You know, it’s been some time since I pissed some people off. So today we’re going to examine this story about the University of Washington. Specifically about its Women’s Studies department. Specifically about the uproar that the new department chair is a –gasp!– man.
The skinny is that everyone agrees that the fellow is a nice, charming and qualified dude. But that’s just it– he’s a dude. Weirdly, some critics have pointed out that he’s also straight and white, as if that has some merit to a Women’s Studies program.
On the surface, uproar over his appointment might seem understandable. After all, what can a man know about what it is to be a woman? And how would women feel havingto discuss women’s issues with a man?
But in my humble opinion, such criticisms are utter bullshit. Either Women’s Studies is a valid academic subject, or it’s a counselling program or some such, but it can’t be both. If it’s a counseling program, then it makes sense that the head should be someone the clients can find resonance with; but a counseling program has no business masquerading as a academic department. So if Women’s Studies is to be taken seriously as a valid academic subject, then it shouldn’t matter what the race, orientation or genitalia of its proponents are.
In short, no academic discipline “belongs” to a specific biologically-defined group. Or even to an specific ideologically-defined group. It shouldn’t matter, for example, if the department head is anti-abortion or pro-war. All that should matter is that s/he is a competent professor and administrator with sufficient seniority.
The heads of several South Asian studies departments I have known have been non-South Asian. A chair of the University of Toronto’s East Asian studies department –a friend of mine– is a white dude. In each of these cases, these individuals were superlative academics with unquestionable expertise in their disciplines. That should be the only relevant criteria, not whether they have a genetic claim to the subject matter.
It’s this kind of crap that sometimes makes me embarrassed to be on the Left side of the fence.