From the Department of Right-Wing Whining

Via D at LGM comes this whiny editorial in the Washington Post, boo-hooing about how tough it allegedly is to be a Republican in the academy these days.

D's takedown must be read in full, but I'd just like to add a bit of historical perspective here. See, the main complaint that this editorialist has is that it was once really hard for him to get an academic job; he alleges that this is because he's a Republican, academia is unfairly skewed to the left, and so on. It's all fairly predictable, and as D notes, this sort of thing has actually become a genre. In fact, if you look at the top of the piece, you can see a little red headline reading "University of PC," indicating that this tale is part of a continuing master narrative. And so it is.

At the centre of this narrative lie two basic ideas: one, that universities are frighteningly stifling places that lack any real intellectual debate, and two, that "intellectual debate" means the sort of thing you see on Hannity and Colmes: there's one guy from what is currently called the "right" and one guy from what is currently called the "left," and the guy from the right always wins. Never mind that these two perspectives are historically transitory, and that they have little to do with most of the subjects studied in the academy. No, according to the master narrative, everything is political in the most narrowly partisan sense, and all university departments must be made to acknowledge and reflect this deeper reality.

Missing from the narrative entirely is the actual crisis in the academy, one that has existed for almost two decades now: the general academic job crisis. This is the real reason why people like this editorialist can't get hired, and they're not alone. Anyone who's spent any time in academia knows the grim reality: an overwhelming reliance on paid-per-course temps; the rarity of permanent jobs in any field in any given year; the hundreds of applications that get sent in response to any one of those jobs; the almost incredible number of hoops that any applicant has to jump through even to make the semi-final cut. You have a slightly better chance these days of making it as a rock star. Oh, and the qualifications for an entry-level academic job these days -- they're more or less equivalent to what the qualifications for an endowed chair used to be a generation ago. And no, it really doesn't hurt if you're also young, thin, and cute.

The PC narrative, right from the beginning, was a distraction from all of this. For two decades, it's kept the public looking in the wrong direction whenever they think about academia. Instead of looking at the actual crisis -- a harmful but fairly mundane job crisis caused by an overbalance of supply and a paucity of demand -- it invented a fake crisis that has nothing to do with economics but everything to do with "culture." But now, it's beginning to have a different function. It's been a whole generation since the hiring crisis started and the PC myth began, and at this point people who've grown up with both are seeking academic jobs. A small number of them, experiencing the hiring crisis for the first time themselves, are unable or unwilling to see it for what it is, and are instead interpreting their own experience through the lens of the PC myth -- I didn't get a job because I'm too conservative. Instead of being a mere distraction from reality, the PC myth has now become a replacement for it.

Cross-posted at The Vanity Press.

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