In 1996, Alan Sokal, a professor of physics, submitted a hoax article to Social Text, a journal of postmodern cultural studies, which published it. Last year, in what became known as the Sokal Squared hoax, James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian created 20 fake papers that they submitted to several cultural studies journals. Seven of them had been selected for publication at the time the hoax became public.
The point of the Sokal Squared hoax was to highlight the lack of rigor in what the authors of the hoax called “grievance studies,” academic programs addressing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and identity. But in the uproar over the hoax, a more fundamental question has been overlooked. Why are there so many such programs? What accounts for the rapid proliferation of university departments devoted to the study of minority cultural identity?
Raising this question is not a disguised criticism of the existence of such departments. The cultural changes of the past four decades make African American, feminist, and LGBTQ studies legitimate and important fields of inquiry. The advent of such departments is a natural reaction to interesting new questions that need to be addressed to advance the university’s mission to seek truth and generate understanding. Whether the current programs are doing a good job of addressing these questions may be debated, but the study of cultural identity is a legitimate field of academic inquiry.
Nevertheless, in a time when academic resources are stretched thin and many traditional academic departments are facing retrenchment, it is reasonable to ask whether the continued expansion of these departments is justified. Is there something beyond their inherent academic value that is driving the growth of cultural studies programs at the expense of other departments and, perhaps, the overall health of the university?
The answer is yes. It is the contemporary university’s quest for a diverse faculty.