22.12.16

WISCONSIN'S REGENTS HAVE ALREADY RESPONDED TO THE LEGISLATURE.

Years ago, pioneer economist Richard T. Ely engaged in some scholarship the legislators didn't like.  The regents responded, in a statement that has long been cast in bronze on Bascom Hall.
WHATEVER MAY BE THE LIMITATIONS WHICH TRAMMEL INQUIRY ELSEWHERE, WE BELIEVE THAT THE GREAT STATE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SHOULD EVER ENCOURAGE THAT CONTINUAL AND FEARLESS SIFTING AND WINNOWING BY WHICH ALONE THE TRUTH CAN BE FOUND.
Now comes a course, "The Problem of Whiteness," that one or two current legislators have a problem with.  Perhaps the course description suggests a line of scholarly inquiry less foundational than that of Ely or Commons, all those years ago.  "Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy." On the other hand, those heroes of what sails under the rubric of "progressive" thought might have benefitted from hearing some of the arguments the course might raise.  And perhaps the students would be interested in learning that what today's culture-studies mavens understand as "whiteness" itself emerged out of an earlier era's version of diversity.


That is, the use of mediating institutions, including those that define membership in a civilization, is an evolutionary stable strategy.  As such, though the institutions are emergent, and worthy of academic inquiry.

Wisconsin seems doomed, however, to a replay of l'affaire Ely.
Regardless of whether the course is a helpful exploration of race relations, academic freedom and the quality of education provided to students suffers immensely when faculty are not free to decide their own content. If politicians can exercise veto power over course content they don’t like, we will increasingly see conservative faculty silenced in particularly progressive states and progressive faculty censored in conservative parts of the country.
Conor Friedersdorf gets off the right kind of zinger: A Wisconsin Legislator Models Political Correctness for Students.  I am in the same position I was in when Missouri's governing board caved to the legislature there.  "I still maintain that academic freedom too often serves as cover for trendy grievance scholarship, and that the diversity boondoggle is creating an academic environment devoid of intellectual diversity, none of which is consistent with the public interest, I must also object to Missouri's board of curators conceding powers to a legislature that will almost certainly be used in a situation where curricular integrity, rather than excessively zealous protesting, is at stake."

I'd nominate the two legislators modelling political correctness for a "Deep Tunnel" award, but radio host Charlie "Prof Scam" Sykes has taken his pension.

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