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Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 1999 /9 Kislev, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Adventures of a conservative pundit -- GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Speaking to college students, especially those self-defined conservatives who are isolated in liberal landscapes at politically-correct colleges, is especially rewarding. They really are -- or really can be -- the silent minority on campus.

Students who listen to me talk about the conflicts of feminism and family, or the "culture wars,'' frequently come up afterward to tell me about their fears and anger about having to read "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl'' instead of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,'' or an insignificant or even incoherent work by a minor writer because she is a woman or homosexual (or both) instead of, say, the "Dead White Men'' who wrote the Federalist Papers.

If they speak up in class with their skepticism of affirmative action or the benefits of mother care over day care, they're attacked, sometimes viciously, not only by other students but often by the professor, too. The open and free debate we've always cherished in university life is rationed at some of our finest universities.

So when I was invited to talk to college students from several Midwestern universities at a symposium in Grand Rapids, I accepted, even though the logistics were less than wonderful -- four planes over 24 hours with a few hours sleep in an airport hotel. So much for the glamorous life of a traveling pundit.

But my hosts, the Young America's Foundation and the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute, provide mentoring for intellectually curious students who are often intimidated by the tenured mediocrities and politically correct conformists who infest their campuses. I decided to do my part, in part in appreciation for one of the best surveys of "academic'' courses offered to our best and brightest in college today. Aptly called "Comedy and Tragedy,'' this year's survey includes several gems.

At Oberlin College, an English class is devoted to a work by one Really Dead White Man. "Paradise Lost'' is described in the catalog as a feminist approach to John Milton's poem: "This complex and powerful poem may be seen both as a monument of patriarchy and a manifesto for resistance. Feminist, historicist, narrative and poetic theory will be brought to bear on issues raised by the poem, its interpretation and its cultural issues...''

The romantics thought Satan was the hero of "Paradise Lost.'' Could Satan have morphed into a feminist?

Georgetown University, founded in 1789 by Jesuits once noted for their rigid intellectual excellence, now offers an English course called "History and Theories of Sexuality.'' It promises to "historicize'' contemporary debates about sexuality, "in particular gay and lesbian studies and `queer' theory as it is informed by African American and/or feminist theoretical and political concerns.'' The Jesuits at Georgetown have come a long way from proselytizing for their faith, but this sounds a lot like another kind of missionary work to me.

The "gender studies'' gobbledygook prize goes to Bowdoin College in Maine for a women's studies course in "Music and Gender.'' It asks students the following question: "Is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony a marvel of abstract architecture, culminating in a gender-free paean to human solidarity, or does it model the processes of rape?''

Ta-ta-ta, DUH.

This Midwest conference demonstrated a new level of sophistication by conservative leaders who are determined to build on the grass-roots of the brave students who are boldly dissatisfied with the state of "liberal'' education. They hold workshops in practical strategies for combating academic narrow-mindedness that has maimed the intellectual mind on so many of our prestigious campuses. These seminars enable a discussion of the ideas of conservative thinkers, such as Russell Kirk, who are often conspicuously absent from classes at universities that pride themselves, ostentatiously, on diversity.

The Grand Rapids conference was about expanding windows to look out on the world, for students to read "Paradise Lost'' as something more than a tract for resistance to the patriarchy, to absorb Beethoven without listening for appeals to "gender'' and rape.

Sometimes four airplanes, an airport hotel and a short night's sleep are well worth the journey.


11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate