Paglia stimulates discussion
April 15, 1994, 5:00 am·
In a lecture focused on scholarship and sex and their influence on American society, Professor of Humanities and "radical libertarian" Camille Paglia educated and entertained a crowd of close to 500 with her controversial views last night. College of Arts and Sciences Dean Matthew Santirocco described Paglia as "one of the most exciting and provocative cultural critics writing and speaking in America today." She came to campus to give the Philomathean Society's annual oration, co-sponsored this year by the College Lecture Series and Connaissance. Paglia began by explaining that University students, not faculty members, had invited her to give the oration. "That speaks volumes for American intellectual life," she said. "Your faculty would not invite me -- they are not interested in ideas, debate and dissent." Paglia attacked American faculty members in general as "inert, passive and completely out of touch with reality -- twerps whose knowledge would fill a thimble." "I want the students to have a greater critical sense about the faculty," she added, stating that she feels faculty members have given the power of governing on campus to a "master class of administrators." She went on to blast the "insularity and cliquiness" of humanities departments around the country, explaining that she has "great hope for this generation if they can free themselves from leftist dogma." Paglia next tackled the subject of free speech, calling herself a "militant" advocate of the idea. "Words must never be policed, as they are at Penn," Paglia said, drawing an enthusiastic reaction from the audience. "I believe in offensiveness for its own sake," she added later, further characterizing speech codes as "ridiculous." Paglia urged students to "be loyal to the scholars of the past" by exploring the resources available in University museums and libraries, to compensate for the "corruption of academic life" in America. Women's issues were also on Paglia's agenda. She criticized the funneling of women into fast-track careers, emphasizing instead the importance of "values of the spirit, expressed in religion and art." Paglia then delineated her "prescription for academic reform," which incorporates the deconstruction of academic departments, changes in the tenure system and a core curriculum requiring all students to study art, history and traditions of world religions. "Multiculturalism has got to be put into effect on a scholarly basis," she said. "Above all, we must defend free thought, free speech and scholarly standards." Paglia added that words are no longer sufficient to transmit information to students who are accustomed to the staples of popular culture -- television, cinema and rock music. "Students are in a malaise because what they get in the classroom bears no resemblance to the culture they see outside of it," Paglia said. Finally, she discussed the importance of individuality, encouraging students to follow their own instincts, in imitation of the 1960s "cult of individuality" ideal. "The purpose of education should be to open paths to students, to provide intellectual guidance," she said. Following this statement, Paglia opened the floor to questions. Paglia addressed the conflict between classicism and romanticism, the "far too high" legal age for sexual consent, the decline of the American nuclear family due to "seething incestuous feelings" and the question of God's existence. The situation in Meyerson Hall B-1 became tense when Paglia began bashing gay rights activists as "isolated," but it calmed when she silenced a student contesting her view with a bitterly sarcastic comment. Students said Paglia's remarks were enlightening, if irreverent. "People dismiss her for her radical ideas, and in doing so fail to recognize the depth of her studies and the insight that gives her into what she talks about," said College freshman Steve Caputo. "Her contradictions were inevitable," College sophomore Katie O'Connor said, agreeing with Caputo. "That doesn't invalidate her ideas."