Events on today’s university campuses will drive a sane person crazy. This is a world where privileged youngsters feel “oppressed” by America’s “whiteness,” where African American students are disrespected by buildings named after long deceased slave owners, where professors post trigger warnings to shield cupcakes from potentially upsetting readings and on and on. Unfortunately, student derangement is only the public face of the campus madness. Far worse occurs deep within the university itself, the policy memos issued by the administrative apparatchiki that will undermine intellectual life long after today’s social justice warriors graduate with degrees in gender studies. While this administrative lunacy, compared to student nonsense, seems minor by comparison, it is never too early to strangle it in the cradle. Imagine if a few sensible professors acted decades back when the very first snowflake demanded a safe space to recuperate from an English 101 syllabus that ignored disabled authors of color?
Exhibit A is a “Dear members of the campus community” letter e-mailed to “everyone” by Robert J. Jones, Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (I received this missive since I am retired U of I faculty). It begins with the usual sacred cliché of the modern academy—“…. diversity and inclusivity are essential bedrocks to the excellence of all that we do.” Then it moves onward to reaffirming the University’s commitment to equal opportunity, affirmative action, and access to equal opportunity. That equal opportunity may be antithetical to affirmative action or how “equal opportunity” differs from “access to equal opportunity” are quandaries I’ve leave to others.
Here’s red meat part of the Chancellor’s commitment:
University policies prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, disability, national origin, citizenship status, ancestry, age, order of protection status, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation including gender identity, arrest record status, unfavorable discharge from the military or status as a protected veteran. These protections extend to all members of the campus community during any stage of the employment process including recruitment, selection, promotion, transfer, merit increases, salary, training and development, demotion, and separation. Similarly, the university prohibits discrimination in admissions, enrollment, and in the provision of all services, programs and activities. As a part of our affirmative action plan, consistent with state and federal laws, we undertake good faith efforts to increase the representation of women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and protected veterans.
Chancellor Jones words are not harmless bluster whose aim is winning the Gold medal in today’s PC Campus Olympiad. He is opening up a costly Pandora’s Box of bureaucratic intrusion guaranteed to undermine academic excellence under the guise of achieving a Utopian “fairness.” One more time: Better to kill such gobbledygook in the larvae stage before it metastasizes
First, this protected species laundry list assures myriad new complaints in academic and staff personnel decisions, especially promotions, salary decisions and terminations. Keep in mind that the University of Illinois’ total number of faculty, administrators and support staff is some 11,053 and the yearly decisions covered by the Chancellor’s memo probably exceed 25,000. Further add some 37,911 students, all of whom can now find someone or something to blame a disappointing grade.
This will be a bonanza for unemployed social justice warriors. One new bureaucracy is already in place– Office of Diversity, Equity and Access—whose job is to monitor the tens of thousands of possible injustices. Similarly, we can expect armies of under-employed lawyers to migrate to Urbana and troll for clients who feel they were denied a big salary increase because of heretofore unmentioned genetic abnormality.
It is easy to see how the Chancellor’s missive can play out. Now an assistant professor denied tenure over his incompetent teaching might be tempted to hire a psychologist and a lawyer to argue his lackluster performance just reflects a recently diagnosed genetically determined mental illness. This is not hypermetrical–I personally can recall a tenure case in which the soon-to-be-dismissed professor suddenly remembered that he suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder. The list of potential impediments to good teaching is immense. Maybe his inept teaching reflected some aversion to crowds, dread of public speaking or mild autism that hindered social interactions with students? Conceivably, this victim of alleged discrimination might argue that the university, pursuant to the American with Disability Act, should on day one have offered reasonable accommodations such as hiring a personal therapist to help overcome his previously closeted mental impediments. So it is the university, not the professor, who is at fault.
Moreover, how are those participating in countless personnel decisions to be aware of these protected categories given strict privacy laws? This is a nightmare Catch 22 situation. Going back to the fired bad teacher, should the committee initially interviewing have asked him about his mental disabilities to permit reasonable accommodations? What’s the University’s obligation when a standard background check reveals a job candidate to be a convicted serial rapist? Would the university even be allowed to conduct the background check? If the serial rapist is not hired, can he appeal the decision as “discrimination”?
Underlying this anti discrimination crusade is the belief that outside of these hyper-sensitive commissars, nobody can be trusted to root out biases, bigotry, or even hate. According to these social justice champions, members of the Physics Department’s recruitment committee interviewing candidates in Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos may well reject a future star due to her religion, bi-polar disorder, or pregnancy. It is also assumed that this toxic bias can operate even if nobody on the recruitment committee knows, let alone, cares about the candidate’s religion, mental illness, or erotic preferences. Even after the promising physicist is hired, it is assumed that her predilections might surface and she will be quickly fired. So many possible discriminations to stamp out, so little time.
Chancellor Jones’ efforts are part of a larger micromanaging campaign effort by the nomenklatura to achieve some foggy egalitarian fantasy. In a sense, Chancellor Jones is informing the physics department that since it does “not look like America,” it must honor the God of Inclusion and purge itself of countless biases, including subconscious ones, before it can make a job offer, award tenure or decide salary raises. His meddling is no different from countless other campus administrators setting standards for sexual relationships, imposing speech codes, dictating what is permissible in social activities such as frat parties (particular what occurs at white fraternities), whether non-Hispanics can wear sombreros, what constitutes permissible speech, and who can post what on social media. In short, this is totalitarianism creep.
Can this trend be reversed? Probably not since these social engineering zealots will only double down as one scheme after the next fails to produce a perfectly multicultural, fairness-by-quota university.
The only solution requires killing the beast in its larvae stage: confront the Chancellor personally, perhaps by holding a well-publicized sit in, and ask him why be believes that his anti-discrimination edicts can overcome biologically rooted differences in abilities. Or why the University should protect those with a “mental disability”?
The stakes are hardly trivial. The social justice warriors should not be made ex cathedra part of every campus personnel decision. We don’t need to waste even more time and energy chasing some grandiose dream of expunging every last speck of “bias,” assuming, of course, we can agree on exactly what “bias” means. Alas, that unvarnished truth—some people are just smarter or more talented than others– will be deemed offensive if not hateful to the victim community.
In the final analysis, I suspect that down deep Chancellor Jones cares little about academic excellence, whether teaching or research, versus making cheap points about how unequal outcomes can only result from “unfair discrimination.” The Chancellor’s nonsense should be taken far more seriously than some cupcake demanding puppies and coloring books to escape being upset.