The Other Danger...Scholasticism in Academic Research

Mead, L.
Academic Question, Vol. 23 no. 4., pp. 404-419. 10.1007/s12129-010-9192-9

Most members of the National Association of Scholars worry about the politicization of the university. Academia gives undue preference to racial minorities in student admissions and faculty appointments. Teaching and research is often slanted toward minority grievances and Third World claims against the United States. At most leading universities and colleges, the faculty is so liberal that conservative viewpoints are scarcely admitted, even though in society politics and culture have trended rightward in the last thirty years. Leftism has become a defining feature of academe.1 All this violates the academy’s own values, which claim to stress open and honest dialogue regardless of politics.

However, critics have largely overlooked another danger to the university— scholasticism. That term originally referred to medieval philosophy, but it has come to connote academic work that pursues refinement at the expense of substance. Some medieval scholastics debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Likewise, today’s academics often address very narrow questions, and they are often preoccupied with method and the past literature of their fields. The university claims an ability to treat the large questions facing society, but today’s faculties typically work on much smaller issues confined to academic specialties. Scholasticism has no politics; it will not likely exacerbate political correctness. Yet it threatens the essence of the university as a philosophic enterprise.

Here I speak mostly about scholasticism in political science, my own discipline, but similar changes have occurred in other social sciences and academia as a whole.

Wagner Faculty