Tenured Radicals

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Is it a fact that higher education is increasingly politicized and ideological, or is it merely conservative wolf-crying: traditionalists turning away imaginary barbarians at the academic gate? According to Roger Kimball’s TENURED RADICALS, the barbarians are no longer at the gate, but are inside the castle, in charge of the drawbridge.

Simply put, Kimball’s thesis is that the academy is now in the hands of dedicated ideologues whose mission is the dismantling of traditional Western culture. Based on his dogged, journalistic presence at the academy’s major conferences in the past four years and a decade of surveillance of relevant journals, Kimball allows his principal educational culprits to incriminate themselves. Using their own words, Kimball attempts to document the extent to which the traditional canon of literary works are being displaced by what he sees as inferior or anti-Western books and writers.

The new breed of “tenured radical,” Kimball suggests, is no longer a marginal agitator on the fringes of the academy; he has become part of the establishment. He (or she) has moved steadily from the ranks of the beleaguered assistant professorate to become the avant-garde department chair, college dean, or academic vice-president whose political allegiances are now overt, and who controls curricular decisions as well as faculty hiring and promotion.

The problem Kimball faces is getting anyone outside the academy to see and then to care about the implications of what from the outside looks like mere academic infighting. While Kimball has done an admirable job of warning American parents, students, businessmen, and policy-makers about the likely consequences of surrendering the academy to the new radicals, it is unclear whether the public will exists to wage the costly cultural war that must occur to remedy the situation.