A recent editorial in Princeton University’s most conservative publication, the Daily Princetonian, predictably dismisses all of the demands made by the Black Justice League during the recent protests against racism on campus. But what is surprising, not to mention embarrassing for the University, is the anti-intellectualism expressed by the editorial board members, who seem to think that requiring students to learn about different cultures and histories is somehow beyond the limits of a liberal arts education.
The more moderate members of the Princetonian’s Ayn Rand book club argue against requiring students to take a class on historically marginalized peoples. Instead, they argue, the University should create “a one-course Global Thought distribution requirement,” which would “concern topics outside of the traditional material offered to American students in grade school [emphasis mine], which focuses primarily on modern American and European literature and history.” This is a patently ridiculous sentence. I would hope that the material in any class at Princeton, even one on American or European history and literature, would “concern topics outside of the traditional material offered to American students in grade school.” I was under the impression, as I’m sure many others were, that the whole point of going to an elite university was to get an education that exceeded the one I received in grade school. Evidently, the scholars at the Prince have lower expectations for the kind of education Princeton is supposed to offer.
Around the country and on campus, various publications have criticized the anti-racist protesters for claiming false victimhood, for being overly sensitive, and for embracing postmodern academic notions about historical truths. But if there is any group that claims a false victimhood it’s campus conservatives, who complain of how beleaguered they are and how their politics are disrespected all while living in a world that roughly reflects their views. Inequality is growing, the rich get richer, and US companies continue to exploit people in nations that are underdeveloped due to US foreign policy and centuries of brutal imperialism. Don’t worry, campus conservatives—you’re doing just fine. And yet at Princeton, the young Goldwater contingent has the gall to claim, “we do not believe that University administrators should be in the business of determining which groups of people are or have been marginalized.” Suddenly, the Republicans are postmodernists, concerned with who gets to decide what is legitimate knowledge and prepared to contest what general academic consensus considers to be historical fact.
The editorial board’s Strom Thurmond-style refusal to recognize historically marginalized people or learn about their histories reflects a fear of encountering new ideas and challenging one’s preconceptions that has no place at an elite institution in the 21st century. Three board members, who found the statement “courses should not be limited to the history of people who are marginalized in American society” too charitable, argue in an addendum that “the proposed Global Thought requirement is nothing more than a cover for mandating courses in the hyper-politically-correct ‘studies’ departments.” This is an astonishingly disrespectful and dismissive way, especially for a bunch of conservatives, to refer to the hundreds of celebrated Princeton professors in all of those “studies” departments, and completely absurd; no one would consider the Hellenic Studies and Medieval Studies bastions of “hyper-politically correct” leftist radicalism. It is also an ignorant and sloppy thing to write that betrays the board members’ barely hidden bigotry. Why does taking a course in African American Studies or Gender and Sexuality Studies frighten these students so much that they view the possibility of having to do so as a kind of tyranny?
The conservatives on the editorial board save their venom for those non-white and non-Western subjects of the classes that they don’t want to take—those whose histories they don’t consider worthy of learning. Requiring that students take a course on topics outside of the Western tradition (which many concentrations already do), argue the country club reactionaries, “is not merely vacuous but would also harmfully prevent students who who hope to study the Western tradition from taking worthwhile courses.” The University’s distribution requirements mandate that students take courses in a variety of disciplines that do not relate to “the Western tradition.” And yet none of the self-styled Burkeans would ever write in an editorial that the University’s two science requirements “harmfully prevent students who hope to study the Western tradition from taking worthwhile courses.” It is appallingly anti-intellectual to claim that studying courses outside of the Western tradition is “vacuous.” It is also a real shame that the opportunities of a Princeton education are being wasted on these editorial board members who cannot fathom that there might be something to gain from understanding other cultures and histories.
25 thoughts on “Conservative Anti-Intellectualism on Campus”
Great piece Josh–it’s sad that the proposal for this distribution requirement even needs defending. I wasn’t even a “studies” major but I took ELEVEN CLASSES on non-Western cultures in my four years. Granted, four of them were a language, but still, you’d really have to be narrow-minded to manage not to take a single one. Plus, you would emerge from your schooling in a state of indecent intellectual impoverishment. Imagine knowing only the culture of 1.5 of the world’s continents but thinking you’re ~wordly~. The first step is getting people like the authors of the editorial to even realize this is a limitation, which is CRAZY.
And now, I wait for shitheads to invade the comments section…
Poe’s Law: “Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.”
Oh wow, lol. This is much better read as satire.
I’m not sure whether this was an attempt to be snarky or sarcastic or whatever – either way, it just falls flat on its face. Your points were valid, for sure, but they were clouded in a series of unfunny, unoriginal ad hominem attacks that made it seem like you had a personal vendetta against the “most conservative” Daily Prince Editorial Board. Try again, buddy.
Dude – it’s the Nassau Weekly NOT the Daily Princetonian – Try reading any other piece in the NW and you’ll figure it out – he’s not assuming you need to have your hand held
It may not be funny – but by god it’s a relief to read given the drivel in the DP
And I take it you have been blessed with the right to decide who is worthy to attend Princeton and for whom this education is “wasted”? This is an unbelievably silly and entitled piece. I’m also pretty sure they’re not refusing to learn about other cultures, they’re just wary that whoever defines what a “marginalized” culture is gets to decide the narrative that will be imposed on all students. It seems more fair to take a broad look at what constitutes another culture. The only anti-intellectualism I’ve seen is the name-calling and put-downs present in opinion pieces like this one.
i broadly agree with this. prince editorial definitely wack. pro having some sort of requirement of this kind, supported by the reasons you suggest in the final paragraph. i do think it’s not unreasonable to be skeptical though of a good deal of scholarship in fields that very closely related to areas of passionate advocacy. i’m not going to claim that your average field is a hermetically sealed ivory tower, impervious to bias of any kind, but the potential for bias in these fields (intentional, unconscious, via self-selection of scholars, departmental priorities, etc.) is pretty glaring, and i don’t think it’s unwarranted. as far as i know, that’s not the case in physics or medieval studies. that being said, i think the concern is probably outweighed by the importance, intellectual and social, of exposure to at least elements of these bodies of knowledge.
also think your point stands regardless of the pretty glib / shallow reference to growing inequality and corporate exploitation… think history and the world economy (and conservatives) a bit more complicated than that. but i suppose the marxist rhetoric, which may oversimplify and alienate some people, is rhetorically worth it. at the very least will grab some more likes.
Hey man– no dog in this fight, but this is a bad piece. I feel for you, and for what you’re attempting to do, but at this point in your life you can’t write and you can’t think. Hanging Rand, Goldwater, Thurmond, Burke, and “centuries of brutal imperialism” around these people’s necks is contradictory, polemic trash. Calling them country club reactionaries is not quite literal gibberish, but it’s close enough to qualify.
You’ve got five paragraphs [a five paragraph essay!], and one of them is dedicated entirely to making sure we’re all on the same page about Princeton being more intellectually rigorous than high school [for fun, sit in on one of Kruse’s America from _____ to _____ classes, a sub-AP quality US History course, or Econ 101). Another is your introductory paragraph.
Bad sentences everywhere: “It is also an ignorant and sloppy thing to write that betrays the board members’ barely hidden bigotry.” Writing the words “what general academic consensus considers to be historical fact” as if it weren’t a.) a redundancy and b.) a weird tautology [and c.) 8th-grade level goods]. The full repertoire of self-righteous adverbs, of which these are only a selection: Patently [ridiculous], Completely [absurd], Astonishingly [disrespectful], Appallingly [anti-intellectual]. Get a fucking grip.
There should probably be a requirement to take a class on marginalized peoples. It’s a principled move, and it would help to liven the place up. But the kind of stuff you’re doing here only hurts the cause. Be better or shut up so that better people can be heard.
@Hey dawg, go review a cheese or some shit
You sound like my writing sem professor
well put, +1
It seems to me the editorial board offers a more flexible approach to studying diverse cultures/histories/philosophies precisely because it is concerned by the intellectual effect of authoritatively indoctrinating undergraduates with content decided upon by the judgement of infallible, unflinching and omniscient activists with a barely-hidden political agenda such as the author.
What a completely illegible response. Pretty characteristic of those who share your opinion though. You do realize that the university forces students to take certain classes anyway, right? Yet the language or science requirements, for example, aren’t “authoritative indoctrination?” It’s clear from your unoriginal pseudonym and your retrograde views on race relations that you’re a little William F. Buckley wannabe. Go back to your entitled cave, you reactionary imbecile.
Are you a student at Princeton? I don’t know about you but the University has not forced me to take ANY classes. The kind of “language or science requirements” you laud are exactly what the editorial board is proposing! A broad category that can be fulfilled with particular courses of the student’s choosing. I’m sure you would agree it would be unbecoming of the university to require all students to take hindi/arabic/swahili or any specific language as their language requirement because of some politically motivated agenda. Neither writing seminars or any other distribution requirements fit the straightjacketed proposal of mandating a class on historically marginalized peoples.
So…this is kinda embarrassing.
I haven’t read the Prince editorial, but I read the part you quoted…where it talks about grade school. Um, I think what they were saying was that students learn about the major brush strokes of history in grade school and that Princeton students should learn about marginalized peoples who often fall outside of the “George Washington crossed the Delaware” storylines.
I’m guessing they wanted to propose learning about marginalized peoples but didn’t want to get to rebuffed with a bunch of “my high school had a wonderfully engaging seminar on the subcontinent” blah blah blah.
Uh, the whole bluster about you would hope that Princeton exceeds a grade school education is kinda a straw man. But I’ll float you the benefit of the doubt that maybe you just genuinely didn’t get that that was what they were saying…
Straw mans everywhere plus ad hominem attacks thrown in for good measure: this piece was indeed awful to read. You can try to be snarky and antagonistic all you want but that’s going to make you not taken seriously by either side. I guess you can feel smugly superior to the “anti-intellectual” conservatives.
This is coming from a pretty strong liberal. I do oppose pretty heavily a lot of the fundamental conservative beliefs, but I’m with them on this one. Try to entertain the outside view, maybe?
I think you have some good points buried in here, but next time drop the insults and strawmans.
I’m curious to know if the author’s worldview and relentless quest for intellectual diversity also includes a soft spot for the kind of European-style hate speech laws that half of all U.S. college students now support implementing.
Oh, who am I kidding. Of course he does.
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