Opinion: Clarion Call

Inspired by Sept. 11, some new college courses dismissed as ‘psychobabble’

Clarion Call No. 142
New courses inspired by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have been developed on college campuses nationwide. Most deal matter-of-factly with the issues, but some have come under criticism for being “gadfly courses” and “politically correct pseudo-courses.”

Ironically, the initial criticism of the courses came in the Sunday Times of London by writer Bryan Appleyard, who cast a distinctly British, critical eye on them. Some of the courses he cited were from the University of California at Los Angeles, given such names as “Navigating Between Blithesome Optimism and Cultural Despair,” “Women’s Participation in Political Violence,” and “Zen-like Understanding the Unthinkable and the Incomprehensible.”

“What Americans do best is domesticate things,” wrote Appleyard. “That is what is happening here. An unprecedented assault on mainland America is being turned into sentimental psychobabble, an occasion for nationwide counseling or politically correct pseudo-courses. Daft as these things are, they are like tea and crumpets to the Americans — the exude the cosy glow of home.”

Other UCLA courses get singled out in The New York Times by reporter Tom Kuntz. (A possible reason that UCLA became the lightning rod for such criticism is that the university developed 49 new courses specifically to address “the innumerable issues arising out of the events of Sept. 11). Among the ones cited by Kuntz were:

• “What the U.S. Should Do to Be Popular in the Third World,” which looks at “The persistently negative reaction of the Latin American left wing against U.S. trade policies; the 20th-century condemnations of the U.S. by essentially all communist countries; the Ugly American in Southeast Asia; the demonstrations against our W.T.O. [World Trade Organization] meetings; and the growing Arab hatred of the U.S.”

• “Terrorism and the Politics of Knowledge,” which examines America’s “record of imperialistic adventurism” and asks, among other things, “Should the continuing sanctions against Iraq also be considered a form of terrorism?”

• “Terror & Society in Berfman’s Films,” in which “questions will be asked about the origins of terror in Society and, in particular, within male/female relationships.”

Courses like these, as Winfield Myers of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute told Kelly Beaucar Vlahos of Fox News, are completely out of left field. “It’s a typical conceit in history departments — that the West is to blame for this or for that,” Myers said.

“Many of these gadfly courses share a common theme: That America is largely responsible for the attacks, not Islamic extremists,” Vlahos wrote.

Vlahos also wrote about a course taught at California State University at Hayward by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, who Vlahos said is “a former activist with such homegrown terror groups as Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground.” Dunbar-Ortiz’s course is entitled “Terrorism and Sexuality.”

Designed to cover “the feminist perspective of 9/11 and its aftermath,” “Terrorism and Sexuality” discusses war as eroticism for the “patriarchs.” Dunbar-Ortiz “makes no attempt to hide her contempt for the current wave of patriotism, which she equates with terrorism.”