Political Correctness Is Alive and Well on College Campuses

Mr. Levy is a Professor of History at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. He gave the following testimony at a hearing in Millersville, PA held on March 22, 2006 by the Pennsylvania House Select Committee on Academic Freedom.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Alan Levy. I have been a professor in the Pa. State System of Higher Education (SSHE) at Slippery Rock University for 21 years. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. I have also taught at the University of Louisville and at the Phillips Exeter Academy. I teach in the history department at Slippery Rock. I have served, as well, as the Director of the University’s Honors’ Program. I have also written books and articles in the areas of American cultural and social history. Throughout my years in the Pa.-SSHE I have observed many events and developments which lie at the heart of issues about which many commentators, of both the political left and right, have written in regard to problems which continue to occur in higher education. I am most grateful to each of the members of this State Assembly Committee for giving me the opportunity to come before you. I would like, today, to minimize any general philosophizing in which I or any number of educators could engage, although, being an academic, I will probably lapse into it. Please rein me in if I do, for I would like, instead, to focus my attention on some specific examples of problems that I have observed, problems which get at the heart of the threats to academic freedom and quality that exist on Pa. campuses, and from there let you draw your own conclusions.

One general development that has occurred on many campuses involves a politicization of areas of the curriculum. One example of this at Slippery Rock University concerns its Women’s Studies Program. For years, Women’s Studies activists have held the raison d’etre for their programs to lie in the fact that the traditional disciplines and institutions have allegedly ignored topics and events pertinent to women. There was some legitimacy in that claim 30 to 35 years ago, but today that argument has little tenability. Perusals of every major textbook in any field and of the topics at every major academic convention all yield the obvious conclusion -- that gender matters are anything but ignored. Many feminists have been unwilling to recognize this, and there is an intolerance that grows with the resistance. Many students thus report that a professor on my campus openly commences her classes with the unashamed statement that she teaches from a feminist perspective and that no other outlooks are welcome before her. In history, one old professor, long retired, once (over 20 years ago) made the silly statement that women generally did not do well in one of his classes. Even though that professor has not taught in years, administrators and feminists have repeatedly referred to his gaffe as though it was indicative of sensibilities still alive in the university. If the sensibilities are so perniciously alive, why is a statement of a long-retired professor a singular, mantra-like point of evidence? Beyond, if such a gaffe is to be remonstrated, what about the words of someone who openly proclaims that no perspectives but feminist ones will be tolerated? Somehow, we’re not allowed to talk about that. It is the height of disingenuousness here for professors to posture about the need for “openness and civility” in the classroom, and then when their classroom doors are shut, dispense with civility, open-mindedness, and, often and not coincidentally, intellectual rigor as well. The only thing more disingenuous is when administrators manipulatively hail these posturings as proof that we have no problems with politicization in the classroom.

One of the “courses” in the W.S. Program is currently entitled “Feminist Perspectives in the Disciplines.” In one semester, the course has purported to give insights into virtually all major fields of the curriculum. In a 15-week term, students are allegedly given “understandings” of economics, biology, chemistry, physics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, art, music, and more. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. But, more importantly, the course simply (and “simply” is indeed the best word here) boils down to discussions about barely-understood academic fields each of which is robotically accused of downgrading and ignoring women. Opinions that women are not victims in a given academic field are not to be considered. Anyone who criticizes any points about “oppression” or “patriarchy” is attacked with McCarthyistic certainty. When the course first came before a faculty committee for approval in 1996, for example, I personally raised questions both about the “party-line” atmosphere apt to be present in the course and about the content of any course that claimed to offer insights into an array of fields more vast than anyone could possibly master. The course sponsor responded at a purely ad hominem level, attacking me on personal grounds and claiming she had been harassed. Ignoring the silly personal attacks, I raised the question as to whether the professor’s angry, vituperative responses were indicative of how the course would be taught and how students who raised honest but uncomfortable questions would be treated. No response came. Nonetheless, the course proposal passed, with few committee members willing to consider the “teaching versus preaching” elements obviously inherent in the course as well as in the reactions to my questions.

It is this combination of very narrow, ideologically-driven truculence and fear- or apathy-driven acquiescence that lies at the heart of the proliferation of what has been labeled “political correctness” on so many American campuses, including those of the Pa. SSHE. Several professors quietly spoke to me about such issues as those posed by the Women’s Studies course. In the discussions, the general tone was one which said “I agree with you, but why bother to make waves?” Another opined about the proliferation of political correctness: “Just let it run its course.” This go along/get along attitude, combined with comfortable faculty salaries is an enormous enabler, in my judgment, of politicization’s growth on my and other campuses. This laziness continues to permit academic quality to deteriorate, as often highly personal politics cloud academic standards.

At Slippery Rock, for example, a faculty member who claims to be one of the campus’s leading advocates of women’s issues attained the rank of full professor with a scholarly record that claimed two published books. One book, she said, was “published” by the University of Michigan Microfilm Service. This service involves the microfilming of virtually every doctoral thesis in the country and thus hardly qualifies as a publication. Moreover, the professor claimed the completion of her doctoral thesis as a separate scholarly accomplishment. The second “book” was “published” by “Desk Top Publishing of Slippery Rock, Pa.,” an absurdity that requires no explanation. The fact that a professor’s pretending of scholarly achievements could be done in such a brazen manner speaks volumes as to the importance that “political correctness” has come to hold in some administrative and academic circles in the Pa. SSHE. Someone without p.c. feminist credentials could not attain the rank and salary of a full professor with such dishonesties in his/her record. Worst of all, those who point out such academic falsehoods are themselves subject to political pressures. There is a form of institutional dysfunction here, akin to what psychologists describe in problem families where things like alcoholism are not addressed, and where rage ensues when someone dares to bring up its existence. The Slippery Rock administration once tried to hold back my application for promotion for explicitly political reasons. One former dean was frank about it with me: “They’re just slappin’ your wrist,” he said, “because you’ve p_____ some people off.” When I challenged the administration on their actions and brought up such admissions from my dean, the then president grew furious with the dean -- another example of dysfunctional rage at someone who dares to tell a truth that some do not want to let out in the open.

In 2003, a faculty member who had clearly faked her academic credentials and gotten away with it when applying for promotion to full professor was apparently angry at those who had pointed out her academic fraud. She went on-line to a private teacher-rating service called “RateMyProfessor.com”. Falsely posing as a student of the professor who pointed out the fraud in her record, she wrote: “he is a misogynist.” No clearer example of p.c.-driven McCarthyism could possibly be found. I was the professor who was the victim of the lying here. She and other professors have also attempted to get me fired. To this end, they openly bragged to one another and to some students that they were going to see to it that in 2003 I would not be able to return from a sabbatical. The fact that they did not succeed is hardly a source of comfort. I am less important here than is the matter of the self-entitled anti-freedom mentality that sits in many parts of the school.

In 2001, one Dean at Slippery Rock formed a faculty committee to look into matters of what he called “faculty morale and scholarship.” When someone raised the issue of how morale and desires for scholarly achievement are damaged when people get away with faking their credentials on promotions, defensive reactions grew among the uncomfortable faculty. The defensiveness grew to the point that the Dean was persuaded eventually to disband the committee. Then the Dean tried to claim that the phrase “scholarship and faculty morale” had been misinterpreted. He said it meant “how to raise money for student scholarships.” The ham-handed, dishonest manner of side-stepping here only added to the lesson that many drew -- that the problems of legitimate academic quality and academic freedom, of which scholarship is a significant part, are indeed imperiled by the indulgence of those who perform minimally and fraudulently in their professional work and indulge themselves in petty campus politics by playing politically correct cards.

Like most campuses, Slippery Rock University has committees that oversee important matters of curriculum. One such committee at Slippery Rock is called the “Liberal Studies Committee.” This committee screens most initiatives on curriculum changes, and it looks at proposals for new courses. When professors propose courses, they normally furnish all necessary details including a bibliography. Members of the Liberal Studies Committee at Slippery Rock now have a custom of looking at the bibliography and asking only one major question -- is there a 50% representation of women among the authors in the bibliography? Course proposals have been turned down simply on that basis. The administration of the university can claim that the 50%-women rule is not their official policy, but the fact is that they have never taken issue with this custom or overturned such decisions of the committee. Thus, by any pragmatic standard, the 50%-women rule is operative and, to say the least, absurd. (Is it not the very opposite of what early women’s rights people always sought -- that gender should not be an issue?)

Another example of the ways in which indulged political correctness at Slippery Rock has a direct and negative impact on academic freedom and quality: On several occasions, the university’s feminists have led, and been funded for, a staging of a play called The Vagina Monologues. At each of the play’s presentations, several professors have actually required students not only to attend but to pay for tickets out of their own pockets. This marks a clear point of politicization of the classroom. Yet no campus official has ever challenged the practice.

At one point during a VM staging in 2001, three professors wrote a letter in the campus newspaper, not advocating that the performance be stopped, but simply presenting the idea that the play entails, as much as anything else, the misandrist, carping pseudo-victimology of a group of people who claim to be oppressed while actually being more wealthy and privileged than 99%+ of all the people who have ever lived on this planet. Rather than acknowledging the free-speech rights of all (let alone actually considering the points being raised), the campus feminists chose react in several unconscionable ways. One angrily called one of the critics “a cheap Jew.” (‘So much for the politically correct posturing themselves as upholders of tolerance and civility!) On the night of the Monologues performance, some of the participants also went to the home of one of the critics, dumped a load of trash on his lawn, and hurled a stone through one of his car windows. No one made any acknowledgment of regret. Further, in their university (tax)-funded Women Studies Newsletter, the feminists subsequently printed pages of criticism (“Vagina Friendly Responses”) in response to those who wrote the letter in the student newspaper. The student newspaper, of course, had given the feminists equal time in response to the original letter. The feminists, however, refused to allow any rebuttal to be printed in their newsletter. Even though his office funded their program and newsletter, the campus provost, now university president, did not, although directly asked, explicitly demand and require the granting “equal time.” Many asked the obvious question here: how many nano-seconds would have elapsed were the roles reversed and it was the campus feminists who (in addition to being called vicious names and having their windows broken) were being denied some form of equal time in a campus-funded publication? A union official, now the campus provost, was asked this very question, and he responded smilingly: “That number is too infinitesimal to be calculated.” The smile of the provost hardly indicates any commitment to academic freedom. Indeed, it indicates the very worst -- a cynical, cavalier disregard for it.

Since that issue of “equal time” in a campus-funded publication arose, the administration has demanded that the Feminist Newsletter refrain from engaging in political editorializing. The administration never balanced the inequity that remains from their 2001 refusal to grant equal time. Instead they have choked off what could be an effective component of campus life -- free, open debate over important issues. The feminists acquiesced to the demand. One would think they would have fought for their rights to air their views fully, but apparently they prefer to silence their critics, even if it means accepting some silencing themselves. It reveals to me what they really want from students and others -- obedience, not freedom of thought. (Of course with this situation, they can claim to be oppressed.)

In 2006, when a professor at Slippery Rock presented a little parody of The Vagina Monologues called The Penis Papers and Cloaca Confessions, he had advertisement fliers officially stamped by the appropriate Slippery Rock office so those fliers could be posted on bulletin boards about the campus. The presenters of The Vagina Monologues had done the same thing. On their posters the VM producers placed a huge set of vertically-drawn female lips. Many found that distasteful, yet no one took down any VM posters, and it would have led to howls from feminists if anyone had. The Penis Papers posters had but a picture of the Empire State Building as an illustration, yet on several occasions students who were putting up the fliers witnessed female faculty tearing down these fliers claiming they were “disgusting.” If anyone had taken down their arguably more offensive VM posters, these same people would have waxed long and indignant about the First Amendment and the intolerance of their critics. Yet when they think something to be offensive to their political concerns, the feminists’ senses of entitlement narcissistically override all notions of integrity and hypocrisy. So much for the wisdom of Voltaire about disagreeing with some yet defending their right to voice their views.

On another occasion the same campus feminists wrote a letter to all faculty and staff, on the state’s nickel and distributed through official channels by the university, in which they explicitly called upon people who gave to the local United Way to make sure none of their donations go to the Boy Scouts. Their argument here dwelled earnestly on how the Boy Scouts discriminate against homosexuals. From there the feminists’ letter advocated that people earmark their donations to several local shelters for women who are victims of domestic abuse. Rejoinders were asserted to the effect that, even accepting the argument about the Boy Scouts’ views on homosexuality, the majority of the Scouts’ work was laudable, and that the Shelters, while most of their work is also laudable, discriminate themselves -- against male victims of domestic violence, and do so probably to the same proportion in relation to their overall work as do the Boy Scouts in regard to homosexuality. The university did not pay for or circulate any such rejoinder, however.

In 2004 when a department at Slippery Rock was engaged in a job search, one professor was most anxious to see to it that a woman was hired. State and Federal laws require that every effort must be made on behalf of seeking qualified female and minority candidates, but quotas have always been ruled unlawful. The department in question had an exemplary record in seeking female candidates. They hired several women. They offered jobs to several women who took positions elsewhere. During this job search, candidates were each asked, as is normal, to give a demonstration lecture. When a female candidate was to give her lecture, this professor told her students to attend, show interest, and ask questions, all with the inducement that those who complied would receive bonus points toward their final grades. Given the grade issue, some students accepted the inducement and felt terribly manipulated as a result. Subsequently, this professor hid the facts of her inducements and claimed to colleagues that the particular female candidate had clearly shown herself to be the most effective classroom teacher on the basis of student enthusiasm. The candidate was offered the post, but some students informed her of the manipulation afoot and she ended up accepting another university’s offer. More significantly and sadly, when faculty learned of this professor’s manipulations, most preferred not to take her to task. If anyone had tried to stack the deck half so audaciously in favor of a male candidate, all hell would have broken loose.

In another job search, a department was again inviting candidates to campus. Several of the finalists were women. The day before a male finalist was slated to appear, one professor asked several colleagues if they were available to have dinner with the candidate after he’d arrived from the airport and checked into his motel. One female colleague responded to the request to have dinner with a male candidate thus: “I see my role in the search as a cheerleader for the female candidates, so I see no point in spending any extra time with a male candidate.” Were someone to show any such gender prejudice for a male candidate and against a female candidate, the administration of any SSHE campus would react with immense indignation. Yet when someone shows open prejudice in favor of a female, all is silent, except in regard to anyone who seeks to point out and correct the obvious hypocrisies.

It is not just the issue of gender that lies at the root of petty political dynamics that erode academic freedom and quality. At Slippery Rock, students have complained regularly about substandard teaching from faculty who appear to have gained positions via political connections based on irrelevant matters like lifestyle. In first-year College Writing classes, some students complain about the fact that the main things they learn in their classes is that it is best to agree with the political views of their teachers and that it is pointless to disagree. Things like grammar and writing style are secondary at best. Elsewhere, others have complained about professors who have openly stated “I hate white people. I am a victim of institutionalized racism, so my hatreds do not matter.” (This comment has never gotten the same attention from administrators as has the 20-year-old one-time gaffe of “women usually do not do well in this course.”) In such classes, these hatreds do matter, and students gain the clear sense that the way to good grades is simply to parrot back to the professors what they want to hear in regard to political viewpoints. Students also learn that it is useless to challenge the outrages of such professors to administrators. The classic idea of open discussion, with all viewpoints being allowed to be aired, is turned completely on its head. With few willing to put a stop to it, students and their academic freedom are the victims.

Another political dimension in the imperiling of academic quality and freedom has come via the SSHE faculty union. As with political correctness, union activism, independent of classroom and scholarly excellence, can be a major factor in regard to tenure and promotions at Slippery Rock. In 2004, furthermore, when there was a possibility of a faculty strike in SSHE, some faculty used their classrooms as fora for the airing of their views on the issues at stake. While a little of that may be useful in some disciplines, care needs to be taken to allow for a balance of opinions. According to many students, the very opposite was often the case. Some classes were devoted to one-sided discussions. As with the “I hate white people” professor, no student would dare speak to some faculty about the strike issues with any viewpoint besides one friendly to the professors. This cynicism-inducing outrage paled before another matter here: students also reported in significant numbers of professors in the School of Education doing more than just discussing the union/strike issues in a one-sided manner. According to many students, some Education School professors actually told their students that if there was a strike and they (Ed. faculty) found any of their students crossing picket lines, they would do everything they could to see to it that the crossers would never get any jobs at the elementary or secondary schools to which they were applying to teach. Such “black-balling” threats are hardly what educational quality and academic freedom are supposed to entail.

I’m in the faculty union, and I am going to get heat for saying these things -- not because anyone will say my facts are wrong, but because I am saying what many think ought to be kept quiet. Dysfunction never “runs its course.” Indeed in 1999, when I wrote a lengthy statement airing many wrongs that were occurring within areas of the university, some union leaders actually bragged that they were going to get me fired. In a meeting with the university’s administration they also made noises how the speech of those “who bash the university” should be silenced. (Apparently the power to limit free speech and to determine what constitutes “bashing” as opposed to cogent analysis is held solely by some union bureaucrats?) The union’s general membership reacted by voting to uphold the First Amendment. Still, such bureaucracy-led anti-intellectual, small-town bigotry is not what academic freedom is supposed to entail, and at Slippery Rock it grows among many in mutually-promoting positions of union and management leadership.

The campuses of SSHE have seen the steady erosion of academic quality and academic freedom because of the cowardly and apathetic indulgence of professionally inadequate, sometimes openly dishonest, politically-correct schemers. The prevalent pattern of administration on SSHE campuses has involved handling the problems they create mainly with an eye toward avoiding embarrassments and cynically placating political constituencies. Consequently, it is now quite useful that such outrages are being aired before a wider audience. As a Republican respected on both sides of the political aisle said years ago, it is altogether fitting and proper that we do this.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

alan howard levy - 3/26/2007

It has now been nearly a year since I testified before a committee of the Pennsylvania Assembly in regard to the issue of political correctness on campuses. I wanted to wait until the “ripples on the pond” cleared of all the (many) stones cast my way before offering any comments.
After a year, I note, most importantly, that I have yet to receive any substantive negations of any of the facts that I raised. If any of my critics, on or off the Slippery Rock campus, could have shown me to have been wrong about any facts I raised to the Pa. legislature, they surely would have done so. Yet no challenges to facts have arisen. Many of the incidents I cited in my presentation were those I personally witnessed. Beyond those, I did send the Pa. Assembly signed letters from students who also witnessed various incidents. So even those who could not fault the facts but asked for proof have no basis for criticism.
There have been a lot of reactions to my testimony, here at HNN and elsewhere. One reaction involved a lot of “how dare you” rhetoric. In April, most conspicuously and humorously, my campus’s president gave a “State of the University” address, and in it he honored me, although that was hardly his intention, by actually singling me out by name. Here he indignantly pronounced to all that he “was offended.” I was given no response time. If the pres. had been able to take to task any of the facts I raised, he would have done so with great relish. Instead he appeared to retreat into his ego.
As I am sure is the case on many campuses, the greatest sadness here was, and is, that a critical mass of sycophancy exists among the faculty. As a result, any such empty pose as that of the “offended” Slippery Rock president curries sufficient favor to carry the day. Few want to look deeper into matters of the hypocrisies and illiberalisms, no matter how blatant they may be, that continue to drag down the potential quality of the teaching and scholarly work that takes place here and elsewhere.
At the end of his pose of indignation, the campus president actually called upon everyone to rise, asking (shouting) like some sort of Southern revivalist preacher “Are You With Me?” As Slippery Rock is a state university, the principle of the separation of church and state seems to have been violated here. Much sadder is the point that a determinative block of faculty are willing to buy such snake oil, as well as live in denial about how badly such anti-intellectualism damages the institution.
Since my testimony, with such barren responses as that of my campus president, it has indeed then become ever more clear to me why so much of the obvious illiberalisms of what is commonly called “political correctness” continue to thrive on many campuses. The reasons stem only partially from the political truculence of the most closed-minded ersatz feminists and other politicos. Just as significant is a preponderance of simple laziness throughout academe. People just do not want to confront obvious problems. When some claim they are too busy with other things, I respect it. But, given the number of indignant opponents I have encountered who have, not coincidentally, done little to no research and writing in their years since graduate school, I am often doubtful of the “I’m too busy” pose. Laziness, fear, the comforts of tenure and a nice salary -- these seem the real reasons. Indeed, those who are genuinely busy with scholarly matters also do not have the time to make expressions of indignation at such testimony as mine.
One of the avenues to success that smaller public universities like Slippery Rock has regularly posed to people who do no research and writing involves participation in a myriad of often superfluous, tedious committees. At many second/third-tier universities, if one plays the right political games, one can get away with such a professionally vacuous tenure strategy. The growing preponderance of those who have taken this easy road to security has steadily eroded much of the academic freedom and quality for which they supposedly stand. This has occurred, I contend, because the fundamental outlook of such nervous non-scholars is not toward the pursuit of truth regardless of any mere institutional affiliations or dictates. The devotion is instead to mere self-survival, most decidedly within an institution’s dictates and culture, matters which are never to be challenged, lest the façades of the tenure-inducing pseudo-academicism all come crashing down. When such anxious, other-directed souls dominate an institution, any questioning, no matter how factual, indeed especially if factual, hits them at their most insecure spot -- the place where they have shelved academic ambitions, where they resent the achievements and ambitions of others, and where they feel their institution, hence their financial livelihood, is being threatened.
A ton of literature in the field of business and management has studied such devolutions in the corporate world (witness Toyota’s eclipse of GM this year). The fact that it has occurred in the academic world, especially in second/third-tier universities like Slippery Rock and many others, is very sad. For these are the schools to which the average American families send their children, and they are being greatly short-changed. One expects those in the corporate life to have to make compromises. Meanwhile, some essential services which universities provide the nation, as scholars do their research and teaching, are ideally rooted in the fact that an academic environment is one where free speech and discourse should reign with the fewest impediments. The illiberal contradictions of political correctness continually erode this, and a critical mass of generally unproductive faculty is lazily content to let it occur.
With the preponderance of faculty members who have turned themselves into committee managers (and in the Pa. system the Lilliputian labyrinths of the faculty union compound this enormously), there is an easy meshing with an identical other-directed mentality that thrives among the ever-burgeoning ranks of college administrators. Over the past generation, at so many second/third tier universities, the result has been the implantation of a new academic culture that is dominated not by good teachers and scholars but by mere bureaucrats. In the Pennsylvania State System this has formed a mutually reinforcing network of union and administrative managers that dominate virtually key academic matters involving such issues as curriculum, hiring, tenure, and promotion. So many committees are completely dominated by this network, and young faculty who enter the institutions cannot but take note. Those who then proceed with their legitimate academic concerns do so not because of or even regardless of the corrupt union/management hegemony, but in spite of it. The obviously easy path to career stability that this dim political culture opens then seduces many young people into joining it. Thus it perpetuates.
The linkage of this sad bureaucratized state into which many universities have fallen to the question of political correctness on campuses is simple: political correctness provides these union and management bureaucrats with a convenient and ridiculously easy language. The mindless p.c. mantras lend false veneers of both liberalism and academic substance. They provide the basis for a tarring of any who question them. Just as any who criticized Sen. Joe McCarthy ran the risk of being called communists, anyone who criticizes such absurdities as I described to the Pa. Assembly last year is attacked as a sexist, homophobe, … .
The renowned scholar Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, herself a past head of the National Women’s Studies Association, has raised the point that someone with sterling academic credentials, but who happened to be outspokenly pro-life on the abortion issue, would rarely if ever get tenure in any Women’s Studies Program in the nation. Meanwhile, someone with far fewer accomplishments, even (as is explicitly so at Slippery Rock) someone who declared she had published two books -- one published by “The University of Michigan Microfilm Service,” the other by “Slippery Rock, Pa.: Desk Top Publishing” -- would (and did) receive tenure and promotions. As it is impossible to deny such points, when I raised such matters I was attacked. My campus president expressed his empty indignation. In May someone threw a large rock through my living room window. And I have been the subject of a myriad of rumors that flew among those who nervously needed to cast false aspersions at me rather than confront the undeniable facts that I raised.
I am not the issue, no matter the way that some critics cannot but focus otherwise. I thus giggle at my president, clean up the glass in my living room, and ignore all the stupid gossip. A perfect example of this ignore-the-facts, shoot-the-messenger mentality at work here is one of the critics who wrote to HNN, John W. Bland. Note that he said not a word about the content of what I wrote. He simply slung mud: “You sound like a real loser.” Bland does not know me; I do not know him. He may or may not be a “loser” (whatever that may mean), as may I; but I note how perfectly his vacuous name-calling underscores the point that so many who cannot deal with politically uncomfortable facts resort to such childish tactics.
The lamentably late Christopher Lasch once wrote of how a culture of narcissism is displacing substantive thought in a myriad of modern American institutional and cultural settings. His analysis remains highly instructive, as Mr. Bland appears clearly to exemplify. While I do not know whether he is a “loser,” I do speculate on the basis of his own writing that he may suffer from an unhealthy level of narcissism. He apparently feels completely justified to engage in mindless name-calling. Naturally no substantive discourse can come from it, but that would obviously not appear to be his desire. He simply wants to silence with derision. Bland’s self-righteousness here further reveals, I believe, how the politically correct thus live with their obvious hypocrisies: the logical contradictions are underlain by some personality disorders. As Freud and others have noted, narcissists cannot be reasoned with, for when their contradictions are brought to light, they respond with impenetrable rage.
In addition to the point about an amalgam of union and administrative bureaucrats masking their superficiality and corruption with the language of p.c., the dimension of narcissism appears to me to be an additional enabler in the proliferation of political intolerance among many of our campuses’ ersatz liberals. Just before the summer Slippery Rock’s Women’s Studies Chair, Jace Condravy, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Ed., in response to the Chronicle’s coverage of my testimony. She claimed that I had never been to a Women’s Studies class. This was a lie. When one considers the obvious point of how she could possibly know what classes I have visited, the apparent self-absorption of her charge is as significant as her falsehood. When I finished my summer’s work and read the charge she made, I wrote the Chronicle, and they refused to print my rejoinder. This recalled one point I originally raised to the Pa. Assembly -- how the p.c. will preach beliefs in free speech yet indulge themselves in blatant, politically motivated contradictions, and do so with complete self-assurance. The Chronicle’s refusal was a bit of a sad surprise. I submit that if I were the one denying the response, there would be hell to pay. Meanwhile, if I were the one being responded to by a Women’s Studies professor, the dictates of journalistic fairness would likely be followed scrupulously.
A Slippery Rock feminist publication once named me by name in a political column and refused me response time, with campus and union officials not enforcing the principle of “equal time.” I reported that to the legislature, and in response to that, a colleague defensively asked me “don’t they have the right to refuse your writing?” I asked him if he thought for one moment, if I was refusing someone response space in a campus-funded newsletter over which I had editorial control, that I would be allowed to get away with that? His response was merely to grow angry. The anger here gets back to the point of narcissism being part of the explanation of why the blatantly contradictory, illiberal actions of many campuses’ politically correct continue to occur. There is no logic, yet it thrives virtually unchallenged.
Narcissism, mutually sustaining bureaucrats in faculty unions and administrations, superficiality from administrative officials, and a critical mass of sycophancy among well-paid, tenured faculty -- this is the sad combination of enabling ingredients that continues to drag down the spirit of free speech and prevent any meaningful diversity of ideas from thriving on many of our campuses. In the past year I have seen nothing that leads me to believe this will begin to change. What little visibility my appearance before the Pa. Assembly gave me has allowed me to see only more of these dangers.
I remain convinced, however, that cynicism and pessimism are not the solution. There is only to do one’s own best work as a writer and teacher, and to continue to speak out against the absurd contradictions that lie all about. Thirty years ago, the writer Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in praise of Alexander Solzhenitzen that “if you pave the world over in concrete somewhere a crack will form and a blade of grass will grow through it.” As the seemingly impenetrable Soviet system could crumble, the plague of campus intolerance need hardly be seen as anything so fearsome. Indeed it is actually quite comical and is probably best treated in that very light. Good-natured, steady pressure is the key, as the p.c. have very little humor about themselves.
In that vein, some of the other questions my HNN commentators raised can be answered. Liza Kazmier wondered, for example, how I could know the identity of someone who wrote negative things about me in ratemyprofessor.com. Ms. Kazmier, when people brag about their unethical activities in places like the lunch room, they may not be terribly bright, but identification is not difficult.
Ms. Kazmier also stated that she had been interviewed for a 1-year post at Slippery Rock a few years ago, claiming that the job went, via “incest,” to “an ABD student who had an undergraduate degree from the employer.” As with the writer who charged that I had never been to a Women’s Studies class, Ms. Kazmier is flat wrong here. I know absolutely that since 1990 the Slippery Rock history department has never hired an ABD student who had an undergrad. degree from the school. In those many years, indeed, the department has never hired any ABD. I raise this point here not only to correct an error but to underscore the point about how some can be apparently so sure as to their political credibility that they can make false charges with McCarthy-like certainty. When Ms. Kazmier writes “all I know is …” she reveals truly that all she knows is -- nothing. Yet when some such as she even hint at the charge of “gender” discrimination, such legal principles as “presumption of innocence” often crumble much as they did in the heyday of Joe McCarthy. Joe McCarthy’s terror was short. The truculence of political correctness is not. It has tenure. It is not only, then, that people like Ms. Kazmier has to learn to stop the mindless playing of the gender card. Others have to stop listening and acquiescing with anxiety-driven prejudice.
Some of the HNN commentators ask for further evidence of the charges I raised. In addition to the point that no one in 12 months has taken to task any of the facts that I raised, I would recommend that my critics contact the Slippery Rock Women’s Studies Program. Before the Pa. legislature, I discussed matters of “equal time” not being allowed in a campus-funded feminist newsletter; I discussed people, falsely posing as students writing to ratemyprofessor, saying politically negative things about colleagues; and I discussed how campus feminists have blatantly faked their publications, openly claiming they have “published” books with the “Michigan Microfilm Service” and with “Desk Top Publishing.” In regard to such points, please contact SR’s Women’s Studies Program. They possess the capacity to verify all these matters.

adam richard schrepfer - 4/18/2006

Dear Lisa,

Your only evidence for them not 'bending over backwards' is that you apparently didn't get the job. It is entirely possible that some members of the staff did infact 'bend over backwards.' Also Professor Levy's point is that there has been some unruly behavior by his peers that goes unchecked. To this you remain silent

Lisa Kazmier - 4/13/2006

You apparently are missing something. I was ABD but I wasn't sure which conference it was, so I was not sure if they knew about my article coming out or not. I didn't look it up to see if I interviewed in 2001 or 2002. I think they should have known about the article, but I don't recall if it was on my CV as "forthcoming" or not. You want me to remember what was on my CV five years ago? Sorry I don't have a filed copy to pull up to please you.

If the article was included I had GREATER credentials and if it wasn't they were the same. That's the difference.

Since I can't for certainly say why they went with the guy I don't know if this is crucial or not. They went with their home grown male candidate. Maybe he was the inside candidate, maybe not. Is that just institutional bias? Could be. Can't say for sure EXCEPT that I can assure you that this group didn't bend over backwards to hire a female as if women are indulged and coddled, as this professor almost suggests. That was my point and whether or not my article was on the CV doesn't change the fact, though if it was 2001 (I think it was) and it was on there, I was more qualified.

adam richard schrepfer - 4/12/2006

Dear Lisa,

You are not exactly sure of what your credentials were?? Yet you somehow state the feeling that the cards were stacked against you. Amazing. Just because you didn't get the job does not mean that being a women was not an advantage. Maybe the other candidate had a persuasive friend on the selection committee. Maybe they were more impressed with his previous work. Maybe they wanted a female but hired the other candidate for some other reason. I may go for a job at X company. They like me a lot and want to hire me, but they chose somebody else. This does not mean that my degree from Harvard was not an advantage. (or ANY advantage)

Also, "to hear this poster you would think that they bent over backwards to hire women" I certainly did not come away from the article with that feeling. The point was not so much that universities go out of their way to hire women, but rather that some faculty members,(who are evidently concerned with social justice) are engaging in unchecked bias and manipulation which is spoiling a learning atmosphere.

Jim C. - 4/11/2006

Aside from conversations in private which are difficult or impossible to verify, it seems that most of the incidents he recounts were public. So as adam said, naming names is unnecessary. By not naming names in this statewide venue, he is saving them embarrassment and himself the resulting retaliation.

Lisa Kazmier - 4/10/2006

All I know is that he was an ABD student who had an undergraduate degree from the employer. I am not sure what my credentials were, in that I do not recall if my peer-reviewed journal article had been published yet. I must have had another publication at the very least. I was ABD also but no prior affiliation to Slippery Rock.

I was just pointing out, to hear this poster, you would think they bent over backwards to hire women. And that just isn't so.

adam richard schrepfer - 4/9/2006

this is the first I've heard of news at Slippery Rock. It seems to be a professional move to not name names. Maybe if the professor posts again or if the faculty members keep up with their behaviour then it maybe necessary bring up names.

adam richard schrepfer - 4/9/2006

Dear Lisa,

If you are going talk about your experiences you should probably mention your academic credentials. What writings have you had published? What were the credentials of the male applicant. After reading your post, I felt (notice here my application of the irrefutable technique of stating how I feel as proof), that your post leans too heavily on conjecture. Take for example, the male professor who got the position that you did not. You ask if gender played a role, then go on to state that the cards seem to be stacked against you.

Lisa Kazmier - 4/5/2006

I felt I needed to add something about job searches, given I've had a lot of experience in this area. I have yet to see ANY advantage whatsoever to being a female. Indeed, I've noted several trends. One concerns that when a male retires or leaves, he is replaced by a male and only a job with a female leaving gets replaced by a female. Call it department balance or whatever, but given that I have applied for more jobs once held by men, this could begin to explain my lack of a tenure-track position.

Related to this point, any time I have gotten a reject letter where mention is made of the candidate accepting the position, it has been almost entirely a male being touted.

At the AHA of 2005, a talk at the Women's breakfast noted that of the past 30+ faculty jobs given out (in the arts & sciences I believe), less than 10 percent went to women (I forget what the exact number was, but it was really low). I have questioned whether a department in a buyer's market really wants to hire a female versus having one as a candidate and interviewee. I have heard about blocks of male historians essentially supporting a male candidate for a job over a better qualified female.

This is why I truly wonder what the "other" perspective on Slippery Rock is like. In fact, I was a candidate for a teaching 1 year position there a few years ago and interviewed with the department reps at AHA. And I know for a fact the position went to a guy who had some former relationship (maybe an undergrad degree) with the program. Did the former relationship matter? I thought some thought of this as incest, so I don't know. Or did his gender play a role? I don't know. Given my experiences, if anything, the deck has been stacked against me, not for me, as this professor would like you to think.

Lisa Kazmier - 4/5/2006

I felt in a good number of ways this author was either defending the dinosaurs or was in fact one of the dinosaurs. The particular reason lay in the fact that feminists really seem to bother him, as if you cannot be a feminist and be a defender of academic freedom -- a zero sum game.

Isn't teaching inherently political in a sense. It seems to me this author complains about politicization as if feminists invented the idea. Doesn't teaching Western values imply politics? What of coursework that treats imperialism or nationalism as inherently positive? Isn't that political? I'd like to hear from the person who admisitered a "silly personal attack" which sounds pejorative and superior in doing so (one could say even patriarchical).

I'd like to know how this professor knows about people posing on ratemyprofessor.com for one. Friends of some faculty members have been known to post nice things and some use it as an agenda to slam anyone who actually demands students crack a book or think about the subject.

As with some of the other people posting, I have a great deal of trouble with the attempts of self-justification here.

John W Bland - 4/5/2006

There is a treatment for verbosity, tho I can't recall the medical term for it. It isn't always Huntington's disease. Study examples like honest Abe. Say what you feel you must but spare the listener or reader the stomach souring diatribe. You sound like a real loser.

There is also a treatment for verbal diarrhea—cut down on the prune juice.

As per the TAO—for every pot there's a lid.

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/4/2006

Plugging in stereotypes isn't evidence. He's made serious charges. Let him provide evidence in a form that is verifiable.

Charles Edward Heisler - 4/4/2006

Because it is unnecessary? I think we can all simply reach into our own faculties and come up with the stereotypical feminist professors in the "Women's Studies Program" and plug them in--I'm betting the author's slippers will fit these Cinderellas perfectly!

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/3/2006

I have a major problem with this statement. By not naming names, Dr. Levy make it very hard for someone outside his academic community to identify the individuals and events that he decries.

If he has been at all accurate, people within his community will understand the references. So protecting himself or his sources cannot be motive. Since that is the case, why deny his wider audience the same privilege (and the same chance to double-check his assertions)?

Charles Edward Heisler - 4/3/2006

I wish you well on your quest to inform the Legislature and those of us that frequent this site on campus political correctness and the "Special Victims" stand alone curriculums but I suspect that all of us that have taught on campuses, no matter the location, have run into the same kind of behavior from feminists and I'm betting that most of us, unlike you, have simply cowered, kept our mouths shut, and waited for the storm to pass--sort of a very offensive wink of the eye, fanny pat to these awful women who claim to detest such sexist gestures but willingly accept them when the feminist agenda is being served--sort of that "If Momma ain't happy, no body's happy." idea!
It would be interesting to hear from any academic, no matter where, that believes they have been on a campus where the "Woman's Studies Program" is both scholarly and evidences any real effort to provide more than victimization rhetoric and anger to the unfortunate students that enroll in these classes. I'm betting no such Woman's Studies Programs exist.
Enjoyed the article.

History News Network