The Closing of the Academic Mind


Oprea-Head-ShotFor The Federalist writes: Harvard student Sandra Y.L. Korn recently proposed in The Harvard Crimson that academics should be stopped if their research is deemed oppressive. Arguing that “academic justice” should replace “academic freedom,” she writes:

“If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom’?”

In other words, Korn would have the university cease to be a forum for open debate and free inquiry in the name of justice, as defined by mainstream liberal academia.

“This does not mean that westerners are excluded from writing about the Middle East and Islam .A westerner can do so successfully so long as their research is void of criticism. Write anything else and you will find yourself labeled an orientalist and no graduate course will touch your work with a ten-foot pole.”

Unfortunately, this is already a reality in most universities across America, where academics and university administrators alike are trying, often successfully, to discredit and prohibit certain ideas and ways of thinking. Particularly in the humanities, many ideas are no longer considered legitimate, and debate over them is de facto non-existent. In order to delegitimize researchers who are out of line, academics brand them with one of several terms that have emerged from social science theory.

Most people outside academia are unaware that being called ‘hegemonic’ is the insult du jour.

The first term, “hegemonic,” is frequently used in history courses, literary criticism, and gender studies. Hegemony, of course, is a legitimate word that is often useful in describing consistency and uniformity. However, most people outside academia are unaware that being called ‘hegemonic’ is the insult du jour. It strongly implies that you are close-minded and perhaps even bigoted. This term may be applied to offences ranging from referencing the habits or dress of a cultural group to discussing the views held by a religion (and daring to question them—so long as the religion in question is not Christianity).

To do these things is to “essentialize” those people by speaking about them broadly and being so bold as to imply that they may share a practice or belief in a general sense. It is the insult of those who would have every department in academia broken down into sub-departments ad infinitum in order to avoid saying anything general about anything, resulting in verbal and intellectual paralysis.

This strategy of labeling has been particularly successful in its application to middle-eastern and Islamic studies. Any author, or student, who does not join in the liberal narrative about Islamic culture—which includes unwavering support for Palestinians, the absolute equality of men and women in Islam, and an insistence on the peaceful nature of the religion despite any violent tendencies in its foundation— will find themselves labeled an “orientalist.”

Write anything else and you will find yourself labeled an orientalist and no graduate course will touch your work with a ten-foot pole.

Edward Said popularized this term in his 1978 post-colonial work Orientalism…(read more)

The Federalist

 is a PhD candidate in French linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin.

2 Comments on “The Closing of the Academic Mind”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet For The Federalist, M.G. Oprea writes: Harvard student Sandra Y.L. Korn recently proposed in The […]

  2. rly1987 says:

    I’d prefer that academics (and people in general) express their genuine views. If someone doesn’t like black people or homosexuals, I’d prefer they discuss it and say why. It allows people to get to the heart of the issue rather than placing a band-aid over it, if you know what I mean. The Canadian government (just as an example) is an institution that forthright opposes any type of discrimination based on race, gender, religious affiliation and sexual orientation. But it also guarantees that people not only have the right to express their true opinions on each topic, but also criticisms of the Canadian government itself.

    I’m glad institutions formally declare their stance against any type of prejudice, but my personal preference is that they do allow people to continue to have discussions that move in the other direction and even question and continually reassess the aims of the institution itself (ie. the legitimacy of the institution; whether or not those rules or goals are fair etc.)

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