Michael Bérubé, an English professor at Penn State, was last encountered here making an argument that was so bizarre one of the commenters on my post said he was joking. He wasn’t. Not only did Bérubé advocate “race norming” of the SAT to ensure that all groups did equally well, but he also favored norming every which way from Sunday: “for sex, income, region and level of parental education,” etc. He would give everyone a group handicap the same way golfers have handicaps.
consistently scrambles the considerable difference between reasoned dissent and unreasonable disruption, so much so that by the end of the essay, he has rendered student conservatism as simply a type of behavioral dysfunction….
To confuse–wilfully and systematically–conservative beliefs with aberrant behavior, as BÃ©rubÃ© does here, is to suggest on some level that conservative students (outspoken ones, anyway) are not only wrong, but sick. Bérubé does not use the disability comparison lightly: he has written at length about his son’s Down’s Syndrome, and is one of the key figures in the emerging field of disability studies. When he says outspoken conservative students are best handled as disabled students, he knows what he is saying and he means it.
I don’t know Bérubé, but I’ve now read several of his articles, and it seems to me that his branding conservative students as sick may be a classic case of the pot calling the kettle [diverse].
Bérubé may find conservative students disruptive by defintion, but the football coach at Texas A&M has gone him one better, blaming conservatives for A&M’s poor season. (Link, again, via Howard Bashman.)
The Young Conservatives of Texas, a conservative student group, recently sponsored one of the increasingly popular affirmative action bake sales, and last week A&M president Robert Gates and Athletic Director Billy Byrne sent out campus-wide emails that were widely regarded as a rebuke to the YCT. Byrne, for example, wrote that “[t]he Texas A&M bake sale plays right into the hands of those who recruit against us, in both athletics and in the general student population.”
In other words, the good coach is saying, we can’t afford to treat everyone equally regardless of race, because doing so would put us at a competitive disadvantage.
UPDATE II – Erin’s brilliant analysis of Michael Bérubé’s essay linking disruptive student behavior with conservative ideology has generated an angry reaction … from Prof. Bérubé, which Erin quotes at length in a new post. She also quotes from a number of responses she’s received that share her (and my) view of what Bérubé wrote. All of this is very much worth reading. For those of you who take the time to read Bérubé’s essay, let me second the advice implicitly offered by one of Erin’s friendly correspondents: imagine as you read that the “John” in the essay is black, and Bérubé posits the same connection between race and John’s behavior that he does between the real “John” and his conservative views. If BÃ©rubÃ©’s reading of his own work is correct, there would be nothing to be embarrassed about in this substitution.
UPDATE III (12/5/03 1:25PM) – Erin’s Bérubé bash continues to generate comment and controversy, all of it interesting. Today, for example, Joanne Jacobs, one of my favorites, gently dissents from Erin’s view that BÃ©rubÃ© regards conservatives as deranged.
As I read it, Bérubé isn’t saying conservatives are disabled; he’s patronizing all students who deviate from his “standards of reasonableness” or his rules of classroom decorum. The problem is that Bérubé’s “standards of reasonableness” are quite narrow.
I usually agree with Joanne, but then I also usually agree with Erin, and my reading of BÃ©rubÃ© is closer to Erin’s on this question. First of all, “it’s no accident,” as we conspiracy theorists are fond of saying, that Bérubé’s case study of unreasonableness just happens to be a loud-mouthed conservative. But beyond this, look at the following comments and observations that, I believe, suggest that the connection between John’s “unreasonableness” and his conservatism is not, in Bérubé’s view, a co-incidence:
He had begun to conceive of himself as the only countervailing conservative voice in a classroom full of liberal-left think-alikes…
Of course, if John was the only countervailing conservative voice, then his “conception” wasn’t unreasonable.
I’ve been watching the evolution of campus conservatism for more than 20 years now. I remember vividly the reaction of Accuracy in Academia, Reed Irvine’s slightly nutty group that tried to recruit vocal right-wing students to report on and root out “liberal bias” in the classroom….
If John’s aberrant behavior were purely individual, and not a result of, or at least closely associated with, his conservatism, why mention “the evolution of campus conservatism”? Why even mention the “slightly nutty” Reed Irvine and his Accuracy in Academia? What are the quotes around “bias” meant to signify if not the suggestion that liberal bias exists is, at best, mistaken and, probably, unreasonable?
Stanley Kurtz’s argument about anti-Americanism on campus is based on “paranoid logic.” David Horowitz is not simply wrong but “is exaggerating hysterically when he claims that campuses are one-party states and that 99 percent of all commencement speakers are Democrats, liberals, or Greens.” (My emphasis) Prominent conservatives are thus nuts; John is a conservative; ergo….
… and yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, although John and students like him might occasionally feel threatened or uncomfortable in classes like mine, they aren’t really in any danger at all.
By now is there any real doubt that when Bérubé says “students like him” he’s referring to other loudmouthed conservative students? What do we usually call people whose view of reality is fundamentally flawed? Nuts. People who unreasonably regard themselves as in danger? Paranoid.
The problem with Prof. Bérubé, in short, is not simply that his definition of reasonable is too narrow, but that it is skewed to the left. He is always loaded, cocked, and has his labeling finger on a hair trigger ready to fire away at conservatives for being “nutty,” “paranoid,” “hysterical,” and “unreasonable.” I have no doubt that Prof. Bérubé would be equally frustrated by any student, of whatever political persuasion, who behaved as “John” did, but, based on this essay, I have strong doubts (that’s actually a polite understatement) that he would have digressed upon the history, “bias,” and distorted view of reality of campus leftism if he were discussing a liberal “John” whose version of “reasonableness” was closer to his own.