The Monolithic Academy

Anyone who is around academics regularly is bound to encounter academic arrogance, and disdain for traditional, small-town America. For instance, take a look at this piece, featured on Brian Leiter’s blog. What’s it like teaching at a small university in a tiny town?

As time goes on, you’ll feel kind of like you live in a time warp and the modern world will become strange and fascinating to you. You’ll meet locals who have never been on an escalator. You will eventually become a local. Don’t fight it. Did I just write don’t fight it?  Fight like hell. Oh, nevermind, buy the local high school team’s t-shirt.

A similar attitude toward small-town America was on display at a recent workshop I attended. A professor told the graduate students, “Suppose if you were applying to a school in the back woods, like Bloomington, Indiana…” *Chuckles throughout the room*. I understand that Bloomington’s not a big town and is in the middle of rural Indiana, but it isn’t exactly Siberia. It’s a huge state school, considered the leading academic institution in the state of Indiana, has a music program in the top 5 in the country, and is widely known as the liberal capital of the state.

Notice that both the professor and the author of the piece assume that their audience of fellow academics will feel the same way about the prospects of living in Smalltown, USA. But if many academics feel the same way toward Smalltown, USA (or, at least, the part of the profession that enjoys reading Leiter’s blog), it must be because the academy is culturally monolithic. Academics prefer urban life.

Surely part of the reason that academics prefer urban life is political. Academics are liberal, and increasingly so. Small-town America is conservative. Not only is small-town America more conservative, but there is higher regard for tradition, and tradition is not something that liberals value (a topic for another post). There are two related issues to raise here. First, if the academy is not merely liberal, but culturally monolithic, how can it give anything more than lip service to its expressed commitment to plurality of thought? Second, why should parents from traditional America pay to have their kids educated by professors who, again, are not just politically liberal, but are committed members of a different subculture of America? Note that this subculture is not just different, but seeks to undermine traditional America. Liberal professors who do not acknowledge this desire are probably being disingenuous.

What do you think  about the two questions I ask above? Or, maybe you want to share a story of the monolithic nature of the academy.

Walter Montgomery

Walter is a philosophy graduate student in New Hampshire. He sometimes wishes he was a lawyer, and other times wishes he was a basketball coach. Some of his favorite childhood memories involve traveling with his immediate family, grandparents, and cousins’ family in big gas-guzzling vans towing campers. He sees philosophy as a tool for getting at Truth, and thinks too many contemporary philosophers see it as a tool for advancing their ideological preferences.

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2 Comments

  1. “Here’s what you will get: a house you couldn’t afford anywhere else, a yard with enough space for your chicken coop, and a farmers market that has lots of different kinds of tomatoes and apples (but sadly no bananas). You’ll forget to lock your doors at night. The worst local news will be that the public swimming pool has closed for good, and Dairy Queen has closed for the season.”

    Decisive objection, or reluctant admission? (I thought everything in those big Democratic machine cities was going just fine?)

    • Yes, those are some strong reasons in favor of small-town living. Of course, liberal academics are isolated from the consequences of the policies they favor in the big cities, since they mostly segregate themselves out from the “bad side of the tracks”, and their jobs and workplaces are funded and protected by we the people, in the case of state schools.

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