Some years back, I decided I had to quit the teaching profession to which I had dedicated half my life. The modern academy, I felt, was so far gone that restoration was no longer possible. Indeed, I now believe that complete collapse is the only hope for the future, but as Woody Allen said about death, I’d rather not be there when it happens.
Three reasons determined my course of action. For one thing, administration had come to deal less with academic issues and more with rules of conduct and punitive codes of behavior, as if it were a policing body rather than an arm of the teaching profession. Woe betide the (male) student accused of sexual assault or misconduct; the administration will convene an extra-judicial tribunal to punish or expel the accused, often with a low burden of proof. It will find ways to shut down conservative speakers. It will browbeat faculty and students to attend sensitivity training sessions on matters of race and gender. It will strike task forces to deal with imaginary issues like campus rape culture and propose draconian measures to contain a raging fantasy. The administration is now beset by two basic compulsions: to expand its reach at the expense of the academic community and to ensure compliance with the puritanical norms of the day. I thought it prudent to take early retirement rather than wait for the guillotine to descend.
For another, colleagues were increasingly buying into the politically correct mantras circulating in the cultural climate. The dubious axioms of “social justice” and equality of outcome, the postmodern campaign against the Western tradition of learning, and the Marxist critique of capitalism now superseded the original purpose of the university – to seek out truth, to pursue the impartial study of historical events and movements, and to remain faithful to the rigors of disciplined scholarship. Most of my colleagues were rote members of the left-liberal orthodoxy: pro-Islam, pro-unfettered immigration, pro-abortion, pro-feminist, anti-conservative, anti-Zionist, and anti-white. Departmental committees were now basing their hiring protocols not on demonstrated merit, but on minority and gender identities, leading to marked pedagogical decline. Professional hypocrisy could be glaring. Case in point: The most recent hire speaking at a department meeting was a white woman advocating for more brown and black faces on staff – though, as a recent hire, she had never thought of stepping aside in favor of minority candidates vying for her position. In any event, faculties were and are progressively defined by firebrands on the one hand and soy boys on the other – partisans rather than pedagogues, plaster saints all. I found I could no longer respect the majority of people I had to work with.
But the primary incentive for flight had to do with the caliber of students I was required to instruct. The quality of what we called the student “clientele” had deteriorated so dramatically over the years that the classroom struck me as a barn full of ruminants and the curriculum as a stack of winter ensilage. I knew I could not teach James Joyce’s Ulysses or Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain since they were plainly beyond the capacity of our catechumens – mind you, all old enough to vote and be drafted. The level of interest in and attention to the subjects was about as flat as a fallen arch. The ability to write a coherent English sentence was practically nonexistent; ordinary grammar was a traumatic ordeal. In fact, many native English-speakers could not produce a lucid verbal analysis of a text, let alone carry on an intelligible conversation, and some were even unable to properly pronounce common English words. I could not help thinking of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in which the children of the planet are all translated into some otherworldly dimension. I titled one of my books about our educational debacle The Turtle Hypodermic of Sickenpods, based on an initially mysterious phrase in a student’s essay by which, as I discovered after long consultation, he meant to say “the total epidemic of psychopaths.” (This is a true story.)
Of course, many of my former colleagues insisted that their students were “just great,” that they constituted a “savvy generation,” that they were “a privilege to teach.” The degree of self-delusion is off the charts, though I suspect that one motive for such professional vagrancy is the half-conscious awareness of a guilty complicity in the advancement of decadence. The desire to vindicate their roles as teachers and to justify obscenely fat salaries takes precedence over simple honesty.
The problem is chiefly in the humanities and social sciences – English literature, cultural studies, gender programs, sociology, communications – where it must be frankly admitted that very few of the students enrolled have the intellectual equipment to meet traditional standards of achievement and performance. These faculties have become a holding pen for incompetents, now known as “snowflakes.” For a variety of reasons – defective early schooling, poor parenting, widespread permissiveness – these students are in desperate need of “safe spaces,” where they can hide from the real world and shirk the demands of mental maturity. They are taught not to think independently, evaluate competing doctrines, or master the tools of cognitive proficiency, but to feel good about themselves. Self-esteem subs for self-improvement. Moreover, they are materia prima for anti-Western indoctrination by their politicized professors, mentors, and departments.
To put it bluntly, the administration is venal and unscrupulous. Faculty is compromised and reprobate. The student body is a haven for ineptitude. Regrettably, the exceptions – for they do exist – cannot redress the balance. What is perhaps most troubling is that the more reputable faculties and disciplines – math, physics, engineering, astronomy, medicine, law – are gradually but inexorably being eroded by the “social justice” meme and subject to extraneous cultural forces that are political in nature. Even here, gender and race rather than scholarly accomplishment and talent are starting to predominate in hiring protocols. These departments are slowly coming to be governed not by the principles of classical propriety, but by agendas alien to their mandates – agendas whose function is to promote the collectivity over the individual; so-called “human rights” over human excellence; and equality, however unearned, over freedom, however precious. As a result, even among the purer disciplines, meritocracy will surrender to mediocrity.
For myself, those days are over. I’m committed to writing in the study rather than teaching in the classroom. The pressures that impinge are my own, and I don’t have to deal with the incompetent and corrupt, at the cost of my integrity, such as it is, and of my well-being. True, writing may turn out to be as ineffective as teaching. But one thing is for sure. I can no longer be part of the decrepit circus that now passes for established education.