Roger Kimball is out with an interesting new essay in The New Criterion that sugests how the American university can be recovered from postmodern chaos. Kimball, one of today’s most insightful cultural critics, suggests that public outrage over the Ward Churchill affair at the University of Colorado is a sign that recovery might be possible. In “Retaking the University: A Battle Plan,” Kimball acknowledges that reforming the university will not be easy. “It is a peculiar moment in academia,” he admits. “In many ways, things have never been worse. All those radical trends that got going in the 1960s and gained steam in the 1970s and 1980s are now so thoroughly entrenched that they are simply taken for granted.” Yet, he is not willing to throw in the towel. “The chief issue is this: should our institutions of higher education be devoted primarily to the education of citizens–or should they be laboratories for social and political experimentation? Traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. . . . Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the ‘adversary culture of the intellectuals.’ The goal was less reflection than rejection.” The rejectionists have been in the driver’s seat for decades now, experimenting with every pernicious ideology to come down the pike. Kimball’s article offers both [guarded] hope and insightful analysis. While on the subject of chaos in the academy, consider this paragraph from Kimball’s 1990 book,Tenured Radicals: “With a few notable exceptions, our most prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities have installed the entire radical menu at the center of their humanities curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. Every special interest–women’s studies, black studies, gay studies, and the like —and every modish interpretative gambit–deconstruction, post-structuralism, new historicism, and other postmodernist varieties of what the literary critic Frederick Crews aptly dubbed ‘Left Eclecticism’–has found a welcome roost in the academy, while the traditional curriculum and modes of intellectual inquiry are excoriated as sexist, racist, or just plain reactionary.” Well said.
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