May 23rd, 2023
Making the World Safe for DeSantis

As long as fools like the people who used to run Hamline University are around, we will need to keep worrying about assholes like DeSantis running the country. Places like Hamline write his The Woke are Destroying Us scripts for him.

The now-deposed prez of that school – taking a page from the idiots at Oberlin – reflexively attacked a professor for showing students images of Mohammed. A theocrat in the class squawked; the school verbally attacked/fired/ruined the career of the prof; the rest of us, who understand democracy, rose up as one and made all the idiots go away; and now it’s all over but the school-crushing legal settlements (Oberlin’s attack on an innocent party cost it thirty six mill).

The AAUP really went after them. Good.

May 17th, 2023
Proxy War Heats Up at New College Florida

Stung by taunts from rival strongman Donald Trump about the DeSantis candidate’s recent loss in the Jacksonville mayoral race, the Florida governor, in a show of force, is reportedly readying a battery of six hypersonic KH-47M2 Kinzhal (“Dagger”) air-launched missiles for deployment Thursday at the New College alternative commencement.

The New College students’ $131,000 war chest has apparently been significantly enhanced by Bob Iger, who sources report has been reassuring close associates that every possible defensive weapon, including Patriot air defense interceptors, is being made available to the commencement. “It will certainly get bumpy on Thursday,” said one of the organizers; “but our main worry is that a desperate DeSantis will turn to nuclear weapons.”

May 7th, 2022
‘Both [experts] think Heard will win the case…’

Yeah. Well. FWIW, so do I. Not only has a prior court found it likely Depp abused; Heard’s testimony came across as reasonably believable.

Depp’s got some other stuff going against him too. I guess no one can call off his Charlie-Manson’s-girls fan club in and outside the courtroom, but the spectacle is pretty fucking twisted. As is the spectacle of a 53-year-old man stewing in a sort of hopeless, squalid, immaturity — in a real cluelessness about how more or less normal adults behave.

UD admires Depp’s admiration of Hunter Thompson and Marlon Brando – he has a right to choose his heroes – but when he trumpets the admiration, it opens the door – wide – to Heard’s description of the drugged and drunken chaos with which she dealt. Her being much younger than Depp doesn’t help either, since it makes more plausible her claim of some naivete in entering into a relationship with an established addict.

Lastly, lemme just say: It’s probably not the best preparation for life as a wealthy, influential, powerful, cultural figure with complex pressures and responsibilities to drop out of high school at the age of sixteen and almost immediately find yourself in the outrageous fantasy world of the movies. Heard dropped out too, but she went on later to earn a high school degree. Depp missed the disciplined setting and systematic thinking of high school, much less college (college, said Bartlett Giamatti, is a free AND ordered space), and instead learned that exceptionally keen emotional intuition, plus heedless impulsivity, will get you where you want to go.

Yet that mix seems ultimately to have landed him in financial and reputational peril. Don’t wanna seem preachy, but you really need more than that.

September 10th, 2021
Andrew Sullivan Compiles Many Recent Signs of the Return of Intellectual Sanity to America.

We’re still far away from actual head-clearing, but there’s reason to hope.


But don’t get too excited.

[9/11 was] an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity. It was an attack on the systems many white Americans fight to protect.”


Good time, by the way, to revisit William Julius Wilson’s The Declining Significance of Race.

June 18th, 2021
If you’ve read UD for even five minutes, you know she reviles Critical Race Theory.

Andrew Sullivan has done the talking for me on the subject. Read it all. To the last paragraph.

To expose propaganda is to defend liberal education, and to defend liberal culture. I’m thinking that like a lot of big shiny new things our big shiny new-obsessed country embraces, this latest one’s not long for this world. But we can certainly hasten its demise by fighting it at every turn.

October 15th, 2019
“[O]nly deep, constant reading fully establishes and augments an autonomous self.”

Harold Bloom dies.

March 8th, 2019
Working Toward a Life Experience Degree

“I wanted to learn more about the ideology. I’m a political science major, global business minor. I like politics. I like travel, world events. That’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

January 16th, 2018
Not to be outdone by Ruth Lilly, who gave one hundred million dollars to a …

poetry magazine, money guy Bill Miller has given seventy five million dollars to the Johns Hopkins University philosophy department.

October 13th, 2017
Todd Gitlin on Allan Bloom, Thirty Years After The Closing of the American Mind.

… Today’s knee-jerk illiberalism exhibits many tendencies that Bloom sketched (and sometimes caricatured). Sneers at the Enlightenment as a white male imposition are, as they say on Twitter, trending. Rereading Bloom’s jeremiad, I’m reminded of Theodor Adorno’s backhanded defense of Freud: “In psychoanalysis, nothing is true except the exaggerations.” Bloom’s exaggerations undermined the case for liberal education. It must also be said that they were, at times, disconcertingly and grimly prophetic.

… [Bloom passionately insisted] “that there be an unpopular institution in our midst that sets clarity above well-being or compassion, that resists our powerful urges and temptations, that is free of all snobbism but has standards” and “maintains the permanent questions front and center.” The university, he went on, “must be contemptuous of public opinion because it has within it the source of autonomy — the quest for and even discovery of the truth according to nature. It must concentrate on philosophy, theology, the literary classics, and on those scientists like Newton, Descartes, and Leibniz who have the most comprehensive scientific vision and a sense of the relation of what they do to the order of the whole of things. … The university must resist the temptation to try to do everything for society.” Amen.

… Bloom would not be surprised to see segments of the campus left — students not even born in 1969, and indeed whose parents might not have been born then — proudly declare today: “NO FREE SPEECH.” The mob attack on Charles Murray at Middlebury College, along with various lesser uproars against unpopular views, revealed the force of a continuing revolt against reason.


UD, on the 25th birthday.

February 1st, 2017
Finish your degree and qualify for a cell upgrade.

Under Brazilian law, Mr Batista would have been sent to a special prison wing if he had a university degree.

But as he dropped out before finishing his engineering degree in Germany, he will be serving time in an ordinary cell with six other inmates at the Bangu penitentiary.

February 27th, 2016
A la recherche de trump perdu

The Friedrich Schleiermacher of Trump University is back in academic news, with everyone questioning his commitment to intellectual rigor.

We’ve followed the president of Trump University as his political engagements – much like Woodrow Wilson’s – took him more and more away from the task of running a scholarly institution. As he transitions – again like Wilson – from academic to national leader, the university Trump founded is … foundering, with litigation and general contempt the main challenges.

Now is the time for Donald Trump to affirm the founding principles of his school if he wants to save its reputation.


Doonahd Troomp is without question the woold’s most famous businessman…

God, I miss that British accent.

September 18th, 2015
The Graduate School Mess

When he asked me asked me to review The Graduate School Mess on my blog, its publicist didn’t ask for my address in order to mail me the book. He gave me a password so that I could read the manuscript online.

Book. Manuscript. Long essay. What is The Graduate School Mess if perhaps its primary existence is as a series of scrolled paragraphs on a screen? Does The Graduate School Mess have to conform to regulation scholarly book length (around 300 pages)? Why does it have to do that, if it can make its argument (as I think it can) more briefly and more sharply? The need to feel a square object of a certain weight in my hands is gone, as is the need to pack it with sufficient pages to make up the weight. Is there an intrinsic need, for the sake of its argument, to have the thing weigh in at 300 pages plus?

Indeed, would I not have had an easier time graphically with the book had the publisher removed all the familiar long stretches of emptiness scholarly books offer? (Chapter separations, text within chapter separations, six semi-blank pages at the beginning, thirty pages of footnotes at which I’m barely going to glance, an empty page at the end.) Why do I need them, since I’m reading rolling text on a screen?

This is a particularly acute set of questions given The Grad School Mess‘s strong commitment to changing the ethos of higher study in the humanities in virtually all of its manifestations, including what an 2006 MLA report attacked as “the tyranny of the book.” Leonard Cassuto notes throughout his intelligent and humane set of proposals for changes in grad school that status and conformity account for the “very conservative prestige economy” that has turned grad departments in the humanities into (to list some of his descriptions) ostrich pens and cults and boxes (we professors “live inside the box that we want to teach out of”). He laments the fact that the MLA report – and other suggestions from plenty of other places that peer-reviewed lengthy documents published by academic presses cease to be virtually the only meaningful currency in academia – has been entirely ignored. He concludes with a powerful entreaty that humanities professors in research institutions make their work far more accessible to the larger world.

These ideas are presented in a book that in every respect adheres to the conformist prestige model.

Presenting it in this way makes it likely that its call for change will be shelved, if you will, among the many Harvard and other university press books calling for similar change in the last few years. Shelved too among things like a recent American Academy of Arts and Sciences report about which Stanley Fish wrote. The authors of this report on the crisis in the humanities argue, precisely like Cassuto, that we must get out of the ostrich pen, the cult, and the box, and “connect with the larger community.”

Fish argued – correctly – that the report would be “dutifully noted by pious commentators and then live a quiet life on the shelf for which it was destined.” How can The Grad School Mess avoid this fate?


An ultra-secretive $35 billion corporation (the Harvard Corporation puts English professors’ efforts to avoid the public realm to shame) published this book, which exhorts us toward more egalitarian openness.

Only the exigencies of the market, and the emergence of new technologies, put this conservatively packaged book somewhat forward in time; only the commercial reality that many people won’t buy books but will download text keeps this book from being, among other things, an exercise in irony.

Equally difficult, given the realities of the culture (or cult) the book aptly describes, will be the effort to keep the book from being an exercise in futility. If in fact the situation is a “mess,” “reprehensible,” “mendacious,” “deplorable,” and “disturbing by any reasonable measure,” we will need to find ways to reach not the cultists (who are pretty much beyond reach, given their well-established ability to resist even the severest of market reversals), but, in line with the book’s democratic aims, ordinary readers. They are the ones who need to be alerted to the exploitative distortions (Cassuto lists, among other things, “old-fashioned and incoherent course offerings, bloated time to degree, high attrition, a distorted academic job market and a failure to prepare students for alternative employment, and outdated dissertation requirements”) going on in this realm of higher education.

The book is indeed written in a clear and accessible voice. But the prose can also be dull in a lecturing way (“no freedom worth having comes without responsibility”). Its scholarly self-presentation will I think fail to attract, as will this earnestness. The author tends to call livelier voices and ideas “hyperbolic” (Rebecca Schuman, who, like Camille Paglia** before her, entertainingly describes the cultists up close and personal) or “radical” (Louis Menand), and worries perhaps more than he should that biting depictions of the appalling situation in grad level humanities will encourage anti-intellectual right-wingers to kill higher study altogether. (Fish himself offered a very useful evocation of the culture of the cult here. All of these writers seem to me ultimately perhaps more useful than Andrew Delbanco and Leonard Cassuto and those like them, because they enable the ordinary reader to know her enemy and therefore arm herself.)

As to Cassuto’s recommendations: These tend to revolve around a reform of graduate study in the humanities in the direction of what I’d call a super-BA, a very high-level liberal arts college curriculum. We’re talking about the goal of a greatly heightened cultural literacy with a rather soft-focus specialization that will stand you in good stead in a postmodern job market looking for really smart, flexible, and research-savvy minds rather than people with very deep knowledge of a highly specialized subject. For those interested in pursuing a teaching career, this curriculum would feature how to teach courses, as well as higher thought about the educational process. It might allow you after a year or two to concentrate on parts of curriculum that are, if you wish, more vocational in nature; it would also allow you to remain less vocationally oriented. The point is “to train teachers and liberally educated, public intellectuals” along with those who still represent what Cassuto very nicely calls “the sacralization of research.”



Perhaps the French flunkies should leave academe and form their own organizations, like the Shriners, where they can moon over their idols and exchange photos like bubble gum cards. There are precedents for this in the cults of Swedenborg and Madame Blavatsky.

September 15th, 2015
“That colleges and universities have turned more and more of their frontline employees into part-time contractors suggests how far they have drifted from what they say they are all about (teaching students) to what they are increasingly all about (conducting research, running sports franchises, or, among for-profits, delivering shareholder value).”

Nice sentence. Packs a lot in.

August 28th, 2015
Publicists for a New Harvard University Press Book about Grad School in the Humanities…

… have asked UD to read it and write about it. The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It. It’s by Leonard Cassuto.

She’s already reading it – these days they give it to you via download – and will review it on her blog.

June 25th, 2013
What he said.

Stanley Fish is right. UD has read the same report about the crisis in the humanities that he has, and Fish nails it.

[L]aden with bland commonplaces and recommendations that could bear fruit only in a Utopia, [the report] will be dutifully noted by pious commentators and then live a quiet life on the shelf for which it was destined.

The report has indeed prompted plenty of humanities huzzahs, like this one from David Brooks, in which he quotes from an embarrassing letter written by a history professor at the University of Chicago…

Why embarrassing? Because it’s a completely stereotypical professor-complaint letter in which the professor pats himself on the back for his intellectual and emotional acuity, and bitches that his students (people who are between eighteen and twenty-one years old) don’t share his capacity for depth.

I feel like screaming suddenly: ‘Oh, God, my dear student, why CANNOT you see that this matter is a real, real matter, often a matter of the very being, for the person, for the historical men and women you are looking at — or are supposed to be looking at!’ … [W]hen I have spent an hour or more, pouring all my enthusiasm and sensitivities into an effort to tell these stories in the fullness in which I see and experience them, I feel drained and exhausted…

Yes, why can’t these recent high school graduates at the University of Chicago see and feel the very being of my stories? I pour my sensitivity out at them and then just feel drained and exhausted at the futility of my efforts! Oh, God, my dear student…

This is condescending, self-aggrandizing, crap. Brooks won’t go to the trouble of making the case for an historically deep education, so he quotes this heavy breathing and hopes we’ll nod our heads – the youth today! So soulless!


Everyone’s ready to agree that the humanities are in crisis (even if the picture isn’t all that clear), and the authors of the report are happy to stoke that crisis with language about the very security of the nation being thereby imperiled. But the language of the report is as empty as that professor’s letter. Fish notes:

[T]he key words — “framework,” “context,” “complex,” “meaningfully,” “understanding,” “diverse,” “sensitivity,” “perspectives” — are spectacularly empty; just where specificity is needed, sonorous abstraction blunts the edge of what is being asserted, rendering it unexceptionable (no one’s against understanding, complexity and meaningfulness) and without bite.

Grand emotions and grand abstractions attach themselves to talk of the humanities with the implication always that this form of study will make us better people and the world a better place. Like Fish, I see the humanities as “a cloistered and separate area in which inquiry is engaged in for its own sake and not because it yields useful results.” Reading novels like Lolita and The Tropic of Cancer and The Elementary Particles will have God knows what impact on your personal morality and your engagement as a citizen. These are funny, nihilistic, cynical works, and I’d hate to have to be the one to determine their moral or character-building potential. As Georg Lukacs long ago pointed out about Kafka (and what serious education in the humanities is without Kafka?), great writers of our time have a tendency to maunder on inconclusively about the hopelessly alienated consciousness; or they sketch a world with very little collective action in it… Writers like Don DeLillo, America’s greatest living novelist, routinely get called bad citizens.

No, the humanities aren’t evil; and yes, they can help you think about everything. But as Fish points out, they don’t mix well with our current outcomes-based mania, and it’s really not plausible to scare people (as this latest humanities report tries to do) with the degradation to the republic attendant upon insufficient care for them.


UD thanks David.

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