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Jewish World Review April 24, 2000/ 19 Nissan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Women's studies beget narrow minds -- STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Conservatives have a hard time on most college campuses. In the spirit of the free inquiry that is the purpose of the university, conservatives are often told to shut up and keep their opinions -- their bigotries -- to themselves.

This is the season of speeches and seminars, and lately I've been a guest of campus organizations on campuses from Missouri to Pennsylvania, and the first question I get, asked in a manner usually hostile but occasionally plaintive, is this: "How can a woman be a conservative?''

The point of departure is nearly always abortion, and anyone who admits to thinking that abortion is a complicated issue is regarded as a heretic and a beast, like a skeptic of the doctrine of the virgin birth at a seminary in Rome.

But the campus contempt for conservatives, or for anyone who questions the feminist dogma, goes beyond abortion. When, for example, I explain that as a cultural conservative I want to preserve the roots of a successful society, which requires that we acknowledge the differences between men and women, the fierce defenders of dogma usually drag out the college catalog, with its list of courses in women's studies, and demand to know how on earth any sane, good and worthy person could object to any of them.

Intellectual horror stories abound in academia, provoking the student joke at one Midwestern campus that "what we need here is not more academic freedom, but freedom from the academics.'' Indeed, my concern is not an ideological one at all, but academic: The campus life is the last time students will have the leisured opportunity to read and debate the great books, the great ideas, the great controversies -- the Federalist Papers, the Greek philosophers, John Milton's "Paradise Lost.'' Why should the kids be required to spend these golden years reading minor works by obscure pamphleteers? These pamphlets, which usually read like complaints, appeal to emotion over intellect, feelings over thought. There will be time enough to read such "masterworks'' later, when the students are on their own.

There's a rising anger from many of the brighter kids on campus. They know they're being cheated and they're angry because they can't voice dissenting opinions without risking the grades that will determine the jobs they'll get when the golden years are over. In my lecture here at Penn State the other night, I was astonished at the reaction I got to what I thought was a well-known quotation from John Stuart Mill: "He who knows only one side of the case knows little of that.'' Mill had the applause line of the night. Two earnest young men came up to me later. "That line from Mill was great,'' one of them said. "We had never heard that.''

I'm not singling out Penn State, a lovely campus with lots of bright, eager kids who are proud of their school and eager to share its history and traditions with a visitor. Its football teams are famous, of course, but the campus is dotted with brass markers commemorating other accomplishments: the "Penn State heart,'' a pump that made possible advanced heart surgery, was developed at the engineering school, and early work perfecting the diesel engine was done here as well.

All the sadder, then, that rigorous intellectual discipline is compromised elsewhere on campus. Christopher Gillott, one of the members of the Penn State chapter of Young Americans for Freedom that invited me to speak here, makes a telling cost-benefits argument against the excesses of women's studies courses.

"Traditional arts and sciences teaches students to think systematically and logically, to weigh competing ideas objectively, and to master a specific body of knowledge,'' he argues in a column for the Collegian, the Penn State daily. "Professional schools train individuals to succeed in a specific career by mastering its language, methodology and technology. By these standards, how do women's studies programs measure up?''

He cites one Penn State course with required readings on masturbation and "reverse-gender roles,'' and the requirement for women to write "a hypothetical essay on what life would be like if she had male genitalia.'' (Wouldn't that make her a he and not a she?)

"Instead of preparing students for specific careers,'' concludes my young friend, "those who have majored in women's studies have spent four years doing little else than talking about gender and feeling their way around the insular world of feminist ideology.''

Or to quote John Stuart Mill again: "As often as a study is cultivated by narrow minds, they will draw from it narrow conclusions.''


04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate