One problem with academia nationwide, and one that seems particularly worrying in English departments, is the prevalence of group think on certain issues. For example, take this account of last week’s Modern Language Association meeting from The Boston Globe.

In more than a dozen sessions on war-related topics, not a single speaker or audience member expressed support for the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan. The sneering air quotes were flying as speaker after speaker talked of “so-called terrorism,” “the so-called homeland,” “the so-called election of George Bush,” and so forth.

The approach to the war was certainly wide-ranging — from cultural studies to rhetoric to literature to pure political speechifying. In a session on “Shock and Awe,” Graham Hammill of Notre Dame traced the ideas behind the initial bombing back to the Roman historian and orator Tacitus’s idea of arcana imperii, which translates roughly as “mysteries of state.” Like Roman emperors who used rhetoric to sway the populace, Hammill argued, the Shock and Awe campaign was a rhetorical gesture aimed at demonstrating US power as much as flattening Baghdad.

At a different panel, Cynthia Young of the University of Southern California spoke about how the White House uses Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell “to create a distorted multiracial mask on imperialism.” “What does it mean,” Young asked, “when imperialism comes wrapped in a black bow?”

I guess we can be thankful at Williams that comments as inane as Prof. Young’s aren’t routinely made by our faculty. As for intellectual diversity: Last February, 123 faculty members signed a “statement of resistence” to a war in Iraq. There were certainly not 10 faculty members who supported the war and there almost certainly were not 5.

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