Campus Politics

For some time now, a digest called “IN THE NEWS” appears in my mailbox each morning with news items of interest to people working at McGill (plus, naturally, all the “expert citings” since the university keeps track of that sort of thing).  

In today’s digest, two apparently unrelated stories appeared.

–A <a href=”,0,983101.story” target=”_blank>profile</a> of the author of the blog <a href=”” target=”_blank”>”Stuff White People Like”</a>, who is a McGill grad and

–A <a href=”” target=”_blank”>New York Times article</a> about the possibility of a generational shift among professors.

The two are both obliquely about politics on campus.  If you haven’t checked out Stuff White People Like, it is often hilarious because it so nicely captures the tastes of a certain segment of the upper middle class.  I certainly belong, since I own New Balance shoes (hey, they fit wide feet) and enjoy dinner parties and support Barack Obama (critically, of course).  Its mode of humor is also ironic and self-deprecating (in a self-aggrandizing way).  The author includes himself and say that most of the things on the blog are stuff he actually likes, but I’m fond in particular of this quote:

<blockquote>”If you want to say I was planning that far ahead, that’s great,” said [McGill grad] Christian Lander, resident white person behind the ridiculously popular blog “Stuff White People Like,”, a snarky bit of grass-roots anthropology that recently transmuted into a rumoured $300,000 book deal. The million and a half hits his blog has generated are taken as a sign of extreme popularity – a fact not long overlooked by New York literary agents. As far as conducting field research, then, Lander didn’t need to so much as lift a Google. “It’s a weird thing where you just know,” he said. “I’d think about my friends from McGill and grad school. Would they like this? If the answer is yes, in it goes.”</blockquote>

Yes, McGill has a certain unavoidable, well, whiteness to it.  The faculty is not particularly diverse.  The student body is somewhat moreso though I certainly can tell the difference when I go to an event at Concordia (or maybe it’s just the events I go to).  

Meanwhile, apparently faculty are less liberal than they used to be.  I’m not so sure about that.  I wasn’t there in the 70s, but I think a lot of this is a boomer fantasy about who they were.  And there is way too much anecdotal evidence in that article.  It was very difficult to do feminist work, for instance, in that golden age of campus radicalism.  That said, there is no doubt that faculty coming up or faculty who have recently “come up” are more professionalized and more attuned to professional issues than people who came up in the 70s.  We simply have to be–the universities demand it.  In that sense, even those of us who hold radical views may be less likely to strike a pose to impress, or trot out our political credentials.  

2 replies on “Campus Politics”

  1. Jonathan: I am so glad that you blogged about this, because I have been thinking about both of these things. The thread that ties this together I am thinking is the way that they both deal with the issue of social class. TWPL has been rightly critiqued for only covering a small slice of the white population, which is college educated white liberals (like the Bobos of the David Brooks books, which had a similar weakness). And the issue in the NY times about professors becoming less radical–what I would say is that the older generation of professors were more often Marxist than you see today, but they were EXCLUSIVELY concerned with class, as opposed to race, gender, sexuality, and other things. The only reason that ethnic studies programs were founded at SF State and other places was because STUDENTS mobilized to get them, not this so-called radical generation of faculty. The faculty were pretty content not to have ethnic studies at these schools.

    I agree with the article in that you see many departments around campus, especially in the social sciences, where there is a prevalent kind of social conservatism. It dismays me. or instead, you see this TWPL trendy liberalism–farmer’s markets, green building, talking about “diversity,” Priuses–which is quite far away from the radical tradition the NYT article references, but can look kind of like it from a distance.

    I haven’t talked to you in a really long time, Jonathan! we must catch up.

  2. Great to hear from you Lisa. I’d love to catch up before we head off to Australia at the end of the month.

    What’s TWPL? I googled it and got a bunch of hits for stocks.

    Great point about the students. I think that’s were a lot of campus radicalism comes from, today as well. I think you’re also right about the apparent liberalism (ie, if by liberal we mean simply not voting for Republicans) of many faculty whose views are not otherwise particularly radical, and who are not given to activism. And it probably does look like radicalism to a depoliticized reporter.

    The toher thing to keep in mind is that despite the reputation universities have for radicalism, I don’t know of any studies of the extent of actual political engagement by faculty members. I would suspect that it has remained relatively constant and rare among the professoriate.

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