The Rebelling Young Scholars
OVER the last several years our larger graduate schools have contained within their precincts a cold war the outcome of which is going to influence higher education in this country for some time to come. The combatants are a new generation of graduate students on the one hand and their professors on the other. As a junior faculty member who is often caught between these camps, I have been able to watch tensions rise at more than one university. The chief battle-grounds are history and the social sciences, and the issues are frankly political. To put the matter simply, today’s graduate students are substantially to the left of the men at whose feet they have chosen to sit. They are impatient with both the enlightened conservatism and the mild liberalism of their professors. Though this emerging radicalism is, to be sure, difficult to characterize, one explanation will be hazarded here.
Certainly the causes for dissatisfaction are not hard to trace. The senior professors all lived through the McCarthyite epoch of the early 50′s, during which period they learned that caution was the better part of academic valor. If few were conscious opportunists, most trimmed their ideological sails and selected areas for their teaching and research that avoided the main controversies of the time. The impact of McCarthyism was deeper than many realized, and its effect on graduate teaching in America has persisted in a variety of subtle ways.
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