Masculine virtues

David Austin Walsh expressed frustration with how difficult he has found landing a tenure-track position as an academic historian. He implied being "white dude" was one source of disadvantage in his search.

That is a sensitive claim. The requisite, almost pro forma, scandal ensued. Walsh offered an apology, emphasizing perceptively the real source of his problem. Good positions in academia have been made scarce, cannibalized by the temporary and contingent roles into which Walsh himself has been slotted. In a game of musical chairs, it is an analytical error to blame any advantage of other players (real, perceived, or misperceived) for the difficulty of finding a seat. The recriminations just amuse the people who take away the chairs.

There is a kind of irony in scabs lamenting the decline of good union jobs, except that academics have flattered themselves to be something above and apart from mere labor. Academics are society's true meritocrats, each one a self-made hero. The neoliberalization of the academy was sealed when faculty reconceived themselves as market victors rather than a guild or, in the more modern term, a labor union. Assistant, associate, full, adjunct, post-doc, graduate instructor, these are just a lot of words to describe a two-tier labor contract.

("Scab" is too cruel a word to describe Walsh and all the other adjuncts and postdocs who are victims of a dissolution of worker power they collectively help to perpetuate but did not author. I don't know if anyone has invented an epithet for high-seniority workers who acquiesce to two-tier labor arrangements, but there ought to be a bitter one. It is a deeper form of betrayal, and typically made under less duress, than "scab".)

Anyway, tempest met teapot. So of course Chris Rufo had to chime in. He wrote to Walsh:

There is a redemption arc available to you: tell the truth about DEI and academic corruption. The answer is not to grovel harder — self-abasement is repellent to all factions — but to take a courageous stand against the institutions that have gone astray. Everyone knows that you would have easily earned a faculty position even ten years ago, but the powers that be are pushing through underqualified "race and gender scholars" in all of the humanities departments. Your professional path as the "white male ally" has reached the terminus. Why not tell the truth?

I find this so amusing. I feel I just have to share.

Our dear friend Chris Rufo seems to believe as a "truth about DEI and academic corruption" that attempts to increase diversity in academia have led to a decline in standards and faculty quality.

Chris Rufo should know! He is no mere onlooker. Rufo is the great protagonist of the reconstruction of my own alma mater, New College of Florida, which the gentleman is restoring to its role under "the classical liberal tradition...produc[ing] scholarship in pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful."

Chris Rufo would never try to tilt scales in hiring or recruitment in order to favor some crass ascriptive identity like race or gender.

Oh wait.

Rather than reviving some traditional model of academic excellence, then, it looks as though New College leaders are simply trying to replace a culture they find politically hostile with one meant to be more congenial. The end of gender studies and the special treatment given to incoming athletes are part of the same project, masculinizing a place that had been heavily feminist, artsy and queer. When I spoke to Rufo last weekend, he offered several explanations for New College’s new emphasis on sports, including the classical idea that a healthy body sustains a healthy mind. But an important part of the investment in athletics, he said, is that it is a way to make New College more male and, by extension, less left wing.

In the past, about two-thirds of New College’s students were women. "This is a wildly out-of-balance student population, and it caused all sorts of cultural problems,” said Rufo. Having so many more women than men, he said, turned New College into “what many have called a social justice ghetto." The new leadership, he said, is “rebalancing the ratio of students” in the hopes of ultimately achieving gender parity.

But gender parity is not necessarily compatible with a pure academic meritocracy, which Rufo claims to prize.

Earlier in the piece, Michelle Goldberg points out...

Rufo speaks a lot about academic excellence and the virtues of a classical liberal education. But as Steven Walker of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported in a damning July story, the incoming class recruited by the new administration has lower average grades, SAT scores and ACT scores than last year’s class. "Much of the drop in average scores can be attributed to incoming student-athletes who, despite scoring worse on average, have earned a disproportionate number of the school’s $10,000-per-year merit-based scholarships," wrote Walker.

I think we all have to concede, Rufo has proven his point. Attempts to remake a college in crass demographic terms can indeed be "corrupt" in the sense of elevating those of "lesser merit" by someone's contestable criteria over people who would be "more deserving" under those measures. And, this kind of ideologically motivated social engineering can be deeply intertwined with astonishing patronage and careerism.

Rufo and his movement seem particularly wedded to rehabilitating masculine virtues, which I unironically applaud. There is indeed a crisis that demands redress surrounding masculinity. Whether we like it or not, males are and will continue to be nearly half of the population. They, like every other minority, deserve to be integrated in all of our institutions. We should acknowledge that the mere fact college-student populations are disproportionately female may not reflect invidious discrimination. Differences in outcome may reflect real differences in aptitude, interest, or ability. But we should treat skeptically claims that groups which underperform today must always underperform due to something inherent in their natures. Sometimes these outcomes reflect systemic, even structural, inhospitabilties entrenched in the institutions where members of the group seem to underperform. If a better developed athletics program helps to make differently gendered students feel more at home at New College, then I am all for it.

Along with that, I'd encourage embracing the positive aspects of masculinity. Ideals like courage, chivary, and self-reliance.

A man, for example, when he openly picks a fight, he lands his blows but he accepts that a few blows might also land upon him. At least perhaps glancingly, if at all, upon his shoe).

A man fights his own battles. He does not womanishly call in some overweening authority, in order to absolutely crush a much, much weaker enemy half his age, in a fight he himself initiated.

A man expects resistence in battle. He accepts it, respects it, even when it is his mission to defeat it.

Magnanimity under circumstances where you have completely won, where the full power and authority of the state is yours to command, might not subsist in needlessly driving a helpless and defeated enemy from their home and community.

I wish the project of restoring masculine virtues much greater success than it has thus far enjoyed.