The National Association of Scholars, which celebrated its 25th anniversary with a conference in New York last week, was born in response to the 1988 controversy over Stanford University’s Western Culture requirement. Students upset by the focus on “dead white males” demanded that the freshman course be replaced with one more inclusive toward women, minorities, and non-Western cultures; in a widely reported incident, protesters led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go!” After the university acceded to these demands, a group of mostly conservative intellectuals rallied to defend the West. Fittingly, the final panel of the New York conference was devoted to the Western tradition and its fortunes.
Critics dismiss the association as a right-wing enclave of grumpy old (white) men threatened by change. It is true that the group’s membership does skew older, white, male, and Republican. But that does not negate the importance of its pro-Western message — above all, for the very groups supposedly oppressed by a Western-oriented education.