George Will

Fish does not dispute the fact that large majorities of humanities and social science professors are on the left. But about the causes and consequences of this, he airily says: It is all "too complicated" to tell in his book, other than to say that the G.I. Bill began the inclusion of "hitherto underrepresented and therefore politically active" groups.

Then, promiscuously skewering straw men, he says, "these were not planned events" and universities do not "resolve" to hire liberals and there is no "vast left-wing conspiracy" and inquiring into a job applicant's politics is not "allowed" and "the fact of a predominantly liberal faculty says nothing necessarily about what the faculty teaches." Note Fish's obfuscating "necessarily."

The question is not whether the fact "necessarily" says something about teaching but whether the fact really does have pedagogic consequences. About the proliferation of race and gender courses, programs and even departments, Fish says there are two relevant questions: Are there programs "with those names that are more political than academic?" And do such programs "have to be more political than academic?" He says the answer to the first is "yes," to the second "no."

But again, note his slippery language: "have to be," which he uses like "necessarily." The political nature of such curricula is why they often are set apart from established, and more academically rigorous, departments of sociology, history, etc. This political nature may not "have to" influence -- may not "necessarily" influence -- teaching. But does it? Fish, who enjoys seeming to be naughty, tamely opts for dogmatic denial.

Genuflecting before today's academic altar, he asserts what no one denies: Race and gender are "worthy of serious study." He concedes that "many of these programs gained a place in the academy through political activism." But he says that does not mean that political activism "need be" prominent in the teaching.

Gliding from "necessarily" to "have to be" to "need be," Fish, a timid iconoclast, spares academia's most sacred icons. People who tell you they are brave usually are not.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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