Dartmouth College has a new provost, Carolyn Dever. The provost is a key, perhaps the key, player at an academic institution. She creates and maintains academic standards and sets the academic direction of the college. She determines which departments and areas of studies will be winners and which will be losers.
In my day at Dartmouth, the provost was Leonard Reiser, a physicist who participated in the Manhattan Project. He had studied at the University of Chicago and always gave me the sense of having stepped out of Saul Bellow’s circle. Reiser seemed like the very embodiment of academic seriousness.
Dever, the new provost, was selected by a committee headed by Bruce Duthu. A professor of native American studies, Duthu voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, a boycott widely denounced as a violation of academic freedom and rejected by Dartmouth’s new president. Duthu’s involvement in the selection of the provost is a disgrace.
Joining Duthu on the committee was English professor Barbara Will. She specializes in feminist theory. Like Duthu, then, she’s a practitioner of “identity scholarship.”
And guess what? So is the new provost. According to the Dartmouth Review, Dever specializes in “gender studies and English literature.” Trying to give Dever the benefit of the doubt, the Review points out that she is sympathetic with “New Lesbian Studies,” which apparently is less rigidly ideological than Old Lesbian Studies.
I’m thankful for small favors, but nonetheless find it alarming, though not surprising, that an identity scholar will be setting Dartmouth’s academic direction and controlling the faculty purse strings. The Dartmouth Review complains:
Our fundamental problem with the advent of such fields as gender and queer studies is that they tend to support an inherent division of the student body into a binary system of oppressor and oppressed. . . .[I]t seems that each student is defined as either male or female (transgendered, etc.) heterosexual or homosexual (bisexual, undefinded, etc) and white or non-white.
This encourages an atmosphere where students speak not as independent minds but as representatives of certain groups; subsequently, said groups are assumed to follow a certain “script.” Women are inherently victimized and must contend with perpetual male insult and aggression. Blacks and Hispanics face a daily slog of subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination. White males are naturally, on some level, racist or sexist. All are dissuaded from diverging from their prescribed narrative. . . .
But identity scholarship poses another problem that, in strictly educational terms, seems more fundamental. Students interested in the serious study of literature (for example) are forced to endure jargon-ridden propaganda from professors with axes to grind.
When my daughter (class of 2010) attended Dartmouth, I met several students who had declined to major in English because they couldn’t find enough courses that they believed were about literature, as opposed to identity politics. My daughter avoided areas of literature she wanted very much to study because it quickly became clear that the professors were mind-numbing (and sometimes incomprehensible) propagandists.
I regard this situation on tragic. And by selecting an “identity scholar” to preside over its academics, Dartmouth has made certain that the tragedy will persist and probably deepen.
I haven’t contributed any money (other than my daughter’s tuition) to Dartmouth since the College stopped allowing alums to elect half of the Board of Trustees. But even if Dartmouth permitted alums to elect every Trustee, would it make sense, in a world full of good causes, to help subsidize the promulgation of whiny left-wing propaganda — often anti-white male and anti-American and sometimes amounting to gibberish — that increasingly passes for teaching at Dartmouth?