Blogs > Cliopatria > And the Sun is a Ball of Hot Gas

May 18, 2005 4:08 am

And the Sun is a Ball of Hot Gas

Cross-posted on Historiblography

This is a major news flash, I know, but Victor Davis Hanson has written something dumb. The fun part is that he wrote something dumb in response (or in"response," since he doesn't really bother to respond) to a question I asked him:
In a March answer to a reader, you wrote on your website that"race studies,” queer studies, gender studies, etc." have become"the establishment" on university campuses, resulting in the destruction of the"old liberal arts curriculum." A New York Times story on April 24, 2005 reports on the most common and least common majors on contemporary campuses. At the University of California at San Diego, for example, 3,368 students are majoring in biology; 1,787 are majoring in economics; and a whopping 23 are majoring in critical gender studies.

Isn't it possible that you've overstated the significance of"studies" programs? I apologize for challenging your declensionist worldview with actual facts.
Hanson's response is yet another regurgitation of the same-old same-old, and go ahead and place your bets on whether or not he mentions Ward Churchill. (Ward Churchill now singlehandedly comprises fifty percent of all known American academics.)

Backing up the claim that race/class/gender/sexuality"studies" have taken over the academy, Hanson now writes:
All these 'studies' programs have no popular appeal to students at all, who rarely major in them, or take more than one (required) course. But their influence is nevertheless enormous and hardly to be measured simply by official majors.

First, most campuses now have some sort of requirement in the General Education curriculum for an ethnic or gender studies class; and these courses, unlike most others, thus reach most of the student body .
So the new"establishment" on American university campuses is a set of programs that students don't find appealing or useful at all. Supermarket X has no loyal customers, and is therefore the leader in the supermarket industry.

Note also that"studies" programs"have no popular appeal to students at all," but somehow are full of snarky grad students and politically correct professors. And where do grad students and professors come from? Not from the undergraduate population, apparently. Maybe universities are raising these professor types in some sort of kooky left-wing test tubes.

Finally, I love that"studies" programs have taken over the academy and destroyed the traditional curriculum because many universities now require students to take"one (required) course" in those programs. At UCLA, where we're on the quarter system, an undergraduate needs 160 credits -- at four credits per class -- to graduate. That means 40 classes for a B.A. At Pitzer College, where I was an undergrad, we needed 32 semester-long classes to graduate. So one required class in a race/class/gender/sexuality topic would comprise either 1/40th or 1/32nd of an undergraduate education -- and heaven forbid that a student spend 1/40th an education thinking about women, African Americans, or homosexuality. They should stick to, you know, normal topics.

Hanson continues:
Second, the class/race/gender fixation insidiously transcends these titled courses proper; thus former Revolutionary war classes might now be in fact studies of the 'other' during colonial times; a class nominally on some of Shakespeare's plays turns out to be deconstructing gender, or a history of Latin America often becomes a melodrama about European pathology and culpability.
Well, sure. What's all this discussion of European culpability doing in Latin American history courses? If we have any readers in the Fresno area, someone might want to ask Victor Davis Hanson why people in Latin America speak Spanish and Portugese, which are widely believed (by leftist academics) to be European languages. How on earth would one design a class on Latin America without referencing the presence of European colonizers? Why is the inclusion of this presence a radical choice?

And finally, Hanson writes:
Fourth, the politically-correct emphasis on race/class/gender studies puts enormous pressure on untenured faculty to publish in these areas and upon graduate students to steer their research in this direction — and to serve obsequiously those faculty who, they sense, have gravitated in these directions and thus will have greater clout when it comes time to parcel out fellowships, teaching assignments, and recommendations for jobs. Perusal of the Modern Language Association's, American Historical Association's, or American Philological Association's lists of PhD dissertation titles or annual convention talks bears out this over-concentration...
I have suggested before that the AHA's list of dissertations in progress proves that Hanson and others like him are mostly full of hot air, and I'll say it again: Go look for yourself. Yes, you will find titles that focus on race/class/gender/sexuality themes. Yes, some will sound silly. Most will not. Some of those that sound silly will actually contain good scholarship; some of those that sound smart and"traditional" will actually contain poor scholarship.

Were the world anywhere near as simple as Victor Davis Hanson makes it out to be, we would all be drawn in crayon.
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More Comments:

Ralph E. Luker - 5/19/2005

I agree with Greg, Chris. It may not be possible to make much headway with VDH, himself, but he has a big following and you can begin to chip away at that, I think.

Chris Bray - 5/19/2005

Thanks. I'm never sure if it's worth bothering with Hanson, who seems to be infinitely immune to fact, so I'm glad someone found it worthwhile.

Now if we can just convince Hanson...

Greg James Robinson - 5/19/2005

This is delightfully witty and pointed--nicely done.

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