Letters to the Editor

Horowitz is wrong: Cornel West is no lightweight! Plus: Coastal elitists bash Kansas "rednecks"; women hurt women in campus tenure battles.

Published October 18, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

No light in his attic


I had the great fortune to have heard Cornel West speak during his visits to
Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn., and to have taken a course he taught
as a visiting lecturer on comparative religion. While I doubt anyone at Macalester, or
even now, would accuse me of being part of the liberal conspiracy in today's intelligentsia, I would like to set the
record straight.

After reading several of his works and having the opportunity to discuss
them with West and others, I would never refer to West as an
intellectual lightweight. Rather, he is one of the most perceptive
social critics I have read or heard in recent years. While David Horowitz
seems to think the term "Marxist black radical" would discredit the works of
this man, they do not. Rather than caving in to the easy conclusion most
modern scholars have -- that the fall of the USSR equals the invalidation of
Marxism -- West understands and articulates the importance of class and
economic distinctions in social affairs and the evils of the unbridled
marketplace. That people are not commodities and that their value in
society transcends their worth in the marketplace is a thought in a noble
tradition that finds keen expression in the works of Chekhov and humane
answer in the arms of Christianity. If the articulation of these thoughts
is too complex for Horowitz to understand, I suggest he return to the
dust of Dewey and Bloom and leave the modern criticism to those willing to
look a little deeper and with a little faith in human potential.

Horowitz's rant seems to be an attempt to channel the voice of the late
Alan Bloom into the pages of Salon. While there is much to be criticized
in postmodern thought, the part that Bloom, and apparently Horowitz, miss
is that thought does not end with Plato: His writings are not a bad place to start, but
like kindergarten, you do have to leave someday.

-- Mike Hellwich

Saint Paul, Minn.

David Horowitz claims that Louis Farrakhan is "the most influential
anti-Semite in America." I am not a fan of Farrakhan by any means, but
surely the title of "most influential anti-Semite" goes to Pat
Buchanan. Anybody can criticize the hateful leader of
the Nation of Islam. But very few Republican, born-again conservatives
or members of the mainstream media will take Buchanan to task for
his decades of not-so-thinly veiled anti-Jewish ranting. I'm sure George
W. Bush has not a kind word to say about Farrakhan, but he wishes to keep
Pat's "voice" within the Republican Party. Who is the more influential

And while we're looking for African-American empty suits with
pretensions of intellectual rigor, let us not forget Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas, the poster child for conservative affirmative action.

-- David Agosto

New York

For those of us who are not and do not aspire to be
academics, Cornel West is no more an "empty suit" than most academics, whose
posturing bores us until our eyes glaze over.
As far as the "PC conditioning" Horowitz refers to with regards to minority
students, something is better than nothing. West's personal politics
do not impact or inform my decisions on any type of politics or
policy. Could it be that Horowitz resents West's six-figure
income or the acclaim? Don't be bitter, babe.

-- Renee Foster

Street-fighting man


While Jake Tapper's piece was more colorful and accurate than anything I read in the
local Iowa media, I must take exception to one of his observations. I was at the Bradley post-dinner gathering, which Tapper described as resembling a PBS fund-raising-style, brie-and-chablis event. Trust me, the Bradley bash was strictly Iowa pork burgers and keg beer. Bruce Hornsby played wonderfully and Bill Walton delivered the political equivalent of a Bill Laimbeer moving pick for his
buddy Bill Bradley.

Finally, while some marveled at Al Gore's newfound energy, it seemed to me the vice president had spent a little too much time at the Starbucks kiosk at Des Moines International.

-- Tim Boyle

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Dump the big bang, bring on the blue ox



Although I am completely opposed to the Kansas Board of Education's idiotic ruling, I am also opposed to the continued
bashing of an entire state by people from the coasts who know nothing of
the context of the situation.

Unfortunately, this board of education was voted in by a minority population and made
this ridiculous decision. However, before others continue to throw
stones at "those rednecks in Kansas," please keep in mind that all but one
school district has decided to continue teaching the same curriculum that
was taught before the board's decision. Evolution is not dead in Kansas
and will most likely be "officially" reinstated after the next elections.

I am aware that people in New York and L.A. think there is nothing out here
but cows and wheat -- certainly nothing that resembles intelligent life.
Articles like this only reconfirm this faulty opinion. In addition, they
belittle the real warning behind the Kansas school board issue: If intelligent
people everywhere -- liberal and conservative -- do not consciously protect
their rights through voting and other political activity, the highly
motivated nut cases will take over. Kansans are at fault not for being
stupid, but for being complacent.

-- Whitney Davison-Turley

Quinter, Kan.

While Rosenzweig's essay is amusing and somewhat entertaining, it
shows a complete lack of tolerance on the author's part. Rosenzweig obviously believes in a world that
just exists. The majority of the decision makers in the state of Kansas
believe in a God who just exists -- and who created a world. Either way,
it's a matter of faith. I don't find Rosenzweig's to be any more
compelling than that of the Jayhawkers.

-- Frank Thomas

As a resident of Kansas, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry after reading
the satire of the Kansas Board of Education decision to omit evolution and
the big bang theory from state science standards. There seem to be so many
people in our state who are completely out of touch with reality that it
isn't beyond comprehension to imagine a future meeting of the board at which
they discuss some of the fictional scenarios you mentioned in your article.
Those of us who oppose the board's action are
delighted each time we see an article from outside the state ridiculing the
board. It's the only way we'll overcome this nonsense and cleanse the Board of Education
of the fools who are running the show.

-- David Vogel

Wichita, Ks.

Maybe Kansas should adopt Calvinball as the only school-sanctioned
sport. After all, the only rule is that everyone gets to make up the

-- Owen Williams

Oh Deer!


Not only does this usage of deer-antler velvet promote the hunting and death
of deer for cosmetic reasons, the article is trendy and misleading. The
promotion of this product is nothing but a cheap Hollywood ploy to encourage
people to purchase a useless product to make themselves feel "wholesome."
Surely there is a more cost-effective way to produce the proclaimed
essential pantocrine. Although the author claims that animals are not
harmed, the trauma of being captured and having samples removed is most
definitely not best or most natural for the animals. Promoting the use of
deer antler velvet will certainly give hunters more leverage in their
argument for deer killing. It will also provide them with more money and
another market. Next time, I would encourage your writers to focus on a topic that does not
encourage the harm of any living being.

-- Tara Echo DellaFranzia

Crashing the top


As someone who spent six years as a graduate student at Cornell
University, I found many of Ann Douglas' observations to mirror my own
experiences as a woman in the ivory tower.

What Douglas does not mention, however, are the myriad ways that female
professors contribute to other women's bad experiences. It seems that once
women get tenure, they feel no sense of sisterhood with the women coming
behind them. In fact, often it's women who are shafting women.
In my case, my decision to combine motherhood with graduate school was
seen as a bad career move. If you really want to make it as a woman in
academia, you'd better remain childless. And if you choose to have children,
don't expect any support from your department.

I worked closely with a female professor who became an important
part of my dissertation committee. One day, several years into our working
relationship, she explained to me that the thing she liked best about me
was that, despite the fact that I had children, I never mentioned them.
"In fact," she said, "I didn't realize for almost a year that you even had
kids. I thought that was great how you didn't shove your kids down my
throat." This sentiment was echoed by another woman who also mentored me,
who once told me, when I was trying to talk to her about how hard it could
be sometimes to combine motherhood and work, "I'm not very interested in
the 'mom' part of your life." Needless to say, I didn't look to her for support either.

When I decided to abandon a "promising" career, I did so because I
realized that in order to be a female academic, I would only ever get to be
half a person. The irony of being surrounded by feminist academics who
defended the rights of working mothers in the abstract, but who sneered at
them in person, proved more than I could bear.

-- Lorraine Berry

Ithaca, N.Y.

Sigh. You would think that, sooner or later, tenured women holding very
desirable positions at our most prestigious universities would get tired
of whining about how badly they've been treated. But I guess not.
You would think that such superbly intelligent women could figure out
that tenure fights and power disputes and personality conflicts and
academic pettiness --- all of which were common enough in the Bad Old Days
when women were indeed all but frozen out of high academic position -- are
continuing today just as they always have, and that, therefore, such goings-on are not
necessarily evidence of male chauvinist piggery. But, again, I guess not.

If Ann Douglas truly believes -- as she seems to -- that men in
academe were not the victims of academic pettiness, jealousy, fear and
resentment in tenure fights and power plays in the Bad Old Days of
male-centered universities, her training as a historian has, perhaps, not
been as thorough as one might have hoped.

-- R. Becker

Baton Rouge, La.

Exactly what are the men in the top positions afraid
of? Why are they so opposed to having more women in their environment?
What need is served by having an all-male elite, and what other means can be
used to satisfy this need? Until these questions are answered, men will
continue to find ways to preserve their environment. Addressing the root
cause of the problem is the only way to alleviate it.

I don't pretend to be immune to prejudice. Every time I read an article
about sex discrimination, I come away from it feeling ashamed and puzzled.
I am ashamed because I can understand where the men in question are coming
from, and I imagine I would probably act the same way if I were in their
place. But I am puzzled because I am never able to figure out why many men
discriminate against women in an almost reflexive manner. Some need is
satisfied by having a male-dominated environment, but it is a very elusive one.

-- Aaron D. Haney

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