The NEA: Union “Activists” as Diversicrats

Both of my
parents were public school teachers, and through them I gained an appreciation
of the value of teachers’ unions. Though the NEA and AFT can sometimes
frustrate public education reforms, they play a critical role in giving
teachers a seat at the table in setting education policies. Indeed, perhaps the
most objectionable aspect of Wisconsin
governor Scott Walker’s union law came in his decision to apply its provisions
to teachers’ unions even as he shielded unions that represent similarly
situated police and firefighters.

Higher education
unions, on the other hand, have few redeeming qualities and much potential harm. In contrast to public schools, where most key
policies are made by voters (through elected school committees), state
administrators, or politicians, in higher education, the faculty makes almost
all curricular and personnel decisions. As a result, higher-ed unions too often position themselves as defenders
of the tyranny of the faculty majority–whether in reflexive defenses of “diversity”
(except for the pedagogical or
ideological version) or in equally consistent demands for more public
resources with little or no accountability.

Nearly half a million professors belong to a
; the NEA, though primarily a union of schoolteachers, has
branches around the country. It just published its annual higher education
journal, Thought & Action. Heavy
in the usual Education buzzwords–from “life-long learning” to the dangers of an
alleged “corporate” makeover of the university–the volume’s greatest
significance comes in its insight into the mindset of the unionized
professoriate. Based on its articles, a reader could reasonably conclude that
“diversity” is the sole goal of today’s colleges and universities.

For instance, Mary
Armstrong, a Thought
& Action
(she had a piece in the 2009 issue as
well), affirmed that “the elusive goal of ‘diversity in higher education’ is of
deep concern for many of us–particularly those of us who strike to be attentive
to teaching and/or to social justice issues.” There’s little reason to believe,
of course, that Armstrong, whose research explores such politically correct
topics as “feminist and queer theory” and “gender and environmental justice,”
has any interest in “diversity” of thought or pedagogical approach on campus.
As often is the case on higher-ed issues, “social justice” appears to be a code
word for ensuring that universities hire faculty who agree with the majority.

Armstrong, who
chairs the women’s and gender studies program at Lafayette, gushed about how she has “watched
as diversity and inclusivity have become core watchwords for educational
quality.” This passage demonstrated the conventional wisdom of how the academic
majority has responded to Sandra Day O’Connor’s holding in Grutter that racial preferences must end after 25 years: making
“quality” and “diversity” interchangeable allows the academic majority to
preposterously claim that ending racial preferences will automatically weaken
educational quality.

Armstrong’s essay
allegedly offered guidance on how professors could structure an “inclusive
classroom.” Some of her suggestions were banal: professors need to “learn how
to pronounce names correctly.” (What decent teacher wouldn’t do so?) Others are
more extreme, such as her call for “every single classroom . . . [to] function
as an incubator for inclusivity,” with the faculty members needing to “start
deep” by immersing themselves in Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Luis Ponjuan, a University of Florida professor whose research explores
“higher education policies related to Latino students and faculty members of
color,” penned an essay demanding that colleges hire more Hispanic professors.
His reasoning was unusually blunt. He seemed to endorse linking the racial and
ethnic makeup of the student body with the comparable makeup of the faculty. “While the higher-education student population is
dramatically changing,” Ponjuan noted, “the faculty members of color still are
not representative of the incoming cohort of students of color, especially the
Latino student population.” But as the racial and ethnic composition of the
student body changes every year (and, naturally, varies widely from institution
to institution), achieving Ponjuan’s faculty-by-quota would require abolishing
tenure. In that way, if the population of Hispanic students declined by 10
percent while Asian-American enrollment soared, the requisite number of
Hispanic faculty members could be fired, and replaced by Asian-American

offers a couple of additional breathtaking reasons for boosting the number of
Hispanic professors. “Latino faculty members,” he claims (without attribution),
“make an impact with their academic scholarship, being more likely to produce
scholarship that is relevant to the Latino communities and individuals.” Yet
when (to take one example) businesses urge colleges to produce more “relevant”
scholarship, such a move generates faculty denunciations about the “corporatization”
of university. It appears that “relevancy” is a goal only when the scholarship
can be deemed as promoting the academic majority’s vision of “social justice.”

when all else fails, Ponjuan retreats to embracing quotas for their own sake:
“Latino faculty members,” he claims, “often face barriers within their
workplace that lack Latino cultural values such as ‘personalismo, simpatia, familismo, and allocentrism.’ These
factors may also create a hostile or difficult climate for faculty members of
color that inhibits their ability to create meaningful, positive, supportive
collegial relationships with their peers. These challenging workplace climates
are not universal, but they are more likely to occur when there are few Latino
faculty members in the workplace.” Ponjuan doesn’t reveal exactly how many
Latinos each academic department must have to produce sufficient levels of personalismo.

A Thought & Action book review by
Theresa Montaño, professor of Chicano Studies at Cal.
St. Northridge
, gives a glimpse of the ways in which “diversity”
activists are quick to play the racism card. Montaño
reviewed In the Basement of the Ivory
, by Professor X. (Among other things, the book laments the poor,
sometimes abominable, writing abilities of too many contemporary college
students; and it urges more exacting admissions standards.) Without citing any
evidence, she wildly claimed that she was “convinced that if one were to
develop a portrait of the college student desired by Professor X, it would
exclude those who are poor, minority, and non-English speaking.” Such a
statement illustrates what a decade ago was described as the soft bigotry of
low expectations, since, based on the sentence quoted above, it appears that Montaño believes that all poor and minority
students lack the kind of basic writing skills that Professor X desires. If
such a claim had come from a conservative academic rather than someone like Montaño, who boasts of her “commitment to social justice,”
the NEA and “diversity” advocates would have screamed racism.

UConn professor Gaye Tuchman provides a dose of self-pity– “I pity the poor
suckers who will be left here,” she approvingly quotes a retiring colleague”)–before
recalling an astonishing examination
question that she asked her students. “This year,” she wrote, “as an optional
question on a final exam, I asked honors students in an introductory sociology
class to suggest ways that the university could save money. Two of them made
very similar recommendations. Because our public university needs money, its
admissions policy should favor students who might be expected to succeed financially
and to make significant donations as alumni. And because honors students and
upper-middle class students in general are more likely to graduate and to make good,
the university should offer scholarships to these meritorious students rather
than to students from poorer families, who may need the money to attend college
but not have as terrific academic records, be as likely to graduate, and have
as great a probability of making lots of money to donate as alumni. In the long
run, these students seemed to be saying, the university would gain more by
educating them.” The answers, Tuchman sourly noted, “affirmed that in
universities, as elsewhere in American life, awards accrue to private
enterprise. A college is a business, replete with strategic plan; professors
are workers; and public higher education is no longer a public good.” What
possible justification could exist for such a question on a final exam, other
than to give Tuchman an opportunity to denigrate her students’ beliefs?

The entire volume is a depressing read–and also a revealing
illustration of the agenda of higher-ed unions.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

2 thoughts on “The NEA: Union “Activists” as Diversicrats

  1. The fatal mistake teachers made was in choosing as a model for their union the more-inclusive industrial or trade union rather than the more-exclusive craft union.
    Trade unions make all workers join, and then fight for all workers, even the incompetent. Craft unions make applicant for membership prove their competence and insist on continual upgrading of skills to maintain membership.
    When was the last time a teachers union called for the dismissal of an incompetent or criminal teacher?

  2. So Latino professors ipso facto demonstrate certain attitudes and personality types solely by virtue of being Latinos? And in what way is this not racial profiling?

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