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