It’s been a great year for academic absurdity—understanding the word “great” in the quantitative, not the qualitative, sense, i.e., “big,” or “extensive,” not “excellent.” Where to start? With Larry Summers, science, and women at Harvard? With the campaign against Israel at Columbia’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures? Those stories are still percolating. And why not? As we write, the words of Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab Studies at Columbia, are still echoing down Morningside Heights: “There is a nationwide campaign against the autonomy of universities … based on the utterly spurious assumption that universities are strongholds of radical and liberal beliefs.” Spurious? Meanwhile, Harvard is trying to figure out how to spend the extra $50 million that Summers has promised to silence his critics … no, that’s not right: we mean, to recruit and promote women “and other under-represented groups” in math and the sciences. The past quarter-century of left-wing discrimination, a.k.a. “affirmative action,” wasn’t enough, you see, hence the additional dough.

But Harvard and Columbia are only the tip of the iceberg. We’re dealing here with an embarrassment of … well, not “riches,” certainly: let’s just say “with an embarrassment” and leave it at that. For example, we’ve reported before in this space on little Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. It has really outdone itself lately. In December, the college cleverly timed the announcement of their new capital campaign to coincide with an invitation to Susan Rosenberg, late of the Weather Underground, to teach a month-long seminar as an “artist/activist-in-residence.” Guess what? Many people objected quite vigorously to the idea that a liberal arts college should hire a felon whose only public accomplishments were 1) driving a getaway car in an armed robbery that left a Brinks guard dead and two police officers wounded, and 2) transporting a cache of automatic weapons, and 740 pounds of high explosives. Hamilton tried to brazen it out: “Free speech!” “Diversity!” “Women writers!”—the administration tried out all the usual mantras. Nevertheless, donations to the college dried up and Rosenberg “withdrew.”

The Rosenberg wheeze came to the world courtesy of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture, an outfit at Hamilton which is exactly what its name implies, a left-wing catchment where aging ’60s radicals pool to ferment and celebrate themselves. A list of the Kirkland Project’s activities reads like a parody of wacko academic radicalism (check out their programming online). L’affaire Rosenberg was a body-blow to Hamilton’s fund-raising efforts, but, hey, why be satisfied with half measures? Kirkland’s next trick was to invite Ward Churchill to campus. You remember Ward Churchill: he’s the make-believe Injun and tenured prof from the University of Colorado who thinks that the victims of Islamofascist terrorism are like Nazi bureaucrats. Thanks, Ward! You got your fifteen minutes of celebrity, but Hamilton College got the country’s anger and contempt—quite right, too.

What to do? How about a faculty committee to “study” the problem? Hamilton duly convened such a beast and, lo, it has spoken. In its final report, dated April 26, the Kirkland Project Review Committee gives us—a total whitewash. Yes, there have been “controversies” (what controversies? Neither Rosenberg nor Churchill is even mentioned) but “the breadth of faculty engagement in the mission of the Project makes clear that the Project serves a perceived curricular need.” Where is Bishop Berkeley when you need him? At least he had the excuse of believing that “to be is to be perceived,” but what sort of justification is “a perceived curricular need” for the Kirkland Project on Left-Wing Politically Correct Activism (that’s plain English for “the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture”)? Take your time …

To those who believe that the Kirkland Project is a tendentious, politically motivated institution that has no place at a liberal arts institution, the Committee responds that “We believe that it would be dangerously inappropriate for a liberal arts college to restrict the kinds of points of view expressible in the missions of established or broadly supported campus organizations.” Of course, the committee really believes no such thing. Hamilton College in general, and the Kirkland Project in particular, restricts all sorts of “points of view,” as anyone who asks “What conservative speakers/ programs/initiatives has the Kirkland Project sponsored?” will discover. The short answer to that question is None. We all know that academia has become a one-party state, proclaiming “diversity” while practicing conformity. But it is rare to have the contradiction illustrated quite so blatantly.

Academic committee reports are not famous for their humor. But this one does contain an inadvertently droll moment. It comes at the very end. In matters of substance, the report concludes, Kirkland should remain very much what it has been. But because of “considerable disagreement” about its mission, the committee recommends that—can you guess? That the Kirkland Project be disbanded and its assets distributed to a new organization for the study of the American Founders? Not quite. The one concrete recommendation the committee makes is that the Kirkland Project —change its name.

American higher education is in a state of crisis. For once, the public, which one way or another foots the bill, has suddenly sat up and begun to take notice. This is exactly what the professors do not want. But such scrutiny is the only thing that will save the academy from its malignant addiction to left-wing pieties.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 23 Number 10, on page 1
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