The Whine of Disgruntled Academics

A cursory glance over Herb Childress’s screed in the most recent The Chronicle Review reveals him to be little more than another jaded professional, still muttering over his unrequited dreams of academic tenure in a now-villainous American college system.

The whole piece is rather unflattering and self-serving. It reads as one more Marxist screenplay starring the Kafkaesque suffering of yet another paper victim, as evidenced by Mr. Childress’s decision to assume a series of non-teaching careers in academia simply to remain alongside the faculty “who had somehow passed through the gates that had closed in the face of [his] pleas” and into “heaven” to which the author so desperately had “ached” for “membership.” Upon highlighting his wife’s prolific resume, herself former college faculty who, too, experienced hardships, Mr. Childress mourns more the “collegiality [she] offered to deaf ears and turned shoulders” than he celebrates her “outstanding course evaluations and devoted students.” And his self-described nervous breakdown in his 40s had apparently stemmed from his admitted “grief of not finding a home in higher ed,” despite his doing just that for a brief period as post-doctorate instructor. He even goes so far as to self-identify as a refugee “from a nation that would not have” him upon his exiting the academic stage.

But it is Mr. Childress’s temerity to fault Americans en masse for his obsolescence that fully caricaturizes him as the local, yelling-at-the-nighttime-sky old-timer who seethes fire and brimstone to anyone within earshot or eyesight. This one-man production broods terribly from the onset, blaming Americans’ insatiable appetite for all things innovative for having somehow hastened his departure. Through a litany of criticisms masquerading as genuine inquiries, Mr. Childress dispenses serious timeworn contempt:

How did we discard the idea of college faculty? That is, how did we decide to systematically eliminate an entire class of professionals…? How did we come to decide that college teachers didn’t deserve job security, didn’t deserve health insurance, didn’t deserve to make more than convenience-store clerks?

He fumbles through various livelihoods that “we” Americans have collectively bled dry before discarding to the fringes of Mr. Childress’s bitter universe, where lay the masses of obsolete general practitioners, cab drivers, newspaper and magazine writers, auto mechanics, and bookkeepers, suspended in the heavy, dank air of conspiracy overhanging a swift but shallow undercurrent of anti-capitalism. “We” engineer innovation misanthropically—we intentionally induce economic hardship and psychic suffering in others to impose dominion over them, or so it is told by any one of the increasingly number of adults who confuse sanctimonious whining with legitimate activism.

If ever there were more like-minded persons seeking a mascot who could brilliantly amplify their misdirected resentment and toxic entitlement, Mr. Childress appears available.

Two More Years’ Further from the Truth

“We should take exception, however, to the notion that students’ recent demands show they are cosseted, lacking resilience, or somehow seeking to infantilize themselves. On the contrary, these students are taking on deeply entrenched problems, such as institutional racism, and showing that they are determined to do something about it.”

In his 2016 article for The Advocate, National Education Association attorney Jason Walta vainly attempts to defend what has since become a caricature of student activism on American college campuses, replete now as then with the same disruptive and petty tactics of a youth different only in age but not in naivete, impervious to both fact and consensus.

And apparently to jurisprudence, for Walta’s defense below that tactics such as shouting down speakers, disrupting official school business, and threatening to riot are within students’ right to freely express bring into sharp relief a degree of deceit that borders on malpractice:

“Universities are— and should remain—bastions of free inquiry for students and faculty alike. That means students are free to protest and to issue whatever demands they think will advance their cause. And, it means that teachers and administrators should tolerate and even invite forceful protest and debate.”

Students actually possess no right to “forceful[ly] protest,” despite what Walta—a credentialed attorney—claims, let alone an entitlement to commit violence that easily qualifies as “forceful protest.” In fact, interrupting and interfering with academic affairs, including school-sanctioned events, are not protected by any legal document, let alone the U.S. Constitution. Rightfully so, such unprotected tactics have increasingly received greater public scorn.

It is also unnecessary to insist universities and colleges remain epicenters of free inquiry of ideas. It is disingenuous, however, to proclaim such and then fail miserably at reconciling students’ moblike behavior and childish aggression when confronted with disagreeable ideas—words—that are themselves legitimately protected. It is more egregious to then tacitly support restricting language on the basis that words could cause a student to experience irreparable trauma for which the college could be held liable. (It could not be.)

And it certainly fares poorly that so many faculty support these illegitimate protests, including some whom have actively engaged in mob-rule actions worthy of a swift termination. It appears self-victimization is an honorable way to quench unrequited anger, misdirected that resulting demands reveal a frightening profile of persons who are anything other than tolerant or intuitive.

Such incoherence and subsequent extremism perfectly capture the infantilization Walta so earnestly disavows. This particularly large demographic of misplaced activism neither appropriately or effectively confronts systemic issues. The tactics used are as shameful as those carried out by the several Black Lives Matter activists whose recklessness effectively crippled a potentially revolutionary movement, had it not been sullied by the civically ignorant and emotionally unstable.

Likewise, students possessed “to do something” just as counterintuitive and reactionary will only risk ending in disgrace yet another profound undertaking, in whose diminished wake will leave nothing this time but shambles of a makeshift philosophy and its unintelligible drivel, spurred by the overzealous and attention-seeking behavior of youth desperate for acceptance and relevancy.

But most assuredly, the kicking and whining will continue unabated and unmoored from the more consequential reality that lay beyond the hysteria and nonsense of today’s modern college campus.