The reason we concentrate on ``dead white Europeans'' is because they had a method of writing their compositions on paper that allowed us to reasonably re-create what they did. That same kind of notation also made study of music theory more convenient because musical ideas could be expressed on paper with some accuracy. I realize there are notations in other cultures, but the European style of notation comes very close to what a musician would actually play therefore making analysis much easier. You could enter it into a computer through notation software (like Finale or Lilypond) and have it play the music back without need of a musician interpreting it and the music makes perfect sense.
As for for your music professor friends, they sound kind o' different. I don't know if they would be representative of academicians in that field. On the other hand, maybe they would be. I've met some squirrelly music academicians who left me wondering what the blazes they teach (and learn) in colleges. Heck, I'd have been happy if they were stuck in the early 1900's---one of 'em was a great big Andrew Lloyd Weber fan. Egads.