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17 November 2001

Jensen's Project

Matt Welch commented earlier today on Robert Jensen, the leftist UT journalism professor with a knack for writing silly things. I haven't been paying much attention to Jensen lately (though I did blog his controversial article that ran in the Chron in September), mainly because blogger/journalists like Matt, mainstream opinion sites like TNR, NRO, and OpinionJournal's Best of the Web, and even mainstream television guys like Bill O'Reilly, have done a great job of focusing attention on these LeftWingNuts, something that never used to happen (and that they don't much like, with many of them intimating it infringes upon their speech to be criticized!).

That's all well and good, and I'm glad people -- pundits and the public -- are seeing some of these LeftWingNuts for what they are right now. But let me emphasize right now. What happens when, in a couple of years, the current controversies die down? Will anybody be paying attention to these LeftWingNuts? What WILL Professor Jensen be up to then?

The answer, of course: Exactly what he's up to now. Sure, he'll be writing silly op-eds for someone, and bloggers will find them and many of us will have a good laugh, and maybe even O'Reilly or Brit Hume will point it out. In the meantime, Jensen will still be teaching courses and spreading his way of thinking about the world.

After reading Matt's latest, I followed the links he provided to Professor Jensen's UT webpage, and paid his vita page a visit. What I found there concerns me the most about Professor Jensen. The guy has an undergrad education degree (social studies/history), and two advanced journalism degrees. His doctoral work apparently concentrated on media law and ethics. There's no indication that he's spent much time actually studying politics, philosophy, or law broadly.

And there's the catch. This guy is TEACHING undergrad courses that treat politics, ethics, and law AS AN EXPERT, when his expertise (and I'm being charitable) is journalism. Why should anybody (besides Jensen) regard him as an expert in "The Ethics and Politics of Everyday Life," an undergrad freshman seminar he's taught?! Yet freshman who know no better may very well think that -- and Professor Jensen will authoritatively present topics for which he has little formal training or expertise. At least one graduate course he has taught (Social Justice and the Law) poses similar concerns, since it seems like a course that ought to be taught in a department of philosophy or politics (and could even revolve around Rawls, or my favorite subject of late, the Progressives), NOT journalism. Surely it is a stretch to think that Jensen's training in any way qualifies him to be teaching graduate courses on politics or philosophy, yet there it is. And it concerns me that what Professor Jensen's students are learning is his ideology, not the range of literature and thought on complex subjects.

In a way, that fits in very well with the premises of postmodernists like Jensen. If ALL politics, knowledge, literature, etc., is simply the triumph of the "stronger," the victory of some ideologies over others (which Jensen might recognize as a variant of the argument of Thrasymachus, if Jensen had actually been trained in the subjects he teaches occasionally), then Jensen might as well be out there presenting his ideology to a captive audience, and "fighting for the revolution."

Two years from now, Jensen will still be writing silly columns, and many people will be complimenting themselves for bringing public ridicule to him during the war on terrorism. Meanwhile, his more pernicious undertakings will continue unabated and, I'll wager, largely unexamined.

[Posted @ 12:06 PM CST]

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