Some of the prizes and awards colleges hand out are real winners. Take, for example, Wayne State’s recently suspended Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in Media Award.
Last week, ironically speaking at an event in Detroit to combat “negative stereotyping of members of the Arab community,” Thomas said
Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question. They put their money where their mouth is.
Wayne State officials were not amused, and promptly ditched the award.
Matthew Seeger, an interim dean, said the award by the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity is to honor work that promotes diversity. The award, he said, “is no longer helping us achieve our goals.”
Aside from the potentially interesting question of whether anti-semitic remarks detract from “diversity,” why was Wayne State surprised? Last June, after Thomas provoked controversy suggesting at the White House that the Jews “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go back home to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else,” Wayne State responded by announcing that it was keeping the award because Thomas’s “‘wholly inappropriate comments’ … shouldn’t diminish her ‘many years of exemplary service’ and pioneering role for women in journalism.” But why, then, should her more recent comment, which was certainly no worse than the first, diminish her service and her pioneering role for women?
Wayne State’s experience should be a lesson to Grinnell College, which has just announced a new award of up to $300,000 per year to honor people under the age of 40 who have “demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change.” Each prize, Grinnell announced, “carries an award of $100,000, half to the winning individual and half to an organization committed to the winner’s area of social justice.”
Grinnell parents who spend over $50,000 a year for tuition, fees, and expenses, may worry about how much education that annual $300,000 could have bought. Others may doubt the wisdom, expertise, or even propriety of institutions whose mission is presumably academic distinguishing between “positive” and negative “social change” and rewarding their favorite causes with cash awards.
Grinnell, at least, is frank about the views underlying its own values: Building on its abolitionist history,
Grinnell’s social consciousness blossomed during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, when graduates Harry Hopkins ’12, Chester Davis ’11, Paul Appleby ’13, Hallie Ferguson Flanagan ’11, and Florence Stewart Kerr ’12 became influential New Deal administrators.
Call me a cynic, but I doubt that Jennifer Gratz, who has done more to fight preferences based on race than anyone besides Ward Connerly, or any of the young Tea Party activists will be considered for a future Grinnell prize.