September 28, 1999

September 28, 1999 | Commentary on Political Thought

Degrees of Silliness

Time was when college students studied the classics. No more. Race, class and gender have driven Plato, Dante and Shakespeare from the curriculum. And when academia isn't bowing to liberal orthodoxy, it's chasing ridiculous fads.

A recent issue of Campus Report, the newspaper of the watchdog group Accuracy in Academia, singled out 12 college courses-"The Dirty Dozen"-that are making a mockery of American higher education. Some highlights:

Bucknell University offers "Green Utopias," a course that introduces students to "literary utopias and to the cultural writings of various ecological movements offering alternative concepts to the increasing destruction of nature." In other words, students are taught that heaven on earth will arrive just as soon as we all move into grass huts and burn manure for fuel. Bucknell charges $28,350 a year.

At the University of Northern Arizona (UNA), there's "Women, Gender Identity, and Ethnicity," a class where "students will play the role of a single mother on welfare." UNA even asks the class to develop a welfare recipient's weekly budget-a useful exercise for students not learning any useful skills.

The University of Indiana offers "Star Trek and Religion," which requires students to read critics "who hope for the demise of religion, then explore those who think religion can be re-imagined in mystical or cosmic terms." Who needs Moses or Jesus when you've got Captain James T. Kirk?

Undergraduates at the University of California at Berkeley can opt for "Lesbian and Gay Detective Fiction," which "will give the students and instructor an excuse to spend time during a busy semester reading and discussing a pile of detective novels." At least we can credit the course-catalog writer with truth in advertising. The discussions, incidentally, center on how "the outlaw sexuality of the protagonists plays out against the outlaw activities of the antagonists." Expect the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Watson to be cast in a whole new light.

At the University of Pennsylvania, where I attended graduate school, students now pay $29,354 a year for courses such as "Feminist Revisions of Fairy Tales and Myths." The course teaches that traditional fairy tales "construct gender categories that identify women with children, thus infantilizing the feminine subject and erasing her sexuality." Apparently the Grimm brothers were sexist for not making more of the trolls under the bridge female.

The '60s radicals now tenured on America's campuses don't stop with revisionist literature either. They stuff a hard-core political agenda down students' throats. For example, a University of Michigan course called "Issues in Afro-American Development: Affirmative Action" argues that "all the rights gained in the sixties are now being eroded by legal challenges to affirmative action" and aims to "develop the language to articulate affirmative action as a right and not a benefit." So much for debate over the merits of racial preferences.

Given how radically politicized the curriculum has become, some of the more frivolous courses now being offered can seem refreshing. Don't get me wrong: I would never spend $25,000 for my own children to study "Elvis as Anthology" or "Rock Journalism," but at least these courses don't pollute young minds with unthinking liberalism.

Of course, they don't teach much either, and that's the problem. Whether it's left-wing propaganda or academic fads, colleges that used to graduate students with serious degrees now seem interested only in degrees of silliness.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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