What is Scholarship For?

Commentary

Not so long ago, leftists on campus insisted that there was no discrimination against conservatives in academic hiring. They claimed professors were hired on the basis of merit (and “diversity”), and few if any meritorious (or “diverse”) conservatives wanted to be professors anyway. The left now has a new and better argument for not hiring or tolerating conservative professors, formulated by a former conservative—the University of Pennsylvania’s Damon Linker. Writing in the Week in August 2017, Linker claims that conservatives are not hired as professors in the humanities because they cannot produce “scholarship,” which “in our time is defined as an effort to make progress in knowledge.” Such progress requires addressing “the concerns of the present.” Specifically, Linker wrote that scholarship is needed “on such topics as ‘Class in Shakespeare,’ ‘Race in Shakespeare,’ ‘Gender in Shakespeare,’ ‘Transgender in Shakespeare,’” and so on. The problem, according to Linker, is that conservatives prefer to write on themes like “Love in Shakespeare” or “God in Shakespeare,” and “centuries of people have written and thought about” such things.

“What’s new to say about them?” Linker asks. “Probably nothing.”

On September 15, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, published an article in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Shun Conservative Professors.” In his bid for tolerance, Brooks observed: “American liberalism has always insisted it is the duty of the majority to fight for the minority.” Four days later, a letter to the editor of the Times from one Gerald Harris argued: “The soul of true scholarship is a search for new meaning and a rigorous testing of old bromides. Conservatives, by definition, are committed to upholding or returning to the status quo and to resisting ground-breaking change. This is hardly a mind-set to be celebrated and rewarded at institutions dedicated to inquiry and pursuit of new challenges.” Conservative professors, therefore, deserve to be shunned.

This is precisely the opposite of the truth. After 50-plus years of university dominance, leftists are the ones who offer nothing new when it comes to scholarship. In applying postmodernist theories repetitively and uncritically to every subject under the sun, leftist scholars necessarily arrive at the same few stale conclusions time and again. It is only the rigor and honesty of traditional scholarship that allow for the flourishing of new knowledge. And in effectively barring that practice from universities, postmodernist scolds have fashioned and ennobled a regime of obscurantism.

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