LL Cool J was one of eight winners this year of the Hutchins Center’s W.E.B. Dubois Medal, Harvard University’s highest honor in the field of African and African America studies. It is awarded to individuals “in recognition of their contribution to African American culture and the life of the mind.”
We notice that many expected names are missing from the list of 165 winners since the medal was first bestowed in 2000. Thomas Sowell, a clear overachiever and perhaps the best-known African American scholar, has never won. Neither have noted black scholars Shelby Steele, Walter Williams or John McWhorter. Former Attorney General Eric Holder won a DuBois medal, but not Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell, both former secretaries of state. Talking head Donna Brazile won, but not talking head Michael Steele. Oprah won, as has Harry Belafonte, but not James Earl Jones. Harvey Weinstein won in 2014, presumably for his fund-raising skill, rather than for his contributions to the life of the mind, but that award was rescinded this year.
What can explain all those omissions? Our current theory is that the medal goes only to the left and that most moderates and all conservatives just don’t qualify as contributors to black culture. LL Cool J supported President Obama, but he also backed NY Republican Governor George Pataki for a third term. “Nobody should assume that I’m a Democrat either. I’m an Independent, you know,” he said. Clear enough, but one more rightward lurch and he may have to be rescinded.
The Chronicle Review is notorious for publishing outlandish opinion pieces more in the nature of white-hot rants than well-reasoned essays. A good case in point is Professor John Quiggin’s “A Vicious Duo” (September 16 – subscriber site), is one of the most overwrought pieces I’ve read there.
Quiggin, who teaches economics at the University of Queensland in Australia, contends that America is beset by the twin problems of rising inequality of income and “cutthroat admissions” at our elite colleges and universities. That combination allegedly leads to a “self-sustaining oligarchy.” Whatever superficial plausibility his argument might have — especially for people like himself who live outside the United States — vanishes when you comprehend the following points.
Continue reading ‘Cutthroat Admissions’ at Elite Colleges?
One feature of academia’s less reputable quarters is the imperative to shun the obvious and prosaic, even when the obvious and prosaic happen to be true. As Theodore Dalrymple noted in his review of Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society,
Intellectuals, like everyone else, live and work in a marketplace. In order to get noticed they must say things which have not been said before, or at least say them in a different manner. No one is likely to obtain many plaudits for the rather obvious, indeed self-evident, thought that a street robber cannot commit street robberies while he is in prison. But an intellectual who first demonstrates that the cause of an increase in street robbery is the increase in the amount of property that law-abiding pedestrians have on them as they walk in the streets is likely to be hailed, at least until the next idea comes along. Thus, while there are no penalties for being foolish, there are severe penalties (at least in career terms) for being obvious.
The obligation to be unobvious, if only for the benefit of one’s academic peers, may help explain the more fanciful assertions from some practitioners of the liberal arts. Consider, for instance, Duke’s Professor miriam cooke, who refuses to capitalize her name, thus drawing attention to her egalitarian radicalism and immense creativity. Professor cooke’s subtlety of mind is evident in her claim that the oppression and misogyny found in the Islamic world is actually the fault of globalization and Western colonialism, despite the effects predating their alleged causes by several centuries. Professor cooke also tells us that “polygamy can be liberating and empowering” – a statement that may strike readers as somewhat dubious. It does, however, meet the key criteria of being both edgy and unobvious.
Continue reading There’s No Such Thing as Intelligence?