Roger Kimball opened his 1990 jeremiad Tenured Radicals with a chapter called “The Assault on the Canon,” and concluded that chapter with a discussion of “the Stanford debacle.” Kimball adduced the conflict over Stanford’s Western culture course to support two broader claims about the academy that figured prominently in many a jeremiad about higher education published during the late 1980s and early 1990s: the notion that student radicals of the 1960s had seized control of the academy from within, and the related allegation that these radicals were stifling free intellectual inquiry on campus in the name of a Leftist, anti-colonialist ideology. But in the process of making his argument, Kimball valorized inquiry of a different kind: not free inquiry, but ideas bought and paid for.
The main title of Kimball’s work conveyed the gist of that first common claim about the university in decline: that the professoriate of the 1980s included an entire cohort of established scholars who were still pursuing the anti-Western, Marxist ideological agenda they had embraced when they were students engaged in the radical movements of the 1960s. Kimball himself recognized that there was nothing particularly revelatory in pointing out that some former radicals had settled into the seemingly bourgeois occupation of the university professor. “It has often been observed,” he wrote, “that yesterday’s student radical is today’s tenured professor or academic dean. The point of this observation is not to suggest that our campuses are littered with political agitators.”
Nevertheless, that is precisely what Kimball did argue in this work. The “twist” to his argument was in suggesting that the purported radicalism of the contemporary professoriate was not just a betrayal of the values and ideals of contemporary students, but also a dereliction of the professors’ duty to students as consumers. Kimball noted that “the undergraduate population has moved quietly to the Right in recent years,” but “the men and women who are paid to introduce students to the great works and ideas of our civilization have by and large remained true to the emancipationist ideology of the sixties.” This description of what professors were “paid” to do – teach undergraduates – may have comported with general notions of what the work of college professors entailed, but such a conception discounted entirely the labor or the value of research.
In this respect, Kimball’s work built upon a broader animus toward the professoriate as an overpaid bunch of freeloaders “scamming” American taxpayers to support their research while shirking their teaching duties. This was the premise of Charles J. Sykes’s Profscam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education, a book that Kimball reviewed for the New York Times while he was working on Tenured Radicals. In his review, Kimball approvingly summarized Sykes’s main critique: that, pursuing Clark Kerr’s vision of the “multiversity,” the American university had gone from “an institution concerned chiefly with teaching” to “a lavishly funded research institution that…is concerned with everything but teaching the tens of thousands [of students] that supposedly form its raison d’être.”
Interestingly, this was the same basic vision of the university that had attracted trenchant criticism from radical students of the 1960s, though for seemingly different reasons. For example, the authors of the Port Huron Statement criticized the professoriate for pursuing a research agenda that furthered military industrialists’ aims, offering up their “skills and silence [to be] purchased by investors in the arms race.” To prevent the further use of “academic resources…to buttress immoral social practice,” the Port Huron authors called for “national efforts at university reform by an alliance of students and faculty.” The reform these student-critics of the university envisioned would include bringing “major public issues into the curriculum – research and teaching on problems of war and peace is an outstanding example.” The students did not deplore a research agenda per se, but argued that it should complement, not dominate, the work of the professoriate. The students envisioned that work as primarily pedagogical, arguing that professors must “make debate and controversy, not dull pedantic cant, the common style for educational life.”
That radical 1960s student critique of professors’ “dull pedantic cant” found an echo of sorts in Kimball’s critique of “abstruse” academic jargon and the teaching of professorial “commentaries” in lieu of primary texts, which, when used, were only introduced into the classroom in order to support a professor’s “pet critical theory.” These various pet theories revealed the professoriate’s commitment to a Marxist, anti-colonialist political agenda aimed at dismantling “Western democracies.” For Kimball, no recent event better exemplified this faculty strategy in action than the Stanford canon debate – “the most notorious” of all recent disputes about college curriculum. Though Kimball acknowledged that “agitation by members of the Black Student Union” and others had prompted a review of the Western Culture curriculum, he argued that “the faculty was, in the end, to blame for the demise of the Western culture course.”
Kimball viewed the fate of such courses as inextricably linked with “nothing less than the traditional liberal understanding of democratic society and the place of education and high culture within it.” This “high culture,” Kimball argued, was something professors valued for themselves but stingily withheld from their students. “Because many professors have been the beneficiaries of the kind of traditional education they have rejected and are denying their students,” Kimball wrote, “it is the students themselves who are the real losers in this fiasco.” He surmised that students “enrolled in a liberal arts curriculum in the first place because they wished to be educated; alas, after four years they will find that they are ignorant of the tradition and that their college education was largely a form of ideological indoctrination.”
Thus there was at least a formal similitude between Kimball’s critique and the Port Huron critique: a demand that the professoriate shift its research and teaching agenda to prioritize what seemed most relevant to students. However, Kimball’s critique premised that demand explicitly upon a notion of students (or their tuition-paying parents) as customers, and implicitly reduced the humanistic tradition and the “high culture” of the Western heritage (or a suitable sampling thereof) to a commodity available for purchase with tuition dollars.
 Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1990), 1-33; on Stanford, see pp. 27-33.
 Kimball, xiv.
 Kimball, xiv, emphasis mine.
 Charles J. Sykes, ProfScam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1988); Roger Kimball, “Burn the Buildings, Hang the Professors,” New York Times, Feb. 19, 1989, p. BR16, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, accessed Mar. 15, 2015.
 Kimball, “Burn the buildings.”
 Tom Hayden, The Port Huron Statement: The Visionary Call of the 1960s Revolution (New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005), 49.
 Hayden, 168.
 Kimball, Tenured Radicals, xvii.
 Kimball, Tenured Radicals, 23, 30-32.
 Kimball, Tenured Radicals, 26.
 Kimball, Tenured Radicals, 32.
 Kimball, Tenured Radicals, 2, 26.
 Kimball, Tenured Radicals, xvii.