Higher Education: Why the Left Hates the Humanities

A bust of Plato in the Long Room of the old library that houses 200,000 of Trinity College’s oldest books in Dublin, Ireland, September 14, 2018. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Among the “woke” it is an article of faith that Western Civilization has been an unalloyed bad for the world and must always be condemned. You’d be hard pressed to find any professor in a liberal arts field who would dare to say something good about it.

In today’s Martin Center article, English professor Mark Bauerlein writes about this phenomenon, focusing on the way Western Civ has been treated in his discipline. Specifically, he notes that the Graduate Record Exam for students who want to pursue advanced studies in English has been subverted.

He writes, “But impressive reading knowledge of great literature through the ages, which a high score confirms, doesn’t count much with English departments anymore. You can see that by checking out how many mission statements include anything about tradition, the canon, literary historical depth, and erudition. Compare the frequency of those terms to the incidence of diversity and critical thinking and the preferences of the professors come through loud and clear.”

Like kudzu overgrowing a southern landscape, politics is everywhere in English. Even the formidable University of Chicago has given in, declaring that it’s only interested in students who want to pursue Black Studies.

Bauerlein notes that older faculty members were generally leftist in disposition, but they would argue against aspects of Western Civ that they didn’t like. Today’s cohort aren’t interested in arguing about the old writers and thinkers: “All that remains is to dispel them. Tear down the statues, replace 1776 with 1619, and promote contemporary writers, artists, and thinkers of color. The Woke generation doesn’t know very much about the past, but they have sufficient moral scruple to forget it, to judge it as white privilege and carry onward. To them, historical ignorance is no crime. On the contrary, a proud dismissal of a venal heritage is praiseworthy.”

Many English departments now proudly display their embrace of “wokeness.” Bauerlein includes a remarkable statement by the department at Syracuse.

Bauerlein concludes, “The traditional literary canon is out, or at least the systematic study of it. The old call for more diversity on the syllabus sounds downright tepid to the Woke. They want a whole new discipline. English is ‘too white.’ That’s the blunt problem, and it has risen to decisive status.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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