Don’t Bother with the National Association of Scholars

cesar chavezA lot of column space in The Daily Texan has lately been devoted to the National Association of Scholars and their report denouncing UT’s (and A&M’s) U.S. history courses for focusing too much on gender, race, and class. Thankfully most of it has been challenging the report, but the way the paper (and even some professors) have gone about refuting the report is troubling. UT’s defenders have pointed out that the NAS’ study used only information from class syllabi, rather than attending lectures or talking to students and professors. This is a good point, and it’s an obvious flaw in their methodology (if you want to dignify the study by implying they had one). But there are more serious problems with this study than just how the NAS went about it.

First of all, the organization has a clear agenda, stated on its own website, that invalidates any impartiality they could claim. Among the characteristics of American universities they list as troubling in their About section are: “declining study of Western civilization,” “overemphasis on race, gender, class, [and] sexual orientation,” “ethnic preferences in admissions and hiring,” “exclusion of conservative and traditional viewpoints,” “cultivation of ethnic and group grievances,” “systematic denigration of American society,” “anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, and anti-freedom orientations,” and “‘multiculturalism,’ ‘diversity,’ [and] ‘sustainability’,” with the last three in scare quotes. To me, these stand out as ridiculous on their face. “Western civilization” is still very much studied at UT, quite often at the expense of every other civilization. Black and Hispanic students are still greatly underrepresented in the university population compared to the population of the state of Texas. In my four years at UT, I have never had a class or professor who espoused viewpoints that I would call “anti-capitalist,” “anti-democratic,” or “anti-freedom” (whatever that means). And I suppose the NAS and I will just have to agree to disagree about their assumption that multiculturalism, diversity, and sustainability are bad things. All these supposed concerns mark the NAS as an extremely conservative organization dedicated to returning American universities to the good old days when everything university students were taught was written or invented by white men and minorities knew not to make a fuss. The NAS was looking for “overemphasis on race, gender, class, [and] sexual orientation” in classes when they began their study, and the fact that they supposedly found it should only lead us to question their motives and methodology, not our own professors.

But more than that, I would challenge the assumption that drove their study in the first place. There cannot be an “overemphasis” on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation when it comes to U.S. history, because those four subjects are key to understanding it. For the majority of our country’s history, African Americans were enslaved or violently discriminated against. Race and slavery were the defining issues of one of the most violent wars our country has ever fought. Class was an important factor in the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Progressive movement, the New Deal, and U.S. labor history, among many other important historical events and movements. Given that they comprise half the country’s population, American women cannot be ignored when discussing U.S. history. And apparently the president himself considers sexual orientation to be important enough in our history to mention the Stonewall Riots, a defining moment for our country’s LGBT community, in his inauguration speech.

For all the hand-wringing they do about “exclusion of conservative viewpoints,” the NAS’ attack – let’s call it what it is – on UT’s history professors is just an attempt to exclude minority viewpoints. To ignore these subjects is to ignore the reality of American history. The NAS can publish all the studies they want complaining about it, but there’s no reason we have to take them seriously.

Editor’s Note: A shortened version of this post was publishedin The Daily Texan on January 29, 2013.