Column:Ignorance is Bliss?
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Amidst all the celebration centered on “social justice” at the University of New Hampshire, it seems to me as though something is being overlooked. But what, you might ask, could be more valuable on our campus than the success of this ideal? Some would be very comfortable in replying that there is nothing so important. But I would contend that the greatest measure of any academic institution’s success is intellectual seriousness, not to mention that institution’s ability to impart its registrants with valuable skills.
Yet this is an area in which I believe our university is struggling. Though anyone could make this argument on the basis of something like the superficiality of our general education program, this is not my case to make. Instead, my argument is that the institutionalization of leftist interpretations of social justice has led to an era in which high caliber areas of study are being replaced with courses founded upon emotionalism, pop academia and the opinions of activist professors.
In late March, the Registrar’s Office released the UNH Fall 2012 Undergraduate/Graduate Online Time & Room Schedule. Among the courses offered this upcoming semester are: four sections of “Intro to Women’s Studies” (compared with three sections of the standard undergraduate Shakespeare course being offered by the English Department), two sections of “Gender, Power and Privilege,” a 444 course entitled Honors/Race Matters, another entitled “Score!: Gender and Division in Sports,” a colloquium on “Race and Gender in Film,” a course entitled “Intro to Race, Culture and Power,” a course entitled “Fashion This!,” and, my personal favorite, a course entitled “Sustainability & Spirit.”
There is nothing wrong with any of these courses being offered, per se. But it is interesting to note that each of the courses listed above meets a general education requirement. In fact, four areas of the general education program can be met with Women’s Studies courses: “Historical Perspectives,” “Humanities,” “Social Science,” and “Environment, Tech, and Society.” This too lacks the criteria of scandal. However, I want to make the observation that allowing such a small department to meet so many general education requirements seems to signify two things. First, that the university has wholeheartedly endorsed these courses and the content found therein. Second, that there is a desperate need for student interest in these courses in order to keep the department afloat. One wonders at what point, in UNH’s bleak financial future, this or that Women’s Studies course will meet a “Physical Science” requirement.
All this leads me to the story of a smart and apolitical friend of mine who, in a hasty search to find an easy class to meet a general education requirement, decided to enroll in a Women’s Studies course. Citing this as the worst decision of her time at UNH, she reports to me that the objective of this course isn’t based in facts or the acquisition of a skill set. Unlike any college course she has ever taken, its basis lies in the ideology of the instructor.
Early on in the semester, students were encouraged to engage the instructor with opinions contrary to the views presented in the course material. However - when student took this liberty - they were reprimanded for their views in front of the class. Meanwhile, students who presented viewpoints that fit into the instructor’s own worldview were affirmed with praise.
The students - now aware of this - have subsequently turned class discussion into a game of oppression musical chairs. Students now competed to tell the most exaggerated stories of facing discrimination at the hands of “the patriarchy.” It seems as though this course - which students pay thousands of dollars to take - is little more than an expensive group therapy session … for the instructor.
More interesting is the instructor’s frequent scorn of the monolithic categorization of minority groups. She does this while referring to Caucasians as “white folk” and claiming to speak on behalf of all 200 million white Americans for the sake of discussion, naturally.
It’s one thing to hear and read these accounts; after all, there are plenty of subpar instructors and disgruntled students out there. It’s quite another to see stories of overt political bias and opinion presented as fact manifest itself in an actual assessment. Looking over a recent exam my friend allowed me to see, it was blatantly obvious that success was based solely upon the student’s ability to regurgitate the opinions of the instructor.
One question read:
Which is an example of racism?
a. A person of color gets a job over a white person
b. An Asian waiter refuses to serve a black customer
c. A white manager refuses to hire a woman because she is black
d. All of the above
My friend answered, “All of the above.” However, the correct answer was, “A white manager refuses to hire a woman because she is black.”