Correcting Higher Education as a Funding Mechanism for Nonsense


The story of the University of Rhode Island professor who found it worth his while to diminish the Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady raises questions about the role of higher education — and especially public higher education:

Titled “Making American White Men Great Again: Tom Brady, Donald Trump, and the Allure of White Male Omnipotence in Post-Obama America,” the chapter attempts to provide evidence to back up Kusz’s suggestion that, like President Donald Trump, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has gained popularity due to the “latest wave of white rage and white supremacy” that he says developed since the Obama presidency alongside a “disturbing racial reaction among white conservatives in response to the idea that a black man would be [president].” …

Kusz zeroes in on “the complex racial, gender, and class meanings that have been articulated with Brady’s body and his performances of white masculinity in the context of a backlash against the Obama presidency” and of “Trumpism,” which he claims is also rooted in both race and gender.

As a socio-economic matter, the question is whether society benefits by creating a sinecure for somebody to become an expert “on the intersection between sport, media, and contemporary cultural politics.”  As a niche specialty, the answer is probably “yes.”  The dominant culture benefits from challenges around its fringes, with radicals prodding our assumptions and highlighting our weaknesses.

The problem arises when the radicals become the dominant culture, as they have in higher education and, increasingly, the rest of elite society.  They become like an autoimmune disorder, attacking the society’s healthy attributes as well as its unhealthy ones.

This points to a practical question:  How should a university deal with a figure like Professor Kusz?  We can hazard to estimate that his new-found fame hurts the university’s reputation and undermines good will among the public — and it is, after all, a public university.  When budget time comes around, the university’s will be that much more difficult to sell because people are associating the funding with nonsense like Kusz’s scholarship.

One answer, perhaps, can be found in the identity politics activism of the past.  We may not like it, but that is how the doyens of academia think of things, and if Mr. Kusz’s work were pointed in the opposite ideological direction, we know very well what would be happening.  If (and it would be a big “if”) he managed to keep his job in the uproar, activists would demand new collegiate structures to advance their own causes.  There would be demands for more money for multicultural studies, new dedicated office space, new professorships, and so on.

Maybe demanding the same for more-traditional or conservative views would provide some corrective.  At the very least, it would give a sizable portion of the population a little comfort that they aren’t completely alienated from their state’s higher education system.

  • Joe Smith

    Maybe URI should start with how a professor with his doctorate in Kinesiology is now qualified to be a tenure track professor of English (or English and gender studies as URI website states)?

    There are almost 700 kinesiology majors (Fall 18) at URI, barely 100 English and not even a dozen gender studies majors — why is URI moving someone with a doctorate in kinesiology to english (maybe because he wasn’t really teaching I don’t know, actual kinesiology) and not hiring English professors who are more focused on teaching literacy skills that are career focused (like how to write if you are a scientist or business person as opposed to teaching some obscure / niche topic)?

    It’s one of the problems with higher education that teaching has taken second nature to publishing (for publishing sake in many cases like the Sokal Squared hoax shows), I’m sure the professor needs a book chapter to advance his tenure and / or promotion file. Maybe it will be assigned reading for his class (no conflict of interest there..)

    The main problem is not the counter balance of ideological representation, but that our higher education board (although isn’t URI free from that now?) never holds a discussion on – I don’t know – actual teaching and learning metrics. like page 3 of URI’s benchmark survey of freshmen and seniors – URI is average to below average for effective teaching..

    Maybe that’s comforting Justin – if they are teaching ideological slanted material, it’s clearly not in an effective manner..

  • Bob Schofield

    Joe Smith has made a good point.
    My thought is that URI has swung so far left that normal law obeying CITIZENS are categorized as terrorists.