Thursday, May 04, 2006

Them money-grubbing perfessers

Every once in a while, the stars align and one gasbag cites another. So we have Ann Coulter citing David Horowitz in her latest column. And though Horowitz claims his list is not a blacklist of any sort, here's how Coulter ends her column:

"How about Congress having weekly hearings on the price of college and the salaries of professors like Churchill? Horowitz has already provided the witness list for the first two years."

That's right--his book isn't a blacklist. But since he's conveniently given us a list, let's use it as one. The noise machine is cranking up for its next fear-mongering campaign, the liberalism of the American university. As most ridiculous media claims begin, this one's starting on the fringes, but it's getting picked up more and more--even the National Review has a blog devoted to bias in education.

I know lots of people who would dismiss this as crazy talk we don't need to worry about, but remember that we're veering closer to war with Iran and the mainstream media routinely gives air time to claims about the liberal media without examining the growing conservative bias on news talk shows or the MSM's continual avoidance of slaughter in Darfur or the looming dangers in Afghanistan brought on by a sloppy invasion after September 11.

But back to Saint Ann. Among the things in her column that I'd mark up in a freshman essay:
  • Noting CNN's coverage of rising gas prices and rising college tuition, she compares the two, answering complaints about gas profits by claiming that college professors are reaping the benefits of higher tuition in the same way oil executives are. Bad analogy. Wouldn't the proper comparison be to college presidents and deans, whose salaries rise at a greater rate than professors'?
  • She uses Ward Churchill as an example. Yes, Ward Churchill is a flaming nimrod. And you know what? He's the exception. He's a gasbag in public, and he isn't qualified for his job. Yes, we know. But, again Ann, he's the exception. Of course, she and Horowitz know that, but Churchill makes a more compelling case than Chomsky, what with all his scholarly books and articles (in addition to his political writings) and his insistence on keeping his political and scholarly work as separate as possible.
  • "Every sentient, literate adult knows that the current spike in gas prices is 90 percent due to forces completely beyond the control of Congress, the White House or even 'Big Oil' itself." Way to acknowledge opposing arguments and present them before countering them. That's her opening sentence, by the way.
  • "Liberals think hardworking taxpayers who can't afford gas should pay more in taxes because it is vitally important that young people be taught that America is the worst country on Earth and that the American bond traders who were murdered on 9/11 deserved it." You know, I was just teaching one of Shakespeare's sonnets last week to demonstrate this point. "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes" lends itself really well to Ward Churchillian rants.

  • She cites the work of Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, who apparently "has demonstrated, every time the government subsidizes college tuition through tuition tax credits, college tuition rises by the precise amount of the tuition tax credit." And where has Professor Vedder (presumably not one of the liberal professors who hates America) demonstrated this? Well, Coulter doesn't tell us. I'm sure he's written it somewhere, but unlike other columnists, she doesn't actually tell us where he demonstrated it. (I've put an email in to Dr. Vedder.)
So why does this gasbag matter? Why do I spend my time excoriating her instead of reading Northanger Abbey or Ian McEwan's Saturday? (Don't worry, profs, I'm getting back to them as soon as I post this.) Because more and more of my students equate empty rhetoric with argumentation. Because students routinely believe the following:
  • That Al Gore said, "I invented the internet."
  • That a woman who spilled a little McDonald's coffee on herself while driving won $10 million when in fact 1) she was in the passenger seat, 2) the car was parked, 3) the jury awarded her $2.7 million, an award lowered to less than $500,000 on appeal, 4) she had never sued anyone in her life and only initially asked McDonald's to pay her hospital bills, 5) the woman suffered third-degree burns on her thighs and groin (go ahead and google pictures of third-degree burns) and had to spend seven days in the hospital, and 6) prior to her case, McDonalds had had over 700 complaints about their coffee being dangerously hot and never consulted a burn expert.
  • That the Columbine shooters were part of the "Trenchcoat Mafia" and that they loved the music of Marilyn Manson. And what's more, when provided evidence to the contrary, one student (not representative, but still a college student) said, "But my dad told me they were part of the Trenchcoat Mafia." When pressed, he acknowledged that his father had no credentials.
So take the noise machine seriously. They're turning up the volume, and what they lack in evidence they make up for in screed.

P.S. While you're at it, boycott Slate.com. They've published an essay by Christopher Hitchens that makes ridiculous claims about Juan Cole, one of the "dangerous perfessers." Cole tears Hitchens a new one on his website. He's also added some more about it, but once you're there, you should be able to find it.

2 comments:

Wanda Ball said...

Hey Crazy (you like to be called that, don't you),
Have you read Stanley Fish's piece about Horowitz on the NYT website? You have to subscribe to read it, and I'm too cheap for that. But I'm curious what he wrote.

Vegan Viking said...

I'm an adjunct professor. This year I had a full class load, and I'm pulling in a gross of $24,600. I, for one, am fairly certain that whatever problems are plaguing universities and society in general, the income of professors isn't one of them.