The Voice of the Conservative Movement at Wabash College

Conservative Listserv Ramblings

The following are recent, slightly revised postings from Prof. Webb on the conservative listserve. If you want to join it, just email Webbs@wabash.edu.

Obama Vs. McCain on Iraq

While Obama was advocating a pullout of Iraq whatever the cost, and while the New York Times just last July was endorsing an immediate pullout even at the cost of genocide (I kid you not—from that editorial: “Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide.”), John McCain was criticizing Bush’s handling of the war and engineering the surge that has turned the tide in Iraq. McCain did this because of what he learned from the Vietnam War. Gen. Westmoreland into the late Sixties was fighting an aggressive “search and destroy” strategy that was not working, and McCain’s father was among those pushing Westmoreland’s replacement, Gen. Abrams, to shift to a strategy of protecting North Vietnamese from the Northern communist terror through a “hold and build” strategy. It was working – until liberals decided they had had enough. There is no doubt that the Vietnam War was winnable, and that we lost it because we lost our confidence. Read Lewis Sorley’s book, A Better War, and you will be convinced of this point. The media turned the Tet Offiensive into a victory when it certainly was not, and the Democrats who controlled Congress began shutting down all financial and military support for until South Vietnam until it finally collapsed. That betrayal of our ally to years of communist torture and ruin and the betrayal of the thousands of Americans who died for freedom in Vietnam is, for me, one of the lowest points of American history. Obama learned from Vietnam the idea that we should get out of a war when things get tough. McCain learned from Vietnam not to make that same mistake again. This more than anything shows the difference between these two men, their character, their leadership, their courage.
One more thing. A new book by a former Clinton advisor that McCain has been reading, Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt, has this to say about the importance of the War in Iraq: “The war against a global terror network, al Qaeda, is in an early phase. Yet already owing to the Coalition invasion of Iraq, terrorists from this network or any other cannot someday call on Saddam Hussein to supply them covertly with weapons with which to attack the West when he would not have dared to have done so directly, and when he, but not they, had the resources to buy into a clandestine market in WMD.” In other words, can you imagine the harm Saddam would be doing today had he not been eliminated? Can you imagine the harm Obama will do to our national security if he is elected?

Show Trials at Wabash College

A young faculty member recently spoke up in a meeting with great passion on the topic of hate crimes. She said she was appalled and insulted that hate crimes at Wabash were handled with secrecy. She thinks that any accusation of a hate crime should be prosecuted in public, so that everyone can know all about it, and we can all collectively shame the hated hate criminal. At the meeting, many of the wise old men (i.e., Sixties holdouts) shook their heads up and down with support and agreement, and no one dared criticize her remarks. The idea that handling violations of the Gentleman’s Rule with discretion is a matter of “secrecy” is so far removed from the Wabash culture that one wonders if that culture is even being passed along to newer faculty. I do not blame this professor; I blame the older members of her department who have not mentored her in any significant way. Wabash does not hold stage trials for any “crime,” let alone a hate crime. The Gentleman’s Rule works at Wabash because it keeps all so-called “crimes” out of the public eye and in the hands of the Dean’s office, where discretion, prudence, and proper judgment can be exercised. We do not haul students before peer review boards, subject them to faculty scolding, and display their foibles for all to see, so that the public can shame their youthful indiscretions. Now I know some of you will say, but aren’t hate crimes in a more serious category? Surely we can change the rules for hate crimes. In other words, surely we should be allowed to publicly denounce and condemn the hated hate criminals! This category, I hardly need to tell you, is repugnant to me. A crime is a crime, but putting some insults into a “hate crime” category is itself a hateful action. And who gets to decide what a hate crime is? Is laughing at Christians or calling critics of evolution idiots a hate crime? Or do only certain groups (we all know who they are) get this level of protection? Other schools use this category, not Wabash, and they routinely use it in a disgraceful fashion, policing student language and enforcing the codes of political correctness. Let’s keep Wabash Wabash, and let’s try a bit harder to hire faculty who are willing to learn what makes Wabash special. And let’s not talk about hate crimes!

Faculty Who Want to Teach Less

Across the campus, Wabash faculty have been meeting to set an agenda for what the faculty need and want from the new strategic plan and the next fund raising campaign. A consensus is clearly emerging: the faculty, with few exceptions, is beginning to press the administration for a reduced teaching load. Faculty want to go from a 3-3 load (three courses each semester) to a 3-2. I think this would be one of the great disasters to befall the College in recent history, almost as bad as going co-ed. Wabash is known as a teaching institution, and its claim to fame is that we have a faculty committed to good teaching. Every survey of student satisfaction focuses on the time Wabash professors spend with students inside and outside of the classroom. What would it mean if the faculty were to vote to reduce our teaching load at this time? What kind of signal would that send to the alumni–or to you, the students?
To be fair, the load reduction crowd has their arguments:
1. The elite schools have this lighter load.
2. The faculty could spend more time on research with this load.
3. The faculty could spend more time on teaching with this load.
Gentlemen, these are very poor arguments, as are all arguments driven by a hasty need to rationalize bare self-interest with rhetorical fantasy. Let’s answer them in turn:
1. So what? We have become an elite school by not reducing our teaching loads. We should set an example among elite schools by showing them that you can be a great college without diminishing class time. Furthermore, there are many good schools out there with higher teaching loads than ours! Why should Wabash struggle so hard to conform by some imaginary idea of an elite education?
2. We do not have a faculty that does all that much research. Don’t get me wrong. Many of our faculty work hard on publications and projects. But the College does not reward that very much, and the College certainly does not require high standards of publishing for tenure or promotion. We are not exactly a prestigious faculty with tons of people writing books every year. Notice, however, that in all of the discussions about reducing the teaching load, no faculty have come forward to say that if we were to do this, we would have to RAISE research standards! It is absurd to talk about reducing teaching loads without talking about higher publishing standards.
3. This is a really bad argument, and I have been very surprised to hear so many new faculty make it. Indeed, many of the new faculty are very vocal about reducing their teaching loads, which is pretty brave, you gotta admit! Getting a new job and then turning around to ask for less time at work takes a certain bravado. Some have argued that with fewer classes to teach, we could spend more time with students. This is just a shamelessly silly argument. Of course we wouldn’t. If faculty only taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays or only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, then they would stay home more often on off days and this place would be all but deserted on Fridays through Mondays! The idea that by spending less time in class with students we would actually spend more time teaching students is a contradiction so brazen and obvious that I must applaud those foolhardy enough to make it.
Now it is true that some in the less-time teaching camp argue that we could hire the 15-20 more faculty it would take to make up for the fewer courses that would be offered, but this is a financial nightmare. We do not have enough office space for that many new faculty, let alone enough money to pay for that many new tenure lines. And such a large hiring project would take many years to implement. In the meantime, there would be fewer courses, and fewer total hours of conversation between faculty and students.
Gentlemen, the culture of the College we love is at stake. All we can offer you, and every indication of our success in teaching you, is the fact that we take teaching seriously. Wouldn’t it make a great headline in the Indianapolis Star that faculty at Wabash, the premier teaching institution in America, has voted to teach fewer classes each year?

Malcolm X

The Wabash library just got a book by Louis A. DeCaro Jr. called Malcolm and the Cross: The Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, and Christianity (New York University Press, 1998). Intrigued by the title, I checked it out and read it over the weekend. DeCaro admires Malcolm and is sympathetic to most of his ideas, but he argues that Malcolm was never a Christian and always had deep suspicions of Christianity, even before his conversion to the Nation of Islam. In other words, Malcolm never rejected Christianity because he never was one and never understood it. DeCaro also deconstructs the myth that Malcolm changed his negative views about Christianity near the end of his life (his “good” Malcolm stage after visiting Africa and Mecca). Even after his conversion to “real” Islam, he toned down his rhetoric against whites but continued to hate Christianity. His public discourse after he left the Nation of Islam “remained virtually the same as it had been when he was in the Nation of Islam” (p. 209). He continued to say that Christianity had brainwashed blacks and he continued to call Christian preachers “dumb” (p. 211). As a good Muslim, Malcolm argued that Jesus did not die on the cross (this is one of the many statements in the Qu’ran that are historically untrue and indefensible given any decent historical scholarship). Malcolm, near the end of his life, ridiculed black spirituals, calling them political tools that duped black Christians. As DeCaro modestly states, “To accept Malcolm’s revisionist interpretation of the Christian spiritual in its entirety is to negate the essence of black Christianity which, even in its flaws and imperfections, represents a sincere appropriation of biblical faith and spirituality” (p. 212). When the black student center at Wabash was formed in the early seventies, Peter Frederick, a history professor who agreed with Malcolm’s slanders against Christianity, led the way to name it after Malcolm X. Isn’t it time to rethink honoring a man who hated and slandered Christianity, especially black Christianity, all his life?

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Stephen H. Webb '83

About Stephen H. Webb '83

Stephen H. Webb is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College. His recent books include American Providence and Taking Religion to School. He serves as the faculty advisor to the Wabash Conservative Union.

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