Last week Charles Kupfer, associate professor of American Studies at Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg, penned a piece for the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in which he laments that his field “now serves chiefly as validation system for academicians who know their findings in advance: racism, sexism, and imperialism.”
Kupfer wrote that American Studies once was "a vibrant and useful discipline. Today, I’m sad to report, it is a regular source for 'What wacky stuff are they up to on campus?' articles and blogs":
[F]or the last generation, American Studies... has scooted pell-mell towards politicization in a misbegotten effort to remain relevant.
The result today is an academic sub-specialty wedded to a tightly-corseted belief that the United States represents the locus of sin (racism, sexism, colonialism, and the like) in the modern world, and that any study of America should restrict itself to call-outs and condemnations. American Studies now serves chiefly as validation system for academicians who know their findings in advance: racism, sexism, and imperialism.
Increasingly, the field is hostile to scholars who don’t want to use it just to berate American traditions and signal their imagined virtue.
Once upon a time American Studies reveled in "wide-open exploration of the nation and cultures that constitute its subject," but in the 1960s deconstructionism "washed up on American shores" and "led to questioning of the field’s name and mission. 'American' sounded nationalistic. American Studies power-brokers tried to convince themselves that the United States was disintegrating on the wrong side of history. But since world events didn’t unfold that way, they decided they could at least use their field for the purpose of perpetual indictment."
Now, Kupfer concludes of his field, "if the United States cannot be ignored or redefined out of existence, then it must be denounced, again and again. That’s dreary, pointless, and a path to academic oblivion."
Kupfer is now one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the American Studies Association for voting in 2013 to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The suit claims that the boycott violates the association’s mission and voids its tax exemption.