Political Correctness Turning Universities Into New Cloisters

Peggy Noonan is often an insightful commentator. Her last Wall Street Journal piece, I’ll Link to That, comments on several current events, but the one that struck me was her observation on the ongoing flap surrounding Larry Summers, the president of Harvard. It all started when Summers suggested that there might be sexual/genetic reasons why there were more men than women in the math and sciences. The uproar that followed has been both comical and alarming.

In the midst of this food fight among Ivy League professionals, Peggy Noonan makes an important point:

Tuesday he faced an angry faculty gathering where “his ears were pinned back,” as one reporter said. Summers now seems to be saying he made a mistake in airing the idea of gender-related differences in the interests and aptitudes of scholars. But here is what he may be forgetting, for people under pressure often lose track of their lack of culpability: Summers did nothing wrong. He thought aloud about an interesting question in a colorful and un-defended way. That’s what universities are for. [emphasis added]

I wholeheartedly agree. It is as if the bastions of political correctness want to have their cake and eat it too; differences count only where they want them to. However, it is right after this that Ms. Noonan comes to a surprising but interesting conclusion:

But what the Summers story most illustrates is that American universities now seem like Medieval cloisters. They’re like a cloister without the messy God part. Old monks of leftism walk their hallowed halls in hooded robes, chanting to themselves. Young nuns of leftist deconstructionism, pale as orchids, walk along wringing their hands, listening to their gloomy music. They become hysterical at the antichrist of a new idea, the intrusion of the reconsideration of settled matter. Get thee behind me, Summers.

These monks and nuns are the worst of both worlds, frightened and so ferocious, antique and so aggressive. Will they exorcise Summers from their midst?

I am not sure I would have tainted Medieval cloisters by such a comparison, but it is a humorous analogy all the same.

I especially like the chanting to themselves part. One of the current critiques of liberalism is that it has run out of ideas and spends its time regurgitating past slogans to itself, pretending relevance. That is considerably different than what the real monks did. Their chanting was to God, an offering they hoped joined the exuberant song of the unnumbered throng before the throne, singing hosannas to the Most High. Noonan’s leftist monks have no transcendent audience, only the hollow corridors of their own bankrupt ideas to echo plaintive cries for a revivification that will never happen. Marx is doubly dead; and his ersatz followers, no matter how hard they try, cannot turn him into a resurrected Jesus Christ.