Saturday, December 24, 2011

P Is for Patriarchy (and for Public Relations)

Katha Pollitt had a good column on the Penn State scandal a couple of weeks ago, and The Nation printed three letters about it this week. Unfortunately they're not available online, so you either must be a subscriber or read a print copy. One of them deserves some attention, I think, so I'll just type up the relevant portion here.
In the once-upon-a-time days of shared faculty administration/faculty governance, the moral climate was wider and more likely to encourage and protect those who spoke out. The decline of faculty authority has adversely affected the academy. ... [R]estoration will take a more persistent commitment to inquiry, analysis and eventually, discovery -- a process that, fortunately, defines scholarship.
I agree that the increasing influence of corporations on universities has not been a good thing, but other than that, well, no. "Once-upon-a-time," with its fairy-tale associations, is a good way for the writer to label the bygone days when scholars were scholars and whistleblowers were encouraged and protected. If we didn't hear as much about sexual misconduct by coaches and players in the past, it was because it simply didn't count. Football players who raped "co-eds" (now, there's a once-upon-a-time word!) or town girls were the ones who were protected and encouraged, not their victims. Not only athletes but well-to-do students whose families regarded college as finishing school got away with a lot. This diversionary complaint reminds me of what we've been hearing from the Roman Catholic hierarchy when they've been caught with their robes up: it wasn't Our fault that children were being preyed on by clergy -- it was Teh Gey, with their shameless Pride Parades! They weakened Our moral fiber!

For that matter, increased coeducation and greater numbers of younger female faculty meant more sexual harassment by male faculty, and again, those who "spoke out" could count on neither encouragement nor protection; for that matter, female students were often discouraged and belittled by male instructors simply for academic ambition. (Speaking out about sexual harassment is still perilous for female graduate students and junior faculty, according to Ms Mentor, and see what she says in this interview about reader reaction to her advice on a husband who hated living in the rural Midwest.) Things have improved since the sixties, but not because of "scholarship" -- political pressure did.

Another letter on the same page deserves mention, just as an omen of what we'll be seeing often in the coming year. "As a young country, we're still in the adolescent phase, thus our impatience with solutions that take time; refusal to support leaders who don't immediately fulfill our desires; and thinking that not voting is a smart move. Fellow Americans, it's time to grow up!" What is more adolescent than telling other people to grow up? But this has already shown itself to be the core of Obama's defense for 2012, though admittedly he and his sycophants have been using it since he took office. Probably his PR people came up with it. I think it says something that Obama has evidently been ready for criticism from the left all along, while he still flops around helplessly when attacked from the right.