Stanley Fish just doesn’t get it.

In “Yet Once More: Political Correctness on Campus” Stanley Fish undertakes to straighten out a recent supposed expose of the alleged left-wing indoctrination that is said to plague higher education in American. But he really doesn’t get it. A minor example:

As for the clannishness of students who hang out only with those of their own race and ethnicity, that is certainly worrisome, and it is likely that the strong marking of identity in admissions policies, course descriptions and race- or gender-based centers contributes to it.

One hopes he doesn’t really mean that a Women’s Studies Center causes racial/ethnic clannishness. But nearly as implausible is the idea that if it weren’t for Queer Studies, straight guys might love to hang out with gay students. And even if we assume admission policies that increase the number of black students create a resentment among others, what’s the alternative? An even smaller minority of black students who are somehow treated as though we live in a non-racist society?

But Fish’s blinkered point of view is particularly evident in his assumptions about what is political. And that’s clear in the following passage:

There are more than enough legitimate academic topics to keep an ethnic or gender studies department going for decades — the recovery of lost texts, the history of economic struggle and success, the relationship of race, ethnicity and gender to medical research. And there is no reason in principle that such investigations must begin or end in accusations against capitalism, the white male Protestant establishment and the United States government.

But some of them do. Some of these programs forget who’s paying the bills and continue to think of themselves as extensions of a political agenda.

That is, the fact that topics of such importance are left to the almost always marginalized center-for-women/gay/lesbian/black/etc studies is just a fact. To tell students about the establishment that considers them marginal is political. And Fish tells us about professors who use the classroom as a stage for their political views that

I would put the number much lower, perhaps one out of twenty-five. But one out of 10,000 would be one too many.

If racism and sexism were political, if it were a political act to give preference to white male students, Fish’s numbers might be different.
Skimming through the comments, I saw mostly ones that agreed with Fish. Still, kudos to some who could see the problems, perhaps especially this one:

Wouldn’t you know it? After hundreds of years of world domination, I finally become a middle-aged, white male just in time for that to be an oppressed minority!

Get real.

As I see it, those who bemoan “political correctness” (a term I abhor), are the same people who complain of “reverse discrimination.”

Do you financially comfortable, white Conservatives wish you could trade places with a handicapped, gay, black woman so you can take advantage of all the great perquisites you’d then have? If not, you’re just blowing smoke.

— Posted by Daniel Glennon

9 thoughts on “Stanley Fish just doesn’t get it.

  1. For those for whom “Stanley Fish” doesn’t ring bells:

    Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Duke University. He is the author of 10 books.

    He has argued against the idea that a text has one correct interpretation, and hence is sometimes called “postmodern.”

    The article discussed above is in his “Think Again” series for the NY Times.

  2. Wait . . . did he actually say that classes are meant to talk about economic struggles of oppressed groups, but in no way place any blame on capitalism or patriarchy? So . . . what, blacks are just lazy bums who don’t want to work for above minimum wage? Women just LOVE being pregnant all the time, which is why they entered the workforce so late, and hey, they really aren’t all that smart, anyway, so of course they’re going to be paid less?

    The scary thing, of course, is that I didn’t just invent those horrid explanations. They’re what conservatives actually think . . .

  3. Thanks so much, Cara, for calling our attention to what’s been left out. Why doesn’t the fact of ‘lost texts’ reveal political oppression? Why aren’t what some of us perceived as racism and sexism political issues? Why is it wrong to think that the fact of lower salaries for women and (other)minority people is a political matter? And so on and so forth.

    That’s because the differences are really all based on perfectly respectable judgments of quality. The lost texts are fine for women or other minorities to read, but they don’t really belong in the canon of Western Civilization because they just aren’t good enough. And really women and other minorities aren’t oppressed; they earn what their performances merit.

    Or so one supposes he thinks. But perhaps he has another explanation that he hasn’t given. It would be good to know what it is.

  4. “Some of these programs forget who’s paying the bills”. Interesting argument. Reminds me of that comment to another post about kissing up to get ahead. I’m used to hearing people say that disagreeing with them is “furthering a political agenda”, while agreeing is just being right, so this is refreshingly honest — and I’m perfectly aware that such selective quoting is not.

  5. Counterfnord,

    I’d have to go back over the article to be sure, but my present impression is that there is pervasive suggestion that those paying for the education shouldn’t have profs insulting them.

    That seems to be a fairly typical right wing idea; for example, “we” should not have to pay for grants to artists who insult us or challenge our values.

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