The "Secret Lives of Republicans" CFP generated a lot of discussion at some of the other blogs whose owners also posted it, and I feel the need to make some follow-up commentary, particularly as the MLA Conference program will soon be coming out, and it will provide a lot more of the same in terms of politically motivated and politically biased panels, if the last few MLA Conferences are any indication.
One thing that disturbs me about the academic/leftist reaction to a panel like this is the immediate counter-argument that this is just one panel, and that it's not in any way indicative of academia as a whole. But how many times do we have to point out "just one panel" before the number of such panels finally makes it clear that while such blatant bias and shameful lack of scholarly aspirations as we saw in yesterday's CFP are not the norm, academic conferences--literary academic conferences, mind you--are filled with panels that exhibit their biases hidden only by the obfuscating language of theory, and with panels that do not seek to ask questions, but to propagate "truths."
Two years ago, I spent a lot of time on this blog looking through college catalogs, examining the offerings of English departments, and finding that much of what was on offer was not really focused on literature at all, but on politics and on a very leftist brand of sociology. I also went through the MLA Conference program, with the help of a few people who were emailing me suggestions (Blogger had no comments function back then), and found numerous panels and papers that could only be said to be on a topic of relevancy to the MLA through the most contorted theoretical reasoning. Last year, I didn't bother to go to MLA, and I let my membership lapse whenever I'm not on the market, so I didn't receive the program, but emails I received from colleagues and from others who are interested in what academia has become emailed me with some of the details, and the only difference I could find was that the level of political bias had increased, and there was more of the MoveOn.org type of nonsense than ever before. This year, knowing that panels and papers were proposed after the end of the 2004 election, I expect the conference to be even more politically charged. I guess we'll see in a couple of weeks whether or not I'm right.
But the point is that there is a pattern here. This is not just one isolated incident, but a laying bare of what has been going on all along. This particular professor was either not clever enough to make his intentions for this panel ambiguous, or, more frighteningly, he just didn't care, because he felt no need to hide his blatant bias on the CFP listserv, where he assumed that all readers would share his biases and that they would cause no stir.
And this assumption is common. My own colleagues speak around me as if I were a committed leftist, and I regularly listen to them trying to figure out how they can convert their students to a left way of thinking--"enlighten" them, to their way of thinking, but there is no effort to hide the fact that their brand of enlightenment is firmly entrenched in leftist ideology, and that one of their major goals as professors is to reveal to students the errors in their thinking, which they assume to be red state Republican, handed down from their parents, who are also assumed to be red state Republican.
And the other academic listservs I'm on are the same. Discussion regularly veers off into politics, and the content differs little from the sorts of things you hear on Air America. In fact, I have even seen professors recommending Air America broadcasts as unbiased sources of information for their students on these lists, making the argument that the mainstream media is far too conservative to be trusted to deliver the truth.
So yesterday's CFP wasn't really that much of an aberration. Yes, it was more blatant that a lot of things I've seen in print, but as I think about it, it's no less blatant than what I hear or read my colleagues talking about when they think they are safely ensconced in their cocoon of leftism. Indeed, yesterday's CFP is a pretty accurate indicator of the thinking of about 80% of academics I've come into contact with, and it's the kind of thinking that is steering course offerings, conference offerings, and publications.