The annual conference of the National Association of Scholars in Washington opened today on a rare note of optimism. Abigail Thernstrom, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and vice-chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights said the election of Barack Obama was a historic turning point that will undermine the “racism is everywhere” mantra of the academic left—but not right away. She said, “winds of change are blowing through the intellectual world. No hurricane but a breeze. With Obama having run as an incidental black candidate and the long-overdue emergence of some maverick black authors, we are witnessing what might be called the incredible shrinking of Jesse Jackson and his allies.”
Thernstrom cited Richard Thompson Ford, professor of law at Stanford, who tilts in favor of integration over racial solidarity. In his book The Race Card, Ford deplores “self-serving individuals, rabble rousers, and political hacks who use accusations of racism… to advance their own ends.” Thernstrom also mentioned Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy who describes in his book Sellout: The Politics Of Racial Betrayal, a racially changed America-one in which Barack Obama could “choose” to call himself black. Kennedy, Thernstrom said, sees himself as part of the racial “team” while advocating a conception of racial citizenship in which racial identity is always a choice. Thernstrom said the Universities are not on the forefront of change and may be the last to get the message, but “the younger generation is coming of age in a racially altered world and eventually the politics of higher education will surely reflect that reality. Time is on our side.”
Also in the opening session Greg Lukianoff, President of FIRE prononced himself unruffled by the prospect of defending free speech on campus in an age of Democratic ascendency. The courts, including Democratic judges, have been resolute in defending free speech at public universities and colleges. Besides, he said “after all, the Republicans did nothing in eight years to promote free speech on campus.”


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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