Tag Archives: identity politics

Here’s Why Public Colleges Could Face Defunding

Is America about to embark on the “mass defunding of public higher education”? Fredrik deBoer thinks it’s a real, horrifying possibility. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed and on his blog, he argues that the political basis for this defunding now exists.

The problem, according to the Pew Research Center, is that the list of truths self-evident to members of both political parties no longer includes the institutional value of higher education. On the question of whether colleges and universities have a positive or negative effect on the country, Pew found that Democrats had a favorable view of colleges by a wide margin, 72% to 19%, while Republicans had a negative view, 58% to 36%. Democrats’ support for higher education, always strong, has grown more pronounced since 2010. Only within the last year, however, have Republicans gone from favoring to opposing colleges and universities.

Identity-Politics Departments

This loss of bipartisan support constitutes a “crisis,” deBoer contends. Not only is America closely divided between two parties, but Republicans are especially powerful at the state level, where funding decisions about higher education are made. No, he doesn’t expect that the Republican governor and legislature of Wisconsin, for example, will shut down its flagship state university. But he does think that the Republican voters’ new consensus—higher education no longer merits deference or the benefit of the doubt—portends that states will start to close down identity-politics departments like Women’s Studies, and make taxpayer support contingent on enforcing “harsh restrictions on campus groups and how they can organize.”

DeBoer writes as an academic—he holds three degrees from three different public universities, and is Academic Assessment Manager at a fourth, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York—and as a leftist—another of his recent articles makes clear that he doesn’t want to regulate profit, but do away with it entirely.

Censoring Mainstream Views

Especially interesting, then, that he assigns a large share of the blame for public higher education’s crisis to the academic left. DeBoer “grew up believing that most professors live by” a “philosophy of non-coercion and intellectual pluralism.” The long list of recent incidents where campus activists have attempted to “censor completely mainstream views,” with the encouragement of some faculty and administrators and the acquiescence of others, has convinced him otherwise.

The professors and activists who used to insist that allegations of anti-conservative bias in academia were factually wrong, deBoer argues, have pivoted without pause or embarrassment to insisting that such anti-conservative bias is morally right. As a result, the “defenders of public universities” who “now mock the concept of public debate as a conservative shibboleth” have “created the conditions for the destruction” of these universities.

DeBoer’s opinion of this prospective destruction is particularly equivocal, which makes it particularly interesting. He certainly does not welcome the disaster he expects. The conservative movement incensed by campus radicalism “has one and only one remaining impulse,” he alleges, “which is to destroy its perceived enemies.”

Nevertheless, the victimhood studies associate professors and diversity office administrators will find the principal culprit for their coming unemployment in the mirror. There is, as the literary scholar John Erskine argued a century ago, a “moral obligation to be intelligent,” to “find out as far as possible whether a given action leads to a good or a bad end.” Accordingly, any system of ethics that excuses people from this duty is “vicious.” Erskine was restating the essence of Aristotle’s idea of prudence, practical wisdom, which called for pursuing moral outcomes by shrewdly assessing concrete situations.

Though he sympathizes with the campus activists’ social justice goals, deBoer also criticizes the willful blindness of educators who refuse to live in the world as it is. The fact that “public universities are chartered and funded as non-partisan institutions” makes the practical necessity to conciliate rather than anathematize one of the two major political parties into a moral imperative. Rather than confront this reality directly, however, the academic preference to strike poses of ironic indifference to it will, deBoer believes, “make it easier for reactionary power, every step of the way.”

Misinvesting in Higher Ed

Those who are reactionaries, or merely dubious about the social justice project, face a prudential question of their own: would the defunding of public higher education that deBoer fears lead to a good or a bad result? Several considerations deBoer does not consider argue in favor of it. Most importantly, there is a case to be made, one having nothing to do with academic politics, that we are over- and misinvesting in higher education, rather than under-investing. A bachelor’s degree used to set people apart in a way it no longer does.

Only 7.7% of American adults held one in 1960, compared to 33.4% in 2016. As economist Richard Vedder has repeatedly made clear, the growing ranks of bartenders, waiters, hairdressers, and letter carriers with undergraduate and graduate degrees argues that too many young people, not too few, are steered into the 120-credit-hour slog for that one credential. The resources, including public money and private time now squandered on that quest, would do more people more good if redirected to training programs that match the jobs actually attainable and emerging in the 21st century.

We’re also over-investing in higher education if too many college students receive degrees despite not learning anything in particular. In Academically Adrift (2011) Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa described precisely that situation: large numbers of recent college graduates are “failing to develop … higher order cognitive skills.” Specifically, 45% of the students Arum and Roksa studied were no better at critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication after two years of college than they were at freshman orientation, and 35% were no better after four years. This is a particular problem in large public institutions, where many students become “maze smart,” figuring out how to accumulate credit hours without really learning anything, and students and professors tacitly enter into a “mutual nonaggression pact,” exchanging good grades, easily earned, for students’ favorable evaluations of their instructors.

There is, in short, a strong case apart from anti-conservative bias for state legislatures to make far more skeptical, rigorous, and targeted funding decisions about post-secondary education. The political question all but cinches it. And the political question is not about exerting power or exacting revenge but affirming fairness. Non-coercion and intellectual pluralism really are valuable principles.

The fact that, with little optimism, deBoer appeals to self-preservation to get professors to respect these standards shows how contemptuously they are regarded in the academy. Elected officials who fail to uphold academic principles in the only language academics understand—by eliminating faculty lines and slashing budgets—will vindicate academia’s contempt for intellectual freedom, and for the taxpayers who subsidize higher education.

Our Exquisitely Sensitive Academic Culture

Mind your Ps and Qs,” Wikipedia tells us, “is an English expression meaning ‘mind your manners,’ ‘mind your language,’ ‘be on your best behavior.’” Recent advice provided in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that academic conference goers also need to mind their PC.

The Chronicle’s July 7 “Daily Briefing” to subscribers links to two “Talkers” who draw, unintentionally I am sure, a chilling picture of how brittle and thin-skinned academic culture has become. In one, “April Hathcock, a librarian at New York University, writes about race fatigue after attending an academic conference,” and in the other “Lucy Allen, an English professor at the University of Cambridge, argues in her blog that you shouldn’t fall back on the common question ‘Where are you from, originally?’”

In “‘Otherness’ and Conference Advice,” Professor Allen rejects the advice given in another recent Chronicle piece, Robin Bernstein’s “How to Talk to Famous Professors.” One example Bernstein suggested was “the old standby: Where are you from originally?” I suspect that what Bernstein had in mind — certainly what she could have had in mind — was that a nervous junior convention goer could reasonably assume that famous Professor Whatshisname from the University of Virginia lives in Charlottesville, and thus asking, “Where are you from, originally?” is a perfectly natural, neutral, unloaded conversation silence filler.

Professor Allen, however, no doubt ever attuned to dog whistles, hears something sinister: “There are many ways,” she warns, “to put your foot in it at conferences. But I’m fairly sure that using a phrase that’s stereotypically associated with ingrained racism/xenophobia is one of the more easily avoided ones.”

Just as everything looks like a nail if all you have is a hammer, so, too, everything can look like a micro- or even a macro-aggression if much of your personal and professional life is spent inhaling a miasma of race, gender, and ethnicity. Thus, after spending five days at the American Library Association convention in Chicago, New York University librarian April Hathcock writes, “Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people. The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue.”

Ms. Hathcock is tired “of being tone-policed and condescended to and ’splained to.” She’s tired “of listening to white men librarians complain about being a ‘minority’ in this 88% white profession – where they consistently hold higher positions with higher pay – because they don’t understand the basics of systemic oppression.”

They’re librarian, she adds disdainfully, “You’d think they’d know how to find and read a sociology reference, but whatever.” She’s tired, in short, of white people, even “well-meaning white people” who want to “‘hear more’ about the microaggressions you’ve suffered and witnessed, not because they want to check in on your fatigue, but because they take a weird pleasure in hearing the horror stories and feeling superior to their ‘less woke’ racial compatriots.”

But “Don’t get me wrong,” she concludes. It wasn’t all bad. “I caught up with friends and colleagues of color and met new ones. These moments kept me going. And I did have some moments of rest with a few absolutely invaluable and genuine white allies.” Who knows? Maybe even some of her best friends are white, though it sounds like whites are at best allies in “this racial battle called life.”

How sad … and depressing since her sentiments are no doubt not unique.

A Catholic Professor’s Problems at a Catholic College

Anthony Esolen is an embattled professor at Providence (R.I.) College, an aggressively Catholic believer at an institution run by Dominican priests but less forthrightly Catholic than he is. Esolen teaches Renaissance literature and the development of Western culture. Among his books is a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy regarded as one of the best. He is also a well-known personality on Facebook, dealing with subjects from the erudite to the playful.

His articles in conservative Christian journals critical of the diversity movement and identity politics have made him the target of activist students of the left and some professors (most prominently those in the black studies program). These detractors have generated a petition seeking his ouster from his college for “publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic.”

Esolen has a low opinion of identity politics and the diversity movement and has referred to some of the activists as “narcissists” who want to study only themselves. In an interview with Rod Dreher of the American Conservative last November Esolen said: “The dirty not-so-secret is that the same people who for many years have loathed our Development of Western Civilization program — the focus of curricular hostility — also despise the Catholic Church and wish to render the Catholic identity of the college merely nominal.”

Support for Esolen by the college president, Father Brian Shanley, has been tepid, of the sort sometimes issued by Catholic administrators embarrassed to be interrupted while converting a Catholic college into a formerly Catholic one. Over the weekend, in a Facebook post, Esolen said of his scheduled speech, “Christ and the Meaning of Cultural Diversity,” that if he tried to give it, he had been told that activist students would shut it down. He said on Facebook: “It is no longer clear to me that Providence College would qualify as ‘worth attending’.”

Image: Anthony Esolen

Can Sociology be Saved?

While the American Sociological Association continues to congratulate itself for a rising number of bachelor’s degrees in sociology, traditional sociology seems to matter less than ever before. Apart from the recent and brilliant Strangers in Their Own land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild, not many sociologists have a good grasp of what’s happening in society today.

The Vote for Trump

And few, other than Hochschild, seem to have any idea of how to explain what motivated union members, women, minorities and the working poor to help elect President Donald Trump. In a series of articles about the 2016 election, published by the ASA, sociologists erroneously blamed racism, hyper-masculinity, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, for the attraction to President Donald Trump.

The increases in sociology undergraduate majors has more to do with student fascination with criminology and criminal justice concentrations within the sociology major than it does with traditional sociology. Realizing that the traditional discipline no longer attracted undergraduates, many sociology departments became savvy marketers promising potential criminology students that they would be studying subjects like serial killers, gangs, school shootings, family violence and substance abuse.  For example, one Texas university sociology website posts “true-crime” photos of the Columbine school shooters, and Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous cannibalistic serial murderer, to draw students to their criminology courses.

The CSI Effect

Even the ASA attributes a kind of “CSI-effect” for the increase in criminal justice concentrations in sociology and laments that part-time adjunct faculty who work in forensics, law enforcement, corrections, and juvenile justice are more likely to teach these undergraduate “sociology” students than traditionally trained PhD-level sociologists.

In fact, the ASA was so concerned about the loss of traditional sociology that the organization commissioned a study in 2011 which acknowledged that increasing numbers of sociology departments fear losing majors as the number of criminology and criminal justice students continue to increase while those who major in sociology without this concentration have dramatically declined.

The Profession Decomposes

The splintering off from traditional sociology was predicted decades ago by the late great sociologist, Irving Louis Horowitz, in his book, The Decomposition of Sociology.  Horowitz decried the “separation of the substance” of sociology into its elements, and claimed that the breakdown has caused “the decay of sociology as a field of study.”  Pointing out that sociology had dissolved into its parts: criminology, urban studies, demography, policy analysis, social history, decision theory, and hospital and medical administration, Horowitz charged that all sociology has been left with is “pure theory: sections of itself on Marxism, feminism and Third Worldism.” For Horowitz, sociology had become “a strident interest group, a husk instead of a professional society.”

The Discontent of Politicization

The politicization of the discipline has created “a repository of discontent,” he wrote, that is no longer a science of society, but rather a gathering of individuals who have special agendas, from GLBTQ rights to radical feminism and liberation theology.  The consequence of the influx of ideologists and special interests has been the outflow of scientists of those for whom the study of society is an empirical discipline, serving at most, those policy planners interested in piecemeal reform.

Horowitz writes, “Sociology has seen the departure of urbanologists, social planners, demographers, criminologists, penologists, hospital administrators, international development specialists—in short, the entire range of scholars for whom social science is linked to public policy.” Today, in criminology, sociologists play a minor role, eclipsed by the expertise of police officers, forensics experts, legal and paralegal personnel. As Horowitz warned, “sociology is now reduced to barking from the sidelines with such shrill treatises as Against Criminology.”

There was a time when sociology was willing to provide verifiable facts on social phenomenon—even if the data did not support the claims of the advocacy community. But, because so much sociological research is now agenda-driven, many of our statistics are suspect.  Helping to maintain the false narrative that one-in-five women on college campuses are victims of sexual assault, some sociologists have been complicit in promoting a moral panic on campus.

Despite the false narrative that college campuses have become unsafe places for women, a recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics has revealed that the rate of rape and other sexual assault on college campuses has actually declined from 9.2 per 1,000 college students in 1997 to 4.4 per 1,000 in 2013.  Far from being a site of violence, the data indicates that female college students are safer from sexual assault while in college than at any other time in their lives.

Didn’t Fit the Narrative

Yet, much of sociology seems to have missed these data because they do not fit the narrative of a hypermasculinized culture that victimizes women. Even the highly respected sociologist Barbara Risman, a former President of Sociologists for Women and Society, has added to that false narrative on the contributors to sexual violence on college campuses. Risman claims to have begun her commitment to ending gender inequality when she experienced sexual discrimination at her own bat mitzvah in 1968—a time when only boys were allowed to read from the Torah.

In a recent article published by the American Sociological Association entitled, “How to Do Sociology in the Trump Era,” Risman suggests that sociologists need to “focus on the culture…get our ideas, research and evidence out there…bring our work beyond the New York Times.” The only problem is that people have seen some of their sociological “research and evidence” and they know that much of it is false.

Many of us have learned that some sociological research studies are “more equal than others.” Just ask sociologists, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, and Paul Sullins of Catholic University—both of whom have used sophisticated statistical modeling and non-partisan national data sets to study the effects of same-sex parenting on children, and both have been vilified because of their politically incorrect findings.

Regnerus found that children raised in households where at least one parent had had a same-sex relationship reported higher rates of unhappiness and relationship instability. And in a study that used data from the nonpartisan National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to track children raised by same-sex couples over a period of 13 years, Sullins found that those raised in same-sex homes were at over twice the risk of depression than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Misstating Data for a Cause

The children raised in same-sex households were also more likely to experience obesity, “imbalanced closeness,” and child abuse. Worse, the difference between traditional and same-sex homes was even more marked when it came to considering suicide: 7 percent of young adults raised in traditional families reported having suicidal thoughts compared with 37 percent of same-sex homes.

Defining down the Regnerus and Sullins data, the ASA filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in 2015 in the same-sex marriage cases that were then pending before the court. In the brief, the ASA maintained that there is a “social-science consensus that children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as children raised by different-sex parents.” Referring specifically to the data presented by Regnerus and Sullins, the ASA claimed in the brief that the negative research findings by Regnerus and Sullins has been “mischaracterized” by same-sex marriage opponents, and concluded that “we should not exclude children living with same-sex parents from the additional stability and economic security that marriage can provide.”

Randall Collins, the President of the ASA in 2010-2011, once lamented that sociology has “lost all coherence as a discipline; we are breaking up into a conglomerate of specialties, each going its own way and with none too high regard for each other.” With more than 50 different sections, the ASA itself has indeed splintered into interest and advocacy groups. Sometimes even the sections themselves have had to split over theoretical or methodological disagreements over contested terrain. There are now two separate sections devoted to sexuality: one is called the Sociology of Sexualities, and the other is the section on Sex and Gender. There is talk of a further split as the transgendered have become concerned about marginalization by the other two.

Sociology Lost its Way

Some of the sections are devoted to esoteric topics.  For example, the section on Body and Embodiment is devoted to encouraging and enhancing theory, research teaching on human and non-human bodies, morphology, human reproduction, anatomy, body fluids and other similar topics.  A prize-winning paper in that section a few years ago was titled: “Sometimes I think I might say too much: Dark Secrets and the Performance of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Irving Louis Horowitz knew in 1994 that sociology had lost its way—but his book offered a way out.  He knew that sociology could offer a common language of discourse, logic and method, but he also knew that a positive outcome for sociology required what he called “a double-edged struggle: against the political barbarians at the gate and against the professional savages who have already gotten inside.”  He knew that the price of success would be high, but the cost of failure—to sociology as well as to society itself —makes the effort an absolute necessity.

Anne Hendershott is a professor of sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education (Transaction Books).

Can America Survive Its Elites?

In his posthumously published The End of the Experiment, the great social scientist Stanley Rothman makes a pessimistic– and cogent– argument that our recent history is building up to the end of the American experiment in self-government. Rothman sees our national nadir as reflecting long-term, likely terminal elite dysfunction stemming from the impact of the New Left in the 1960s. For Rothman, based on surveys and his analysis, the thinking of the new left has replaced classical liberalism among America’s young, including Herbert Marcuse’s dictum that the silencing of the opposition is necessary for the triumph of progressive ideas.

A Nation Based on Values

American greatness came out of a set of ideas from the Founders and 19th-century intellectuals building a national identity, ideas not based on the static ethnic European loyalties America broke free of, but rather on shared principles celebrating an individual rather than a collective agency. As Ben Wattenberg put it in 1991, the Founders’ vision eventually created the first universal nation, one based on values rather than blood.

Our ultimately successful battles against slavery at home and fascism and communism abroad depended on shared American values and identity rather than the subnational tribal loyalties of Europe, or for that matter the Old South. Those shared values enabled individual Americans to take risks for our nation, including standing up to fascist and Communist adversaries.

The Founders understood the fragility of the American republic, based as it was on values. America’s legitimacy rests on elite and mass acceptance of Calvinist values, success through work, love of God more than self, American nationalism trumping tribalism, integrity in public and private interactions, and restraining individual passions. These accorded with institutions the Founders fashioned, chief among them a limited, constitutional government accountable to citizens.

Teaching the Constitution

Those institutions, in turn, depend on secondary institutions like schools and universities. As Frederick M. Hess documents in The Same Thing Over and Over, after the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and others pushed for widespread schooling to teach national heritage and support for the Constitution, a unique document restraining government. Though early American “public” schools were often associated with and located in churches, they taught support for the Republic in ways transcending sectarian boundaries. This mission was also supported by our colleges and universities, which had deep religious and patriotic roots emphasizing self-sacrifice at the service of God and nation, as shown by such works as C. John Sommerville’s The Decline of the Secular University, and James Piereson’s “The American University: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” within my co-edited book, The Politically Correct University.

Relatedly, in The End of Equality neoliberal Mickey Kaus points out that for men, compulsory military service in the first half of the 20th century privileged national over ethnic, regional, and class loyalties. Elitists such as Prescott Bush and Joseph P. Kennedy pulled strings to get their sons in combat. Elite universities had a substantial military presence. No matter one’s station, military service created an American identity.

Support for Founding Values Faded

Transcending tribal boundaries is essential to good governance in electoral democracies, forcing politicians to base appeals on their achievements for all citizens rather than narrow group affinities as “one of us.” This narrative fits the political model of influential political scientist V.O. Key. In The Responsible Electorate, published posthumously in 1966, Key declared “voters are not fools”: significant numbers of “switchers” change their votes from election to election to hold incumbent politicians accountable for their performance in office.

Sadly, as Rothman shows, through the 20th century, support for the founding values fell away, first among university intellectuals. Progressive intellectuals embraced “expressive individualism and collectivist liberalism,” having suffered “a loss of faith in the efficacy and legitimacy of the political system, as well as…in the values of Western culture.” They sought to replace the American Republic with rule by unelected and unaccountable technocrats of their tribe. Intellectuals embraced values antithetical to personal responsibility, privileging identities based not on achievement, but on ethnicity and eventually gender identity.

America–Hollywood’s Villain

Initially, these ideological and cultural movements remained largely within the confines of the Ivory Tower. By the late 1960s, however, New Left elites began to work their way from academia through cultural, media, and educational institutions, seeking and gradually attaining power. As Rothman shows, these “these radical adults had a greater need for power and a greater fear of power. They were also more narcissistic.”  Accordingly, they sought and obtained power, over the long term taking over the leading educational, media, and cultural institutions.

As Rothman shows systematically, by the late 20th Century both high-school civics texts and Hollywood films moved from (perhaps overly) positive views of American institutions, to accentuate the negative, with ever more disparaging views on the military, patriotism, the traditional family, organized religion and America’s performance on the world stage. From 1975 on, America and its leaders were the conventional villains in movies and on TV. The colleges and universities led the way on these cultural and ideological changes. While the campus furor of the 1960s faded, a cultural anti-Americanism is now hardwired into the ivory tower and subsidiary institutions.

Evasive Academics

Over time, journalists, entertainers and educators took their cues from intellectuals in a thousand ways great and small, from skewering conservative institutions like the military, marriage, and organized religion to avoiding mention of the horrendous failures of central planning during the entire 2016 election involving a prominent socialist. Also, leading professional academic organizations continue to conduct conferences on income inequality without including a single presentation exploring the greatest statistical correlate of income inequality– the rise in single-parent families. Indeed, anyone making such a presentation would have difficulty earning tenure, as the experience of Daniel Patrick Moynihan indicates.

Expressive individualism and an end of patriotism meant that post-1960s elites did not see the American republic as worthy of individual sacrifice. Over the past half century, American elites have avoided military service, with its dangers and distasteful contact across class lines. As Frank Bruni writes in The New York Times, only four veterans now attend Yale: One studies at Princeton, and Harvard refused to provide data. Along with Ivy League pedigrees and a penchant for crony capitalism, a key Clinton/Trump commonality is having no family in the military. In the various wars on terror, American elites have no skin in the game nor empathy for those they send to fight, and thus no penchant for success rather than the appearance of success.

Generally, American politics now models itself on university politics. Elites fail to address obvious causal relationships. Instead, they stress group identity, judging others by whether they belong to our tribes, not whether they do their jobs. Nor do they embrace American exceptionalism in any way shape or form; thus when President Trump, like President Obama before him, fails to find a difference between traditional American foreign policy and the murderous records of Vladimir Putin and his more openly Soviet predecessors, America’s media and academia are unable to point out the silliness. This is indeed a post-truth word.

The demise of truth, and with it accountability, may well mark the end of the American experiment, leading us to ponder what comes next.

‘Anti-White Rhetoric Comes Right out of the Academy’

Democratic pundits are calling on their party to court working-class and non-coastal whites in the wake of November’s electoral rout. But the Democratic Party is now dominated by identity politics, which defines whites, particularly heterosexual males, as oppressors of every other population in the U.S. Why should the targets of such thinking embrace an ideology that scorns them.

The most absurd Democratic meme to emerge from the party’s ballot-box defeat is the claim that it is Donald Trump, rather than Democrats, who engages in “aggressive, racialized discourse,” in the words of a Los Angeles Times op-ed. By contrast, President Barack Obama sought a “post-racial, bridge-building society,” according to New York Times reporter Peter Baker. Obama’s post-racial efforts have now “given way to an angry, jeering, us-against-them nation,” writes Baker, in a front-page “news” story.

Post-Racial Bridge-Building?

Tell that valedictory for “post-racial bridge-building” to police officers, who have been living through two years of racialized hatred directed at them in the streets, to the applause of many Democratic politicians. Black Lives Matter rhetoric consists of slogans like: “CPD [Chicago Police Department] KKK, how many children did you kill today?” “Fuck the police,” and “Racist, killer cops.” Officers have been assassinated by Black Lives Matter-inspired killers who set out to kill whites in general and white police officers in particular.

Gun murders of law enforcement officers are up 67 percent this year through November 23, following five ambushes and attacks over the November 18 weekend that left a San Antonio police officer and a U.S. Marshall dead. A few days before those weekend shootings, anarchist wannabes in Austin led a counting chant based on the template: “What’s better than X dead cops?  X + 1 Dead Cops.”

President Obama welcomed Black Lives Matter activists several times to the White House. He racialized the entire criminal-justice system, repeatedly accusing it of discriminating, often lethally, against blacks. At the memorial service for five Dallas police officers gunned down in July 2016, Obama declared that black parents were right to fear that “something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door”—that the child will be shot by a cop simply for being “stupid.”

A Rosy View of ‘Black Lives Matter’

Obama put Brittany Packnett, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, on his President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Packnett’s postelection essay on Vox, “White People: what is your plan for the Trump presidency?” is emblematic of the racial demonology that is now core Democratic thinking. Packnett announces that she is “tired of continuously being assaulted” by her country with its pervasive “white supremacy.” She calls on “white people” to “deal with what white people cause,” because “people of color have enough work to do for ourselves—to protect, free, and find joy for our people.”

Packnett’s plaint about crushing racial oppression echoes media darling Ta-Nehesi Coates, whose locus classicus of maudlin racial victimology, Between the World and Me, won a prominent place on Obama’s 2015 summer reading list. Coates has received almost every prize that the elite establishment can bestow; Between the World and Me is now a staple of college summer reading lists.

‘Evil of Cops is the Evil of America’

According to Coates, police officers who kill black men are not “uniquely evil”; rather, their evil is the essence of America itself. These “destroyers” (i.e., police officers) are “merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. This legacy aspires to the shackling of black bodies.” In America, Mr. Coates claims, “it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”

Coates’s melodramatic rhetoric comes right out of the academy, the inexhaustible source of Democratic identity politics. The Democratic Party is now merely an extension of left-wing campus culture; few institutions exist wherein the skew toward Democratic allegiance is more pronounced. The claims of life-destroying trauma that have convulsed academia since the election are simply a continuation of last year’s campus Black Lives Matter protests, which also claimed that “white privilege” and white oppression were making existence impossible for black students and other favored victim groups.

Black students at Bard College, for example, an elite school in New York’s Hudson Valley, called for an end to “systemic and structural racism on campus . . . so that Black students can go to class without fear.” If any black Bard student had ever been assaulted by a white faculty member, administrator, or student, the record does not reflect it.

Massive Racial Preferences

These claims of “structural racism and institutional oppression,” in the words of Brown University’s allegedly threatened black students, overlook the fact that every selective college in the country employs massive racial preferences in admissions favoring less academically qualified black and Hispanic students over more academically qualified white and Asian ones. Every faculty hiring search is a desperate exercise in finding black and Hispanic candidates whom rival colleges have not already scooped up at inflated prices.

Far from being “post-racial,” campuses spend millions on racially and ethnically separate programming, separate dorms, separate administrators, and separate student centers. They have created entire fields devoted to specializing in one’s own “identity,” so long as that identity is non-white, non-male, or non-heterosexual. The central theme of those identity-based fields is that heterosexual, white (one could also add Christian) males are the source of all injustice in the world.  Speaking on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show in the wake of Trump’s election, Emory philosophy professor George Yancy, author of Look, A White!, called for a nationwide “critique of whiteness,” which, per Yancy, is at the “core side of hegemony” in the U.S.

To combat that hegemony, Democratic administrations in Washington and state capitals have built permanent bureaucracies dedicated to the proposition that white males discriminate against everyone else. Evidence of such discrimination is by now exceedingly rare, however, so “disparate impact” analysis steps into the breach. Police and fire departments, public and private employers, bank lending officers, landlords, insurers, school administrators, and election officials have all been found guilty of discrimination despite following race-neutral procedures. The mandated remedy is a race-conscious policy crafted to favor non-white, non-male “identity.”

Hillary Clinton employed classic Democratic “racialized discourse” throughout the campaign. During a Democratic presidential primary debate in January 2016, Clinton agreed that it was “reality” that police officers see black lives as “cheap.” In a February debate, she accused Wisconsin, along with other states, of “really systemic racism” in education and employment.

‘Basket of Deplorables’ Is Campus Rhetoric

In July she called on “white people” to put themselves in the shoes of African-American families who “need to worry” that their child will be killed by a police officer. When Clinton called half of Trump’s supporters “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it” who belonged in a “basket of deplorables,” she was speaking the language of the academy, now incorporated into the Democratic worldview.

Democratic politicians and the media will respond that such charges of systemic white

oppression are not “racialized discourse”; they are simply the truth. Such a claim is an insult to the overwhelming majority of white Americans who harbor no bigotry and who long to live in a truly post-racial society. Many of Trump’s white supporters voted for Obama, and the most conservative whites in the U.S. have had one love affair after another with conservative black media figures and politicians, whether Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Allen West, Ben Carson, or David Clarke. Yet these former Obama voters and Tea Party supporters are now being called racist for voting for Trump.

Trump’s sally during the first Republican primary debate that “this country doesn’t have time” for “total political correctness” sent a signal that the reigning presumptions about oppression were finally vulnerable. The message resonated. Democrats will have to do much more than invoke traditional Democratic class warfare to convince non-elite white voters that the party does not see them as one of America’s biggest problems.

This essay is reprinted with permission from City Journal, a publication of The Manhattan Institute.

How Colleges and Universities Foster “Hate Culture”

Many of my colleagues and students are responding to the results of the 2016 presidential election with fear, disappointment, and disbelief. For some, Trump’s victory and the social unrest that followed dramatically changed their perceptions of Americans, democracy, and human nature. They are mourning the loss of a progressive dream.

Although I share my colleagues’ and students’ concerns that the current political climate has emboldened people who say and do hateful things to others, I am in no way surprised by the election outcome or its aftermath. These events are entirely predictable and much of what we do in higher education has contributed to them. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, institutions of higher education have helped to foster what some people have referred to as “hate culture.”

Academics frequently identify conditions that lead to negative behavior. For example, in order to address sexual violence on campus, sociologists and others identify the forces behind “rape culture,” including the objectification of women in the media and glorification of “hyper-masculinity.”  Similarly, my colleagues who study terrorism identify socio-political conditions, such as unemployment, as contributing factors. At the same time, we seem unwilling to examine the culture and psychology behind hate crimes, as if this would be excusing the behavior or “blaming the victim.” Yet, we cannot merely stomp out hate through coercion, punishment, and social shaming. If we want to prevent or reduce group conflict, we have to identify the social conditions that create it. I argue that an honest assessment of group behavior reveals that academics often contribute to the problem by amplifying social identities.

According to Henri Tajfel and John Turner’s (1979) social identity theory, one’s self-esteem is tied to the status of the groups to which one belongs. People elevate the status of their own groups by comparing them to lower status groups. The salience of these social identities is malleable and researchers have found that they can actively manipulate the strength of people’s social identities by priming them to think about their group memberships or by introducing threat from another group. In higher education, we consistently prime social identity.  Strong social identities lead to intensified group conflict, as defense of one’s own group is achieved through degradation of other groups.

On college campuses, political dialog is driven by a commitment to identity politics — activism in support of movements that are organized to promote the status of people based on categories such as gender, race, religion, or sexual preference. Social movements are not always defined according to these groups. For example, Marxist movements defined conflict by class, thereby bringing together people of various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Social movements can also be driven by ideology or shared values, such as the environmental movement.

This isn’t to say that colleges should not educate students on the history of discrimination against women, blacks, or other groups. Students should be educated on how laws, social norms, and values shape the distribution of power in society. They should study the psychology of discrimination, prejudice, and bias. Yet, academics often pursue social and political goals, choosing sides between groups in a conflict.  For example, The American Studies Association has declared a boycott on Israeli universities as a show of opposition for Israel’s actions in Palestine.

Fostering strong social identities is a recipe for group conflict. Colleges prime social identities in a number of ways. For example, we strengthen social identity when we sort students into housing options by race or ethnicity, rather than shared interests; when we spend more time talking about group differences than about our common humanity; and when we create “safe spaces” to protect some groups of people from others.  All students should have ‘spaces’ where they are safe and comfortable, surrounded by people they trust. The rest of us have this safe space.  We call it “home.”  The problem comes when we assign these spaces based solely on social identity.  It’s the equivalent of moving into segregated neighborhoods. This makes us feel more comfortable at home, but it has negative consequences for our interactions with others.

Colleges and universities encourage students to think primarily in terms of social identity. To make matters worse, we then encourage conflict between groups by framing debates as false dichotomies. The current uproar over free speech on campus is a great example. Free speech is not inherently pro-egalitarian or anti-egalitarian. The Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on the protection of free speech and freedom of the press to spread its message in the face of institutionalized opposition.

Free speech often protects minority voices. Yet, colleges and universities have established speech codes on campus, aimed at protecting vulnerable minority groups from words or phrases that might offend. This sends students the message that one group’s rights are gained at the expense of another group. Free speech is now frequently framed as something that protects racists, sexists, and other “deplorables.”

Arguing in favor of free speech threatens to paint one into this group or, at the very least, suggests that one is insensitive to the needs of minorities. The assumption that silencing offensive ideas reduces hostility against vulnerable groups is deeply flawed. Research shows that the classical liberal approach is more useful – we confront harmful ideas by exposing them to truth.  At the very least, grappling with uncomfortable ideas is more fitting to an institution whose purpose is education.  Silencing ideas is more suited to an institution whose primary purpose is scoring points in the culture wars.

Finally, we add fuel to this fire because we tend to favor some voices and perspectives over others. We do this when we are too quick to label ideas as “racist,” “sexist,” or “homophobic,” merely because they do not conform to the most progressive ideals; people who favor greater enforcement of immigration laws are “racists,” as is anyone who admits to voting for Trump. The search for microaggressions contributes to this sense that anything that offends protected groups is off limits, even if no harm is intended. Students are actively encouraged to recognize and report microaggressions.

In other words, we encourage them to approach others with suspicion and distrust, rather than goodwill and generosity. Even ambiguous words and behaviors may be reported to overzealous “bias response teams.” Merely the accusation that one has said something racist, sexist, or offensive can do irreparable damage to one’s reputation.  The effect of this is that some students are afraid to have open, meaningful conversations with faculty or peers about sensitive topics. This impedes our efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding.  And when people believe they are denied legitimate voice in the system, they are more likely to engage in hostile, antisocial behavior.

Well-meaning liberal academics have helped to create our current predicament by promoting a toxic political environment that unnecessarily triggers group conflict. We encourage “hate culture” by creating an environment in which: (1) power and conflict is defined primarily in terms of social identities, such that social identity is frequently primed and becomes more salient than shared values or ideologies; (2) power is defined as a zero-sum game, creating false dichotomies between winners and losers, or victims and perpetrators, which are defined by social identity; (3) the opinions and experiences of members of some groups are awarded less value than those of others, contributing to feelings that one has little voice.

These are the conditions that would seem to create group conflict and cause people to act out aggressively against members of other groups.  I think it is clear that these conditions are rampant on college campuses. In the name of promoting social justice, we are instead promoting group conflict.

How Student Protesters Cheat Themselves

One common complaint of protesting students is the old multiculturalist argument that the curriculum is too white and male and Western.  The petition filed by students at Seattle University is a case in point.

Once again, we have outlandish allegations of racism and harassment leveled against one of the most progressive enclaves on Planet Earth, the liberal arts campus.  The students term it “a longstanding history of oppression,” and their “concerns are urgent and necessitate an immediate response” (another feature of the protests is the note of desperate need on the students’ part).  How else to respond to “being ridiculed, traumatized, othered, tokenized, and pathologized”?

In this case, the curriculum bears a big part of the blame.  The humanities departments at Seattle don’t induct students into the civilization of Sophocles, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Rousseau, and Mozart, the petition says.  They don’t raise the humanitas of the students who pass through it.  No, the curriculum does the opposite.  It “ignores and erases the humanity of its students and of peoples around the globe.”

And so they demand a “non-Eurocentric interdisciplinary curriculum.”  This new formation will “decentralize Whiteness,” which means that John Milton will enjoy no more prestige than do contemporary African writers.  The old themes of faith, courage, mortality, and love will give way to “a critical focus on the evolution of systems of oppression such as racism, capitalism, colonialism, etc.”

In accord with the personnel side of campus identity politics, the students insist that these new courses be taught by “prepared staff from marginalized backgrounds, especially professors of color and queer professors.”  (The students don’t explain how queerness advances the non-Eurocentric focus.)  The instructors are to follow, too, a “decolonizing and anti-racist pedagogy.”

The puffery is absurd, of course, but there’s a pedagogical point to make as well.  Any administrator and professor who accede to these demands is guilty of academic fraud.  The reason goes back to E. D. Hirsch’s argument about cultural literacy made three decades ago.

When his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know appeared in 1987, it was interpreted as a conservative brief against multiculturalism. Critics said that it reinforced Eurocentric and patriarchal values at a time when minority and women’s voices were on the rise.  That’s because Hirsch and his colleagues had compiled a list of facts, names, dates, and other items of information that an American needed to know in order to participate fully in civic and professional life.

Yes, the list was heavy on European-derived materials, but this was only because the culture of American civic and professional life was the same way.  Indeed, one of Hirsch’s reasons for including an item in his list was that such things commonly found their way into op-eds in the New York Times.  Hirsch, himself a lifelong Democrat, reasoned that if disadvantaged students were to rise in American society, they had to know such things.  If they didn’t they wouldn’t do well on SAT and GRE exams, would struggle in college classes, and would feel out of place in professional settings.  Teaching cultural literacy, then, Eurocentric and traditional in content, was a solid progressive project.

Hirsch’s arguments remain firm.  American mass culture has grown more diverse in the last three decades, but the deep references found in civic life and professional spheres, not to mention on standardized tests, are still predominantly Eurocentric.  I just picked up the Times op-ed page, went six paragraphs into Charles Blow’s contribution (“Trump’s Chance to Reboot”) and found the words “narcissism” and “protean.”  Does anyone doubt that a little knowledge of Narcissus and Proteus enriches a reader’s understanding of the opinion?

In demanding a non-Eurocentric curriculum that highlights racism et al, students not only implant an adversarial mindset of resentment, one that despises the only society in which they will find success and happiness.  The students also deprive themselves of the background knowledge they will need as they strive to improve their lives.  They are setting themselves up for estrangement and insecurity.  And, sad to say, instead of realizing that the inferior education they have received is one reason for their future dissatisfaction, they will use the anti-Eurocentrism position as an explanation for it.

4 Well-Known Universities With No Integrity

In a Commentary essay earlier this spring, I argued that universities’ response to the 2015-2016 campus protests can be seen, in part, through the lens of faculty and administrators sharing the protesters’ diversity-obsessed goals, if not agreeing with them on tactics. A recent protest from Dartmouth confirmed the point.

Sometimes, campus speech issues are complicated. This one wasn’t. The Dartmouth College Republicans, following college rules, requested access to a bulletin board, where they posted items with the theme of “Blue Lives Matter.” The move coincided with National Police Week.

Related: DE PAUL FAILS FREE SPEECH AGAIN

In response, “Black Lives Matter” protesters tore down the Republicans’ posters, put up posters that reflected their political viewpoints, and “occupied” the area around the bulletin board to prevent the College Republicans from re-posting their original material. The College Republicans went to the administration throughout the day to ask for assistance in replacing their posters, but were rebuffed. The administration, apparently fearful of confronting the students engaged in a heckler’s veto, informed the Republicans they’d have to wait a day; when the building was shut down in the overnight hours, the hecklers’ posters would be removed. Dartmouth administrators followed up with a statement forcefully condemning the removal of the posters—but without any indication of punishment. Nor was there any indication of Dartmouth devoting additional resources to free speech. This type of non-effect would have been inconceivable if the “Blue Lives Matter” students had torn down the “Black Lives Matter” students’ poster.

The student activists remained defiant. In an open letter, they remarked, “We acknowledge that many of you are concerned about the question of free speech. However, one hundred students’ disapproval for ‘Blue Lives Matter’ does not constitute a disregard for free speech, nor does it condemn policemen who have died in the line of duty. What it does constitute is a concern for anti-blackness on this campus and nationwide.”

Related: TITLE IX TRAMPLES FREE SPEECH AND FAIRNESS, SO NOW WHAT?

Again: the student protesters took down posters with which they disagreed, and, on a bulletin board temporarily designated to the College Republicans, put up posters that reflected the protesters’ point of view. If that doesn’t “constitute a disregard for free speech,” it’s hard to imagine what could.

Missouri

The campus that triggered the fall protests was the University of Missouri, where the highest-profile defender of the protests, ex-Professor Melissa (“muscle”) Click was back in the news last week. The AAUP produced a report faulting the University of Missouri for its slipshod procedure in firing Click. I agree.

But then the AAUP offered the following conclusion: “[W]e doubt whether Professor Click’s actions, even when viewed in the most unfavorable light, were directly and substantially related to her professional fitness as a teacher or researcher.” This statement is astonishing. Recall, again, the context: on the campus quad—a public area of the university—Click called for “muscle” against a University of Missouri student. How could such conduct possibly not be directly related to her position as a teacher? And, again, imagine the unlikelihood of the AAUP in reaching this conclusion if the facts had been reversed—if, say, a white male professor, an advisor of the Mizzou Republicans, had called for “muscle” against a black student journalist.

Rutgers

One of the most perceptive analyses of the fall 2015 protests came from Robert Tracinski. Writing in The Federalist, Tracinski observed, “The more you read through the students’ demands, the more they look curiously like a full-employment program for the faculty who just happen to be egging on these naive youngsters.” The demands, he noted, read “less like a manifesto of student revolutionaries, and more like a particularly aggressive salary negotiation. But this is not about higher pay for all faculty members. Notice in the middle the emphasis on “specialty positions,” we are defined as “faculty who work on critical issues related to social justice.” So it’s a special sinecure for those with the correct political agenda.”

Tracinski’s observations came to mind when reading a Chronicle piece earlier this month involving a tenure case at Rutgers. The basics: Rutgers denied tenure to an African-American professor of communications, Jennifer Warren. Warren came up for tenure without a book. And her teaching evaluations had recently declined. According to the article, Warren seems to have blamed both developments on guidance she received from her department. But on paper, it hardly seems outrageous to see a quality research institution like Rutgers deny tenure to a professor without a book, and with falling evaluations in the classroom.

Related: IS YALE USING TITLE IX TO TRUMP FREE SPEECH?

Nonetheless, the tenure denial triggered protests, holding signs with such sayings as “RU for Black Tenure.” (Imagine the outrage if students carried signs demanding “RU for White Tenure.”) And then, according to the Chronicle, “Several days after the students’ rally, Ms. Warren received good news: She had won her grievance hearing and would have another shot at tenure, in the spring of 2017.”

The article supplies no additional information regarding the contents of Warren’s grievance, or the substance of the appeals decision. This incomplete record leaves two options: (1) Warren’s department committed an unspecified major procedural error, and it fortunately was caught in a university appellate process. (2) After denying tenure to someone whose scholarly and teaching credentials the university had deemed insufficient, Rutgers reversed itself to appease the protesters. The statement from the head of the Rutgers faculty union didn’t inspire confidence: “Students are driven to involvement,” said he, “in a sense of desperation because they’re seeing that percentage go down in a microcosm. What they see in Jennifer Warren’s case is the black-faculty percentage falling instead of rising.”

That might well be true. But a decline in the percentage of black faculty doesn’t constitute a procedural violation.

Amherst

The New York Times has been all but hermetically sealed, ideologically, in covering campus events in recent years. Its one-sided approach to due process and campus sexual assault has matched its fawning, uncritical coverage of the 2015-2016 campus protests.

But even against that standard, a recent column from Frank Bruni stood out. It offered the administration of Amherst’s Biddy Martin as a model for other schools to follow in the quest for student diversity. That would be the same Biddy Martin whose administration has presided over what is likely the most egregious sexual assault trial since issuance of the Dear Colleague letter, and who proposed a new campus speech code modeled on the anti-due process approach Amherst has used for sexual assault. The idea that Amherst would be the model for anything is absurd.

Yet none of these controversies are mentioned by Bruni. He even gives column space to Martin to allow her to suggest her administration isn’t obsessed with only the usual types of campus diversity: “The college’s president told me that one of her current passions is to admit more military veterans, who bring to the campus abilities, experiences and outlooks that other students don’t possess.”

How many veterans has Amherst admitted in the past three years? Bruni can’t find the space to reveal the total.

Political Tests for Faculty?

What’s going on when a public university feels entitled to ask potential faculty members questions clearly aimed at ferreting out their political and social commitments? Such questions, reminiscent of loyalty oaths and the demands of totalitarian regimes would seem to have no place in an educational institution in modern-day America.  But for some years now, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as at many other universities, the administration has allowed and actively encouraged precisely such interrogations.

In fact, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at UMass thoughtfully provides Supplemental Search Instructions, including suggestions for typical questions to be asked during interviews. These invite search committees to fill in the blank with the name of the “protected group” of their choice.

Related: How PC Corrupted the Colleges

The suggested questions include the following representative queries:

  • How have you demonstrated your commitment to (____) issues in your current position?
  • Which of your achievements in the area of equity for (____) gives you the most satisfaction?
  • In your current position, have you ever seen a (___) treated unfairly? How would/did you handle it?
  • How many of the top people at your current or previous institution are (___)?
  • What did you do to encourage hiring more (___)?

Where, one may well wonder, in the context of a public university supposedly committed to education rather than indoctrination, could such questions come from?  They turn out to be based on a nearly 30-year-old report entitled, It’s All in What You Ask (Association of American Colleges, Project on the Status and Education of Women, 1988), which contained scores of questions for job searches reaching into every part of the university – faculty, administrators, and staff – all aiming to uncover candidates’ underlying commitments to promoting particular groups.

But where the original document aimed at promoting women and merely mentioned in passing that the questions “can easily be adapted to apply to minority and disabled persons,” UMass Amherst has corrected that narrow perspective by providing its long (but not exhaustive) list of identity groups.

Related: Political Correctness Is the New Puritanism

In other respects, however, the guidelines largely replicate (and credit) the specific language of the original document, which makes no effort to disguise the “gotcha” mentality underlying the entire endeavor, despite a disingenuous assurance that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. The rationale is spelled out:

When prospective employees are asked, “Are you concerned about and supportive of these [identity group] issues?” they will invariably give an affirmative reply. Unfortunately, that gives little indication of their level of concern or commitment. Asking some of the questions listed [here] may help you gain a better understanding of a candidate’s position on these issues.… Many candidates will not have prepared answers to these questions in advance. These questions will, therefore, be useful in drawing out the candidate’s opinions rather than the “correct answer.”

The problem with these questions may not be primarily their legality—although there should be some concern about the possible unconstitutionality of anything smacking of an ideological qualification. The main problem is the overshadowing of genuine education by the demand for conformity and an explicit display of one’s politics.  The result is likely to be a monolithic corps of new employees, selected for their political commitments as much as, perhaps indeed more than, their professional qualifications.

Nor is this is happening in isolation. It has been accompanied, for years, by an out-of-control growth in administrators and staff whose explicit task is promoting and protecting certain identity groups.  Who knew that after thirty years of tireless efforts, universities would still be in desperate need of measures to combat their allegedly exclusionary policies toward all who aren’t able-bodied heterosexual white males?

All Diversity All the Time

Whereas certain parts of the academic world – Schools of Social Work, for example, and Schools of Education — have for some years insisted on overt expressions (on the part of both students and faculty) of correct political attitudes, it’s important to recognize how such demands are built into the entire job search procedure itself.

In addition, at UMass Amherst, as at other universities around the nation, the key documents about proper search procedures place a persistent and ceaseless emphasis on diversity, as required by equal opportunity regulations. Pages and pages of details are devoted to spelling out the efforts to identify and recruit “diverse” candidates, providing suggestions for every stage of the process.  Ironically, detailed lists are also provided of questions that are prohibited (having to do with ethnicity, race, gender, national origin, ancestry, and so on.  And to ensure that this process is fully complied with, search committees must meet with a representative of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity for orientation and “coaching” sessions.

Yet, though we are repeatedly told that, “An applicant’s potential contribution to workforce diversity is an asset that should be carefully considered,” at the completion of the search process, everything changes. Despite the relentless emphasis on “diversity-enhancing measures” up to this point, and the careful documentation of these efforts that are required, when final recommendations are made by the search committee and sent up the chain of command, we are told that the candidates’ race, sex, and other identity markers should not be mentioned, only the excellence of their qualifications:

When describing candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, the committee’s rationale must focus strictly on their qualifications for the job itself. Do NOT comment on their race, ethnicity, accent, personal appearance, clothing, personality, age or maturity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or marital status. . . . The process will move much faster if the Chair, or, as a last resort, the Dean has made sure that all recommendations focus on qualifications for the job and do not make inappropriate references to protected personal characteristics.

In other words, after dominating the search and hiring procedure in multiple ways, the obsession with identity politics needs to be disguised at the very end, when all talk reverts to academic qualifications alone.

Thus, to the entire overdetermined process is added, at the last stage, a whiff of utter fraudulence. There’s the part where everyone is put through their diversity paces; then there’s the part where you cover it up.

How Universities Encourage Racial Division

By James Huffman

In response to the campus protests, much has been written and spoken about how universities can best serve the interests of their students of color. Those who sympathize with the protesters argue that students of color, in particular, should be nurtured and protected from uncomfortable experiences that distract from their education.

Others insist that true education depends on students experiencing discomfort so they are better prepared to cope with the discomforts they will inevitably face in the future. No doubt there are good points to be considered on both sides of the question. Every campus has its boors and jerks whose bad behaviors might warrant chastisement from university officials, although peer disapproval is almost always a more effective remedy.

Whether and when offensive speech should be prohibited are more difficult questions. The boundary between gratuitous verbal assault and the free expression essential to the academy is not always easily drawn, although a few institutions have followed the example of the University of Chicago in making clear that their default position is free speech.

Sadly, Americans seem to lose any capacity for reasoned discussion when alleged personal assaults are said to stem from racial animus. Disagreements deteriorate into verbal and often physical violence, with an almost conclusive presumption of racism whenever racism is alleged. In this climate, college administrators see only two options. They can resign, as did the University of Missouri president and the dean of students at Claremont McKenna (after writing an email to which students of color took offense). Or they can accede to protesters’ demands for safe spaces, sensitivity training, trigger warnings, expanded diversity offices, and rapid response to allegations of discrimination and hurt.

But there is a third way. Colleges and universities should examine how their own policies and programs encourage racial division.

At the time of the University of Missouri protests, a story in the New York Times reported that students of color at the university felt isolated and disrespected. They, particularly the black students, tend to hang out together. According to a student quoted in the Times story, an area in the student center where blacks sit is called “the black hole.” There is little real integration, say both white and black students. Visit the cafeteria of almost any campus with even a small population of black students and you will see the equivalent of the University of Missouri’s black hole.

Do students of color hang out together because they feel disrespected and discriminated against—because they are excluded? Or is it a matter of choice rooted in racial pride, perceived cultural difference, and a desire to preserve and protect that difference from the dominant white culture? While the protesters would surely assert their right to racial self-segregation for reasons of pride, solidarity and culture, they do not hesitate to claim that disrespect and discrimination by other students and school officials prevent their full and equal participation in the university.

To be clear, no one is claiming that students of color are being denied access to higher education—the sort of discrimination James Meredith experienced a half century ago at the University of Mississippi. Rather, today’s discrimination is said to take the form of “micro-aggressions”—subtle actions and loaded language that slowly eat away at self-confidence and the sense of belonging.

Are colleges and universities responsible for the isolation and exclusion the protesters claim to experience, and for the de facto segregation that exists on most campuses? In significant ways they are, but not, for the most part, for the reasons said to justify the protests at the University of Missouri and elsewhere. There is little campus administrators can do, beyond declarations of disapproval, to prevent offensive comments, or even explicitly racist statements and actions of usually anonymous individuals. If the past two decades of sensitivity training haven’t solved that problem, there is little reason to think more of the same will help.

The core of the problem is that the vast majority of our colleges and universities have made race and racial differences central to almost everything they do. And to make matters worse, those who accredit our universities make attention to race in admissions and programming a condition of accreditation.

Central to the mission of the University of Missouri is diversity, described on the school’s website as “not an end to itself” but “a means for students, faculty and staff to experience firsthand the increasing multicultural world that we live in.” And what are the means for achieving diversity and the measure of success? The means is the admissions process and the measure of success is the degree to which the races of those admitted reflect the racial makeup of the state and nation. Whatever the university may claim to the contrary, race is a key factor in admissions, as it is at almost every other college and university in the country.

Once the racially balanced student body arrives at the University of Missouri, minority students have a wide array of options provided especially for them. For example, black students can enroll in black studies with a minor in multicultural studies. They can apply for many different “diversity-related scholarships.” They can join one of seven “historically black fraternities or sororities.”

They can hang out at the Black Culture Center and join the African Students Association, the Mizzou Black Men’s Initiative, the Mizzou Black Women’s Initiative, the Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students, the Legion of Black Collegians, the Black Business Students Association and the Black Law Students Association, just to name a few. Meanwhile their fellow white students can enroll in any number of diversity and sensitivity training courses all under the watchful eye of the vice-chancellor for inclusion.

Can there be any surprise that students of color feel as if they are treated differently from white students when their admission to the university is very likely to have been influenced by their race? When they, and only they, are often invited to campus a week early, purportedly to bond with their fellow students of color and to give them a head start on college? When one of their first experiences on campus is some sort of gathering with other students of color? When they are directed to the campus office of diversity or minority affairs as a place for counseling? When they are invited to join the Black or Hispanic or Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian student union? When they learn they can major in Black, etc. studies?

No factor, not even athletic prowess, is more significant to college admissions than race. Diversity is a core mission for the vast majority of institutions and students of color know that means them. Students of color know themselves to be what we now call, in a terrible corruption of the language, “diverse” individuals. Special programming for minority students cannot help but convey, in a micro-aggression-like manner, that campus officials believe students of color need extra help to succeed. School sanctioned programs and groups that cater to students of color, even students of particular colors, segregate students on the basis of race. Separate minority counseling services reinforce the idea that students of color are different, that counselors of a different race cannot possibly understand a minority student’s issues and concerns. Some universities even provide separate (dare one say segregated) housing for students of particular races.

All of this focus on race cannot help but influence the thinking of white students. Even before going to college, most white students have been taught in secondary and even primary school that minority kids are different and that as white students they need to be sensitive to those differences. When they apply to colleges, white students know that they have a disadvantage in the admissions process. Once they arrive on campus, they witness university-sponsored and endorsed programming directed at students of color. Now they are learning that they need to shelve their “white privilege,” notwithstanding that many of their minority classmates may have come from economic or family circumstances far better than theirs.

Whatever privilege students may have before they arrive at college, the reality of American higher education today is that students of color have been privileged by their institutions in ways that invite segregation and differential treatment, whether done in the name of reparations for past discrimination, as affirmative action to overcome societally imposed disadvantages, or in the belief that celebrating and encouraging differences improves education for everyone. There should be no surprise that students of color often self-segregate and are seen as different by their fellow students.

The concept of white privilege is a logical outgrowth of the concept of institutional racism. In reaction to the now quaint notion that intent to discriminate must be proven to establish illegal race discrimination, lawyers and race scholars came up with the concept of institutional racism. The idea is that racism is so deeply rooted in American society that it persists even amongst institutions that have made genuine efforts to correct for any intentional past discrimination. Thus, the theory holds, the University of Missouri and all of its privileged white students are guilty, by definition, of racial discrimination today, albeit in subtle ways.

But there is nothing subtle about the most pervasive form of racial discrimination prevailing at most American colleges and universities today. It is done in the name of lifting up those who have been discriminated against in the past. But there should be little wonder that the intended beneficiaries of this allegedly benign discrimination feel themselves isolated and treated differently. By design, universities have isolated them and treated them differently.

Reprinted with permission from the Hoover Institution site, “Defining Ideas.”


James Huffman is dean emeritus of Lewis and Clark Law School.

Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

The demand for equality that’s emerging on campuses today is primarily underpinned by two things: identity politics and a perception of individuals as suffering from trauma. Students have become attached to the particular trauma they identify with; they see it as a badge of honor and any perceived slight becomes a threat to their sense of who they are. So says Donald Downs, professor of political science, law and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

More than a decade after the publication of his book, Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, Professor Downs is not confident about the state of academic freedom. “Things go in cycles,” he told me. “In the 1980s and 90s, censorship was driven by political correctness. There was some blowback and things got a little better.

“Now censorship is coming back as liberty and equality are increasingly pitched against each other. This time it’s students who, in the name of equality, are demanding a climate free from offense, waging a war against micro-aggressions and calling for trigger warnings. Students are leading the way in stifling intellectual dissent and academics don’t know how to handle this. Too often they just acquiesce.”

Downs initially supported speech codes at the University of Wisconsin, where he has been a professor since 1980. But watching his colleagues’ “lives and careers ruined by censorship’” changed his mind. In Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, published in 2004, he charted the attacks on free speech on campuses since the late 1980s, and the campaign he helped coordinate at Wisconsin to get speech codes overturned.

Downs notes that the speech codes had more to do with promoting sensitivity and diversity than with tackling prejudice. This broad-brush approach demanded a code to cover every eventuality and allowed policies to proliferate. The University of Michigan, he said, had 20 separate policies at one point, dealing with such things as climate, harassment, speech and diversity – “they were being made up as they went along.”

Although these codes were often written and implemented by administrators who had little understanding of the academic environment, Downs is clear that faculty cannot be let off the hook: “They let this situation happen.’ Liberal academics, often politically sympathetic to the issues covered, generally trusted administrators to implement policies appropriately. To criticize speech codes, Downs remarks, “was to make a statement that you were insensitive to racism or sexism and few were prepared to do this.”

“During most of the twentieth century, threats to academic freedom came from the political right, and from outside institutions of higher learning. The new attacks on free thought that arose in the later 1980s turned this pattern on its head: they have arisen from leftist sources inside the ivory tower.” The book also provides a salutary lesson in how free speech can be regained. Downs emphasizes throughout that “rights won through politics and legislation are more likely to change people’s thinking because majorities have to be convinced to agree.”

This article is reprinted with permission from Spiked, an online British journal of current affairs.

The Strange World of Social Justice Warriors

Culture wars over “social justice” have been wreaking havoc in many communities, including universities and science fiction fandom.

The ordeal of Northwestern University film professor Laura Kipnis, hauled before a campus gender equity tribunal for publishing a critique of academia’s current obsession with sexual misconduct, has brought the backlash against “political correctness” to reliably left-of-center venues such as Vox. But this is only the latest incident in the culture wars over “social justice” that have been wreaking havoc in a wide range of communities—including, but not limited to, universities, the literary world, science fiction fandom and the atheist/skeptic movement.

The progressive crusaders driving these wars have been dubbed “social justice warriors,” or “SJWs,” by their Internet foes. Some activists on the left proudly embrace the label, crowing that it says a lot about the other side that it uses “social justice” as a derisive epithet. But in fact, this version of “social justice” is not about social justice at all. It is a cultish, essentially totalitarian ideology deeply inimical—as liberals such as Jonathan Chait warn in New York Magazine—to the traditional values of the liberal left, and not just because of the movement’s hostility to freedom of “harmful” speech.

At the core of social justice dogma is fixation on identity and “privilege.” Some of this discourse touches on real and clear inequities: for instance, the widespread tendency of police and others to treat African-Americans, especially young and male, as potential lawbreakers. Yet even here, the rhetoric of privilege generates far more heat than light. University of California-Merced sociologist Tanya Bolash-Goza, who accepts the social justice left’s view of pervasive structural racism in America, points out that the term “white privilege” turns what should be the norm for all—not being harassed by cops or eyed suspiciously by shop owners—into a special advantage unfairly enjoyed by whites. (Indeed, in its dictionary meaning, “privilege” refers to rights or benefits possessed by the select, not by the majority.) This language speaks not to black betterment but to white guilt. It also erases the fact that the “privilege” extends to many non-white groups, such as Asians.

Privilege rhetoric offers an absurdly simplistic view of complex social dynamics. A widely cited essay by pro-“social justice” sci-fi writer John Scalzi seeks to explain privilege to geeks by arguing that being a straight white male is akin to playing a videogame on “the lowest difficulty setting.” Does the white son of a poor single mother have it easier than the daughter of a wealthy black couple? As a minor afterthought, Scalzi mentions that “players” in other groups may be better off if they start with more “points” in areas such as wealth. But generally, the “social justice” left strenuously avoids the issue of socioeconomic background, which, despite upward mobility, is surely the most tangible and entrenched form of actual privilege in modern American society. Rather, the focus is on racial, sexual, and cultural identities.

While social justice discourse embraces “intersectionality”—the understanding that different forms of social advantage and disadvantage interact with each other—this virtually never works in favor of the “privileged.” Thus, intersectionality may mean recognizing that disabled battered women suffer from both sexism and “ableism.”

Recognizing that disabled men may be at greater risk for spousal abuse because disability reverses the usual male advantage in strength? Not so much. To acknowledge advantages enjoyed by the “oppressed”—for instance,gender bias favoring female defendants in criminal cases or mothers in custody suits—is pure heresy. The only moral dilemma is which oppressed identity trumps which: race or gender, sexuality or religion.

This hierarchy of identity politics can lead to some bizarre inversions of progressive values. Thus, because Muslims are classified as “marginalized” and “non-privileged” in the West’s power structures, critics of misogyny and homophobia in fundamentalist Islam risk being chastised for “Islamophobic” prejudice. Charlie Hebdo, the staunchly left-wing French magazine murderously attacked in January in retaliation for its Mohammed cartoons, was denounced bya number of leftist critics who felt that the magazine’s satirical barbs at Islam (along with other organized religions) amounted to “punching down” at the powerless. The men with guns who shot twelve Charlie staffers were presumably punching up.

On the other hand, since Jews in Western society today are seen as more privileged than not, social justice discourse sheepishly sidesteps anti-Semitism—surely one of the most pernicious forms of bigotry in Western history. Salon, more or less the Pravda of today’s social justice left, recently ran a piece arguing that the coming reboot of the X-Men franchise should reinvent its character Magneto, a Jewish Auschwitz survivor, as black in order to “get real about race.”

The practical effects of such “social justice” ideology be seen in the communities where it flourishes (mainly on college campuses and online). It is a reverse caste system in which a person’s status and worth depends entirely on their perceived oppression and disadvantage. The nuances of rank can be as rigid as in the most oppressively hierarchical traditional society. A white woman upset by an insulting comment from a white man qualifies for sympathy and support; a white woman distraught at being ripped to shreds by a “woman of color” for an apparent racial faux pas can be ridiculed for “white girl tears.” However, if she turns out to be a rape victim, the mockery probably crosses a line.

On the other hand, a straight white male trashed by an online mob for some vague offenses deemed misogynist and racist can invite more vitriol by revealing that he is a sexual abuse survivor suffering from post-traumatic stress.

A recent controversy in the science fiction world illustrates this toxic atmosphere. A few months ago, many sci-fi writers and fans were shaken by the revelation that Benjanun Sriduangkaew, a young Thai female author, not only doubled as a militant “social justice” blogger but had a third identity as a notorious LiveJournal troll known for egregious harassment, including death and rape threats—often toward nonwhite, female, or transgender victims. Yet Sriduangkaew found supporters who saw the scandal as, in the words of a Daily Dot article, “an example of white privilege attempting to silence writers of color.” The article itself approached the question of whether she deserved forgiveness in nakedly political terms: “Sriduangkaew [is] an excellent, well-liked writer whose multicultural voice is an important addition to the sparse population of non-white writers in the world of speculative publishing. On the other hand, her troll voice has often worked to loudly silence other members of marginalized identities.” Some tried to defend Sriduangkaew by pointing out that most of her targets were white males.

In this climate, it is not surprising that a while male poet would write an agonized letter to a literary blog wondering if he should stop writing: he feels guilty about writing from a white male perspective but also worries that if he writes in the voice of women or minorities, he would be “colonizing” their stories.

Working to correct inequities is a noble goal—which explains the appeal of the “social justice” movement to many fair-minded people. But the movement in its current form is not about that. It elevates an extreme and polarizing version of identity politics in which individuals are little more than the sum of their labels. It encourages wallowing in anger and guilt. It promotes intolerance and the politicization of everything. It must be stopped—not only for the sake of freedom, but for the sake of a kinder, fairer society.

This article was published originally in the New York Observer.