Conservatives, libertarians, traditionalists, and classical liberals need to get clear on something: the ideological contests are fading. What Irving Kristol famously said in his 2001 Bradley Lecture, “We in America fought a culture war, and we [conservatives] lost,” applies well to higher education. Conservatives fought wars over multiculturalism, Western Civilization, affirmative action, the Academic Bill of Rights, and political bias in hiring, and we lost every time. The educators have no reason to debate ideas, much less ideology. None of those old issues are up for discussion.
(It should be said that Kristol noted that conservatives still had some influence in one theater of American life, religion, but that exemption is irrelevant to the 21st-century campus.)
You can tell ideology is a settled matter by the way in which faculty and administrators handle the core terms—diversity, inclusion. No moral or conceptual examination of those terms ever takes place. Liberals and leftists mouth them without even pondering what they mean save for the simple-minded aspiration of “more women in science” or “more blacks among the leadership.” The only rejoinder conservatives have is, “What about the diversity of thought and opinion?” to which the educators respond, “Oh, yes, that’s good, too,” then proceed on what they were thinking before. When it comes to diversity, everyone’s a bureaucrat.
Which brings us to the real issue: personnel. We have sunk to an intellectual level that we might call purely managerial. Thirty years ago, we had a genuine battle over the curriculum in which ideas and values were weapons (though not the only weapons). Should there be a Western Civ requirement? Are there great women writers out there, unjustly forgotten and waiting to be rediscovered? Do minority students want to see minority authors on the syllabus, and would they become estranged if they didn’t? Should we read Ezra Pound despite his vile biases?
These questions sparked vibrant debates—but not for very long. Liberals and leftists on the humanities faculty didn’t have to stick with them. They already filled most of the slots, had the most influence on the scholarly presses and journals, and controlled hiring committees. Why quibble with Roger Kimball and Dinesh D’Souza when they didn’t even have academic posts?
The professors didn’t need to win the debate. In fact, off-campus they underwent numerous embarrassments from the University of Delaware orientation fiasco to the Sokal Hoax to the Duke lacrosse case. But those setbacks didn’t alter the course of things. Academics might not stand up to criticisms hurled by David Horowitz, but they didn’t have to since they could return to their offices and classrooms and continue running the departments. All they had to do was ensure that they remained in place and hired people loyal to their vision.
Now, diversity means just that: getting more underrepresented people in place. That’s all. The campus managers don’t think about what will happen then. Diversity among the personnel—that is, more proportionate representation of all “underserved” identities—is an end in itself. If you asked a dean what diversity is for, what purpose it serves, he wouldn’t have an immediate answer. He spends so much time in a habitat of tautology (“diversity is good for . . . diversity”) that the very question stumps him until he remembers blather from the Old Times about diverse perspectives and educational benefits and repeats it like a ventriloquist’s dummy. But don’t try pressing him on it. He doesn’t want to talk about it. The self-evident good of diversity has long been established, and he clings to it like a Catholic does his rosary.
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Again, he doesn’t want to talk about it. All he must do is craft policies and procedures to get more non-white-males into the professoriate. Through this essay in Quillette, I came across an exemplary specimen. The University of California-Santa Cruz requires all persons who apply for a faculty appointment to submit “a personal statement on their contributions to diversity.” The requirement doesn’t stipulate that the candidate must fall into a historically underrepresented group. That would be illegal. Instead, it wants candidates to demonstrate that they have the “professional skills, experience, and/or willingness to engage in activities that will advance our campus diversity and equity goals.”
Obviously, the first barrier here is indeed ideological. Diversity and equity are loaded terms, however much the campus discourse presents them as universal goals as objective and indisputable as education and skills. Nobody who wants a job at UC San Diego is going to write an essay submitting those terms to skeptical analysis. This is one area of reflection in which the powers that be prefer not to see any critical thinking at work. You must, instead, absorb diversity as a condition of entry, as much a part of your professional make-up as scientific method and speaking a second language.
UCSD doesn’t stop there, however. It adds “Guidelines for Writing Statements,” three sample statements in the fields of Biology, Physical Sciences, and Engineering. (I presume it chooses those fields because the humanities and social sciences are so fraught with identity concerns that applicants who have undergone undergraduate and graduate training in those fields need less guidance.) This is where we see nature of diversity sink so deeply into the identity of the applicant.
The biology applicant, we learn, spent a year in El Salvador teaching science, math, and English to teachers in a small town when he was 21 years old. I presume he is a white male because he never identifies his race or sex. His identity, therefore, works against his prospects, and so he underscores how much his immersion in Central America affected him more than has any experience he has had in the United States.
The physical sciences applicant has a stronger opening: “As a Latino immigrant who lived in . . .” It ends with a reinforcement of that ineradicable identity: “. . . my desire and responsibility to contribute as a Latino scientist, educator, and activist.” We must assume that UCSD has no problem with a scientist pursuing political goals.
The engineering sample has a more mysterious identity, but one still far from the American white male. The applicant notes that she comes from “a country close to the Middle East region,” and that she pledges to “establish a role model as a woman scientist and engineer for young generations.” In other words, she will advance diversity simply by being what she is.
All three letters recite diversity initiatives the applicants envision (a web portal for female undergraduates, outreach to local high schools with large Latino populations, workshops on “Creating an Inclusive Classroom,” etc.). But the real value of the statements, which UCSD offers up as meritorious, lies in the personal characteristics of the applicants. I can imagine a hiring committee member reading them and nodding with perfunctory approval at the activities proposed by the applicants but coming to attention when the identity make-up of the applicant is determined and discussed. At least that’s what Human Resources at UCSD wants them to do.
We must change the demographic. That’s the commandment. More women and people of color in the ranks. We see little evidence that managers and bureaucrats on campus have any other thought in their heads now. Diversity doesn’t amount to anything more than that. It’s a crass ambition, but a potent one because dissenters from it have no effective argument against it. It’s very bluntness and simplicity make it incontrovertible.
There is only one thing to say. It’s the advice I gave to a former student of mine after the fact of her job interview last year. She had secured the interview with a smaller state university on the east coast in the field of rhetoric and composition. She’s solidly liberal but very white. She spoke to me after the interview was over because it didn’t go well. After a pleasant back-and-forth with the chair of the committee, a second member hit her with the D-question:
If you come to University of _____, how will you contribute to and enhance diversity on the campus?
The applicant stumbled a bit because her first thought naturally went to her own identity—a white female, economically privileged. That canceled her out. She tried to fashion some answers about her experience teaching diverse students in Southern California, but it was clear that the air in the room was heavy.
I couldn’t fault her for not being quicker on her feet. I never faced any such questions when I hit the job market 30 years ago and wouldn’t have a satisfying answer today. The question did what it was supposed to do, though: focus the hiring on the identity of the applicant, not on her competence as rhet/comp teacher and researcher.
When I asked her about the profile of her interrogator, she told me the woman was herself white and middle-aged. My immediate suggestion: “Then you should have said to her, ‘If you want to contribute to diversity at University of ______, shouldn’t you resign your position and demand that a woman of color replace you?”
After all, if diversity is just a matter of demographics, liberal professors and administrators can solve the problem. All the white males and many of the white females should leave and ask that persons of color be hired. If the educators object, “But we have bills to pay and careers to pursue,” we answer, “But aren’t you asking white job applicants to find careers elsewhere and pay their bills in another way?” If the professors say, “But there aren’t competent people out there,” we answer, “Are you saying that people of color can’t do the job you do?”
The administrators and liberal ‘go-alongs’ are in a corner, and they know it.