Wednesday, August 01, 2012

the elite perversion of scholarship

truthdig | Fraternities, sororities and football, along with other outsized athletic programs, have decimated most major American universities. Scholarship, inquiry, self-criticism, moral autonomy and a search for artistic and esoteric forms of expression—in short, the world of ethics, creativity and ideas—are shouted down by the drunken chants of fans in huge stadiums, the pathetic demands of rich alumni for national championships, and the elitism, racism and rigid definition of gender roles of Greek organizations. These hypermasculine systems perpetuate a culture of conformity and intolerance. They have inverted the traditional values of scholarship to turn four years of college into a mindless quest for collective euphoria and athletic dominance.

There is probably no more inhospitable place to be an intellectual, or a person of color or a member of the LGBT community, than on the campuses of the Big Ten Conference colleges, although the poison of this bizarre American obsession has infected innumerable schools. These environments are distinctly corporate. To get ahead one must get along. The student is implicitly told his or her self-worth and fulfillment are found in crowds, in mass emotions, rather than individual transcendence. Those who do not pay deference to the celebration of force, wealth and power become freaks. It is a war on knowledge in the name of knowledge.

“Knowledge,” as C. Wright Mills wrote in “The Power Elite,” “is no longer widely felt as an ideal; it is seen as an instrument. In a society of power and wealth, knowledge is valued as an instrument of power and wealth, and also, of course, as an ornament in conversation.”

There are few university presidents or faculty members willing to fight back. Most presidents are overcompensated fundraisers licking the boots of every millionaire who arrives on campus. They are like court eunuchs. They cater to the demands of the hedge fund managers and financial speculators on their trustee boards, half of whom should be in jail, and most of whom revel in this collective self-worship. And they do not cross the football coach, who not only earns more than they do but has much more power on the campus.