Some universities — and, in particularly, some humanities departments — have, over the last few decades, wandered far from the primary purpose of what these institutions were designed for: to teach what is worth knowing; to train the intellect; to acquaint students with, and help them appreciate, the glories of the human mind and its finest achievements.
Concomitantly, they have descended into pseudo-studies, become infatuated with low pop culture, become obsessed with faddish social justice issues, turned hypervigilant on their students’ “comfort levels” and are pruriently concerned with sexism narratives, cause politics and “identity” zealotry. They bear almost no resemblance to the institutions of higher learning — higher in its full applications — that they, at least ideally, have always aspired to be.
Junk in, junk out, is a variation on the computer axiom. Any institution that puts Madonna and hegemony in the same sentence, never mind in the title of a thesis, has cut the cords on the balloon and is floating off on some vague, directionless journey to nowhere in particular.
I think of that “rape victim” Emma Sulkowicz — a.k.a., the Mattress Bearer — who spent a year carrying a mattress around on her troubled, vacant head at Columbia University — this is Columbia we’re talking about, not some online degree factory — and had her pedestrian efforts accepted as an “art project.” If she had been working on a master’s in furniture removal, perhaps it would make sense. But she was awarded a master’s degree for making an exhibitionistic fool of herself, and a perfect mockery of her university. The administration helped, though: they allowed her to carry the shoddy mattress to her convocation.
Does anyone think Sulkowicz knows anything about the Holocaust, or that she could even spell Auschwitz? I could cite many other examples here, Sulkowicz is more emblem than outlier, but I’ll make one point alone: any university that awarded a post-graduate degree for that unoriginal, campy and degrading performance ought to look to its charter and examine, in shame and mortification, its institutional conscience.
In this context, it is not surprising that Johnstone did not know about Auschwitz, or that she is on a school board. Rather, it is illustrative and profoundly sad.