Andrew Delbanco, author of his own book on what ails today’s university, gives the thumbs down to another critique that tilts at feminists and queer theorists: The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind.
Delbanco is sympathetic to the notion that identity politics has taken its toll on academic life (as am I). But apparently it’s just not as significant force in the academy as it once was:
When I look around, I see younger colleagues returning to close readings of literary classics. I see an emerging synthesis of the old political history focused on kings and presidents with the newer social history of ordinary people written “from the bottom up.” I see graduate students leading discussions on Plato in coffee houses, and undergraduates flocking to such new fields as environmental science in hope of acquiring the knowledge they need to make a positive difference in the world.
According to Delbanco, the problem that the university faces today is not identity politics but corporatism:
… Bawer overlooks the greatest threat to today’s universities. Today, corporate-minded university presidents spout platitudes about “outcome metric” and “game-changing” technologies, while faculty members struggle to piece together a living with multiple part-time jobs, and students search for marketable skills that, they hope, will help them pay off their education debt.
… Bawer is fighting a rear-guard action against an enemy who has largely ceded the field to a new philistine army that has no interest in the culture wars. The humanities and “soft” social science departments that Bawer mocks are sinking into insignificance — partly, to be sure, because they have purveyed the kind of buffoonery he decries. Meanwhile, a more formidable enemy has arrived in the form of resolute utilitarians who discourage students from seeking what Bawer wants for them: the chance, through arduous reading and reflection under the guidance of dedicated teachers, to discover themselves.