6.0294 NEH (1/54)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 13 Oct 1992 22:21:51 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0294. Tuesday, 13 Oct 1992.

Date: Tue, 13 Oct 92 16:39:25 EDT
From: "Daniel P. Tompkins" <PERICLES@TEMPLEVM>
Subject: Re: 6.0288 Rs: Politics, Cheney, and the NEH (4/62)

On Sunday, 11 oct. Stephen Clausing said:

>I haven't read the Cheney report but I would probably agree with her if I did.
>There is such as thing as politically biased teaching.

This is not the problem. Of course there is, and classroom indoctrination
should be opposed when it occurs. Whether "politics" can be avoided in
the classroom is a rich and interesting question. So is the question of
the possibility of objectivity.

I have now read through *Telling the Truth,* the Sept. 1991 report from
the Nat'l Endowment for the Humanities, reported on in the *Chronicle*
(9/30/92). It is interesting reading. First of all, it provides a useful
compendium of horror stories, terrifying quotations, etc., all from
academic liberals, leftists, feminists, revisionists. Most of these have
already been used in other sources, some quite often.

Second, the report is interesting because it leaps from the claim that
truth has been abandoned in today's classroom (we wouldn't unanimously
concur, I'd bet) to the claim that "academic freedom" is now an
invalid concept. We once had the freedom to teach the truth; now we
say the truth is inaccessible (p.30), so how can we claim we have
this freedom? (p.35)

Third, and chillingly, Cheney points with approval to pastintervention
in the academy (p.30) as a model for today: trustees should be
mobilized (pp. 50-51), etc. In the past, this mobilization led to
dismissals (p.30), which--then--impeded scholarly inquiry. Now,
since we're no longer pursuing truth, such dismissals are implied
again to be appropriate. I don't see how you can read this report and
fail to come away with this conclusion, although Cheney's phrasing
leaves a lot to be desired if you're looking for clarity (as we must,
if we care aboout objectivity and truth).

Notably, William Chace, President of Wesleyan Univ., whom Cheney
praises in her report, was one of the first to criticize its extremism.
(See the *Chronicle* article cited above, p. A 22)

This is why, while I agree with Mr. Clausing that indoctrination in
the classroom is to be resisted, I'd say Cheney is up to something
more consequential and more ominous.

I would also add that my academic experience may be unusual--I've
taught at Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Dartmouth and Temple--but I've seen
a certain amount of politicizing from the right that Cheney never
seems to notice, and a good deal of anti-left tendency
in tenure and promotion decisions: and I've heard plenty of horror
stories, some well-documented, of scholars proposing grants on sexuality
or multiculturalism and getting nowhere with NEH. I regret these forms
of bias as much as I do the other.

Dan Tompkins, Classics, Temple U.