I’ve read a lot of Russell Jacoby over the years. I imagine his recent piece at Tablet is going to anger a lot of people. I also don’t think he cares. Whatever the case, his ideas are worth considering. Here is a taste of “The Takeover“:
I wondered if a cunning plan had been enacted: Conservatives pretended to be outraged at radicals on campus, but faced with a generation of subversive students, they judged it would be better to keep them locked up in the university, which would limit the damage. The secret appendix to The Conservative Strategy for the Twentieth First Century declared, “Let us give the radicals English and Comparative Literature, gender studies, sociology, history, anthropology and whatever other departments and cockamamie centers they want on campuses, while we take over the rest of America.” The plan largely worked. I wrote at the time, if given the chance it would be worth trading every damn left-wing English department for one Supreme Court. It would still be worth it.
My critics charged that I suffered from nostalgia for some old white dudes. Intellectual life had markedly improved and diversified. Moreover, I overgeneralized; they presented names of a half-dozen stalwart freelancers or well-known professors. This argument continues.
But my critics and I both missed something that might not have been obvious 30 years ago. By the late 1990s the rapid expansion of the universities came to a halt, especially in the humanities. Faculty openings slowed or stopped in many fields. Graduate enrollment cratered. In my own department in 10 years we went from accepting over a hundred students for graduate study to under 20 for a simple reason. We could not place our students. The hordes who took courses in critical pedagogy, insurgent sociology, gender studies, radical anthropology, Marxist cinema theory, and postmodernism could no longer hope for university careers.
What became of them? No single answer is possible. They joined the work force. Some became baristas, tech supporters, Amazon staffers and real estate agents. Others with intellectual ambitions found positions with the remaining newspapers and online periodicals, but most often they landed jobs as writers or researchers with liberal government agencies, foundations, or NGOs. In all these capacities they brought along the sensibilities and jargon they learned on campus.
It is the exodus from the universities that explains what is happening in the larger culture. The leftists who would have vanished as assistant professors in conferences on narratology and gender fluidity or disappeared as law professors with unreadable essays on misogynist hegemony and intersectionality have been pushed out into the larger culture. They staff the ballooning diversity and inclusion commissariats that assault us with vapid statements and inane programs couched in the language they learned in school. We are witnessing the invasion of the public square by the campus, an intrusion of academic terms and sensibilities that has leaped the ivy-covered walls aided by social media. The buzz words of the campus—diversity, inclusion, microaggression, power differential, white privilege, group safety—have become the buzz words in public life. Already confusing on campus, they become noxious off campus. “The slovenliness of our language,” declared Orwell in his classic 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” makes it “easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
Read the entire piece here.