Sign up for newsletter >>
Dr. Carol Swain’s Ivory Tower Exit

Dr. Carol Swain’s Ivory Tower Exit

The former Vanderbilt Professor discusses entering the arena of the public intellectual with her bestselling rejoinder to CRT and her mentorship of young academics who want to follow her lead.

Dr. Carol M. Swain knew that critical race theory was about to become a cultural flashpoint in the spring of 2021. Long before the Loudoun County, VA, school board became national news and that state’s former governor Terry McAuliffe committed campaign suicide by proclaiming parents had no role in their children’s education in the leadup to what became a bloodbath election for Democrats, Swain had watched as CRT leaked from upper-division college courses into K-12 education.

As a twice-tenured professor with a storied career in political science and law at both Princeton and Vanderbilt, Swain is perhaps the country’s leading expert on white supremacy. She even wrote the definitive book on the subject in 2012. Now, Swain has bridged her expertise with the nation’s rising populist sentiments, flouting the liberal consensus that has homogenized academia to prepare parents and other concerned citizens as such ideas take root in schools and executive suites across the nation with her recent co-authored book Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory Is Burning Down The House.

At just over 150 pages, Black Eye is, according to Swain, an introductory text for those interested in learning more about CRT, but intimidated by the intentionally obtuse academic jargon its progenitors have used as a wedge between the elites and the masses. “There were so many parents and teachers and administrators contacting me about CRT, I decided there was a need for a primer that would be a handy guide for laypeople,” Swain said. As fights over masking and in-person learning galvanized parents to take a more active role in their children’s education, Swain felt moved to get the book out as quickly as possible.

From the project’s inception, Swain remained dedicated to preserving academic rigor—one of the reasons half the book consists of notes and further reading suggestions—so, she hired freshly minted Georgetown political science Ph.D. Christopher J. Schorr as a research assistant. In the span of the six weeks the book took to draft, Schorr went from defending his dissertation heavily influenced by Swain’s research on white supremacy to an indispensable contributor to Black Eye with his role quickly evolving into that of co-writer. Though Schorr has positive relationships with his former professors at Georgetown despite ideological differences, he knew that running afoul of the party line would be a detriment to his academic career and job prospects, one of the primary reasons Swain sought him as a collaborator. “I don't have the discipline to hide my views in an environment with the expectation of a robust intellectual back and forth,” Schorr said.

For much of the past thirty years, Swain belonged to the highest echelons of academia, winning a host of awards and publishing with exclusive presses like Oxford and Cambridge. Yet, like her early career co-writer, Swain realized that, over the last decade, the pillars of debate and intellectual diversity that defined higher education were eroding. “I would say that cancel culture as we know it today has not always been around,” said Swain. “When I started my college education as a student and when I took a position as a young academic, there were conservative and liberal professors at universities and there was some disagreement and free exchange of ideas.”

Swain attributes the academy’s decline to the rampant rise of non-teaching staff and the sudden dominance of majors focused on identity politics such as African-American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies that she believes serve primarily to artificially prop up minority enrollment for the sake of administrators’ reputations. “They are focused on the numbers,” Swain said. “They want to look good on the numbers of how many minorities they have there, and it doesn’t matter if most come from DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] and ethnic-studies programs.” According to Swain, such stats are vital to justifying administrators’ insatiable salary bloat (University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman’s recent raise to $820,000 a year as a public employee despite botching COVID and presiding over one of the more egregious examples of CRT run amok that Swain has fought so hard against comes immediately to mind).

However, Swain also expressed concerns that such programs are training grounds for foot soldiers in the ever-expanding bureaucracy taking hold of the academy, government, and, increasingly, the private sector. “Those degrees were pretty much viewed as worthless and the standards were considered shoddy,” Swain said as she expressed her antipathy for the idea that lived experience trumps data, science, history, and common sense. “During the years I was in academia, many of us wondered where those graduates would get jobs,” Swain said. “Welcome to your new DEI officer making six figures. They created an industry for themselves.”

Schorr believes CRT’s direct benefit to the managerial class is also a symptom of the elite overproduction that has plagued American culture for years and resulted in part-time adjunct professors teaching the vast majority of college courses in America—even at top-ranked institutions. Such policies result from higher education privileging administrative line items over full-time faculty salaries, which ironically perpetuates anger-motivated identity politics discourses like CRT among professors and instructors, especially at regional and lower-tier institutions. “When you put people in a position where the natural inclination for status seeking isn’t financially rewarded, you get into all kinds of bizarre stuff,” Schorr said.  “If you’re highly educated, highly intelligent, highly political and you're living out of the trunk of your car, you've got a lot of tension to let loose on people.”

Yet, the complete surrender of the academy to ideological frameworks like CRT has also been buoyed by the indoctrination of students before they even arrived on campus, a tactic made all the easier when federal stimulus money and funding for Common Core earmarked for local districts hinged on the implementation of CRT and similar programs into the curriculum. “The Obama administration was actually the one who brought CRT into the K-12,” said Swain. “It’s not something that just happened in 2020.”

Like many professors in academia before 2012 (see Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind), Swain witnessed this troubling Gen Z trend. However, it wasn’t until Vanderbilt students filed a petition calling for Swain’s disciplining over an editorial she wrote for The Tennesseean defending free speech in the wake of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo Islamic terror attacks—an exercise in privileged outrage the university’s president dutifully dismissed—that Swain became a highly public target of intellectual intolerance. In response, she doubled down on her opinions over the next few years, fueled by her rediscovery of Christianity after moving to Nashville and her newfound conservative voice. She appeared in Dinesh D’Souza’s hit documentary Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party while at Vanderbilt and faced increased protests from students despite her dedication to academic inquiry and rigorous training in her field. “The new group of students had solved all the great issues of the world. The big questions that have plagued mankind for all time, they had the answer,” Swain said. “They had memorized all the politically correct acceptable ideas and had solutions to all the big problems. They came to teach you rather than be taught.”

Facing a university environment where Buzzfeed/Twitter autodidacts were sucking the life out of the mind, Swain decided to leave the lofty status of the Ivory Tower in 2017 via early retirement, taking her expertise into the real world in which most academics could never survive. With her entrepreneurial spirit, Swain has flourished as a public intellectual, a perennial figure at Fox News, PragerU, Bannon’s War Room, The Epoch Times, and other national media outlets. A 2018 run as a Nashville mayoral candidate saw Swain hold her own in an uphill battle. Most famously, she served as Vice-Chair of President Trump’s 1776 Commission, an initiative he developed to combat the New York Times’s controversial—and largely discredited—CRT behemoth The 1619 Project (axing the 1776 Commission was one of Joe Biden’s first actions at the start of his regime). For Schorr, Swain’s recent career trajectory serves as a model for academics in similar positions who oppose CRT and politicized bureaucracy’s chokehold over the academy. “The cowardice is incredible,” Schorr said.  “If you have tenure, what possible excuse do you have?”

Though Swain was always a prominent academic, the success of Black Eye has become central to one of the most fruitful phases of her career. Since its release, the book has sold over 30,000 copies and attained bestseller status on Amazon—an even more impressive feat considering Swain published it through her own press so she could expedite its availability for readers during the 2021 summer of CRT (in comparison Jill Biden and Meghan McCain couldn’t sell 500 books combined last week despite their legacy media publicity blitzes). Though she and Schorr are working on a follow-up, Swain also recently completed a book entitled Countercultural Living: What Jesus Had to Say about Life, Marriage, Race, Gender, and Materialism that combats the influence of secular ideologies like CRT on the Christian faith by highlighting Christ's teachings and their relevance to contemporary issues. In addition, she appears in the recent documentary Whose Children Are They? that sold out movie theatres during its exclusive engagements with Fathom Events last March and has created a movement for teachers to oppose their unions and fight against CRT and gender-identity instruction in elementary classrooms. Yet, for Swain, juggling multiple projects and inspiring the next generation of renegade scholars like Schorr despite becoming a pariah in traditional academic circles are vital to preserving the American way of life. “I think the way out of this is to push back,” Swain said. “You think about the Founders of this nation willing to risk their fortunes, their honor. We are going to have to risk something to save this nation.”

Black Eye for America is available at Nashville’s Logos Books and on Amazon.

Follow Dr. Carol M. Swain on her website, Instagram, Twitter, GETTR, locals, and Truth Social.

Follow Dr. Christopher J. Schorr on his website.