For some reason -- don't ask -- I was looking at Rush Limbaugh's web site, and I saw this headline: "Can Any Good Come from V Tech Horror?" followed by this blurb: "Maybe, just maybe, we'll face the hatred for American traditions and capitalism infesting our campuses." No, I thought. No, no, no. So I clicked the link. The transcript I found quoted at length from an article called "Was Cho Taught To Hate", by one James Lewis, published in the American Thinker (sic):
"Still, I wonder --- was Cho taught to hate? Whatever he learned in his classes --- did it enable him to rage at his host country, to hate the students he envied so murderously? Was he subtly encouraged to aggrandize himself by destroying others? Was his pathology enabled by the PC university? Or to ask the question differently --- was Cho ever taught to respect others, to admire the good things about his host country, and to discipline himself to build a positive life?
And that answer is readily available on the websites of Cho's English Department at Virginia Tech. This is a wonder world of PC weirdness. English studies at VT are a post-modern Disney World in which nihilism, moral and sexual boundary breaking, and fantasies of Marxist revolutionary violence are celebrated. They show up in a lot of faculty writing. Not by all the faculty, but probably by more than half.
Just check out their websites. (...)
The question I have is: Are university faculty doing their jobs? At one time college teachers were understood to have a parental role. Take a look at the hiring and promotion criteria for English at VT, and you see what their current values are. Acting in loco parentis, with the care, protectiveness, and alertness for trouble among young people is the last thing on their minds. They are there to do "research," to act like fake revolutionaries, and to stir up young people to go out and revolt against society. Well, somebody just did.
I'm sorry but VT English doesn't look like a place that gives lost and angry adolescents the essential boundaries for civilized behavior. In fact, in this perversely disorienting PoMo world, the very words "civilized behavior" are ridiculed --- at least until somebody starts to shoot students, and then it's too late. A young culture-shocked adolescent can expect no firm guidance here. But we know that already."
This is beyond despicable. Members of the Virginia Tech English Department seem to me to have tried hard to get Cho help. Prof. Roy, in particular, called the police, notified the administration, and repeatedly urged Cho himself to get counseling. If I were looking to cast blame for the acts of a deeply disturbed killer, which I'm not, they would not be very high on my list.
This would be so whether or not Lewis' description of the English Department were accurate. But if blogging has taught me anything, it's that whenever people run this sort of hit piece on academia, it's always worth checking out the actual department they're supposedly describing.
Here's a list (pdf) of the department's courses this semester, and here's a list of its faculty, with blurbs about their research interests. Initially, I was mad enough that I composed a fairly detailed refutation of Lewis' points. (Not hard.) But then I cleverly closed the browser window in which I was composing, and lost it all. That's probably just as well. The bottom line is: this is a department that is not "a wonder world of PC weirdness", particularly by the standards of English Departments. It's actually pretty staid. I couldn't get anywhere near half the faculty with interests in "nihilism, moral and sexual boundary breaking, and fantasies of Marxist revolutionary violence", even when I decided to substitute "serious interests in anything having to do with gender, race, class, or postmodern theory" for "nihilism, etc.", and even when I counted not-exactly-PoMo projects like this (it sounds quite interesting to me):
"My research focuses on Renaissance literature and art history, and deals with the intersection of text and image during the early modern period. My current research project focuses on the ways in which representations of Queen Elizabeth I serve to construct English ideas of female authority. In particular, I analyze the relationship between the representations of the queen by artists, writers and politicians and those representations over which Elizabeth herself exercised some degree of control and agency: her verse and her speeches as well as her progresses and other public displays."
Two points are worth documenting, though. The first is that some of Lewis' points reveal either extreme carelessness or dishonesty. For instance, he writes: "And then there is the big Marxist website from Professor Brizee, all in fiery red against pitch black, showing old, mass-murder-inspiring Karl flanked by two raised fists." Leave aside the fact that the person flanked by two raised fists is a big muscular lunk of a guy with a sledgehammer who I assume is meant to represent Labor, and who bears no resemblance at all to old, mass-murder-inspiring Karl. The web page Lewis links to is part of a website on Marxist literary theory. It was not created by "Professor Brizee"; as far as I can tell, no such being exists. In 2000, when the web site was created, there was an MA student by that name, however. (A number of the people Lewis describes as 'Professor X' are not, in fact, professors.) More interestingly, I can't find any way of navigating from the Department's web site to this apparently abandoned link except by searching the department website for 'Marx', 'Marxist', etc. Which is not what I'd call a neutral way of discovering what the major interests of the English Department are.
Second: when I first read Lewis' article, I thought: well, why would I expect a departmental web site, listing courses in Beowulf and Technical Writing, and a Senior Seminar on Dante that I would love to take, to reveal anything at all about whether the people in it would be likely to teach their students "to respect others, to admire the good things about his host country, and to discipline himself to build a positive life?" I expected that most of the faculty's statements of interest would be things like this:
"My research focuses on the material structures of the manuscripts and pre-1500 editions of the Canterbury Tales and the relationship of those structures to their presentation of the text. The methodologies I employ in this work are known as codicology and bibliography. I publish descriptions of these “witnesses” to the Canterbury Tales in association with the Canterbury Tales Project, on CD-ROM and the internet. An offshoot of this work is my interest in watermarks (...)"
"My teaching reflects my academic background and publications in Medieval Studies, particularly the literature of the Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures but also extending into the literature of Middle English and the High Middle Ages. My work has focused on theories of genre, narration, and performance. (...)"
And my personal favorite:
"I write poems and stories. I have little faith or interest in my thoughts on writing. Those who do a thing are often too close to be perceptive commentators, particularly where love is involved. I love writing, maybe most of all because it doesn’t matter, because poems don’t lift bridges or make refrigerators shinier. The nakedness of the endeavor—just one person, sitting at a desk, trying to express something they feel in a way that will allow others into their mind—may be among the most human things we do. We are the mouths of the world, and through poetry we speak."
As I said, I did expect to learn what aspects of literature the faculty was interested in, but I did not expect to see anything about their interest in "the essential boundaries for civilized behavior." But I was wrong. Here's one of the faculty blurbs:
"My research combines historical, rhetorical, and qualitative methods to study both the teaching of professional communication and the importance of civic engagement to that work. My focus on civic engagement emerges from a combination of my historical research into the Aristotelian notion of technê and the emphasis the field places on practical wisdom (or phronesis). In addition, my military background, which plays a role in my commitment to service and to my understanding of the notion of an ideal orator who serves the public good, has acted as a bridge between my past scholarly work in war literature and my next major research project: an historical study of early technical writers, many of whom worked for the military during World War II, writing documents ranging from field and technical manuals to major policy statements."
Not what you'd expect if you just read the article.
As I said, Lewis' article would be beyond despicable even if it accurately represented the Virginia Tech English department. That it's just another hit piece against an academic department that makes precisely no attempt to characterize that department accurately, that Lewis chooses instead to treat the members of that department as mere instantiations of some "trend" that exists only in his head, and that he does this at a time when the people he uses as political props must be suffering enormously, makes it lower than dirt.