So it's come to this: our department conservative has decided to leave for greener, less liberal pastures. I'm not sure if he was our department's only conservative; there's another professor who seems fairly conservative to me. But, he fancied himself to be the sole conservative in the department. And he acted the part: ranting about Hillary Clinton in his lectures, posting complaints about liberal academia on his office door, even wearing the bowtie. It's sad to see him go though. It's always sad to see your department lose one of its livelier characters.
He was unhappy for some time. Many of the older professors in the department are sixties throwbacks and he apparently had problems with four in particular. He hasn't named names, but I know who he's referring to. They're all great scholars but perhaps a bit stuck in the summer of '69. They'll probably be retired within a decade. You can never tell with academics though: they tend to stay on forever. Our conservative character, who is leaving to teach at another university, is 71. The younger academics are less interested in fighting the culture wars; actually, I think this is true of younger people in general.
Anyway, his complaints about the history department boil down to two main themes:
1. The emphasis here is on research instead of teaching. The irony is that the four older professors in question are also extremely dedicated to teaching. But, he's right. Our department has remade itself as a ''major research center''; what this means is that we pressure new hires to do research and not to focus too much on teaching. Professionalism over pedagogy. Those of us who are grad students take up the slack. In other words, the students are getting ripped off, not that they care. Most infuriating to me are the young academics who join our department, promptly take a research leave, return from sabbatical a year later, and leave the department for another university- never teaching a single class.
2. The leftward tilt of the department inhibits thought. This is, I think, a valid concern throughout academia. Let's face it- too many academics are unreflectively liberal. The point was hammered home to me listening to some of our grad students talk about the department conservative's departure. One of them actually said to me, ''Well, of course, conservatives aren't happy in history. Contemporary historiography has come to reject nationalism, and nationalism is the backbone of conservatism''. Sheesh. Burke wept.
Things came to a boil for the department conservative over two incidents. In the first, some sort of department ''statement against the Iraq War'' was posted on the department door for people to sign. He thought this was inappropriate. It sounds that way to me too, although this was before my time so I didn't actually see the thing. I probably wouldn't have signed it myself, mostly because you can say I'm not a joiner.
In the second incident, a fellow professor sent him a typed letter saying that they could no longer be friends at a time in which the United States had tipped over into soft fascism. I did see this one: our conservative scallywag posted it on his door. It struck me as a bit silly. If the United States is now a fascist country, why would the department character with the bowtie be your first target for resistance? I just chuckled at it, but apparently, our department conservative no longer felt comfortable in the department. I'm not sure how I might respond in a similar situation. People are entitled to be friends with whoever they want to, but after forty years in a department, it's got to hurt to be treated that way, especially if you already feel out of place.
He eventually responded by leaving for the other university and doing a long interview with the student newspaper detailing his complaints. We have a handful of students who really get off on the idea that academia is overwhelmingly liberal because it makes them feel like rebels for voting for McCain. It's all pretty infantile, but they were more than willing to humor the department conservative's persecution complex. In fact, they put him on the cover. They've published editorials in past years lauding him and saying how refreshing it is to have a professor who complains about Hillary Clinton in class. I'd imagine the fellow will be a guest on Fox News by the end of the month.
Honestly, I'd find it more refreshing not to hear about other people's political opinions at every turn. You might notice that a theme in this whole story is that profs in my department can be a bit touchy with one another and could stand to handle their differences in a more adult manner. A sub-theme would seem to be the bizarrely American idea that all human life-forms can be divided into three groups: Liberal, Conservative, and Independent. Academia could use a lot less of profs being unreflectively liberal, but that doesn't imply that it needs more unreflective conservatives. Of course, you'll notice that many conservative critics of academia have actaully been calling for more apolitical professors for some time now. But, you'll also notice that conservative critics of academia have changed absolutely nothing in over four decades of criticising.
What academia could use right now, as the larger culture gets sucked into the mass delusion of popular politics, is people who are smart enough to see through the vacuous dogmas of right and left, most of which are infantile and anti-intellectual. To be honest, I can't stand Hillary Clinton or John McCain, and I'm increasingly convinced that academics should be of no real party or creed. After all, in the humanities we study the human soul, which takes myriad forms of expression, politics perhaps being the least significant and the most narrowing.