In a provocative essay, Roger Kimball, one of my favorite thinkers, suggests that recent developments at prestigious universities may mean that it?s time to take back the campus:

“[A]s one looks around at academic life these days, it is easy to conclude that corruption yields not only decay but also opportunities. Think of the public convulsion that surrounded the episode of Ward Churchill’s invitation to speak at Hamilton College earlier this year. The spectacle of a highly paid academic with a fabricated background comparing the victims of 9/11 to a Nazi bureaucrat was too much. Mr. Churchill’s fellow academics endeavored–they are still endeavoring–to rally round. But the public wasn’t buying it. Such episodes, as Victor Davis Hanson noted in National Review recently, were like ’a torn scab revealing a festering sore beneath’:

“Ward Churchill’s plight gives us a glimpse into the strange world of the contemporary postmodern university of tenured ideologues, where professed identity politics, ethnic or gender chauvinism, and a disbelief in empiricism allow a con man to bully his way to guaranteed lifetime employment, and a handsome salary, and the right to say anything at all, no matter how inflammatory.”

As other recent examples of campus outrages that suggest the sixties mentality may have reached the end of its tether, Kimball cites the brouhaha at Harvard when Larry Summers dared to ask if there might be differences between men and women and the women who want to become men at Smith College:

“As the Financial Times reported last month, the whole issue of ’transgender’ is a growth industry at Smith–as indeed it is at many colleges and universities around the country. ’Transgender’? The term, as the FT notes, ‘is a catchall that includes a wide spectrum of people who don’t identify with their birth sex; from transsexuals, who use surgery to change their sex, to those who change their appearance cosmetically–cross-dressers, as they used to be known, though such a term is considered old-school today.’

“There aren’t–not yet, anyway–many university health services that will cover the cost of hormone therapy and surgery for those who wish to make the ’transition’ to another (I suppose I should say the other) sex, but the FT reports that the University of California is considering covering the procedures. (Arnold Schwarzenegger take note: A breast reduction alone can cost $10,000.) The subject is particularly complicated–or, depending on how you look at it, particularly risible–at Smith, the elite, all-female college whose founder, Sophia Smith, wanted the college to be a place where women ’could develop as fully as may be the powers of womanhood.’”

With universities and colleges becoming so obviously agents of de-civilization, society may finally be ready to think about the role of the university: 

“The chief issue is this: Should our institutions of higher education be devoted primarily to the education of citizens–or should they be laboratories for social and political experimentation? Traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. The goal was to produce men and women who (as Allan Bloom put it) had reflected thoughtfully on the question ‘What is man?’ in relation to his highest aspirations as opposed to his low and common needs.

“Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the ’adversary culture of the intellectuals.’ The goal was less reflection than rejection. The English novelist Kingsley Amis once observed that much of what was wrong with the 20th century could be summed up in the word ’workshop.’ Nowadays, ’workshop’ has been largely replaced by the word ’studies.’ Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Afro-American Studies, Women’s Studies, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies: These are not the names of academic disciplines but political grievances. They exist not to further liberal education but to nurture the feckless antinomianism that Jacques Barzun dubbed ‘directionless quibble.’”

If the time has come to undo the damage of the 1960s, Kimball has some practical suggestion, including this one: 

“It is time to revisit several large issues. The issue of tenure, for example. An arrangement that was intended to protect academic freedom and intellectual diversity has mutated into a means of enforcing conformity and excluding the heterodox. For those few conservatives who have managed to obtain tenure, it doubtless functions to protect them. But for the faculty in general it seems to have become a prescription for political correctness and lassitude.”