October 08, 2004

Bobos Leave Paradise: Will the

Bobos Leave Paradise: Will the Liberal Arts Survive?

Recently, a correspondent from our Methuen (MA) office sent us a curious—and slightly irksome—article from that beacon of journalistic respectability, The Boston Globe. Penned by the curiously named Marcella Bombarieri, the piece mentions that two scholars in Harvard’s African and African-American Studies Department, Marcyliena Morgan and her husband Lawrence Bobo (no relation to the clown, one presumes), have bid adieu to fair Harvard in favor of Stanford University.

It seems as if these two professors departed from the ivy-covered walls of Harvard because Laurence Summers, the rare university president with something resembling a backbone, denied tenure to Ms. Morgan. As a result, Ms. Morgan and Mr. Bobo jumped ship to Stanford.

In typical Boston Globe style, Ms. Bombardieri waxes calamitous over the departure of these two professors. After all, this must speak horridly of the African and African-American Studies Department of Harvard University, and, the reader is urged to believe, the future of liberal arts education in America. Oh the humanities!

Yet, before we join the Globe in its choruses of woe, let us take stock of the issue at hand. President Summers denied tenure to Ms. Morgan, whom Ms. Bombardieri refers to (without even a touch of irony) as a “hip-hop scholar,” because Ms. Morgan, despite her obviously grueling work on a “Hiphop Archive,” “had written only one book and her classes received lukewarm reviews from students.”

So, to sum up for our friends unfamiliar with the scholarly world of “black studies,” Ms. Morgan produced one paltry book, no rap CDs, and nary a music video. Tenure material? We think not.

It is particularly interesting to note that Ms. Morgan received tepid reviews from her students, even though she was instructing them on the finer points of such heavyweights of the Western canon as the Beastie Boys and Run DMC. Perhaps she gave them too much reading—we mean, listening—to do for homework?

Instead of keeping such a tight focus on the crucial sub-field of “hip-hop,” the department, thanks to Mr. Summers’ guidance, appears more interested in the far more nugatory subject of African languages. (Apparently, Mr. Summers doesn’t count Ebonics, and its illustrious precursor, Jive, as languages.)

One wonders who is going to fill the gaping holes in the African and African-American Studies’ curriculum, now that the Bobos have packed up their red noses and clown shoes, and headed to the West coast. To make matters worse, Cornel West has already taken his Buckwheat-inspired hairdo and rap CD to Princeton.

Who is going to save the department, the university, and Western culture, by endowing a new DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince Chair? It’s going to cost a lot more than 50 Cent.

To quote some rap “artist” or other: O tempora! O mores! (We think LL Cool J said that, but we’d have to defer to the greater knowledge of Ms. Morgan on this subject.)

One might even venture to expound that Harvard is wack. And the department be illin’. If we weren’t so above the fray, we’d suggest that someone ought to bust a cap in Mr. Summer’s posterior. (Or is that booty?) Harvard has allowed two professors to hip and hop out of its comfy purlieus, and take up shop in the sordid, second-tier world of Stanford. Oh, dear.

How will Harvard students become informed on such key subjects as “human beat boxes”? How will they be able to tell a rap “artist” from a common street criminal? How will they learn to listen to soul-deadening anti-music that glorifies violence and kindred social pathologies?

In short, how will Harvard students become educated?

These are tough questions for Mr. Summers. Tough questions indeed. May we suggest that he answer them in rhymes?

Posted at October 8, 2004 12:01 PM | TrackBack