The Lady & the Professors
To the Editor:
I graduated from Cornell University this June . . . and have had ample opportunity to observe the faculty of a university in crisis (during the events of April 1969); and I have also had to think hard about doing further work in the humanities. I therefore read Dorothy Rabinowitz’s “The Radicalized Professor: A Portrait” [July] with interest. The article hardly offers an accurate likeness of its subject. It is, if anything, a description of professors in general, and, as such, it seems to be based on two popular, if fallacious, views of the academic. The first is the ancient stereotype of the absent-minded professor: Miss Rabinowitz paints her radical as a gently “out-of-it” individual. . . . The second and more dangerous view is implied in her essay: it is the anti-intellectual attitude of some members of the New Left. For them, and apparently for Miss Rabinowitz, too, all professors are cowardly, repressed, and status-hungry. That is how some of my more hysterical radical friends talked on the Cornell campus last April; but it is clear from Miss Rabinowitz’s devastating one-liners (“He may compare the treatment of the Jews under the Nazis and the treatment of black men in America and record that the treatment of black men in America is infinitely worse than the treatment the Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis”) that she is no friend of radicals. Why then this uneasy alliance? . . .
It seems evident that there are silly and confused people everywhere whose political activity has profoundly subjective and neurotic origins. Movements are not immune to them, and neither are universities. But to characterize the radicalized professor as a bewildered and passionless fumbler is patently absurd. Some professors are better radicals than others. Obviously. . . . But the radicals whom I saw last April were men of strength and maturity: Douglas Dowd is but one example. I know of no professors, in fact, whether politically active or not, who conform to Miss Rabinowitz’s description. If this is meant to be a composite rather than a likeness based on an individual, the flaws can only be magnified. The portrait is a surprising combination of moth-eaten generalizations and a la mode hostility. I am sorry that the beleaguered professors have been attacked from yet another direction.
Teaneck, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Dorothy Rabinowitz’s portrait of an activist faculty member exemplifies a willingness to believe the worst of college professors and an animus against that profession which are characteristic of large sections of Middle America in 1970. Like the suspicions of the suburban voter, her portrait is founded chiefly on ignorance. . . . It contributes nothing to a solution of the institutional conditions and mutual misunderstandings that feed the existing hostility between the University and Middle America. Instead, it serves the prejudiced reader of one side with everything he would like to believe about the other. There is no getting at the roots and removing the causes of this hostility. . . .
Providence, Rhode Island
Miss Rabinowitz writes:
The professor type I had in mind is not, alas, absent-minded nor is he out of it. He is all too frightfully with-it, as Miss Goldberg may discover if she should, after hard thinking, decide to broaden her experience on campus in the humanities, or for that matter, the social sciences or mathematics.
It is not really possible to deal with the merits of an attitude so far from my own as the belief that all professors are cowardly, repressed, and status-hungry, which Miss Goldberg constructs for analogy’s sake. I would no more believe that than I would believe that all students of the humanities are perceptive, discriminating, and empowered with the capacity to reason.
As to Douglas Dowd, whose activity has given Miss Goldberg cause to believe that the radicals she met last April were men of strength and maturity: Douglas Dowd is the gentleman who so forthrightly declared himself on violence-prone students (see Walter Goodman, COMMENTARY, August), “God bless them. I will not join them, but God bless them.” With such strength and maturity around we are not likely to need any foolishness for a long time to come.
But this is neither here nor there. Perhaps Miss Goldberg should simply be congratulated, in these uncertain times, upon her graduation.