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January 24, 2005

On Spinelessness

Roger Kimball is wickedly funny:

Poor Larry Summers. The president of Harvard University has good instincts. But he wants people to like him. So he starts off by saying things that are true but unpopular. Then people get angry with him and he apologizes and takes it all back. A case in point: A few years ago, Summers caused a ruckus when he suggested that Cornel West, who was then the Alphonse Fletcher, Jr., University Professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard, buckle down to some serious scholarship (West's most recent production was a rap CD called "Sketches of my Culture") and that he lead the way in fighting the scandal of grade inflation at Harvard where one of every two grades is an A or A-.
Summers was quite right. Cornel West is one of the most ridiculous figures in contemporary academia. He calls himself a philosopher but really is just a political sermonizer. He acts like an old-time Baptist minister. But his revival meetings feature not hellfire and brimstone but sermons about racism and the horrible failings of American society. What Summers did not understand was that college presidents are not allowed to criticize black professors. No sooner had Summers opened his mouth than West went into a snit, followed by the entire politically correct community at Harvard and beyond. Charles J. Ogletree, another professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard, thundered that "It's absolutely critical that the president make an unequivocal public statement in support of affirmative action." And The New York Times, natch, lumbered into support West and criticize Summers.

You might ask, why is it "critical" that the president of Harvard support "affirmative action"? After all, "affirmative action" is just a fancy phrase for discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or some other PC category. Isn't Harvard an institution of higher education where what matters is accomplishment, not skin color, sex, or ethnic background?

Summers evidently thought so, but he was quickly disabused of the notion. When West and his buddies in the Afro-American Studies department whined and threatened to leave Harvard, Summers collapsed...

...Writing about the West v. Summers affair in National Review, I suggested that readers send Larry Summers a copy of Ralph Bucksbaum's zoological classic, Animals Without Backbones. I am happy to report that several did.

I didn't do any good, though. Larry Summers still suffers from spinelessness.

I'd read that Summers caved yesterday, but I saw no point in commenting upon the inevitable denouement. Read the rest - as usual, a fine essay.

Posted by Cassandra at January 24, 2005 10:02 AM

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My father was a professor, perhaps the last Republican Harvard-trained medievalist to walk the Earth. I would have gone to graduate school and become a professor myself if I thought I stood a chance to be treated fairly in any major American research university. It was obvious, though, that a conservative outside of engineering, economics, or the professional schools (law, medicine and business) stood no chance. It was much easier to go to law school and succeed on account of the blinded exams that are traditional in that profession. How many smart conservatives (if I may flatter myself) avoid academia because of the obvious political test required by our elite universities?

Posted by: Jack at January 24, 2005 10:35 PM

Jack, you would have been a wonderful professor: I have no trouble whatsoever imagining you in the classroom. What a shame (for students).

I loved the brief time I got to student-teach math and Business Law - I think of all the things I've done, that was the time I felt most alive, although it was very draining too. But then I was going to school full-time too and that was hard. It was so neat teaching two disciplines at once - very hard to switch gears mentally, but it really expands your mind.

Unfortunately my brain shrank right back, later :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2005 07:28 AM

Well, you did voice concern about things snapping back after your kids were born...

Seriously, I think you both would be great in academia.

I read this several times because I wanted to
have a clear understanding about the bias against the truth.

I have often wondered why truth isn't color blind

Posted by: Cricket at January 26, 2005 09:02 AM

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