Scholarly Mesearch

Article excerpt

YOUNG LIBERALS TODAY, like their older comrades, are divided by ideological infighting. One group of students within the collegiate left, marooned by their radical faculty advisers on an island of nostalgia for the 1960s, still pumps their fists in protest. Another small but growing clique of campus activists is developing "progressive" public policy solutions at a student think tank. Despite their strategic differences, both factions are fighting on campus as if they are losing the battle.

It's part of Activism 101, of course, to portray one's group as the underdog, and both radicals and progressives know this part of the playbook. When the radicals organize an anti-Starbucks rally they position themselves as anti-establishment. The progressives, on the other hand, use their establishment connections to lament the demise of American liberalism. Armed with iced caramel macchiatos from Starbucks, these junior wonks operate within the system, not against it. Remarkably, both flanks of the liberal attack seem oblivious to the fact that the American ivory tower leans dramatically to the left.

The leftist tilt of American higher education, hidden to some of its young initiates, is not lost, however, on the tenured radicals who now occupy positions of power. They take seriously the task of recruiting to their ranks a new cadre of young people dedicated to "social justice," an ideological agenda revealed to students by the avatars of identity politics. Postmodern scholars, unburdened by standards of objectivity, have turned their attention to what is called "mesearch," or the professional preoccupation with one's own identity. Contemporary race, class, and gender studies programs are big business, and if one is an indigent Chicana lesbian from Iowa (who happens to have a Ph.D. in sociology), the opportunities for academic advancement are plentiful. After all, what do you know better than your own socially constructed if yet somewhat ambiguously defined "self"? Add a little "social activism" to the mix and one has the makings of a great "scholarly" career.

While I was a graduate student at Boston College, I saw firsthand the foul fruits of "mesearch" and the politicization of the academy. With the help of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) and a campus organization called the St. Thomas More Society, I organized a guest lecture several years ago by Dr. Christopher Wolfe, a professor of political science at Marquette University who earned his Ph.D. at Boston College, a Jesuit institution. Offering a dispassionate defense of traditional marriage in a lecture titled "Why Gay Marriage Is Impossible," Professor Wolfe was interrupted repeatedly by students screaming slogans and insults. After blowing whistles and yelling in unison, about 40 students eventually exited the lecture hall, only to gather with even more intensity in the hallway. When I informed the throng of angry students that I was calling campus security to have them removed, I asked them what group they represented. To my surprise a middle-aged woman emerged from the mob and defiantly said a few words that spoke volumes about the state of higher education: "I'm a faculty member," she announced.

The corrosive effects of such faculty-led demonstrations should be evident to all who care about the collegiality of college life. After the incident at Boston College, Professor Wolfe, ISI, and the St. Thomas More Society were publicly accused by a group of more than 150 faculty members and students of fomenting "hate speech." In the politicized world of academia a moral argument about public policy advanced without animosity can be labeled "hate speech" merely because its auditors disagree with its content.

WHEN FACULTY MEMBERS lead campus protests, students likely will take notice. But in case the consciousness of students is not thereby sufficiently raised, some professors bring the protests into the classroom. At American University, in Washington, D. …