Inequality, or Crying Wolf?: Spring AQ Examines Academia’s Latest Preoccupation

Mar 28, 2014 |  NAS

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Inequality, or Crying Wolf?: Spring AQ Examines Academia’s Latest Preoccupation

Mar 28, 2014 | 


Does the term, “equality,” when used colloquially, maintain its early civil rights movement definition of “equal rights before the law,” or has it expanded to include social, cultural, and economic equality? In academia, America’s traditional definition of the term has been abandoned, and equality is judged not by how fairly individuals are treated, but by parity of achievement among individual groups. Victimhood, exploitations of bias incidents, and undue charges of hatred are a norm, and anyone can cry wolf with little accountability. The spring 2014 issue of Academic Questions considers the academy’s widespread preoccupation with inequality.

NAS members will receive printed copies of this issue in the mail. (NAS members, click here for instructions on how to get full online access to all AQ articles.)

The featured articles from the spring 2014 AQ are listed below.

This issue also includes poetry and book reviews not listed here, as well as "Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest" by Robert Jackson. Two of this issue’s articles (Stanley Kurtz’s “Ecologism: The Campus Cult of Victimhood” and Amy L. Wax’s and Isaac L. Cohen’s “And We Shall Not All Be Dentists”) are available for free through

Ecologism: The Campus Cult of Victimhood 

Stanley Kurtz, Ethics and Public Policy Center

In the first essay of this issue’s special section, “Inequalities,” Stanley Kurtz explores the growth and nature of radical environmentalism, which now holds our colleges and universities with an all-too-familiar grip: “In a campus cultural setting where victimhood yields power, the global warming apocalypse is a way for…students to cash in on academia’s upside-down market in prestige….With the world about to end, everyone can be a victim, everyone lower-class. Thus the old Marxist model is surpassed and preserved.”

Staged Emergencies: How Colleges React to Bias Incidents 

Ashley Thorne, National Association of Scholars

At many schools, the mission to promote a vision of social justice means that “teaching about the world is not as important as changing it.” In her “Inequalities” essay, Ashley Thorne describes and dissects how advancing social justice on campus has evolved into an elaborate routine triggered whenever college administrators descry a bias incident—whether genuine or, more and more often, a hoax.

Empathy in Academe: On the Origins of Pathological Altruism 

Barbara Oakley, Oakland University

“Unquestioned empathy for perceived victims has received special emphasis in academia as well as society,” Barbara Oakley argues in the next “Inequalities” installment. “This has pernicious consequences,” including “driv[ing] people to falsely identify as victims” and “providing financial incentives for victimhood.” Oakley shows how the empathy demanded by current progressive thinking that is focused on casting more individuals as victims and equalizing the status of haves and have-nots, ignores the potential negatives of this emotional approach and reveals a damaging inability among teachers and scholars to make critical distinctions.

Watching the Watchers: The Neglect of Academic Analysis of Progressive Groups

George Yancey, University of North Texas

George Yancey investigates another form of inequality. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is considered “the gold standard” by many scholars, journalists, and activists as a source for identifying hate groups. By concentrating on the double standards the SPLC uses to fill its Hatewatch list, Yancey finds that certain organizations can express sentiments comparable to those that consign other groups to the list. He concludes that social and political bias against groups that demur from the selective egalitarianism operative today figures into SPLC’s calculations—and urges academics to “encourage introspection to identify how social and political biases alter the theoretical, methodological, and intellectual practices within their given field.”

Ranking the Presidents: Scholars versus The People 

Clifford F. Thies, Shenandoah University

In the final “Inequalities” essay, Clifford F. Thies presents a statistical analysis of a number of rankings of the presidents of the United States since Arthur Schlesinger published “Historians Rate U.S. Presidents,” in Life in 1948. Thies examines the values behind these rankings via survey and compares assessments by scholars with the often widely differing opinions of the general public.

Back Left 

Peter Wood, National Association of Scholars

Peter Wood vigorously evaluates Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, by prolific scholar of education Diane Ravitch, noting with respect but also disappointment Ravitch’s continued repudiation of her previous positions on public school reform.

And We Shall Not All Be Dentists 

Amy L. Wax, University of Pennsylvania

Isaac N. Cohen

In their review essay of Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, Amy L. Wax and Isaac N. Cohen, her son and a Yale freshman, also touch on this issue’s theme. Many college students who come from the lower socioeconomic strata founder, while fluff coursework and mega-partying do less long-term damage to those with the background and connections to sustain themselves financially and socially. Wax and Cohen find that in the egalitarian effort to educate everyone, regardless of intellectual ability or preparedness, colleges are actually fostering greater inequality.

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