The alt-right is now such a boogeyman that academics are seeing it around every corner and in every email. According to Inside Higher Ed, a bunch of history-flavored academics were emailed by an astute high schooler (studying Leopold von Ranke), asking whether “history could be ‘a scientific and objective discipline.'”
Gee said he couldn’t be 100 percent sure if the email was malicious; he recalled a time when he and several graduate students had received a similar, though not suspicious, email out of the blue. At the same time, however, it wouldn’t be the first time graduate students got emails from less than well-meaning people, either.
“I don’t know if the email is a scam or not,” he said. “It certainly could be, but Harvard grad students might have received an email either way.”
Of course, some noted, it could just be an eccentric student doing research for a project. The only one who could perhaps answer the questions raised by the emails — which were sent to institutions such as the New School, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Indiana University at Bloomington — would be the student herself.
“I have no problem with a high school student or conservative group wanting to engage with scholars on their conceptions of objectivity, and if they believe we are wrong … so be it,” Greenberg said. “That’s a legitimate debate to have.”
“If there’s a false pretense, if someone is pretending to be someone they’re not, that’s dishonest.”
Assuming that this isn’t a troll (it would be great if it were, if a bit toothless),
- Academics are now seeing malicious trolls around every corner, even in innocent questions from high school students who are probably seriously questioning the value of a college education. In a classic faculty move of cutting off the nose to spite the face, the academic sacrifices short-term gain (in terms of ego and buzz) for long-term payoff (in terms of recruiting and nurturing a potentially stellar student). Trump Derangement Syndrome is real, y’all.
- High schoolers are doing theses now? I thought it was weird enough when undergrads started doing them.
- The faculty response wants you to know how important and busy they are: “I’m afraid I don’t have time at present for an extensive response or for a sustained correspondence on the matter, as I am in the middle of a semester of heavy teaching, research, and service.”
- Another response reveals the I know better attitude with a side of elitism: “I had a funny feeling about the email from the beginning. Not many people read Ranke today, especially not high school students.” The notion that nobody but an academic (and under duress) would ever read [insert obscure figure here] is, quite frankly, insulting.
- Faculty are unable to distinguish between /pol/ and /r9k/. Once again, we see a staggeringly lack of interest in learning anything about an alternate point of view. This is also highlighted by the use of the word “Kochling” (WTF I LOVE THE KOCH BROTHERS NOW) as an apparent synonym for “right-wing troll.” Trust me, nobody funded by the Koch brothers is going to be doing a troll like this. Those guys go into the think tanks.
Frankly, reading a few versions of the email, it doesn’t sound like a troll at all. It seems to me like a high school student with very little exposure to the academy (and the ways that academics are used to doing things), doing her best to find out whether she wanted to study at various institutions, while simultaneously gathering opinions for her thesis. That would explain the weird distribution of institutions involved (Rutgers, Harvard, Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Princeton, UT Dallas, Colorado State): goal schools, safety schools, all that.
Congratulations in providing more reasons for Gen Z — the most savage of us all — to hate you, faculty.
Philip W. Magness knows what’s up:
It’s enough to make one seriously wonder about the overall intellectual health of the profession. While spam and phishing scams should certainly be treated with caution if for no other reason than the risk of virus infections or identity theft, the fact that Burnett’s immediate instinct was to imagine an elaborate right-wing entrapment plot suggests that ideologically-driven paranoia has found a welcome home in some sectors of the academy.