold of it, they would have tried to use it to get me fired. Since I teach at a private college, First Amendment protections do not necessarily apply. Just as policing is becoming an increasingly dangerous occupation because of those who push a demonstrably false narrative about police brutality, being a professor who does not toe the leftist line makes teaching at the college level less rewarding.MANY conservative students have shared their disgust with the ideological uniformity. Although I’ll continue financially supporting FIRE, I think this battle is lost.

  5. Until university governing boards get serious about the leftist threat to academia, nothing will change. It will just get worse as you have duly noted. Conservative reform will never happen if left to liberal status quo administrators and faculty. This is the situation in North Carolina where the UNC system governing board has been totally controlled by the Republican legislature for ten years. Yet, there has been no conservative reform in the university system and the campus left is stronger than ever. The feckless Republicans on the UNC system governing boards have shown no interest whatsoever in addressing the problems you have described. Conservative professor Mike Adams at UNC Wilmington was driven to suicide by the taunts of liberal faculty and, sadly, the Republican governing boards did not even issue a statement on his death. If the campus situation nationwide is like that in North Carolina, the battle is tragically lost.

  6. I’m afraid it’s about as bad as Robert Weissberg says, and no, I don’t have any answers, just some hunches (see below, actually). The only group that seems to have made much of a difference at all is FIRE. Other groups have helped get very small niche programs going, or had some success in publicizing their critiques, without however any significant effect.

    As Weissberg says, most or at least very many people are basically against most of this stuff from the left, the most egregious anyhow. Lowering of standards, race preferences, the critical race madness.

    The trouble is, the left has great genius in framing issues in very simpleminded but appealing ways. “Black lives matter.” The right is incredibly clumsy both in dealing with and countering this with frames of their own. And, the right has by now become much less educated than the left. And besides, it is beset all sorts of lunacy about covid, election conspiracies, “allies” from the neo-fascist right, and Trump’s general boorishness before he descended into what came to look to many people like madness.

    Add to that, the normal Republicans are hardly interested in cultural and intellectual matters. Take Prof Weissberg’s idea of reforming the education schools. It could be done in the red states. But the Republican politicians have neither the smarts, nor the will, nor the ingenuity to pick it up and run with it. They could do things to reform more largely their public universities. It wouldn’t change everything at once, but it could start to make a difference. In the red states, and even better, precisely in the big swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, with distinguished and large public universities.

    It doesn’t help that conservatives spend so much time and energy denigrating public K-12 education, and also higher education in general. Decrying higher ed as a ripoff and waste of time is not going to get you anywhere if you’re trying to reform things. Try saying that kind of stuff at a faculty job interview and see how it goes over.

    Instead of whining about public schools and fantasizing about replacing them with charters and vouchers, why not go into public school teaching en masse, and take over, or at least seize some of the power? Including in the teachers unions.

    1. You have hinted at The Truth That Dare Not Speak Its Name: so-called conservatives have little interest in the war of ideas. They will fund economic causes generously but not anything “intellectual.” They fail to grasp that, potentially, today’s stupidity is tomorrow’s orthodoxy. Perhaps they believe that economics trumps everything–people naturally want to get rich and will thus, naturally, avoid schemes that will impoverish them. And, by the time conservatives wake up, game over. Places like CATO will spend millions to no avail since those who run it underestimate the power of bad ideas. Maybe we should turn our battle over to those who’ve made millions in advertising. It is no accident that Trump’s message resonated so well among millions–he spent decades selling stuff.

      1. I think you hit a nail right on the head. Advertising! The Left is brilliant at framing things, I keep saying. “Black Lives Matter” was brilliant! But when they flub this, they lose. “Defund the Police!” Not a good slogan if you want to win elections, as the “downstream Democrats” found out. And look at the most successful of today’s businesses. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla, etc. Brilliant marketing, on top of often-great products. Look at Moderna of the vaccine. Their stock symbol is mnra. mRNA, get it! Marketing! The Right needs to work on marketing.

        But before that — as you say! — and I keep saying — the Right has to wake up, realize there is a war of ideas, a culture war, and then be willing to fight it where they have an advantage, in the elected political sphere. They keep losing for reasons. I don’t completely understand, but there are reasons. If they’d start really fighting for a change, they might start to learn how to be successful.

        A good place to start would be the K-12 schools, the ed schools that train the teachers, and more generally, the public universities in the reddish states. Are the Republican legislators awake enough to see something they don’t like at, say, the University of Wisconsin? Then they could damn well start to do something about it! Suggestion: start with the diversity statements that have become ubiquitous in faculty hiring. Ban them by law. See what happens. It would be marvelous!

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