While vilifying and refusing to acknowledge the achievements of America and the West, professors of Said's bent turn a blind eye toward the faults of non-Western cultures. Historian Keith Windschuttle observes that they exhibit a "kind of relativism not seen since the days of Lenin and Hitler when class-based and race-based hatreds were morally sanctioned by radical politics." Thus many radical academics cannot bring themselves to condemn cultural practices repellent to most Westerners, such as human sacrifice, cannibalism and female genital mutilation — for fear of demeaning the culture that fostered them.
This pattern of denial applies particularly to the events of 9/11 and the war on terror. In the 1980s and 1990s, for example, prominent professors of Middle Eastern studies excused away the growing threat of militant Islamism and terrorist attacks on American soil. Almost all of these academics simply refused to study such militancy — or even Islam itself! Prior to the 9/11 attacks, for instance, a Sarah Lawrence College professor accused "the terror industry" of fomenting an "irrational fear of terrorism by focusing…on far-fetched horrible scenarios."
Even what is still called "American" studies is riddled with anti-American prejudice. Cultural critic Alan Wolfe has surveyed these studies, and he ironically concludes that current academics in the field, such as those at Dartmouth and Duke, display "a hatred of America so visceral that it makes one wonder why they bother studying America at all." Like Said and his acolytes, these professors condemn the United States as imperialistic. They attack even the concept of our national unity, pronouncing this country to be an "imagined national community" and defining their role as "fracturing the very idea of an American nation, culture, and subject."
Another school of radicals does some imagining of its own. It envisages an international political monolith with which to replace America and indeed all of liberal democracy in the West. These yearnings are embodied in a doctrine called "transnational progressivism," which is gaining prominence in law schools, for example, at Princeton and Rutgers. As John Fonte of the Hudson Institute points out, professors in this camp argue for the establishment of a new transnational regime, or world government, that is post-liberal democratic and, in the American context, post-Constitutional and post-American. Within such a regime the key political unit would not be the individual citizen who voluntarily associates with fellow citizens but the racial, ethnic, or gender group into which one is born.
What can be done to counter this widespread academic radicalism? How do we return to intellectual pluralism in our colleges and universities?
A first step lies in reforming the autocratic hiring and promotion practices that permit the likes of De Genova to replicate their ranks and to cement their control of ideas. In an essay titled "Academic Corruption" published in The Monist, John Kekes, a professor at the State University of New York-Albany, explains how this process has been tainted. The choice of new faculty members is now commonly driven by the prejudices of those academics making the selection — not by how qualified the applicants are to uphold the truth as teachers or researchers. Hiring is furthermore influenced by something called "collegiality," which is a code word for whether the attitude of the applicant — that is, regarding Left-wing causes and social transformation — is to the liking of the committee.
The right of extremist and antiwar professors like De Genova to spew forth their anti-American venom must be protected. But students also have a right to hear the views of traditionalist scholars, and those who would defend our national identity and this country. Fair and open faculty hiring would foster educational diversity on campuses. It is urgent that faculties and higher education governing boards ensure such openness.
Candace de Russy is a member of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York. She chairs the board's Committee on Academic Standards. De Russy was appointed to the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Air Force Academy by President George W. Bush in 2002.