April 01, 2009
KC Johnson visits three academic conferences in search of real debate. What he finds isn’t encouraging:
The second recent groupthink conference occurred at Duke, where several leading members of the Group of 88 - the professors who early in the lacrosse case publicly thanked protesters who had, among other things, urged castration of the lacrosse captains - hosted an academic conference on race in contemporary America. The very same people who got things spectacularly wrong in a high-profile case in their own backyard dealing with issues of race and politics offered their insights on “how modern racial prejudice shapes policy.”
In our increasingly multicultural society, such a conference topic might have provided an opportunity to bring together people with both innovative and widely disparate insights. Instead, the conference’s seven sessions (all but one of which was chaired by a Group member) featured little more than a recitation of the race/class/gender worldview dominant in most humanities departments today. Each session, moreover, began with an admonition against taping the panellists’ remarks: Group members apparently feared the possibility that their extremist ideas would be available beyond the campus walls.
Naturally, one of the panels – ponderously titled Race, Gender and Sexuality: Intersections on Multiple Dimensions - was to be moderated by the ever-moderate Wahneema Lubiano. Readers may recall Lubiano, a tenured professor at Duke, for her underwhelming scholarship and her conviction that “knowledge factories” and “engines of dominance” [i.e. universities] should be “sabotaged” – by people much like herself. The professor’s courses in “critical studies” and “race and gender” are construed in such a way that students can be told, “once white working class people learn that corporate capitalism is using racism to manipulate them, they will want to join with racially oppressed people against capitalism.” Professor Lubiano also says things like this: “Western rationality’s hegemony marginalizes other ways of knowing about the world” – a claim that suggests the West is somehow devoid of literature, art, music and film, despite being the foremost producer and consumer of such things.
Some background on other panellists, and their “diversity,” can be found here, along with an audience member’s notes on the content of the “debates.” Readers will be thrilled by the presence of Lani Guinier, a tenured professor at Harvard Law School and advocate of “critical thinking,” who insists that standardised testing is “racist” because “talent is equally distributed among all people.”