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Imposters in the Temple.

Imposters in the Temple. Martin Anderson. Simon & Schuster, $22. In one of the many tales of academic foolishness chronicled in this exasperated book, Martin Anderson rails about the praise showered by Stanford University leaders on a deceased scholar alleged to have molested the son of one of his students. Fuming at the spectacle of professors "covering up the black deeds of theft colleague," Anderson quotes "the great 19th-century writer and critic" John Ruskin: "The essence of lying is in deception not in words; a lie may be told by silence, by equivocation ... and all these kinds of lies are worse and baser by many degrees than a lie plainly worded." Ironically for Anderson and the moral high ground he wants to assume, Ruskin was one of the more notorious pedophiles of his time.

Nothing about the realm of the university, it seems, is as simple as Anderson would have it. His diatribe is supposedly aimed at the "intellectual elite"--well in advance of Dan Quayle's revival of Spiro Agnew's rhetoric--but it proposes a rather facile solution to academia's current woes. Unwilling (or unable) to offer a nuanced analysis of the problems he discerns, Anderson is left with the most unhelpful of explanations--it's all "their" fault--and reduced to recommending the most narcissistic of remedies: replication of himself. There should be fewer people overall in academia, but more people in it like Martin Anderson. Every institution should be more like the Hoover Institute; every economics treatise should be more like the ones he writes.

This is Huxley turned on his head, a sort of Brave Old World, where a few shining principles reign insulated from the challenge of dissident "newcomers"; where Straussian political scientists join with free-market economists and classics professors to keep the academy safe; where there will be no one like George Monroe, past chair of the Dartmouth board, to question The Dartmouth Review, which Anderson describes, thinly and misleadingly, as "a student newspaper." As everyone knows, the Review has a political agenda, which it does not hide.

Anderson, however, must ignore this agenda because, in the story he tells, agendas corrupt. "The governing boards of universities should adopt policies that strictly forbid political bias in either teaching or faculty hiring." The problem with this piety is that it would have to be administered, and those who administer it would have to decide what is and is not "political bias."

A program emphasizing Western values and traditions is no less political than its rivals, only differently political. The differences matter and are worth arguing about, but what will be at stake in the argument is the question of which political agenda is to prevail. Nevertheless, Anderson claims to be fighting politicization, which he says (quoting fellow traveler Harvey Mansfield) "comes from the Left." This is a claim, of course, that comes in a book that cites only rightwing authors, lauds only right-wing institutions, and promotes only rightwing ideas. Anderson has every right to be an ideologue, but he shouldn't be allowed to get away with disclaiming ideology at the very moment he is practicing it.

Imposters offers little by way of original research; Anderson's favorite mode of documentation is to report "What I have observed personally"; and when he does cite a source it is often some third-hand report of a story in The Wall Street Journal. He makes few points that have not been made by others. His book is less informative than Illiberal Education, less intellectually substantial than Tenured Radicals, and less mean-spirited--and therefore less fun---than Profscam. Its chief novelty is that it attacks the discipline of economics rather than literary studies, although Anderson does take a couple of potshots at deconstruction (with some of my own work getting caught in the crossfire).

But above all, Imposters is a paean to Anderson's memory of happier days, a repository of his cherished opinions, and an occasion for him to settle old scores, most of them with Stanford University.

Throughout, Anderson is so preoccupied with racking up points against the imagined conspiracy of the academic Left that he fritters away the opportunities opened up by his own investigations. In a chapter entitled "Children Teaching Children," Anderson mounts a persuasive critique of the use of teaching assistants at the majority of our campuses. To his credit, he goes beyond the usual complaint against turning over students to other students and details the effect of the practice on those who become its conscripted laborers.

"The exploitation of graduate students in American universities is the mental equivalent of the old sweatshops .... [The] average graduate student is 34 years old before he or she breaks free of the cocoon of dependency that is the Ph.D. process."

Meanwhile, "they marry, they have children, they grow old--and yet they are still students .... It shouldn't be this way," he declares, and I agree with him. "The things that would fix it are simple: First, we have to stop this business of students teaching students. ... Second, we have to stop this business of professors using students to conduct their research .... Third, we should do everything we can to shorten the time needed to get the degree and to free up the student's time."

That's it. End of analysis. True, there are a few more items on Anderson's list ("universities should expand their loan programs"), but all they do is restate the problem, prefacing it with an urgent imperative ("we have to") without ever giving us a hint as to how that imperative might be accomplished. An act of will is all that Anderson has to recommend.

Anderson is by no means unaware of the larger changes that have produced our current situation. But rather than regarding this transformation as a ground-level fact that establishes the parameters of any proposal for reform, Anderson sees it as a wrong turn taken by history. Like many of his fellow neocons, his chief stock in trade is nostalgia. The image of a small, quiet, ratified institution where he was one of the select few being taught--he pays rhapsodic tribute to his days at Dartmouth in the firties-- is so much before his eyes that the only thing he sees about anything else is how far it falls short of what he remembers.

This is true not only of the material conditions of the educational experience, but of its intellectual content. Not only does Anderson believe that "things" were better when times were simpler and colleges smaller; he believes that ideas were better when there were not so many of them bombarding us with their novelty. "It is difficult," he says, "to improve on Aristotle, Shakespeare, or Adam Smith .... It is fair to say that 80 or 90 percent of the economics you need to know to make decent economic policy in the 20th century was figured out and written down in the 18th and 19th centuries." This is the rallying cry--back to the future--of every professional who finds that the assumptions and methods that presided over his education are being challenged by another generation. Rather than seeing change and the inevitable dislodgement of older orthodoxies by newer ones--also fated to fade--the academic Jeremiah sees decline and the end of civilization.
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Author:Fish, Stanley
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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