Jennifer Ruth’s Useful Idiocy

Jennifer Ruth is a professor of film studies at Portland State University, and she has carved out a dubious reputation for herself as a proponent for academic freedom in our universities, most prominently as junior partner-author to scholar Michael Bérubé of Penn State. I say “dubious” because her umbrage is quite selective. She routinely ignores actual threats to academic freedom while finger-wagging at elected legislators as if she’s Lillian Hellman in 1952.  

Her latest effort, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, goes after elected representatives who have the chutzpah to demand accountability from institutions receiving the confiscated wealth of taxpayers. Ruth took a break from suckling at the government teat long enough to criticize the cow’s owners. “It’s easy to rally people behind you when you feed them propaganda,” she opines. And she demonstrates this truism with her own brazen effort at it. 

Ruth seems more interested in perpetuating a fraud than in addressing the actual threat to academic freedom in our universities. While she attacks “the Right” for supposedly threatening academic freedom, Ruth provides cover for the ideological lockstep colonization of the university by bureaucrats piped in from schools of education, who threaten faculty academic freedom far more than any state legislator ever could.

A threat to academic freedom is certainly afoot, but it has nothing to do with “the Right.” Ruth helps maintain the façade that hides the threat.

She has three main points:  The “Right” is attacking the tenure system as it seems to subsidize the teaching of a noxious ideology; the “Right” misrepresents the substance of critical race theory; critical racialist indoctrination does not occur on the university campuses.

On the first point, the institution of tenure has resulted in many academic departments becoming exclusive clubs populated with like-minded faculty, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. This isn’t a controversial observation, and this situation appears to some outsiders as unsatisfactory, particularly when those outsiders are expected to pay the salaries of club members.

As it happens, I share Ruth’s opposition to legislation that attacks tenure, but for a different reason. The problem of racialist primitivism on the campus is not generally with the faculty (except in our politicized schools of education). Instead, it is within the bureaucracies of the universities. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s legislative initiative would be better directed not at faculty, but rather at an investigation of university bureaucracies that are largely staffed with mediocre ideologues with “advanced degrees” from education schools

Graduate programs in “student affairs” and “higher education administration” are almost wholly given over to the pedagogical theories of the Maoist, Paulo Freire. They call this Freirean approach “critical pedagogy” or, more recently, “antiracist pedagogy.” Freire’s pedestrian derivative “theories” dominate education schools, and its graduates are piped into university bureaucracies through the university side door via cronyism and professional inbreeding. After 20 years of this incestuous process, these bureaucracies are all but controlled by “social justice” authoritarians and racialist ideologues. 

On Ruth’s second point, that the “Right” misrepresents critical race theory, she offers a baseless attack on investigative reporter Christopher Rufo, whom she calls a partisan activist. Ruth accuses Rufo of “prolific falsehoods,” and she links to a Rufo essay in Imprimis. In fact, the Rufo piece linked is a superb summary of critical race theory, factual in every way—far more-so than Ruth’s own ill-informed screed.

Ruth says that “critical race theory” is an “empty, scary phrase to throw at the public to distract and outrage them.” She also claims, using the racialist code of upper/lower case attributions of white and Black, that “none of us walk into classrooms and call white people oppressors and Black people victims.” Yes, antiracist pedagogues do exactly that, routinely calling white students oppressors and black students oppressed—it’s all over the literature of critical racialism in the testimonies of those who use it. Sometimes the terms are “agent” and “target” and sometimes they’re “advantaged” and “disadvantaged.” This is unsurprising since critical racialism is a primitive Manichean doctrine, a binary of villains and victims. My forthcoming book Brutal Minds details the processes and the people on campus who offer this type of cargo cult “scholarship” and who engage in racialist fraud. 

Regarding her third point, “indoctrination,” Ruth says, “It is, of course, profoundly insulting to Delgado and Ladson-Billings, and all of us who teach their work, to suggest the goal of this scholarship is to indoctrinate . . . . [W]e don’t instruct our students to sign their name in blood at the top. We ask, ‘What do you think?’” Maybe you do, but not if you’re the fake sociologist Robin DiAngelo, and then you tell your students, “We don’t want your opinion.” DiAngelo and Sensoy elaborate:  “[C]ertain knowledge claims—those that function to prevent critical analysis—must be denied circulation in the equity-oriented classroom.” 

On this last point, Ruth is either spectacularly ignorant or spectacularly mendacious. Or both.

People who call themselves “social justice educators” routinely engage in indoctrination; it defines their pedagogy. Critical racialist ideology and its parent social justice education are grounded in the indoctrination theories of the social psychologist Kurt Lewin, whose seminal 1947 essay articulates theories at work in Chinese Communist thought reform under Mao Zedong. Lewin’s formula of unfreezing-changing-refreezing the student’s belief system is used today by social justice educators (Lee Anne Bell) and by antiracist pedagogues (Sherry K. Watt). Moreover, so-called critical pedagogy and antiracist pedagogy fuse content and method into a program of indoctrination that falls within what Robert Jay Lifton identifies as thought reform and what sociologist Edgar Schein has called coercive persuasion

“Social Justice Educators” publish how-to manuals grounded in the Lewin thought reform model employed by the Communist Chinese and by modern cults. This is not a contested point, and if Ruth does not believe this, she should investigate one of the popular social justice indoctrination manuals, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, especially pages 55, 73-91. Without the coercive thought reform aspects of Lewin and Freire, few folks would otherwise buy into the fraud of antiracist pedagogy.

Moreover, it’s overly generous to call critical racialist ideology “scholarship,” as it consists mainly of the fakery found in the guarantor methodologies of “qualitative research”—“critical discourse analysis,” “lived experience,” “counterstories,” “testimonios,” “participatory action research,” and other claptrap. 

Finally, Ruth’s theater of the absurd invokes the abomination of Mao’s Cultural Revolution to criticize American politicians, seemingly oblivious that Mao’s ideological descendants have made a home on our campuses, colonizing many education schools in the United States. Education schools generally revere the Maoist stooge Paulo Freire, who thoroughly embraced Mao’s Cultural Revolution as “the most genial solution of the century.” Said Freire:

That was the problem that baffled Lenin after the Soviet Revolution: Stalin wrestled with it—and solved it finally by shooting down the peasants. It is the dilemma facing Fidel Castro today with his peasants, though it is not so crucial for him. It is also the problem that Mao Tse-tung had and has, but he came up with the most genial solution of the century: China’s Cultural Revolution.

I don’t begrudge Ruth’s pursuit of her “film studies” enthusiasms and wish her well in her tenured comfort. But she has no brief whatever to speak to “academic freedom” while she shills for the odious ideologues who represent the greatest threat to university academic freedom in the modern era. 

Powerful forces are indeed taking aim at academic freedom, as Ruth contends, but they are not politicians. These are critical ideologues who increasingly infest and control university bureaucracies and who siphon away faculty autonomy and curricular control even as you read this.

The enemy is already inside the wire, and the threat to academic freedom comes from authoritarian bureaucrats on various university “task forces” that continuously operate to empower a fake curriculum (which they call the “co-curriculum”) and exert control over faculty and the actual curriculum via committees, policy, and “recommendations.”

Ruth and folks like her are no more than useful stooges and accessories to the fraud. Perhaps they hope that the bureaucrat lion will eat them last.

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