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In feminist queer philosophy class, ‘absolute adherence to specific doctrines was compulsory’

Philosophy graduates are said to be highly prized by employers because they have developed the skills to critically examine any argument.

If you’re considering a philosophy grad for a job, though, you might want to ask for their specific course list first.

Columbia University student Coleman Hughes, who has taken several philosophy courses, writes about his experience taking two last semester that were strikingly different in their pedagogy, not just their content.

In the first, a generic introductory course, “We don’t hold anyone’s views as sacred, or even special. … The prevailing mood encourages friendly but lively debate. It’s challenging, good-natured, and fun.”

Then there’s the course on “feminist epistemology and queer theory, where the mood is strikingly different” and the professor doesn’t question the material, Hughes writes for Heterodox Academy:

We read some philosopher––say, Foucault––and learn his arguments … On the exceedingly rare occasion that a student asks a question that could potentially contradict what’s being taught, the professor has a mysterious way of answering without ever suggesting that the argument could simply have a weakness. …

In this class, I got the sense that the professor was wedded to the material, such that a critique of the material would have been synonymous with a critique of her.

Hughes, who is black, says the professor identified all students of color as “victims of oppression,” she “once compared privilege to sin” and she occasionally swore at her class for not being as educated as her.

Oh, and this:

[S]he once suggested that students not come to class so that we could attend a protest against disciplining students who had interrupted an event hosted by a Republican student group …

That apparently refers to Columbia’s investigation of students who chronically disrupted the College Republicans’ October event featuring anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson. The administration decided not to punish anyone, with no explanation.

Hughes isn’t saying that this professor is “evil or even particularly proselytizing,” but that the entire “atmosphere” of this class is out of step with the typical philosophy course:

I also suspect that many students with little philosophy experience came away with the impression that this class represented what philosophy is, and that’s what disheartens me most. What I’ve found so inspiring about my philosophy professors thus far is that, despite their scary levels of intelligence, they tend to exhibit a level of intellectual humility and a commitment to fleshing out opposing viewpoints that I’ve found profoundly conducive to the expansion of my own mind.

Read the essay and follow Hughes on Twitter and Soundcloud.

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