Dysfunctional U.

Fredrik deBoer provides further testimony to just how dysfunctional academia has become.

I thought of all that as I read this piece on the absurd, infuriating, ongoing situation with Rebecca Tuvel and her not-at-all transphobic article. That controversy lays bare all of contemporary academia’s entrenched pathology, the pervasive culture of fear that has settled into the humanities and social sciences, especially in elite environs. For every one of these controversies that goes public, there are vastly more situations where someone self-censors, or is quietly bullied into acquiescing. For every odd example that goes viral, there is no doubt dozens more that occur behind closed doors.

Indeed. Tell us more.

My life, as a academic who also writes about politics and culture, and as someone who is willing to publicly critique the absurdities and excesses of social justice politics, functions as proof of what Oliver is saying. For years now I’ve been the recipient of just that kind of private expression of fear and unhappiness from those who are similarly unwilling to speak out publicly. Since the beginning of my graduate education, I have been someone who other academics feel that they can come to in order to voice their shock and dismay at just how toxic the culture within academia has become. They tell stories about petty witch hunts and show trials within their departments. They share their fear about objecting to arguments they find unfair or unsupported. They say they feel compelled to follow current academic fads for fear of being labeled. They are convinced that stepping out of line with the constant search for offense will render them permanently unemployable, even though they are themselves progressive people. You’ve heard the litany before. They share it with me.

I see.

Because they know that they can trust that I won’t ever betray their confidence, and because of my (self-aggrandizing, I admit) indifference to my professional reputation, they email me. They find me at conferences. And they always say the same thing: I could never say this publicly, but…. The Tuvel situation is just one example of a pervasive culture of fear, a feeling that even when one has the strong sense that an injustice is being done, academia is not a place where such reservations can be freely voiced.

Imagine that.  Academia is not a place where such reservations can be freely voiced.  Could this be because the postmodernists have real power inside of academia?

Some will insist that this is just the secretly conservative saying what they truly believe, that this is all white men decrying a changing academic world. I suppose on balance the backchannel to me is paler and maler than the academy writ large. But the truth is that all kinds of people discuss this stuff with me: white and black, male and female, trans and cis. And the people who approach me aren’t mostly those rare academic conservatives, who barely exist these days, but rather liberals and leftists who believe in the movement for equality but find that the way that movement operates in the contemporary university has become toxic and unjust.

So how did the contemporary university become toxic and unjust?  If the liberals and leftists really want to rectify the toxicity spawned by their postmodern cousins, how is it that none of them ever seem to reflect on how they got where they are?  C’mon, scholars.  Think.  How did your universities become so toxic?

Well, instead of trying to understand what went wrong, deBoer relies on some gut feeling that a backlash is coming:

I’ve said it for years: there’s a backlash brewing, against these tactics. People are fed up. Those who live and operate in left discursive spaces are numb and exhausted from living in the constant fear of saying the wrong thing and stepping on a landmine. Over-the-top wokeness is now obligatory in media and academia, which means that much of it is performed in bad faith, with the cynical and the opportunistic now adopting that language and those tactics for their own selfish ends. Meanwhile, decent people who are sincerely committed to the actual ideals that underlie that language are forced to self-censor or else to drop out entirely. This is no way to advance the cause.

Backlash to the rescue?  That’s it?

If you’re one of the many people who agrees with me but is afraid to come forward publicly, I urge you to speak out. You just have to be willing to risk being perceived as arguing against people who are in some sense “on your side.” Is that so bad? I do it all the time, and my commitment to the causes that I identify with remains as strong as ever. The basic requirement of being a critical, useful political voice lies in a willingness to say when you think your own side has gone wrong. The left does not need more loyal soldiers. Quite the contrary: what the left needs is people who are committed to acknowledging complexity and nuance. You can help to change the culture of these movements, to make them healthier and fairer and, in doing so, strengthen them. All you have to do is have the guts to say how you feel.

So rather than think about where things derailed, instead just plea with other liberals and leftists to “speak out” to strengthen “the cause.”

How pathetic.

Hey, let’s make it real.  If an academic backlash pops up, will it look like white privilege reacting to its loss of power?  Oh, oh.  Will it be possible to label those who are part of the “backlash” as racists and sexists and homophobes and transphobes and Islamophobes?  Unless there are plenty of nonacademic jobs for people with PhDs in the various humanities and social sciences, I’m not seeing any potential for any serious backlash large enough to contain the toxic effects of postmodernism.  But you can always hope.

In the meantime……

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigators will visit Cornell University next week in the midst of its sixth open Title IX violation investigation — the most of any university in the nation.

Sarah Affel, Cornell’s Title IX coordinator, told USA TODAY College that the Office for Civil Rights is reviewing Cornell’s compliance with Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance.

“As part of that review process, OCR representatives will be on campus February 28 and March 1 to conduct focus groups and hold private office hours,” she stated in an email message. “All students are encouraged to take this opportunity to provide OCR with direct feedback. Later this week, students on the Ithaca campus will receive an email with additional information regarding meeting times and locations.”

The University had no further comment.


University of California Santa Cruz administrators recently agreed to meet to all four demands lodged by a black student group who commandeered a campus building and would not leave until their conditions were met.

But in addition to the four initial stipulations, the group made three other demands to the university, and it has warned UC Santa Cruz that it has four months to comply with these demands or “more Reclamations” will result.


The alliance’s three additional demands are that the university purchase a property “to serve as a low income housing cooperative for historically disadvantaged students,” that the university “allocate $100,000” for Santa Cruz’s “SOMeCA” student organization support department, and that the university create either a Black Studies department or  a Black Studies Minor or Major.

The group promised that, if their demands are not met, UC Santa Cruz will “force [them] to have to take what [they] know to be in [their] best interest to Reclaim.”



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