Oh, So Now We're Insular · 12 May 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Margaret Soltan--University Diaries--05/11/05

In a recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, an English professor at UCLA refers to the "Ivory Tower" and says that "the university is meant to be an insular environment" of "walls" that "protect" professors from political pressures. Sounds good to UD (University Diaries)! But wait…

The professor is all scared that the proposed Academic Bill of Rights is going to become law in California. His opinion piece has a scary title: Neocons Lay Siege to the Ivory Towers. And even though the bill was blocked in committee and will, UD promises, never become law, the writer is convinced it poses not merely a real but a "profound threat" to academic freedom, and in fact means imminent "state monitoring of universities."

The professor seems to want to say that the bill is something of a Jewish conspiracy, with "pro-Israel agitators" Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer behind it, not to mention "neoconservative firebrand David Horowitz." (Who's monitoring prose styles at UCLA?) But UD would remind him that other categories of people like the bill, and that it doesn't advance your argument very well to describe the whole thing as a wily Zionist plot.

The professor saves his cruelest jab against the enemies of freedom for the very end of the piece: "If this and similar bills pass, who gets hired and what gets taught could be decided not according to academic and intellectual criteria but by pressure groups, many of whose members are failed academics [italics UD's] driven by crassly political motivations. Society would pay the price."

Haha! You wanted to be an English professor like me but you couldn't cut it! Haha!

Anyway … Not that I think the anti-Academic Bill of Rights forces need to be too worried, but this guy isn't the best spokesman they could come up with. His recent scholarly work is an edition of essays calling for the reanimation of Marxism, and despite his seeming defense of the university's insularity, he seems to be a very out there political person who has less and less to do, in his work, with literature, his ostensible field.

All of which is fine, but you shouldn't be hypocritical and pretend you think the university is an ivory tower when in fact you probably have a lot of contempt for people like UD who actually do think the university is an ivory tower.

What UD is awkwardly trying to say here is that under any other circumstances, this seems to her precisely the sort of professor who'd revile ivory tower types like UD. He pulls out the Cardinal Newman language when he feels threatened.

I mean, look at a recent book he edited, Marxism Beyond Marxism (hardcover price, $106.00!). Its presiding spirit, Fredric Jameson, ushers us into the collection with an introductory essay.

This essay, written Bitter Teaparty style by a haughty disappointed person, frontally attacks insular academic people: One would have assumed that "left intellectuals were leftists first and foremost rather than intellectuals." These new left cynics have pretty much given up the political battle for Marxism but are perfectly happy in an "opportunistic" way to have successful academic careers founded upon writing which natters on in a vaguely left manner…

Jameson's essay is a kind of curio. He assures us history will have its way and the revolution is coming, but "we are poorly placed as biological individuals to witness the more fundamental dynamics of history," to grasp "the radical incommensurability between human existence and the dynamics of collective history."

Yeah, well… what with various historical events, Jameson's position in the academic world now looks close to that of Cardinal Ratzinger in the Catholic. Enforcer of ideology, winnower-out of insufficiently committed believers, designated keener for a lost world. Reading Fredric Jameson is like attending Latin mass.

…And in that sense, the UCLA professor and Jameson do in fact represent insularity --they are among the last holdouts of Marxist orthodoxy in America. The American university should protect and encourage them. The Bill of Rights people should leave them alone.

But they should not misrepresent themselves. In the LA Times piece, UD believes, the UCLA professor misrepresents himself.