Editor's note: The latest book by Heather Mac Donald, The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture, is available now.
Another new college year, another opportunity to teach students that “America was never that great,” to quote Gov. Cuomo. From the moment that college students set foot on campus, they will be inundated with the message that the United States in particular and Western civilization in general are the world’s primary sources of oppression and injustice.
That idea is rapidly infusing the world outside academia, as Cuomo’s recent comment suggests.
Here is what to expect over the next nine months.
The anti-meritocratic assault on science will accelerate. The lack of proportional representation of females, blacks and Hispanics in computer science, engineering, and other math-based fields will be attributed to a racist and sexist commitment to the “male-socialized traits” of “objectivity and rationality,” as a recent article in The Physics Teacher put it.
Teaching will be slowed down, and standards loosened (a process officially known as “culturally responsive pedagogy”), in an effort to “diversify” the STEM classroom. A professor at the University of Akron announced in May 2018 that he was boosting females’ grades in his Systems Integration class as part of a “national movement to encourage female students to go into information sciences.” He withdrew the policy after criticism from conservative media, but such efforts will continue in other forms.
The big tech companies will mimic this commitment to “diversity,” ordering recruiters and managers to prefer females and so-called applicants “of color” over white and Asian males. Medical schools will admit, hire and promote in part on the basis of race, rather than solely on academic qualifications.
The metastasizing campus diversity bureaucracy, costing taxpayers and parents millions of dollars a year, will drum into students that they are either victims or oppressors. Lavishly paid diversity deanlets and vice chancellors of equity and inclusion will propound a patently delusional idea: that to be a female or minority college student today is to be the target of life-threatening racism and sexism. (Never mind that these allegedly racist colleges employ large racial preferences to order to admit as many as “underrepresented minorities” as possible.)
Bias response teams, discrimination reporting hotlines, coursework on white privilege, workshops on toxic masculinity, faculty training in implicit bias — all will pour forth from university coffers in wild abandon. Universities will be held harmless for the resulting increases in tuition, which will be treated as a naturally occurring phenomenon, solvable only by more federal aid.
Self-engrossed students will jockey for position on the ruthlessly competitive totem pole of victimhood. While today the “trans” student reigns supreme, his/her/their/zhe position is not secure.
Let some creative students come up with a new category of oppression that is preventing them from studying for exams or attending class, and their college president will penitently promise to make amends by hiring more diversity bureaucrats and setting up academic programs in this newly discovered form of bias.
Students who have been primed to see oppression where none exists will carry that chip on the shoulder into the “real world.” It will prevent them from seizing the many opportunities available to them and will further engulf society in the culture of complaint.
The foundational belief in victimology will be leveraged to further suppress speech that challenges campus orthodoxies, all in the name of preventing existential harm to members of favored victim groups. The “real world” will follow suit and punish anyone who violates diversity taboos, as we saw this summer with the torpedoing of a qualified judicial nominee who had mocked racial identity politics as a college student and the firing of a Hollywood executive who had referred to black male-female dynamics as part of a script discussion.
If the Republicans hold the House in the mid-term elections, college administrators will probably deploy an army of petting dogs and cartloads of stress-reducing chocolates to protect student Resisters from trauma.
As for actual learning, our intellectual patrimony will be further eroded. Culturally illiterate students who could not name a single artist or philosopher from Periclean Athens, the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment will announce that Western civilization is racist and patriarchal. Being forced to study the West’s monumental accomplishments of imagination and reason, whether by Plato, Aeschylus, Mozart or Hume, jeopardizes their very survival, they will whine.
And their professors will kowtow to such ignorance and create more alternative courses based on an author’s gonads, melanin and sexual preference.
At Reed College, students calling themselves Reedies Against Racism occupied class sessions of the college’s signature humanities course during the 2016-17 academic year, surrounding the lecturers with denunciatory signs. Humanities 110, which had been taught since 1943, was a headlong plunge into the explosion of artistic creativity in the ancient Mediterranean world, starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh and ending with the Bible and Apuleius.
Too white, male and Eurocentric, whined the Reedies — even though early Mediterranean societies were neither exclusively white nor European. Naturally, the faculty caved, with the chair of Humanities 110 even praising the protesters for their fortitude in getting up at “9 in the morning, three days a week,” to occupy the class.
The new “decentered” course bumps an as-yet-unspecified number of texts to make room for two new modules on Mexico City in the 15th through 20th centuries and Harlem from 1919 to 1952.
While these substituted periods contain works worthy of studying, they fail to expose students to the building blocks of Western literature and philosophy; they were chosen simply to meet an identity-based political agenda.
Reedies Against Racism, of course, were not placated. The new Humanities 110 should focus on cities outside Europe, “as reparations for Humanities 110’s history of erasing the histories of people of color, especially black people,” they complained in a post.
A class called Major English Poets has been the gateway into Yale’s English major for decades, exposing students systematically to the most influential poets of English literature: Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Milton and Wordsworth.
Such foundational significance is irrelevant, according to the nearly 160 students who circulated a petition in 2016 against the class. “A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity,” the petition declared. “The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.”
In response, Yale’s English faculty remained resolutely mum about why these poets are so central and why students are privileged to immerse themselves in their works. Instead, they meekly removed the requirement that English majors take the course and created an alternative sequence that has “inclusion as its goal,” Yale’s director of undergraduate studies told the Yale Daily News. No period will “simply and exclusively focus on the writing representations of aristocratic white men,” another English professor explained — even if the greatest writers in any given period happen to be, irrelevantly, “aristocratic white men.”
Education in the monuments of the human imagination must now take the back seat to identity politics.
At the University of Pennsylvania in 2016, students removed a large print of Shakespeare from the English department and replaced it with a photograph of Audre Lord, a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” In response, the department chair blandly invited “everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols.”
Here’s what he should have said instead when students first complained about the unsafe space created by the Bard’s picture: “Please provide your analysis of ‘Hamlet,’ ‘King Lear,’ ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Twelfth Night.’ Until you read Shakespeare, there is no negotiating over him.”
To see the local effects of academic diversity ideology, look no further than Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s war on school standards. Their plans to scrap objective entrance tests to the city’s selective high schools and middle schools parrot the specious rhetoric of “privilege” and “bias” that college victimologists have perfected. In fact, there is no better guard against bias and inequality than color-blind, high standards and the expectation that all students will work hard to meet them.
De Blasio and Carranza’s grotesquely wasteful $23 million anti-bias training for the city’s teachers is also a direct import from the university. Education schools marinate already left-leaning students in social justice theory to produce the most “progressive” profession on earth. Yet we are to believe that these immaculately “anti-racist” teachers are discriminating against students of color in their grading and disciplinary practices and are in need of another taxpayer-funded boondoggle in order to overcome their racism.
The solution to corrosive identity politics lies in a return to universities’ core mission: joyfully passing on the precious inheritance of Western civilization, which happens to have been disproportionately shaped by white males.
If a work by an allegedly “marginalized” author is unknown and great, by all means include it in the canon, not because of social justice but in order to discover new sources of pleasure and enlightenment.
But to pretend that Western civilization is not worth studying and respecting because it does not happen to reflect the gender and racial diversity of American cities, or the uber-liberal values of students who attend universities today, is pure bunk.
Until universities return to their core mission, the diversity delusion will continue poisoning and dividing the country.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Daily News
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion (available now). Follow her on Twitter here.