LA Times, January 7, 2007, Sunday Editorial section "Current"

Phallus 101 [List of 12 Courses; They Twisted the Phallus]
The list of the 12 most bizarre college courses in the U.S. includes offerings such as 'The Phallus' and 'Queer Musicology.'

By Charlotte Allen. Charlotte Allen is an editor at Beliefnet and the author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus."

THE "DIRTY DOZEN" list of "America's Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses" is out — and Los Angeles-area institutions of higher learning have walked away with one-fourth of the ranked honors (or dishonors). Occidental College, an 1,800-student liberal arts school in Eagle Rock, is the only college on the list to collect not one but two citations for excellence at offering trendy theories of gender, skin color and white-male oppression at the expense of actual academic content.

UCLA didn't fare badly either, with one citation. And believe me, the competition was stiff. The Southern California colleges were competing against such nationally recognized PC heavyweights as Cornell, Amherst, the University of Michigan and, of course, Duke.

The list comes from the Young America's Foundation, a 40-year-old nonprofit funded by conservative individuals and foundations. Its No. 1 slot this year for bizarre class offerings went to Occidental, for a course called "The Phallus."

No, it's not a biology course. It's a survey, offered by Oxy's department of critical theory and social justice, of "feminist and queer takings-on of the phallus." Topics include "the relation between the phallus and the penis, the meaning of the phallus, phallologocentrism, the lesbian phallus, the Jewish phallus, the Latino phallus, and the relation of the phallus and fetishism."

You might wonder how a lesbian can have a phallus, or whether it's possible to say "phallologocentrism" three times without tripping on your tongue, but if so, it's likely that you won't be getting an "A" from Occidental professor Jeffrey Tobin, who is teaching the course this spring semester. Also this semester, Occidental will offer the course that the Young America's Foundation rated No. 5 in bizarreness: "Blackness." This class will explore "new blackness," "critical blackness," "post-blackness," "unforgivable blackness" and "queer blackness."

A perfect companion course to Oxy's "Blackness" would be "Whiteness," which is offered at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and was ranked No. 7 by the foundation. But not to worry. Occidental has its own "Whiteness" course (which will "examine the construction of whiteness in the historic, legal and economic contexts which have allowed it to function as an enabling condition for privilege and race-based prejudice," says the Oxy online catalog). Passing "Whiteness" is a prerequisite for signing up for "Blackness."

Annual tuition at Occidental, a private college, is $32,800. That means if you take "The Phallus" and "Blackness" (plus its prerequisite "Whiteness") this year on a four-course-per-semester schedule, you will have set your parents back $12,300.

UCLA won the coveted No. 2 slot on the list, with "Queer Musicology." Queer musicology is a new field dating from the 1990s based in part on the idea that if you're gay, then music by gay composers such as Benjamin Britten will sound different to you than it would if you were straight. Nipping at UCLA's heels was Amherst, with "Taking Marx Seriously." The first sentence of the course description is: "Should Marx be given another chance?" With 100 million dead in various gulags and related charnel houses, I don't think so.

At Michigan, "Native American Feminisms" (No. 8) hunts for the Iroquois Betty Friedan.

At Cornell, "Cyberfeminism" (No. 10) explores someone's discovery that — surprise, surprise — women use computers!

At Duke, you can take "American Dreams/American Realities" (No. 11), a history course on American myths such as "a city on a hill."

So much for Ronald Reagan.

The problem that the Young America's Foundation list, first issued in 1995, highlights isn't simply the hollowing-out of the traditional humanities and social sciences disciplines at colleges and their replacement by crude indoctrination sessions in whatever is ideologically fashionable — although that's a serious issue. At Occidental, for instance, it seems nearly impossible to study any field, save for the hard sciences, that doesn't include "race, class and gender" among its topics. Even the Shakespeare course at Occidental this semester focuses on "cultural anxieties over authority, race, colonialism and religion" during the age of the Bard.

The bigger problem is that too much of American higher education has lost any notion of what its students ought to know about the ideas and people and movements that created the civilization in which they live: Who Plato was or what happened at Appomattox.

Instead of the carefully crafted core programs that once guided students through the basics of literature, philosophy, history and the social sciences, most colleges now offer smorgasbords of unrelated classes for their students to sample in order to fulfill requirements. And the professors stock the smorgasbords with whatever the theorists they idolize tells them is the new new thing.

Why not take a course in "The Phallus"?

You can get the same credit for it as for a course in Greek tragedy.

LA Times, January 7, 2007 [They Twisted the Phallus; back to top]

I got an A in Phallus 101

Since the 1960s, the Young America's Foundation has decried what it considers leftist radicalism on college campuses. Last month, it released this academic year's "Dirty Dozen" — college courses it found to be "the most bizarre and troubling instances of leftist activism supplanting traditional scholarship."

  1. "The Phallus"
    Occidental College. A seminar in critical theory and social justice, this class examines Sigmund Freud, phallologocentrism and the lesbian phallus.
  2. "Queer Musicology"
    UCLA. This course welcomes students from all disciplines to study what it calls an "unruly discourse" on the subject, understood through the works of Cole Porter, Pussy Tourette and John Cage.
  3. "Taking Marx Seriously"
    Amherst College. This advanced seminar for 15 students examines whether Karl Marx still matters despite the countless interpretations and applications of his ideas, or whether the world has entered a post-Marxist era.
  4. "Adultery Novel"
    University of Pennsylvania. Falling in the newly named "gender, culture and society" major, this course examines novels and films of adultery such as "Madame Bovary" and "The Graduate" through Marxist, Freudian and feminist lenses.
  5. "Blackness"
    Occidental College. Critical race theory and the idea of "post-blackness" are among the topics covered in this seminar course examining racial identity. A course on whiteness is a prerequisite.
  6. "Border Crossings, Borderlands: Transnational Feminist Perspectives on Immigration"
    University of Washington. This women studies department offering takes a new look at recent immigration debates in the U.S., integrating questions of race and gender while also looking at the role of the war on terror.
  7. "Whiteness: The Other Side of Racism"
    Mount Holyoke College. The educational studies department offers this first-year, writing-intensive seminar asking whether whiteness is "an identity, an ideology, a racialized social system," and how it relates to racism.
  8. "Native American Feminisms"
    University of Michigan. The women's studies and American culture departments offer this course on contemporary Native American feminism, including its development and its relation to struggles for land.
  9. "'Mail Order Brides?' Understanding the Philippines in Southeast Asian Context"
    Johns Hopkins University. This history course — cross-listed with anthropology, political science and studies of women, gender and sexuality — is limited to 35 students and asks for an anthropology course as a prerequisite.
  10. "Cyberfeminism"
    Cornell University. Cornell's art history department offers this seminar looking at art produced under the influence of feminism, post-feminism and the Internet.
  11. "American Dreams/American Realities"
    Duke University. Part of Duke's Hart Leadership Program that prepares students for public service, this history course looks at American myths, from "city on the hill" to "foreign devil," in shaping American history.
  12. "Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism"
    Swarthmore College. Swarthmore's "peace and conflict studies" program offers this course that "will deconstruct 'terrorism' " and "study the dynamics of cultural marginalization" while seeking alternatives to violence.

LA Times, January 14, 2007, Sunday Editorial section "Current" [List of Courses; back to top]

They twisted 'The Phallus'
The teacher of an Occidental College course says critics are presenting a warped view of a serious course berated in The Times last week.

By Jeffrey Tobin, associate professor in Occidental College's department of critical theory and social justice.

MY 15 MINUTES of fame can be measured by Googling "phallus" and "phallologocentrism" together. As of Jan. 10, all 30 entries on the first three pages of results mention a course I am about to teach at Occidental College. The course is titled "The Phallus" and includes an exploration of what philosophers mean by the word "phallologocentrism."

My course's notoriety owes much to the Young America's Foundation, which named "The Phallus" No. 1 on its annual "Dirty Dozen" list of "America's most bizarre and politically correct college courses," and to Charlotte Allen, who in these pages last week used my course as a cudgel to beat up my college for "offering trendy theories of gender, skin color and white-male oppression at the expense of actual academic content."

I knew when I designed my course that its title and short description would be provocative — and I also knew that it was an important course because the phallus is a key concept in psychoanalysis, and psychoanalysis has had a tremendous effect on how we think about gender and sexuality. Whether scholars agree or disagree with Sigmund Freud, they have to understand him. Briefly stated, the phallus is not a feature of male anatomy.

According to Freud, girls as well as boys pass through a phallic stage, at which point their gender identity is established. For French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the phallus is a symbol of power and privilege that is associated with patriarchal authority but which no individual man, or woman, ever fully embodies. Not only can a cigar be a phallic symbol — so can wealth, a father's voice, a ballerina and a trophy wife. According to Lacan, the phallus is something men try to have and women try to be.

Most of my critics scoff at my use of "phallologocentrism," a word they dismiss as nonsensical jargon. They also are outraged at the idea that my students will study the Jewish phallus and the Latino phallus. But their imagination runs wild. Because the phallus is not anatomical, my class will not be comparing the genitalia of men belonging to different ethnic groups or cultures. Rather, we will study how masculinity varies from culture to culture.

Both the Young America's Foundation and Allen contend that my course and the others on the "Dirty Dozen" list use up resources that would be better spent on teaching students "economics, American history and the role of government in a society" or "about the ideas and people and movements that created the civilization in which they live: who Plato was or what happened at Appomattox."

In other words, economics, American history, political science and ancient Greek philosophy count as academic content while courses on the phallus, blackness, queerness and anything that smacks of feminism do not. I wonder, though, if all of Plato's dialogues are equally academic.

Plato's "Republic" is obviously academic because it deals with "the role of government in a society." But what about Plato's "Symposium," which deals with theories of gender and sexuality? Is it appropriate to devote valuable class time to a text in which men sit around drinking and discussing eroticism?

Perhaps the "Symposium" is academic because its theories are ancient as opposed to trendy. Freud's texts, of course, are not nearly as old as Plato's, but they are older than Milton Friedman's and Jeane Kirkpatrick's, whose words the Young America's Foundation has said are worthy of instruction. And who doubts that Freud's ideas belong on a list of the those "that created the civilization in which [students] live"?

What, then, separates courses that have "actual academic content" from those that do not? If only we had a word that would help us grasp the distinction. We have the great books and battles of Western civilization on one side. We have feminism, queer theory, critical race theory and other theories meant to explain white-male oppression on the other.

Wait. There is a word that refers to the belief that only the "great books" should be taught, and that military history, diplomacy and other manly topics are academic, while the history of gender, sexuality and other unmanly topics are not. It's on the tip of my tongue. The word is phallologocentrism.

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