WASHINGTON — What a weekend it was! The soft gentle air of early autumn was upon us. Sweater weather. Straw hat weather. Perfect weather to be on campus with a convivial crowd of like-minded friends taking in a Saturday afternoon football game — and for me, something more. It was another episode in my long-standing reconnoitering of college life, always done incognito with a smile on my face and a pen and pad nearby to record the continued decline of a once-great American institution, the American university.
I always stay at the main university hotel, right in the heart of campus life. I always wear the home team's colors so as not to rouse suspicion. Most importantly, I never tell anyone what I'm doing. That is to say, I'm doing counterespionage work against an enemy even more dangerous than the mainstream media. In fact, this enemy is the mainstream media's main source of nonsense: the professoriate. What is going on in the women's studies programs, the black studies programs, the vegetarian studies programs and all the other non-studies programs that have taken over from the humanities and rendered university life so trivial?
I encountered an inkling of the problem before even entering the university bookstore or a classroom or encountering a real-life prof. I had checked into my hotel and stepped out with my wife to reconnoiter the nearby pub, where we encountered two gray-haired ladies. I would call them spinsters. My wife noted that the air coming from an open window nearby was chilly, which she liked, having just arrived from Washington, where the air was muggy. One of the women -- an uninvited interlocutor -- interrupted my wife's reverie to tell us that the cool air was the result of climate change. Egad! Moreover, our uninvited interlocutor continued, the inclement weather would continue and get worse. She was confident of this because she had studied for three years in — hold on to your toupee — Vietnam. I believe it is still called Communist Vietnam by us “deplorables.”
I thought to call her an idiot and was searching for an inoffensive way of putting it when she interrupted my thoughts once again. She proclaimed that Donald Trump and Mike Pence would soon be removed from office and replaced by Nancy Pelosi, who would choose Elizabeth Warren as her vice president. That would solve climate change and much, much more. I kid thee not. Such people stalk the college campuses of our great country quite freely and volunteer their version of breaking news bereft of any introduction whatsoever.
Needless to say, on most campuses I visit, I have my spies on duty all year long, and this campus — which shall remain unidentified — is no different. From my spies on campus, I have discovered the humanities are experiencing a comeback. Students and their parents are discovering that students who graduate with a degree in, say, literature or philosophy or history are more likely to land ready employment than people who have degrees in identity studies, the reason being that students with humanities degrees have developed the capacity to think clearly and critically, as opposed to those who in identity studies can only regurgitate the biases that their professors spoon-feed them.
What's more, identity studies are one of the major reasons we have so few influential professors on university campuses today. In an age gone by, we had learned and authoritative professors of history, say Arthur Schlesinger Jr.; literature, say Lionel Trilling; philosophy, say Allan Bloom; and many, many more. The universities they taught at were influential and respected seats of learning. Today, they are in decline, though my spies now report there is reason for hope.
Well, I shall get back to you next year to tell you how my spies on campus are doing. My trip to the unnamed campus does remind me of one of my favorite pranks committed in times gone by.
In the early days of The American Spectator, we devised a scholarly debate to be held at Indiana University, pitting me against renowned professor Rudolph Montag of Columbia University. Some 250 students and faculty turned out for the debate, avid for seeing me taken apart by the youngish and celebrated prof. They sat in rapt attention as Montag pummeled me with one tut-tut after another. The trouble was Montag never said much more than tut-tut or tsk-tsk.
In truth, the students and some faculty members at a major university sat attentively and watched a 28-year-old college dropout gibber on stage for 10 minutes until relief came when Montag received a pie to the face from one of our co-conspirators. The truth came out the next day when the dean of students at IU called the dean of students at Columbia to apologize for how badly Columbia's star prof was treated while at IU. The Columbia dean reported that Montag did not exist at Columbia.
More people than Montag had pie on their faces that day.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author, most recently, of "The Death of Liberalism," published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.