I don’t usually spend much time getting perturbed over political correctness on campus — not because it’s not a real issue but simply because I’m tired of tilting at windmills. The imposition of a stifling, leftist orthodoxy was a major problem when I entered college in 1987 and it remains a major problem today. Occasionally, though, some of today’s happenings on campus are so loony that they call out for some comment. Such is the case with Northwestern University’s rejection of Karl Eikenberry, a retired three-star general and former ambassador to Kabul.
According to the Washington Post, Eikenberry had been recruited from Stanford University, where he is a fellow at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, to become executive director of a new global studies center funded with the biggest single donation in Northwestern’s history.
This caused an uproar among the professoriate. Forty-six faculty members signed a letter of protest claiming that he was not a suitable candidate for this august position because he lacks a Ph.D. (he merely has two M.A.’s) and — even worse — he served in the military. “An ex-U.S. general will likely think about international politics in terms of war and from the perspective of the U.S.’s interests, and the research agenda will be negatively skewed as a result,” wrote Charles Clarke, a Northwestern graduate student and one of the petition’s backers. “Instead, why not appoint someone who will encourage research that is less belligerent and tainted by U.S. bias?”
The Faculty Senate voted to endorse his nomination anyway, but he voluntarily resigned in the face of all this opposition. In an email to the Post, Eikenberry wrote:
“This is the worst stereotyping I can imagine and an affront to any veteran. What is it about a military officer’s career that makes her or him unqualified to serve as the executive director for an institute of global studies? Their familiarity with leading large organizations, securing resources, directing strategic planning, and implementing institutional change? Their experience of living in diverse cultures abroad (in my case Korea – twice; China – three times; Hong Kong – twice; Italy; Belgium; and Afghanistan – three times)? Or their experience in the field of national security decision-making and international security issues?”
This snub of Eikenberry and by implication of the entire military should make Northwestern and the academic culture, in general, an objection of richly deserved derision. Apparently soldiers are good enough to fight and die for our freedom but are not good enough to teach our students. They are too biased, you see—in favor of America! What a transgression. Why, it might even give offense to individuals who hate America, and who presumably need their delicate anti-American sensitivities protected from any information that might cast the country in which they live in a good light.
Reality check: Who would students learn more from — some young academic who published incomprehensible articles in obscure academic journals, or a general with the range of experiences described by Eikenberry? I have no doubt who students would prefer. But their opinion doesn’t count for much in the face of the “tenured radicals” (a term invented by Roger Kimball in a 1990 book) who seem to have seized and retained control of the hiring process in our universities.