ACADEMICALLY SPEAKING: Why 'decolonized' campuses affect America's national resolve
Academic radicalism looks to the most extreme corners of political ideology for inspiration because it is that authoritarian chic thinking that decolonization movements value.
"Academically Speaking" is a series by Campus Reform Managing Editor Zachary Marschall that, drawing on his firsthand experience working with other scholars across the globe, reveals how radical ideas originating in academia impact Americans’ daily lives.
Marschall holds a PhD in Cultural Studies and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky. His research investigates the intersections of democratic political systems, free market economies, and technological innovation in the production of national and cultural identities, as well as the exchange of cultural goods, services, and practices.
Campus leftists must be as radical as they are wrong if they’ve lost Joe Biden.
On Tuesday, President Biden stated during his State of the Union that, “We should all agree the answer is not to defund the police. It is to fund the police.”
As Campus Reform reported Wednesday, such pro-law enforcement statements have been deemed racist or examples of White supremacy.
Biden is now a White supremacist according to scholars’ rhetoric and campus programming. This shows how far leftward higher education has drifted since the violent summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
— Black Lives Matter (@Blklivesmatter) March 2, 2022
The environment in academia that fuels radical thinking can be described as ‘decolonized’ campuses, after the “decolonization” movement that has taken hold on campuses in recent years.
Scholars and campus administrators characterize decolonization as the reorientation of curricula, texts, and programming away from White, European sources and to regions or peoples with colonial histories under those Western powers.
“There is the philosophical dimension of decolonization, and there is also the pragmatics of times we are living in and what they are demanding,” a Cornell University professor told The Cornell Daily Sun about the Department of Literatures in English’s initiative to incorporate more works representing regions such as the Caribbean.
But there was a more dominant topic in Biden’s State of the Union speech: the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Wall-to-wall media coverage of the invasion is captivating Americans’ attention so universally, it helps demonstrate where the center of the country is socially and politically.
It is correct that decolonization has philosophical and pragmatic components. But its veiled radicalism is now making decolonization’s political and social ramification untenable to the American liberal mainstream that Biden epitomizes. Those that once supported leftist campus activism are now retreating away from movements like Black Lives Matter.
Therefore, it is possible to use coverage of Ukraine as a tool to understand what decolonization actually does – not just what its advocates claim it does – and why the Russian invasion has changed something about this nation’s leftward drift.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is the face of his country’s resistance. His leadership as Ukraine alone fights Russia recalls British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as many media outlets have noted.
Churchill led the United Kingdom during World War II. During the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, he fended off threats of a Nazi invasion before the United States or the Soviet Union had declared war on Germany.
The comparison is powerful due to Churchill’s defiance against appeasement before and during the Blitz, which was epitomized by his famous 1940 “never surrender” speech in which he vowed that the United Kingdom would “carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.”
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy remarked that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle” at a time when only the United Kingdom stood against Nazi Germany.
For the past few weeks, the New World has been watching Ukrainians hold back a Russian invasion with raw determination and vigor that to our decadent society feel vaguely familiar but also determinedly foreign.
Zelenskyy’s rejection of an American offer to evacuate – “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride” – captivated American media last weekend not just for its bravery but because it epitomizes what the West has forgotten it once was.
“Zelensky [sic] is a man from another age, from when honor, bravery, loyalty, love of country, and integrity mattered,” former Portland State University professor Peter Boghossian tweeted in response to the president announcing that Kyiv was still in Ukrainian hands.
— Peter Boghossian (@peterboghossian) February 26, 2022
There is an echo of Churchill in Zelenskyy’s leadership and words.
By understanding how Churchill is received today by younger generations, it becomes clear why Zelenskyy and his fellow Ukrainians are capturing Americans’ attention and reawakening what leftist radical politics had made dormant in this country over the last six years.
In its reporting on liberal bias and abuse in American higher education, Campus Reform uses daily news articles to demonstrate how radical ideas on college campuses permeate mainstream media, politics, and social institutions.
In 2020, Campus Reform reported that the Black Student Union at George Washington University was “campaigning” to rename the school’s Churchill Center, arguing that the British leader was an imperialist underserving of the honor.
That same summer, Black Lives Matter protesters desecrated a statue of Churchill in London.
The attempt to erase Churchill from campus is an example of the decolonization movement in higher education, which accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic as anti-police protests sprung up across the country.
When scholars and university administrators purge library stacks, curricula, programming, and infrastructure of figures representing Western civilization because of their race or cultural origin, they are liberal education in the name of ‘decolonizing’ the campus.
For example, Campus Reform reported in 2020 that Brown University attempted to remove statues depicting the ancient Roman historical figures Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius because they were allegedly “symbols of white supremacy.”
Decolonization, according to leftist campus leaders, creates a more equitable and just environment.
But that is not the case. The act of decolonization does not augment education. It depletes it.
Those accusations levied against the Roman statues are evidence of that.
In subscribing to the Critical Race Theory framework and “anti-racist” tenets, decolonization is only capable of comprehending the “offending” events, objects, and people through an American-centric viewpoint based on present-day cultural politics.
What do I mean by this?
The call to take down those statues invoked Caesar and Aurelius as “symbols of white supremacy.” But as any good “anti-racist” will say, race (or racism) is an invented construct that did not come into the popular consciousness until Charles Darwin published his evolutionary theories in the 19th century.
Not only did Caesar and Aurelius live approximately 1,900 years before they could be interpolated – a fancy academic word for being seen as – as White; they belonged to an empire that through its eastern half survived until 1453 in regions populated by historically non-White social groups.
Classical antiquity challenges modern-day notions of Western and non-Western identities because the frontiers of that ancient world occupied Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as Europe.
A true liberal education equips students with the tools to think critically about how ancient Rome still communicates a cultural heritage that does not solely belong to one group or nation.
Decolonization wants bulldozing iconoclasm.
Defined as a “recurring historical impulse to break or destroy images for religious or political reasons,” iconoclasm feels to be an apt description for the religious fervor that leftists pursue the removal of offending statues.
And in the same way that Critical Race Theory and “anti-racism” falsely present themselves as the only natural solution to racial discrimination – which betrays the concept of a constructed theory or framework – decolonization presents a false binary between preserve and delete.
There is another way to support marginalized voices and populations in research and curriculum that decolonizing radicals do not have the patience to pursue because that approach requires more intellectual labor than acts of destruction and removal.
My experience in higher education exemplifies that alternative.
As a doctoral student, I completed a concentration in 20th Arts & Aesthetics that included a focus on American and British literature. Without resorting to decolonization, or other destructive attitudes, I worked with my committee to include Irish authors and Harlem Renaissance figures in my literature review and oral presentation.
Ireland was a colonized constituent country within the United Kingdom during my concentration's the time period. During that same era, Harlem-based arts practitioners were only a few generations removed from slavery and still experienced its residual legacy.
When I did include a British imperialist or a White American author in my concentration, it did not come at the expense of those nations’ underrepresented and oppressed populations.
Accordingly, the inclusion of those figures enabled me to contextualize marginalized voices by demonstrating how those writers' influences were restricted or overshadowed. That method gave those practitioners an agency in my project because I was able to demonstrate how they operated as literary practitioners on national and sub-national levels.
But this approach is apparently not the chosen method for academia’s most radical and woke elements.
In 2021, Colorado State University – Boulder faculty attended a decolonization workshop hosted by the Equitable Teaching Conference.
Geared to educators, the workshop told attendees that a decolonized classroom allows students to make their own deadlines without penalty, as Campus Reform reported in September.
“Question the need for mastery, certainty and perfection,” one suggestion in the presentation read.
Where are we without mastery and certainty? Should we expect anything less from Ketanji Brown Jackson, who spoke about her determination, educational attainment, and impressive accomplishments after President Biden nominated her to the Supreme Court?
The question then becomes: What is left after decolonization has stripped away the books and ideas that enrich the liberal arts?
The answer, unfortunately, is an iteration of academic radicalism that looks to the most extreme corners of political ideology for inspiration because it is that authoritarian chic thinking that decolonization movements value.
On Feb. 17, Campus Reform reported that Ana Maria Candela, a professor at Binghamton University, apparently took inspiration from Chinese communist dictator Mao Zedong when applying her “progressive stacking” policy to her course.
“No investigation, no right to speak,” the Zedong quote read, which opened the section of the syllabus that stated White, male students should let all others speak in class before they could participate in discussions.
Last July, Campus Reform covered Pennsylvania State University student Erik Suarez’s campaign to get his school to remove a Fidel Castro quotation from a campus building.
Suarez, who is a Venezuelan émigré, took offense at the quotation because it “represent[ed] all the pain, suffering, and misery that [his] country [Venezuela] is going through.”
“The equal right of all citizens to health, education, work, food, security, culture, science, and wellbeing — that is, the same rights we proclaimed when we began our struggle, in addition to those which emerge from our dreams of justice and equality for all inhabitants of our world — is what I wish for all,” the quotation read.
Though Castro’s words sound benign at face value, displaying them at a public university betrayed the suffering and misery the dictator inflicted on Cuba for decades, Suarez reasoned.
The fact is that Castro and Zedong did not have particularly original ideas expressed in those quotations. Equality is good and participation requires preparation were the respective takeaways.
But instead of locating those messages in texts that can help students grow as civically minded individuals, these professors resorted to dictators who murdered millions while laying their countries to waste.
That fate is exactly what Zelenskyy is trying now to avoid for Ukraine.
Social media is televising Zelenskyy’s patriotic defiance against the Russian dictator, and in broadcasting Ukrainians’ love for their nation and families, media is making Americans remember what they’ve allowed radical cultural politics to take away from the West’s social fabric.
“I know it's not enough, and can't affect the war. But I would never have believed so many people would come to feel strongly about Ukraine - something has changed,” Johns Hopkins University Senior Fellow Anne Applebaum tweeted last Sunday.
I know it's not enough, and can't affect the war. But I would never have believed so many people would come to feel strongly about Ukraine - something has changed. https://t.co/mwvt8FTb0Q
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) February 27, 2022
“I’m as struck as anyone by Zelenskyy’s fearless meeting of history,” CNN Analyst Kasie Hunt recently wrote. “Then I remember he is a father with children at home and my heart catches in my throat. Our world needs more like him.”
I’m as struck as anyone by Zelenskyy’s fearless meeting of history. Then I remember he is a father with children at home and my heart catches in my throat. Our world needs more like him
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) February 27, 2022
Back in reality, Zelenskyy is showing the West how to harness hope from their families and countries, and in doing so he is triggering those watching to acknowledge their fatigue for pessimism and destruction.
The refrain “Glory to Ukraine” evokes eternal optimism and renewal.
These are the virtues that liberal education values. A liberal education cultivates students; it grows them intellectually and spiritually.
Western civilization is unapologetically great because of this tradition. It is worth protecting on battlefields and nurturing in classrooms.
Radical pessimism gained traction in this country when Americans felt they had nothing to lose by being chicly woke and ceding moral authority to those that hocked decolonization, Critical Race Theory, and “anti-racism.”
The result on college campuses? In 2021, researchers at the North Dakota State University found that 57% of students who identified as liberal were not proud to be Americans.
“We don’t know why college students answered in this way, but the differences between answers by college students and the general population on a very similar question seem to suggest something unique that is worth further exploration,” the researchers stated, noting that “most Americans are proud to be American, regardless of political party, gender, race, religion, income, or employment status.”
But now, the fallout from radical campus leftism is real and Americans are starting to realize that maybe they didn’t really believe in the extremism they allowed to proliferate on campus and in the media.
The recent San Francisco school board recall is proof that Americans of all backgrounds still value competency and mastery. Last month, voters overwhelmingly threw out politicians that abandoned their primary job functions during a pandemic to make the school district’s building names “anti-racist.”
Likewise, Biden’s call to fund the police is a continuation of America’s gradual course correction away from destructive leftist activism and closer to sanity.
Undoing decolonization’s effects on higher education will be extremely difficult to reverse. Stopping its continuing onslaught on liberal education must be the first objective.