If You Think Universities are Too Western, You’re Right

Students at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution, have successfully forced a controversial dean to resign. Jodi Kelly, dean of the university’s Matteo Ricci College, drew fire from students when she used the n-word in an email to a student. That the word was also the title of a book by an African-American author didn’t matter to students:

in a discussion with a student who wanted to better understand the experiences of members of minority groups, Kelly suggested Nigger, the autobiography of Dick Gregory, the civil rights activist. Among those who defended Kelly on her recommending the book by name was Gregory himself, who wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed about the debate at Seattle.

Even as attention on the N-word receded, the debate about Kelly and the college she led only grew. Kelly’s critics and supporters agree that she is a proponent of a rigorous humanities curriculum — such as that offered by the college — built around the Western classics. To the protesting students, that was a big part of the problem.

But universities are supposed to be Western. It’s what they do:

Universities are one of the few institutions that are a direct contribution of medieval Latin Christendom to contemporary Western civilization. Being an export wherever else they are found, they are also unique to Western culture. To be sure, all cultures have had their intellectuals: those men and women whose task it has been to learn, to know, and to teach. But only in Latin Christendom were scholars — the company of masters and students — gathered together into the universitas whose entire purpose was to develop and disseminate knowledge in a continuous and systematic fashion with little regard for the consequences of their activities. When professors and students today study and write about universities, they are therefore engaged in more than group therapy in the midst of troubled times for what is now ambiguously called “higher education.” They are analyzing an essential element in the culture that has come to dominate the entire globe. (James M. Kittelson, “The Durability of the Universities of Old Europe”)

In other words, if you want to speak truth to power, don’t go to university. If you do, you join the system of oppression.

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5 thoughts on “If You Think Universities are Too Western, You’re Right

  1. I wonder if it ever occurs to some of these people how many books written over past couple of centuries used the “n-word” as part of a social commentary (Mark Twain comes to mind; Ferrol Sams more recently). When is the book ban/burning scheduled to start? I think I still have part of a can of kerosene left over from last Winter and would be happy to contribute.

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  2. George, the book burning is here.

    I had to bleep out the N-word in the audiobook edition (the book was read by a black man, no less) because the print publisher decided to have ‘Nigger‘ replaced in an updated version of the print book.

    Made quite the stink about it, myself…

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