Tag Archives: class

Politics and the Race/Class/Gender Trinity

My City University of New York colleague David Gordon has penned a convincing analysis about the current state of history in higher education. I share, and fully endorse, his critique about the direction of the field, with the vise-grip of the race/class/gender trinity “distort[ing] historical enquiry.” Stressing above all else victimization and oppression poorly serves both unbiased intellectual life on campus and the students that we teach.

Gordon’s article focuses on the dramatic expansion of gender history, observing how specialists in the topic have increased their representation to around 10 percent of all historians. (As Gordon points out, that percentage doesn’t include historians of race–a more popular topic, and one even more dominant among U.S. historians–or historians of class.) This expansion, moreover, has occurred at a time of overall contraction of history departments, especially in cash-starved public institutions. So what Gordon terms the “distort[ing]” effect of gender history is more than the profession simply expanding into a new area–it’s evidence of the profession contracting in other areas. In this zero-sum environment, advocates of “traditional” subfields have lost out.

If anything, then, Gordon could have presented an even more alarming case. And while I’d like to embrace an ideal that history departments might embrace a more pedagogically diverse vision in the future, I don’t see any evidence that it will occur. I’m certainly not aware of any department that has come under the dominance of the race/class/gender trinity that then launched a major hiring drive in political, or diplomatic, or military, or constitutional, or business history.

Less convincingly, Gordon suggests possible political influence on the profession’s current state. It’s quite clear that the early move toward race/class/gender was accelerated by contemporaneous political developments (such as the student protests at Cornell and Columbia in the late 1960s, or a second wave of politically correct campus protests in the 1980s). And it’s also true that a handful of politicians–such as the odious former New York City councilman Charles Barron, a close ally of the CUNY faculty union–continue to champion de facto racial or gender quotas in faculty hiring, or a certain type of “diversity” instruction in the classroom.

But in general, I don’t see much evidence that these hiring patterns–much less these curricular and pedagogical patterns–are driven by “politicians who want votes.” If anything, the problem is the reverse. A general indifference by politicians to the lack of intellectual or pedagogical diversity on campus is preventing state legislators in particular from providing a necessary (and appropriate) oversight role.

Nor, I should note, is there much evidence for Stanley Kurtz’s post-election theory implying a connection between the ideological imbalance among the faculty and the fact that “our colleges and universities have been quietly churning out left-leaning voters for some time.” It seems to me that Republican opposition to issues such as marriage equality (backed by 70 percent or more of all 18-24 year olds–not just those who attend college–in Maine, Minnesota, and Maryland last week) and the DREAM Act (which has two-to-one backing from all voters under 34 years old–not just those who went to college) more convincingly explains why 18-24 year olds strongly backed the Democrats in the 2012 elections.

Neither party has an interest in an ill-informed electorate: Democrats increasingly have presented themselves as technocrats, an approach that presumes voters will be able to comprehend public policy debates; Republicans increasingly have presented themselves as defenders of the Constitution, an approach that presumes voters understand what is (and is not) in the Constitution.

Cowardice provides an easy explanation as to why Democrats have avoided addressing the decline of academic diversity in the academy. In political terms, race, class, and gender correspond to black voters, unions, and feminists–three critical elements of the Democratic Party’s base. Tackling the situation on campuses would risk antagonizing base voters.

But what accounts for the Republicans’ reticence? Quite apart from the policy importance of promoting quality education, politically, the issue would seem to be ideal for the GOP. (Consider, for instance, the inexplicable silence of the Republican-controlled Iowa House of Representatives regarding persistent evidence of ideological slanting at the University of Iowa.) Alas, over the past four years the highest-profile Republican politician to involve himself in higher-ed issues has been Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli–who decided to go after a former University of Virginia science professor, in an effort that did little to advance the cause of pedagogical diversity on campus.

I don’t think, in the end, that historians can blame politicians or political pressure for the profession’s sad state. Blame instead lies with the scholars themselves, and the diversity-obsessed administrators who have abandoned the academy’s traditional fealty to the broadest possible range of intellectual debate on campus.

The Mangling of American History


The evolution of the historical profession in the United States in the last fifty years provides much reason for celebration.  It provides even more reason for unhappiness and dread.  Never before has the profession seemed so intellectually vibrant.  An unprecedented amount of scholarship and teaching is being devoted to regions outside of the traditional American concentration on itself and Europe. New subjects of enquiry — gender, race and ethnicity — have developed.  Never have historians been so influenced by the methodology and contributions of other disciplines, from anthropology to sociology.  

At the same time, never has the historical profession been so threatened.  Political correctness has both narrowed and distorted enquiry. Traditional fields demanding intellectual rigor, such as economic and intellectual history, are in decline.  Even worse, education about Western civilization and the Enlightenment, that font of American liberties, and the foundation of modern industrial, scientific and liberal world civilization, has come to be treated with increasing disdain at colleges and universities.  

Continue reading The Mangling of American History

An Unusually Stupid Court Ruling

Yesterday the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that Michigan’s Proposal 2 violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. 

Proposal 2 was a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to provide that state and local government agencies (including public universities) in Michigan “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”  The Equal Protection Clause provides that “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The mind boggles.  Proposal 2 not only does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, and is not only quite consistent with it, but is indeed nothing more than an elaboration on it.

But here is the court of appeals’ reasoning:

A student seeking to have her family’s alumni connections considered in her application to one of Michigan’s esteemed public universities could do one of four things to have the school adopt a legacy-conscious admissions policy: she could lobby the admissions committee, she could petition the leadership of the university, she could seek to influence the school’s governing board, or, as a measure of last resort, she could initiate a statewide campaign to alter the state’s constitution. The same cannot be said for a black student seeking the adoption of a constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions policy. That student could do only one thing to effect change: she could attempt to amend the Michigan Constitution–a lengthy, expensive, and arduous process–to repeal the consequences of Proposal 2. The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.

To which the answer is:  The same might be said of a member of the Ku Klux Klan who wanted the University of Michigan to adopt a whites-only policy of racial segregation.  Would this court have ruled that the Klansman’s equal-protection rights are violated by Proposal 2?

That seems unlikely.  The decision was driven by its politically correct result, which is why the decision was 8-7 along partisan lines:  Every vote in the majority was by a Democrat-appointed judge (except, technically, for one who was originally nominated by President Clinton late in his term and then, in a misguided gesture of conciliation, renominated by President Bush at the beginning of his), and every dissenter was appointed by a Republican president.  Elections do indeed have consequences.

One’s first reaction is anger and frustration. 

Consider:  The saga may be said to begin in 1978, when a majority of the Supreme Court in the Bakke case decided that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not prohibit racial discrimination in university admissions, even though it reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin … be subjected to discrimination [by federally funded universities]….”  The fact that the national legislature had, by the clear terms of a statute it had passed, banned racial preferences in university admissions was just ignored.

So those opposing such discrimination would have to meet the standard the Court uses in constitutional cases, which allows the discrimination if it is “narrowly tailored” to a “compelling” interest.  As the discrimination became more and more widespread and entrenched, hard-fought lawsuits were in fact brought in Texas and then Michigan and taken through the courts of appeals, and then finally in 2003 the Supreme Court agreed to revisit the issue.  Alas, the Court struck down some of the discrimination but also held by a 5-4 margin that the “educational benefits” from “diversity” provided such a compelling interest, at least for another 25 years (!). 

So it was back to the political process in Michigan, where thousands of petition signatures were gathered and then Proposal 2 was passed with 58 percent of the vote after a bruising campaign.  And now we are told that this was a waste of time because using the political process this way is unconstitutional.  Again, it’s frustrating.

All this, in the courts and at the ballot, and all because of this seemingly unexceptionable desire:  That universities not discriminate in admission on the basis of skin color or what country someone’s ancestors came from.

But, on reflection, we can make lemonade from this lemon.

The state attorney general has already announced that he plans to take the case to the Supreme Court – thank goodness – which will almost certainly grant review, because the decision below is not only important and outrageous, but also creates a split in the circuits since the Ninth Circuit rejected a similar lawsuit.  When the Court does so, there ought to be at least five votes to overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision – and clarify or overturn a confusing and mischievous couple of earlier Supreme Court decisions that the Sixth Circuit used to justify its result.  So the case will provide the Court with an opportunity to replace bad precedent containing dubious language with good precedent and good language for future cases.

And wait, there’s more:  It has already been my hope that the recent election results, and in particular the demographic spin being put on them, should push the conservative justices to ban racial preferences, period, in the recently argued Fisher v. University of Texas.  It’s clear that the composition of the Court is not going to get any better and may get worse, and it’s clear that the political branches are not going to address this problem – and, indeed, the country is getting to the point where political power is wielded in a way to create a racial spoils system in university admissions, contracting, you name it.   Therefore, our justices will reason, we have to take this off the table now.

The fact that the Court knows that the Sixth Circuit case is now in the wings may make this course of action even more attractive in Fisher.  Yesterday’s decision underscores the need for a clear statement from the Court in this area, and it is, after all, even easier to explain why banning racial preferences is not unconstitutional when there is a Supreme Court decision that holds that using racial preferences is unconstitutional.

You have to hand it to our opponents (in this case the lawsuit was brought by an organization whose name promises to defend affirmative action By Any Means Necessary, or “BAMN”):  They never give up.  So we can’t either.  They have the advantage of being unprincipled, but we have the advantage of being right – of wanting to end racial and ethnic discrimination and preference, which is the only tenable legal regime for our increasingly multiethnic and multiracial nation.


Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which joined amicus briefs filed by Pacific Legal Foundation in the Sixth Circuit case and in Fisher.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, But…

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or its title, but how about from an extended interview with the authors?

On November 2, Inside Higher Ed carried such an interview with the three authors of a new book entitled Occupying the Academy. The authors, Christine Clark (a professor of multicultural education at UNLV), Kenneth Fasching-Varner (a professor of elementary education at LSU), and Mark Brimhall-Vargas (associate director of the Office of Diversity Education and Compliance at the University of Maryland), want people to know, as their subtitle puts it, just how important diversity work is in higher education.

Reading through the interview, we never find out exactly what “diversity work” is. Once the admissions people have done their best to engineer a student body that has the right quotas of students of certain ancestries, what more is there to do for the “diversity workers” to do? I have ordered the book and will read it to find out, but I think that the honest answer is that they pretend to keep busy by obsessing over student differences. Diversity work entails a constant search for issues of “insensitivity” that can be used to pry money out of administrators.

That money is very important to these diversiphiles becomes clear in the interview. Diversity offices, we read, “face problems that are largely invisible and hard to understand. They are often starved of resources or are constantly made to scramble for declining resources. This climate of instability makes it hard so that the workers dedicated to equity and diversity are always unsure of whether they will be around.”

Apparently it does not occur to those diversity workers that almost every part of every university now has to scramble for resources and that if they don’t get all the funding they want, it could be because departments that actually do some educating are regarded as more important.

An idea as to the inflated sense of self-importance of these diversity workers comes from Professor Clark’s statement that following Obama’s election, she expected that “our work would get easier, become more respected, be more well-funded, and be able to penetrate further in more substantive ways into the fabric of the academy.” You can probably guess why those dreams didn’t come true – racism.

Furthermore, we learn that diversity workers, displaying the victim mentality that Bruce Bawer brilliantly describes in his book The Victims’ Revolution, believe that they are “under assault.”

Now, I doubt very much that there has ever been a single assault – much less a battery – against any diversity worker. The alleged assault consists of not having a “guarantee that they will have access to the places where meaningful change can happen.” What that means is that the guilt-ridden academic officials who get mau-maued into creating “diversity offices” don’t actually take them seriously, so they can’t “have a real chance at changing the campus composition and climate.” Don’t the diversity workers understand that they’re nothing more than politically correct ornamentation on campus? It’s as if the guards at Buckingham Palace complained that they don’t get to play any role in preparing the defense of the nation.

Again, I will read Occupying the Academy when I get it. If the authors make a persuasive case that all of this “diversity work” is something other than a sheer waste of money, I will be glad to say so.

We Can’t Fix Higher Ed Through Public Policy

Is it true that only some recipients of student loans are getting their money’s worth–those with “majors closely aligned with actual occupations” such as engineers or computer scientists? Daniel Foster of National Review Online makes that argument in The American Spectator. These students, he says, are more employable and earn more upon leaving college than Humanities majors. Based on existing economic data, the engineer can more reliably pay back the loan. The unemployed and newly indebted Humanities graduate can’t realistically expect to do that. Nor can the federal government expect to collect from that graduate.

Therefore, Foster wants federal loans granted not on neediness, but on the likelihood of a student to finish college and get a good job. He quotes his colleague Jay Hallen at the National Review Online, who wants “to implement a sliding scale of loan rates that favors students committed to majoring in fields such as computer science or nursing, where the demand for new employees exceeds the supply. For fields where employment demand is weak, loans would be progressively more expensive.” The outcome Foster hopes to achieve is to “push marginal college prospects into vocational schools and other career paths, reducing demand for higher education, and thus tuition inflation.”

There’s a problem here, however. Foster is proposing right-wing social engineering, and the problem with all social engineering is the classic inability to anticipate how individuals diverge from predicted behavior. The first hint of trouble appears when Foster denounces the “dangerous fantasy of college as ‘supervised adulthood’ that leads too many prospective undergraduates to choose their ‘dream school’ based on amenities, the social scene, or any of a hundred other variables that have nothing to do with bang for the buck.”

But there’s a reason why such amenities exist and how closely related they are to “supervised adulthood.” Students expect a given set of attributes from their college–a bucolic campus, a fitness center, palatial dorms, and–soon enough–nap pods. The arms race in amenities is an effort to achieve a high ranking, and students peg their station in life on the ranking their college reaches.

Once a college has admitted the most competitive students it can attract, administrators create an insulated world for them. As Mitchell Stevens explains in Creating a Class, part of what the high tuition buys, in addition to the credential, is the collection of surrogate parents housed in administrative offices. “Parents can go to sleep at night knowing that their children’s potential friends and lovers have been elaborately screened,” he writes. In other words, parents want their children to buy supervised adulthood, and to get it, they are willing to pay a premium or put their children into debt.

The reason has to do with rising in social station. As Stevens explains, admissions officers obsess over admitting the right mix of students, and that mix depends on the right students applying. If all goes well, then students achieve a station that allows them to identify their place in American life, and that station enables graduates to marry a partner of equal educational background and fit into a social scene among peers with similar educational backgrounds, and–most importantly–their parents can put “Duke” or “Stanford” stickers on their SUVs.

Students use loans in higher education to join a class of people they otherwise could not. If incurring six-figure debt means graduating from Cornell, then students (and parents) anxious about their standing might attend, despite having a full ride at a state college. If the possibility of rising in station begins to shrink and, with it, the opportunities to belong to the right social class, many students and their parents will take the risk of going into debt if it gives them a better shot. Tinkering with incentives won’t work. Indeed, to call such loans “investments” at all is no longer true. They are gambles, and Foster is right when he says that the odds are increasingly not in anyone’s favor.

We can’t underrate the importance of social status embedded in rock-climbing walls and vegan menu options. The solution is not in rejiggering Sally Mae, since economic incentives do not reach the heart of the issue. No policy can, because the solution is in the hands of the students: they can take the gamble, attend the less prestigious but more affordable college, or they can exit.

Intellectual Standards = a Politics of Exclusion?

Universities today have lowered their standards of admission and
accepted more students regardless of their level of preparation. For example,
at the University of South Carolina, where I am presently employed, the number
of undergraduates has gone up from about 18,000 in 2006 to 22,000 in 2011. As a
result of the increased number of undergraduates, pressures are placed on
teaching faculty to accommodate students regardless of intellectual skills. For
one, political correctness has brought about that holding a student to an
intellectual standard may be perceived to imply a political act as part of a politics
of exclusion. This problem is further exacerbated by an increase in the integrative
aspirations attributed to higher education and the increasing diversity of the
student population, with all due ironic consequences.

On a purely educational level, the masses of students that are to
be taught despite their sometimes relatively low intellectual skills place a
rather distinct pressure on teachers to maintain standards in the face of
resistance. Even for the best teacher it is not an easy job, under these
circumstances, to not lower academic standards to accommodate students and avoid
trouble. Most tragically, there are pressures exerted by university
administrators towards departments to maintain enrollment or, in other words,
to keep students in college and have them pass their courses, whether they
earned it or not. Students of lesser skill-levels are not only admitted, they are
also given degrees, and that is the most worrisome trend. Obtaining a college
degree has become a matter of justice. The notion that prevails today is not
only that access to education is a right, but so is the successful exit
thereof. Under these conditions, the very notion of an earned degree has become
a mockery….

administrators have reconfigured universities as businesses and have abandoned
any idea of the university as a special institution with a calling. Under these
circumstances of an entrepreneurial university, it is a lack of morality, not a
particular political or ethical direction, but an absence of any moral
guidance, that has brought about many of the peculiar problems educators in
higher learning are facing today.


Mathieu Deflem is a
sociologist at the University of South Carolina. This is an excerpt from a
paper presented October 25 in New York City at a conference, “Changes in Higher
Education Since the 1960s,” sponsored by Manhattan Institute and the journal
Society. Full texts of all papers will be published in Society next spring and

Why Size Matters in College Preferences


By Stuart Taylor, Jr. and Richard Sander

Even for people who approve in
principle of some use of racial preferences in university admissions — notably
including Justice Anthony Kennedy — the size of the preferences, and of the
resulting racial gaps in academic performance in college and beyond, should
matter a great deal.

So it’s unfortunate (though
understandable, as explained below) that the size of the preferences at issue
in Fisher v. University of Texas was
not mentioned either during the Supreme Court’s October 10 oral argument or at
any other point in the discrimination lawsuit against UT by Abigail Fisher, a
disappointed white applicant.

But the Court could and should use
Fisher case to impose a
requirement — suggested in our new book,
— that from now on, a university’s burden of proving justification for its use
of racial preferences will include a requirement that it fully disclose the
size of its preferences (preferably including legacy and athletic preferences)
and of the mean gaps in college academic performance among students admitted on
the basis of preferences of various sizes.

Continue reading Why Size Matters in College Preferences

How the Colleges Skew U.S. History

American history has been radically transformed on our campuses. Traditional topics are now not only marginalized but “re-visioned” to become more compatible with the dominant race/class/gender paradigm.

In two posts last fall, I took a look at U.S. history offerings at Bowdoin College. The liberal arts college, one of the nation’s finest, long enjoyed a reputation as a training ground of Maine politicians, at both the state and federal level. The staffing of its History Department suggests that the college has abandoned that mission, with the intent to exclude significant portions of the American past. (Two of the department’s five Americanists specialize in U.S. environmental history; the department’s only non-environmental 20th century U.S. historian has a Ph.D. in the history of science.)

The department’s own U.S. offerings featured a heavy course emphasis on Western U.S. history, including a history of California, seemingly odd choices for a school in Maine but a subfield that heavily stresses such
trendy themes as environmental degradation, exploitation of Native Americans, and discrimination against Hispanics and Asians. In the previous semester, the department’s token “traditional” course topic, a class on the Cold War, was taught by the school’s historian of science and featured heavy use of film.

What about the situation at a larger–and more nationally renowned–History Department? To find out, I turned to the fall 2012 offerings at UCLA.

The department’s webpage excitedly announces three new course clusters in which undergraduates can specialize. Two of the topics raise eyebrows: “Gender, Sexuality, Women” (tailored to those, apparently, for whom the department’s more general race/class/gender approach isn’t enough) and “History in Practice,” which seems to invite politicization. “This cluster,” the
department indicates, “aims to provide an organizational footing for the
Department’s commitment to applying history in the service of the larger
community.” The third new cluster is oral history.

At the class level, this semester the UCLA department website lists 16 courses in U.S. history since 1789. No courses deal with the Early Republic or the early 19th century. The only coverage of the Civil War comes in the form of small portions of thematic courses dealing either with race or gender (Slavery: Narrative, Novel, and Film, History of Women in the U.S., 1860-1980).It offers no classes on U.S. military history or U.S. constitutional history. The only standard survey comes in the class dealing with the New Deal, World War II, and the immediate postwar period.

Look what the department emphasizes. A quarter of the classes deal with race. Another two courses focus on ethnicity–including Asian-American cuisine; another two focus on gender. Fifteen or twenty years ago, students might encounter these courses in an ethnic studies department, not a history department at one of the nation’s leading public universities.

Consider, moreover, what students receive from two of the few UCLA courses whose topics, at first glance, appear to be “traditional.” One course, on social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, is hopelessly slanted toward the left. We might expect some treatment of significant right-wing social movements, including the grassroots conservative activists profiled in Rick
Perlstein’s Before the Storm; the conservative women mobilized by Phyllis Schlafly to oppose the ERA; the pro-life activists mobilized by Roe; and perhaps most broadly, the emergence of a powerful grassroots movement of
conservative Christians who played a critical role in American society for the
next three decades.  But these are not covered. Whom does the course profile? African-Americans, Mexican Americans,  Native Americans, “At Large Advocates,” and “Radical Women and Gay Women.”

Continue reading How the Colleges Skew U.S. History

A ‘Magisterial’ Work on Affirmative Action


“Mend it, don’t end it” was the famous advice
on affirmative action from Bill Clinton, who did neither. There are, of course,
other useful slogans, such as “Muddle it,” which the Supreme Court essentially did
in the 2003 Gratz and Grutter cases. The Court held that the University
of Michigan could not give a fixed number of points to minority applicants but
that its law school could give even more substantial preferences based on race
so long as it sufficiently disguised what it was doing under the smokescreen of
individualized, “holistic” review.

Now under new leadership and with a few new
members, the Court will see if it can do better when it decides, after hearing
oral arguments this week, whether the University of Texas is allowed to
supplement its successful, facially race-neutral diversity-producing “top 10%”
admissions policy by taking race into account in the admission of other

Continue reading A ‘Magisterial’ Work on Affirmative Action

We Don’t Need a Different “Affirmative Action”

the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. Texas, a case challenging racial preferences in college
admissions, the Wall Street Journal published a piece purporting to give “A
Liberal Critique of Racial Preferences.”

Richard Kahlenberg argued (as he almost always does) in favor of changing “affirmative
action” to a system based on socio-economic class. That is, rather than
colleges giving preference to students because of their ancestry, they would
instead give preferences to students from relatively poor families. Kahlenberg
thinks it better to selectively admit some applicants, no matter what their
race, from low-income and working-class families than to admit some from
affluent families on account of their race.

case for preferences based on socio-economic status (SES) is no better than
that for race. I will focus on the most central one: It accomplishes no good.

argument is that racial preferences made sense in the past, when doors were closed
to many Americans based on their skin color, but today “obstacles to
opportunity are more closely associated with economic disadvantage.”

strongly disagree. Today the “obstacles to opportunity” are overwhelmingly
creations of government: occupational licensure, minimum wage laws, red tape
that impedes business formation, and so on. Those obstacles affect everyone,
although they have their strongest impact on the poor. But being poor is not itself
an obstacle.

this is besides the point. Kahlenberg isn’t describing a generic plan to boost
up the poor and working-class. He wants elite colleges and universities to give
prefer to the children of poor and working-class families. Suppose that a
plumber’s daughter in North Carolina has grades and SAT scores that make her an
automatic admit at UNC-Charlotte and a fairly likely admit at NC State. She applies
to Duke on a whim and is accepted not for her academic prowess but Duke’s desire
for SES diversity.

a diligent student, she will succeed whether she goes to UNCC, NC State, or
Duke, although at the latter she might find herself competing with students who
have more academic ability. Even if going to Duke wouldn’t cost her more (and
it almost certainly will), how is it beneficial for her to go there? Her career
prospects depend on her own accomplishments, not the name of her alma mater.

are two hidden assumptions in Kahlenberg’s argument — that elite schools give
students elite education and that America will be a fairer country if children
from “lower” SES backgrounds attend elite schools. Neither assumption is correct.
The supposedly elite schools don’t necessarily provide a better education.
Moreover, shuffling a few students “up” into those schools — while
simultaneously shuffling an equal number of non-preferred students “down” —
won’t make America any fairer. 

Look What they’ve Done to U.S. History

If you doubt that leftist activists now dominate the study and teaching of U.S. history, take a look at the program for the 2013 American Historical Association conference in New Orleans. The pattern  is similar to the University of Michigan’s history department, discussed here yesterday—a heavy emphasis on race, class, and gender, with more “traditional” topics frequently reconfigured to conform to the dominant paradigm.

Of the approximately 70 AHA panels devoted to U.S. history, a few unintentionally confirm the critique of the academy as a hotbed of left-leaning political activism. On a panel entitled “Using Oral History for Social Justice Activism,” scholars look at their partnership with “activists” seeking to undermine “the dominant historical narrative.” Yet the “narrative” that these social justice activists pursue seems to conform to, rather than undermine, the academic status quo—Chicano activists, anti-war activists “working in G.I. Coffee houses,” and “Shirley Chisholm’s best friend, secretary and hairdresser.” It’s hard to imagine much opposition in the contemporary academy to exploring the history of any type of underrepresented racial or ethnic groups—or certainly anti-war activists.

Continue reading Look What they’ve Done to U.S. History

In History—the Obsession with Race, Class and Gender

The University of Michigan history department has 28 tenured or tenure-track professors whose research specialties in some way relate to U.S. history after 1789. Race is the favorite topic; at least eleven of the department’s professors indicate that their research in some way deals with race in America. Gender is the next prominent area of specialization; at least seven of the professors offer research in this area (with some overlap with race). Race and gender are, obviously, important themes in U.S. history. But are they of such importance that they should dominate to this extent the Americanist wing one of the nation’s major departments? And is Michigan fulfilling its mission of preparing future citizens by offering such a limited view of the nation’s past?

With the rise of the race/class/gender approach, subfields perceived as excessively “traditional" or overly focused on “dead white males” have gone into decline—or, in the case of political history, have been “re-visioned” in the hopes of transferring focus to topics oriented around themes of race, class, and gender. Since (at least in large departments, or at elite institutions) U.S. history hires in the national (post-1789) period come in subfields, looking at personnel specialties can give a sense of exactly how a university does—or does not—fulfill its obligation to train future citizens in the foundational events of their nation.

Continue reading In History—the Obsession with Race, Class and Gender

The Next Toxic Ism: Realism

reality-check-ahead.jpgThe social sciences and humanities have not produced much of intellectual value for 25 years or so, but they have been enormously productive in generating “isms”widely held allegedly toxic beliefs that are said to undermine a professor-defined “good society.” The notable classics“racism,” “sexism,” classism, and nativismonce sufficed, but unexpected bursts of faculty creativity have given us ableism (privileging of the so-called physically “able”), Eurocentrism, ethnocentrism, elitism, masculinism, fatism (disdaining the differently sized), phallocentrism, and scentism (imposing the odor of one’s perfume or cologne on others), but not yet phalloscentismthe belief that men smell bad.

Ageism, lookism (judging people by physical appearances),
heterosexualism (privileging heterosexuals) and credentialism
(emphasizing paper credentials) are approaching classic status. So is
speciesism, the faulty belief that humans are somehow more important
than deer ticks.

Continue reading The Next Toxic Ism: Realism

Yes, Professors Work Hard, But…

Do college professors work harder than other upper-middle-class Americans, or less hard? Former college president David C. Levy’s March 23 op-ed in the Washington Post, arguing that faculty members ought to increase their classroom time by up to 67 percent, ignited a fierce debate in academe. Levy’s op-ed alone generated 1,352 comments online, mostly from professors insisting that they work very hard, what with preparing for classes, grading papers, meeting with students, sitting on committees, and doing the scholarly research that enabled them to win tenure and thus keep their jobs.

Continue reading Yes, Professors Work Hard, But…

Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

adjunct union protests.jpgSome two-thirds of America’s college students are taught by adjuncts, and now the battle is on over whether these low-paid, low-status workers should be unionized. Adjuncts, also called contingent faculty, are teachers hired without tenure, paid a small fraction of those on tenure-track positions, (typically $2700 per course, with minimal benefits). All three college faculty unions–the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–have recently ramped up unionization campaigns while non-academic unions like the United Auto Workers have likewise entered the battle. The stakes are high both for institutions and for individuals.

One does not have to be a Marxist to yell, “Exploitation!” Endless tales of “Gypsy Scholars” abound–young men and women struggling with no job security to teach as many as six courses per semester, occasionally at multiple schools, lacking any health or pension plan at a salary comparable to working at McDonalds. Meanwhile tenure-track colleagues, some of whom may be brain dead, enjoy a princely wage (with generous benefits) for teaching identical courses. So, what better way to eliminate this blatant unfairness than unionization?

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How To Bridge the Educational Divide

In an essay in the Wall Street Journal plugging his new book “Coming Apart” (which I haven’t read yet), Charles Murray writes about a new American divide: “We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”

Conservatives like Richard Vedder see this as the inevitable result, not of a system rigged to favor the elite, but of bad government policies, particularly in education: because of government-sponsored grants and students loans, too many people are in college who shouldn’t be there; decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other legislative actions have virtually eliminated employment testing, which paved the way for certification inflation and the need for a college degree; laws protecting labor unions have virtually allowed them to put a choke-hold on the K-12 public school system.

These points have merit. But will less (or no) government support and more “vouchers and other pro-competitive measures” at all levels of education reverse the decline of real opportunities that Professor Vedder finds so disheartening? Should the free market determine who has access to higher education and can advance economically, culturally, even socially?

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How Universities Promote the “Coming Apart” of America

Coming Apart.JPGEvery decade or so, Charles Murray writes a blockbuster book captivating America. First came Losing Ground, focusing attention on our dysfunctional system of public assistance, and, along with Richard Herrnstein, The Bell Curve, a controversial but rigorous examination of the role played by cognitive endowments in American life. I suspect his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, will be another mega hit. Based on a quick read, Murray demonstrates the growing gaps between affluent upper-middle-class Americans and their blue-collar, lower-income counterparts. He confines his analysis to whites to avoid all sorts of unrelated side issues, including the tendency to see the growing gap between Americans as primarily a problem of race, ethnicity or bias.

Murray’s thesis is simple: a powerful new class has emerged in America, based on cognitive and educational homogamy–the interbreeding of individuals with like characteristics. Colleges and universities have played a key role–particularly the elite institutions, which attract almost no one outside the top ten percent of the nation’s cognitive talent. (Fifty years ago, only three percent of Americans graduated from college, and the elite institutions tended to attract the well-connected and the economically successful, not necessarily the brightest.) These institutions now function as sorting mechanisms. The exceptionally bright now tend to meet and then marry similarly bright partners. In addition to building a culture vastly different from that of mainstream America, they perpetuate the advantages that high levels of cognitive skills offer. As a result, Murray concludes, “Highly disproportionate numbers of exceptionally able children in the next generation will come from parents in the upper-middle class, and more specifically from parents who are already part of the broad elite.” As the new class pulls away from mainstream America, so does the discouraged underclass–now made up of all ethnicities–giving up on work, family and community.

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“OccupyCUNY” Fails

Commendably, the trustees of the City University of New York
refused to bow to intimidation, and put the best interests of the university
first by approving, in a 15-1 vote, a new tuition structure. The new policy grants
CUNY the authority to raise tuition by $300 annually for the next five years.

The decision, of course, met with outrage from the
“OccupyCUNY” movement, which appears to believe that unless CUNY can be funded
through a tax on New York millionaires, it should be starved of resources–and
that it certainly shouldn’t get any money through either private gift-giving or
minor tuition increases.

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The Embarrassment of “OccupyCUNY”

A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation on the state of the university by CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein. In the Q&A session, a student asked Goldstein for his opinion on sympathy-protests with Occupy Wall Street that had sprung up on various CUNY campuses. Goldstein gave what seemed to me a reasonable answer. He said that he sympathized with some OWS goals, disagreed with others, and supported the rights of students to peacefully protest at CUNY. But, he added, he would not tolerate protests that infringed on the learning experiences of other students, who might or might not agree with the protesters’ aims.

I suppose it was inevitable, nonetheless, that an “OccupyCUNY” movement would spring up to test Goldstein’s resolve. According to the New York Times, organizers “were protesting not only tuition increases [of $300 per year] but also the university’s push for a public-private partnership,” such as the $1.4 billion in private philanthropy that CUNY has received this year. Of course, if the university received no private support, either tuition bills would have to increase dramatically or services, including the number of faculty, would need to be slashed dramatically. But logic doesn’t appear to be a strong suit of “OccupyCUNY.”

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U.S. History as Taught at Bowdoin (Ugh)

“There are any number of courses that deal with some group aspect of America, but virtually none that deals with America as a whole. For example, there is African-American history from 1619 to 1865 and from 1865 to the present, but there is no comparable sequence on America. Every course is social or cultural history that looks at the world through the prism of race, class, and gender. Even a course on the environment (offered in the history department) “examines the links between ecology and race, class, and gender.” 

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Further Thoughts on the Rotenberg Letter

KC Johnson beat me to the punch in registering doubts and concerns about the letter University of Minnesota General Counsel Mark B. Rotenberg has written to Adam Kissel at FIRE regarding the education department’s review of the curriculum. Kissel and FIRE are to be praised for having wrought out of the university a letter assuring that the university will never “mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with ‘wrong beliefs’ from the University.” But, as KC observes, other statements in Rotenberg’s response cloud that pledge. As with ed school dean Jean Quam’s explanation of the review process a few weeks ago in the Star-Tribune, Rotenberg’s letter recasts several coercive and biased opinions about race, class, etc. into liberal, open-ended, broad-minded explorations of those matters.
The conversion happens in Rotenberg’s description of the process. Whereas the Task Group for Race, Culture, Class, and Gender offered a set of tendentious “Outcomes” such as “Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege,” and asked students to engage in “self-discovery” assignments in which they were to reveal attitudes they hold that damage other groups and identities, Rotenberg pictures a group of “creative thinking” faculty members “re-exploring the designs of our teacher education programs.” For support, he cites Dean Quan chractertizing the process as “faculty brainstorming.” In his version, the demands of the task force turn into a marketplace-of-ideas climate in which nothing is prescribed but everything is entertained.
KC cites the sentence that follows Rotenberg’s assurance that the university will not mandate beliefs (“To the contrary . . .”). The following sentence is equally misleading, and deserves attention as well. It says that the ed school’s “commitment” to liberal education “was recognized by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in its 2006 evaluation of the College, which praised CEHD for ‘exposing candidates to a diversity of ideas and viewpoints,’ and for ‘respecting the variability of race/ethnicity, nationality, culture, language, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability status, and human potential.'”
Note, once again, the mendacious softening of language. Rotenberg defends the process as one aimed merely at “exposing” students to diverse viewpoints, and for teaching them to “respect” human variations. Would anybody reading the task group’s recommendations conclude that they allow students who have been exposed to “white privilege” argument to dispute them? Does the group allow students to read about “institutional racism” and decide that it isn’t all that important to the algebra classroom?

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The Minnesota Case—An Institutional Diagnosis

KC Johnson has spoken well of the Minnesota teacher education initiative, and his analysis of the op-ed by the dean of the College of Education, Jean Quam, identified the thorough disregard of claims of indoctrination made by columnist Katherine Kersten in the Star-Tribune. Quam’s defense is so feeble and misleading, in fact, that it deserves more scrutiny.
Just compare her summary statements about the initiative’s “diversity awareness” aims with actual statements made in the “Race, Class, Culture, Gender” report posted on the Minnesota blog on September 14th.
Regarding the focus on “issues of race, class, culture, and gender,” Quam says, “Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away.” Note the reasonable word “acknowledging,” an action that doesn’t prescribe how you acknowledge the issues and what judgments you make about them.
But one “OUTCOME” of the “Race, Class, Culture, Gender” report extends far beyond acknowledgement:
“Our future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression.”
In case anyone believes that “drawing on notions of white privilege etc.” leaves open the possibility that one might conclude that “white privilege” is a mistaken, tendentious, errant, or irrelevant notion, another “OUTCOME” allows no such answer:
“Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege.”

Continue reading The Minnesota Case—An Institutional Diagnosis

Be Glad You’re Not In These Classes

A new issue of the Dartmouth Review, and with it, a revealing listing of Dartmouth’s worst professors.

Here are some stellar academics:

A self-described “recovering racist” who makes her classes into an airing of grievances rather than a study of literature because she “can’t read male authors anymore,” Grantham injects her writing courses with dogmatic liberalism. Notorious for declaring Band-Aids “racist” because of their color, she terrorizes those who disagree with her and fills her class with rants that verge on insanity (the plight of the lobsters at the Co-Op apparently keeps her from sleeping at night). If you find yourself unlucky enough to be assigned to her Writing 5 section, bolt for the door.


One tasty tidbit: Padilla made her students come to an x-hour once to watch a movie extolling the virtues of the Zapatista terrorists who were fighting against the global capitalist conspiracy and the evil Mexican central government. The video featured the profound commentary of the angry bandmembers from Rage Against the Machine, countless crackpot academics, and even featured the indomitable, cop-killing Mumia Abu-Jamal. Take her classes only if you want to hear rants against US imperialism in Latin America.

Read on for more.

Rutgers Professors Cancel Classes For Anti-War Rally

The Rutgers Daily Targum, an expertly edited publication, offered a story on yesterday’s New Brunswick anti-war event, “U. professors cancel class in support of ralley” [sic]. Copy editing’s not their evident strength; this seems little surprise when you see what one of their Journalism professors thinks about holding classes. Bruce Reynolds and several other professors decided the rally important, and canceled any classes that might conflict with student attendance.

Part-time lecturer Bruce Reynolds of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies said although he does not have a personal opinion on the value of the Walk Out, he still cancelled his Writing and Editing for Print class in order to let anyone participate if they chose to.

“I think [protests] are as much a part of the college experience as anything else, and to deny them access to the Walk Out would be to deny them access to part of their education,” he said.

Another professor planned to walk out with her students as the rally began. All interviewed for the story seem to think the “Walk Out” an educational experience of obviously greater importance than, well, class attendance. This isn’t surprising, or objectionable from students, but it’s another thing entirely coming from professors. Professors are employed to provide instruction, to abrogate this for explicitly political purposes is a troublesome model. Students pay for classes, not for recommended activist hours.

You also can’t help but wonder which rallies trump classtimes – I doubt that a “Support Our Troops” event would prove “educational” enough to cancel a single class. Too many “ralleys” at Rutgers, clearly not enough instruction.

The Aristocratic Reign Of Group Preferences

Defenders and advocates of group preferences generally make their stand on a moral claim: group preferences are needed to advance the common social good. To oppose group preferences is, in turn, to act immorally. The vehemence with which defenders of group preferences frequently speak and the extreme tactics of some pro-preference groups such as By Any Means Necessary stem from this rootedness in moral conviction and moral antipathy.

Critics of group preferences also often make their stand on a moral basis. Many believe that group preferences perpetuate the sort of inequalities in our society that undermine the common good. Other critics tap directly into an almost visceral sense among Americans that group preferences are unfair. The critics of group preferences likewise imply some moral deficiency on the part of their opponents, who they see as not just advocates of unwise policy but also as architects of an unjust social order.

The moral claims of both supporters and critics run deep, but they of course do not exhaust the terms of the debate. We also make legal arguments, pragmatic claims about the likely consequences of policies, historical analyses, international comparisons, statistical investigations, and political appeals. This sprawl is characteristic of American life: whenever we debate something of fundamental importance, the arguments avalanche. Racial and gender preference began as an issue in graduate and professional programs in the 1970s, expanded into all of higher education, found welcome in the armed forces, and by the late 1980s moved into the corporate world. As the use of preferences expanded, the ideology of preferences centered on the concept of diversity diffused throughout American life until it was granted Constitutional imprimatur in 2003 in Justice O’Connor’s opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger.

But behind the avalanche of arguments when Americans debate something of fundamental importance, there is always a central moral question. Or perhaps better put, there is a tightly knit cluster of moral questions. Who are we? Whom do we aspire to become? What is the right way forward?

Continue reading The Aristocratic Reign Of Group Preferences