Idiocy and the Ivory Tower

Well, it’s now official: The only person due to serve a jail sentence as the result of the Duke lacrosse non-rape fiasco is none other than Mike Nifong, the former Durham District Attorney whose name will soon be inescapably linked to the adjective “disgraced.” As the news wires have reported, a judge has slapped Mike “Disgraced” Nifong, non-esq., with a day in prison for his dubious antics.

Naturally, Mr. Nifong’s comeuppance has been well warranted. This odious man attempted to railroad three students and got caught red-handed. With his Dockers down, you might say.
For good reason, furthermore, the American public has been extremely interested in the Duke non-rape brouhaha. The story was salacious, the media and academic reactions bizarre, and the turn of events dramatic.

Still, the continued interest in this matter led us to think about many peoples’ comparative concern for (or obsession with) academic scandals. In some ways, we think that academia is the Israel of American cultural institutions: Without exception, everyone has an opinion.

Whenever we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” compose a “post” on our humble “weblog” dedicated to some sort of ivory tower shenanigans, we almost invariably receive a marked up-tick in “hits.” Now, admittedly, our little corner of Al Gore’s World-Wide Web isn’t exactly setting attendance records. Still, lots of folks, it appears, can’t get enough of this stuff. People who formerly couldn’t name even one Duke professor suddenly find themselves experts on the public statements of Houston Baker and William Chafe.

Now, don’t get us wrong, dear reader. We’re certain that public interest in faculty high jinks is both laudable and important. Without the watchful eye of numerous outsiders, college administrators and professors would get away with a lot more pernicious activity. It is to the credit of the American people, furthermore, that they care about what goes on in their institutions of higher learning.

All the same, we can’t help but ponder whether the obsession with academic nonsense is at least a bit dubious. Granted, universities are important centers of our culture. Yet so are museums, and yet few people seem to care when some post-modernist curator puts on an embarrassing, politicized show–unless, of course, a politician cries foul. Why is this the case?

Almost all academics, furthermore, write on esoteric topics in such a manner as to win as few readers as possible. They are, in essence, figures of minor import–except, perhaps, for what they teach in the classroom, which, over time, has the potential to influence thousands and thousands of young adults. But likely won’t, because the students will be too hung-over to listen.

Does the great glee some folks show at the idiocy of college professors stem from a bit of (misplaced) envy? The attack on academe often appears tied up in resentment at the purportedly cushy lives of America’s tenured radicals. This doesn’t gainsay the concern for faculty high jinks–which, as we said, is laudable–but perhaps it gives the impression that this concern has some sordid roots as well.

(Note: The crack young staff normally “weblog” over at “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” where they are currently advocating for a Crystal Gail Mangum Chair of Women’s Studies at Duke University.)

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