Anyone following higher education over the past decade would recognize vignettes about the pernicious effects of academic groupthink. The University of Colorado, where research fraud Ward Churchill became a full professor and department chair through touting his “Native American” heritage and publishing extremist essays. Columbia, where Joseph Massad told one of his classes that Israeli agents were responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics—and where more than 100 professors, including the former provost, publicly attacked Massad’s critics. Most recently, the University of Delaware, which had enacted a required residence hall program proclaiming that non-whites couldn’t be racist and mandating “treatment” for those whose beliefs challenged the preferred approach.There's much more.
Are these episodes, as defenders of the academic status quo suggest, out-of-the-ordinary developments? The Duke case involved dozens of professors, revealing tenured faculty with “perpetually forthcoming” books or almost comically race/class/gender-oriented research agendas. The Group of 88 and their crusade attracted equally ill-reasoned support from other quarters of the academy—whether the fifteen African-American Studies professors who defended Houston Baker’s racist April 2006 letter or the April 2007 ruminations of Wesleyan’s Claire Potter on how “the dancers were, it is clear, physically if perhaps not sexually assaulted.” And prominent elite universities (Vanderbilt, Cornell, University of Chicago) hired some of the Group’s key members—with tenure (and, in the case of Cornell) a promotion.
The affair is, to borrow a term from mathematicians, an existence proof. Given the documented, public record at one of the nation’s leading universities, it will be more difficult to claim that future abuses at other institutions that attract public attention are isolated examples to be ignored.
Update: "Perpetually forthcoming." Heh ("heh" in second item).