Joe linked us to the Harvey Mansfield piece on Harvard President Larry Summers and political correctness. I have read it and am compelled to say a few words about. First, it is a terrific piece of writing. This piece should be used in writing classes. It is perfectly clear and there is nothing in it that shouldn’t be there. This is what language is for, to clarify. Second, it is true. It is true in the larger in the sense that both feminism and political correctness are understood; what they are, and what effects they have. It is also true in its understanding of both Summers’ character and the nature of intellectual inquiry in the academy. The two things are related.
Summers’ accusers are relentless and humorless. "They complained of being humiliated, but they took no care not to humiliate a proud man." That Summers lives (unlike most university presidents) by "straightforward argument" is a significant point. He isn’t, Mansfield explains, looking for victory in argument. "But his forceful intelligence often produces it, in the view of those with whom he reasons. Sometimes the professors he speaks with come out feeling that they are victims of bullying, as one of his feminist critics stated. As if to reason were to bully." This latter point is critical--and clear and true--to anyone who has had experience in conversation and even argument with a professor. A collegaue, a reasonable and quiet gentleman, and I recently met with another professor on a curriculum issue. We engaged in perfectly balanced and quiet conversation for about an hour. Our interlocutor then made clear that the next time we make our case to anyone else (or a committee on campus) we should be less "bullying," less "intimidating." After we left the meeting my colleague and I spent a half an hour trying to figure out what she could have meant since we were certain we did not bully. We concluded that to give reasons for something was to bully, according to our interlocutor. It was a bit of a revelation, I’ll admit. But it was true. Mansfield clarifies this problem, and it is a much larger problem than feminists running amok, or mere political correctness, and I thank him for it. You must read his essay.