February 28, 2006

Camille Paglia Takes On Academia

Camille Paglia Takes On Academia

The humanities have destroyed themselves over the past 30 years…Through an obsession with European jargon and a shallow politicization of discourse, the humanities have imploded…There’s hardly a campus you can name where the most exciting things that are happening on campus are coming from the humanities departments…I think the entire profession is in withdrawal at the moment. This is a national problem. It’s not just a Harvard problem.

Camille Paglia, in a conversation with Open Source, 2/27/06

Click to Listen to the Interview (5.7 MB MP3)


Camille Paglia [Ann Althouse / Flickr]

When we asked scholar and cultural critic Camille Paglia for her take on Larry Summers’ resignation from Harvard, we knew she’d give us her unique brand of fiery insight and acerbic wit. We weren’t necessarily prepared for the severe tongue lashing she gives everyone involved, and how bad both sides come out looking under her lens: a faculty too long pampered and a president retreating with his tail between his legs. But her critique goes beyond the Harvard gates, to academia in general and the humanities in particular. The problem, she says, is not just a power struggle between faculty and administration, but an overall decline that encompasses everything from shoddy scholarship to rampant grade inflation. Take a listen.

Related Content

  • Just listened to Camille Paglia and read some posts from last nights program.

    I don’t know anything about Harvard but Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft is influential at my alma mater. Washington State University is a land grant collage in Pullman, Washington on the Idaho boarder. In 99 I got my MFA and he gave the commencement speech. He went to WSU but never graduated. He dropped out to hang out with Bill Gates and play with computers. He told us all about it in his speech. After his speech they gave him an honorary degree. He contributes a lot of money to the school and is the reason WSU has a state of the art athletic facility. Meanwhile, as the new athlete center was being built the art department was having constant budget cuts. Not too surprising but the English department was even worse off.

  • nother

    Always great to hear Chris and Camille engage. I would enjoy hearing them discuss a grilled cheese sandwich.

    Camille make being angry – beautiful.

  • andyc


    I had to laugh out loud, and not just because I was born and raised in Lewiston, Idaho (30 miles south of Washington State University)–but “boarder”? “Athlete center?”

    Clearly there’s a crisis in Humanities Departments right down to literacy skills.

    Thanks for giving a chuckle to this guy with a B.A. in English, while Education in America implodes all around us.

    And thanks, Camille, the Cassandra of our modern times…

  • Nikos

    andyc: I’m astonished to learn that some people never make typos.

    Your confidence (arrogance?) in criticizing my neighbor Peggy Sue concisely proves this to me.

    (Do you realize how petty your post must seem to the vast majority of typing Americans?)


    Or at least don’t complain if you type a post here on the fly (it happens after one gains comfort here), and, after one silly mistake, the rest of us gang up on you.

    We all make a mistakes every now and again.

    Ridicule is not only ugly, it’s a damn good way to get pilloried by those who feel affection for the ridiculed.

    Lucky for you, this thread won’t attract all that many posters.

    Nevertheless: good luck in your pursuit of typographical perfection.


  • loki

    Camille for President of Harvard! We need an engager-in-chief. If not Camille why not Bill(Hillary’s husband) I saw him schmooze the Harvard crowd shortly after Larry became President. No one since Tricky Dick has had the command of all the major issues in the US-poverty,race,thrid world and why the arab world is angry with us. Bill could turn creatively Harvard into a one room school house i.e. one university amongst diverse and competing insitutions.

  • kenshi

    Please post a transcript for the hearing impaired. I’d love to know more about this interview, but can’t hear it.

  • Nuovo Record


    You overlooked that peggysue’s alma mater was a land grant “collage,� but that may have been correct as the writer’s degree was an MFA. Nikos then chimes in about “typos.� Seeing these errors called typos is a little dubious. That’s a word that’s going through a change of meaning, which I picked up on while working as a tech writer in high tech. Having two, pre-grade inflation engineering degrees, I’d occasionally correct the engineers’ technical content. A couple of times, they dismissed casually their errors as “typos.� They weren’t typing errors. The guys didn’t know what they were talking about. This stuff is seeping beyond Humanities, the coin being degraded, so to speak.

    Your post did attract me.

    N R

  • thormn8

    The degradation of the Humanities is indeed a serious problem. I agree with Paglia that the obtuseness of postmodern academics is a key problem. I’d also blame the open hostility in this culture toward critical skills such as reading, comprehension, and civility. We live in an environment that disrespects expertise, does not know how to evaluate quality, and rewards rudeness, loudness, and poor taste.

    Real experts are regularly excluded from major media (witness the rise of High School graduate Rush Limbaugh, as man whose only skill is the ability to talk for three hours straight) in favor of public relations agents (aka propagandists). The culture itself seems awash in infantile pleasures and eschews the virtues of self-discipline and knowledge.

    Recently, I returned to college after a long absence (since the early 80’s) and the difference in expectations is palpable. The standards for basic skills like writing, science, and mathematics are apallingly low. Teachers have noticably lowered expectations because students enter Universtiy with marginal literacy. Several Humanities teachers have complained how difficult it has become to make students read long novels.

    Further, I was annoyed to find that graduation requirements had been revised to require no less than 6 semesters of “diverstiy” requriements in upper-division courses. There is no such requirement for writing or reading or history or science.

    Each of these “diversity” requirements were lacking in academic relevence. Each course was taught by an undertrained instructor pre-occupied with current politics (including the survival of his “Deparment”) to the detrement of solid scholarship.

  • Nikos

    The many mistakes riddling the threads of this site are sometimes typos and sometimes simple errors of overly hasty editing and rewriting.

    If you consider these errors of haste worthy of ridicule, you damn well better consider yourself fair game for ridicule in return.

    Now, the simplest way to avoid any further mention of this is to be big enough to make an apology – or at least to take a silent oath to never ridicule again these common mistakes.

    You wanna ridicule my obvious outrage over this?

    Go right ahead – I’m adult enough to take it – and to apologize should my growing fury get ugly.

    A little humility every now and then is a good thing.

    Try it, it don’t hurt.


  • Ah Heck, I was an ART major and there is no spell check on this thing! I believe it was either Thomas Jefferson of Ben Franklin who agreed with me that standardized spelling can be stultifying but gosh, now I’m going to get in trouble with the historians…. :>)

  • PS Nikos: I do appreciate your support my friend but it is true I am a notoriously poor speller. I can’t even watch those movies they make about kids winning spelling bees because of the remembered childhood anxiety. I write phone numbers down backwards too.

  • Oh, I but meant Thomas Jefferson OR Ben Franklin. That wuz a tiipo.”>

  • cheesechowmain

    “It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word”

    — Andrew Jackson

  • Pluz, the Inglish departmint at my Kollage wuz pritty bad

  • Thank you cheesechow! I’m going to embroider that on a pillow!

  • Nikos


    Sorry for going off on a nut.

    A good four+ mile run cooled down my over heated head.

    Let’s just say that we who post here know full well that our opinions and arguments are fair game – but we don’t want our posts judged on trivia like spelling and grammar.

    This thread concerns academia, but isn’t a part of it (thank goodness!).

    So don’t grade us like instructors, please.

    Doing so is nuthin’ but cheep shotz.

    And as one who hails from Michigan and its renowned (and, in some places, reviled) University, I am uniquely qualified to paraphrase Woody Hayes: Nobody likes arrogant asses. 😉

    Over and out.

  • nother

    Thanks Nikos for that quick response. My first reaction is to not dignify that post with a response, but I’m glad you did.

    My grammar and spelling are atrocious. I did not become intellectually curious until after the Navy and consequently, the fundamentals of my writing have suffered. I like to think that content is what matters and I can only hope my sloppy grammar does not distract too much from the sincerity of my voice.

    Peggysue, my little remedy has been to keep Microsoft Word on while you have ROS on. Type what you want to say, copy and paste it to the Microsoft Word doc., do spell check, then copy and paste back to ROS. It’s quick and easy.

    Looking forward to reading more from you Peggysue.

  • Nikos

    Nother: I would never have guessed you anything less than an English teacher goofing around as a bartender. (Kinda like me for a couple of decades!) Your posts are always enviably immaculate. (I typically cut’n’paste too, but sometimes, for short posts, it’s too darn tempting to just type it in that little rectangle. Only after reading it cyberspace do I see the typos and incomplete revisions.)

    Peggy Sue: you’re an awesomely good-natured contributor, and one of my favorite comedians. Thanks for the tension-slaying posts here today.

    CCM: that Jackson quote is hilarious – and quite possibly the only redeeming thing that murderous bigot ever said!

    Now then, let’s all recall our manifesto’s concluding slogan:

    “Bad spelers of the world, untie!�

    Lastly, I’ve got time now to provide the backstory for my 7:29pm post:

    Woody Hayes was Ohio State’s legendary football coach since the fall of Bonaparte in 1815 (well, it seemed like it anyway). Woody was also a practiced provocateur who dubbed those of the University of Michigan “those arrogant asses up in Ann Arbor�.

    Which, as one with blue Wolverine blood must admit, is…uh…ahem…essentially accurate.

    (god save my soul.)

    Or was it a Michigan State football coach?

    Doesn’t matter. If the shoe fits…


  • nother: I very much appreciate your voice. Never noticed any grammar hitches. I do use word sometimes to screen my boo boos but sometimes dare to write right into the box.

    nikos: thanks for putting “trivia like spelling and grammar” in their place. lol the manifesto. untie!

    Just to keep things in perspective and round out the English lesson here are Jack Kerouac’s List of Essentials for writing.

    1. Write on, cant change or go back, involuntary, unrevised, spontaneous, pure

    2. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy

    3. Submissive to everything, open, listening

    4. Be in love with your life every detail of it

    5. Something you feel will find its own form

    6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

    7. Blow as deep as you want to blow

    8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind

    9. The unspeakable visions of the individual

    10. No time for poetry but exactly what is

    11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

    12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

    13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

    14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

    15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog

    16. Work from the pithy middle eye out, from the jewel center of interest, swimming in language sea

    17. Accept loss forever

    18. Believe in the holy contour of life

    19. Write in recollection and amazement of yourself

    20. Profound struggle with pencil to sketch the flow that already exists intact in the mind

    21. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see the picture better

    22. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge

    23. Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures

    24. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness

    25. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

    26. You’re a genius all the time

    27. Writer-Director of Earthly Movies produced in Heaven, different forms of the same holy gold

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos: :CCM: that Jackson quote is hilarious – and quite possibly the only redeeming thing that murderous bigot ever said”

    I do have to hold my nose a bit. I’ve considered turning his name into an anagram. Something like, Jack Andrewson?

    Glad to see someone still remember’s Woody “3 yards and a cloud of dust” Hayes. I remember Bo Shembechler. Michigan played much more of a spectator friendly ball under Bo. Ohio St. was boring to watch.

  • cheesechowmain

    peggysue, thanks for posting the Kerouac List of essentials. That was great. First thought, best thought.

  • Raymond

    Been traveling and so coming a bit late and irrelevant to this conversation …

    But, for what it is worth, from now on, I am going to say that I got my education at a land grant “collage.”

    From Merriam-Webster: collage: an assembly of diverse fragments.

    That is a fantastic description, accidental or intentional, of both the students and the instruction at the University of Illinois.

    I really, really like it.

  • Raymond,

    While my use of the word collage it was unintentional (I did mean college) I like the idea of land grant collages too and can picture using topogrphical maps, capus maps, student loan applications, colored rice paper ect… wish I’d thought of it while I was working on my thesis show.

  • Pingback: Higher Education in a New Era « Disparate()