The quest for campus diversity seems to be everywhere–the website thedemands.org currently lists 75 schools where students are clamoring for diversity. Barbara Wilson, the interim Chancellor of the University of Illinois even called diversity central to the university’s mission and such embarrassing nonsense is typical. People familiar with today’s academy know full well why otherwise sensible folk have, after centuries of neglect suddenly discovered the lofty benefits of diversity—the threat of campus mayhem (see here regarding its alleged benefits). It is inconceivable that Ms. Wilson honestly believes that spending millions to hire black faculty enhances the university’s reputation for scholarship and teaching or that recruiting more academically challenged black undergraduates will improve classroom discussions. Such groveling clearly resembles big-city firms paying off the Mafia to keep the peace; in a word, extortion.
This is a costly enterprise: newly established faculty positions that can only be filled by blacks, more bloated bureaucracies whose only purpose is supervising affirmative programs, and more legal staff to obscure the university’s illegal racial preferences.
Unfortunately, such budgetary items are the least costly items in this crusade. Far worse, and almost invisible to non-academics is the intellectual price of diversification and these costs far exceed constructing diversity’s Potemkin Village. Put bluntly, interim Chancellor Wilson and her ilk willingly engage in a horrible trade-off of undermining intellectual excellence to placate those racial egalitarians who equate skin color with knowledge. A frank translation of her celebration of diversity is that skin color and genitalia outranks scholarly accomplishment.
Let me catalogue a few hidden intellectual costs. Most obvious are the thousands of smart undergraduate white males who grasp that setting aside faculty slots for the disadvantaged (including women) means that the already small number of academic job openings, particularly in the no-growth social sciences and humanities, will be even smaller. So, why waste a decade and thousands of dollars on graduate school to pursue a non-existent tenure track position or having to settle for a low-paying, no benefit adjunct post? Better to find employment in the private sector, think tanks or government or, if the life of the mind is an irresistible lure, specialize in diversity-proof fields, e.g., teach statistics. Think of these never-to-be-hired high IQ white males as collateral damage in the war to achieve “fairness.” Just as harmful is the narrowing of permissible scholarship and teaching. Rule Number One in today’s academy is never offend grievance groups and truth is no defense. A savvy careerist in the social sciences and humanities must relentlessly self-censor and just to be sure, avoid teaching potentially troublesome subjects (e.g., urban politics). This also includes scrutinizing in advance all assigned reading to insure that they do not even cite anything “controversial” such as The Bell Curve. A wise professor will become an expert liar, for example, with a straight face enthusiastically insist that crime is caused by poverty, racism, inequality etc. etc. regardless of the plain-to-see contrary evidence.
Then there’s risking being socially ostracized if one fails to accept the party line on diversity and inclusion. Trust nobody, not even would-be friends and forget about making jokes that could possibly offend some thin-skinned member of a protected grievance group. Further assume that nothing is eternally beyond the reach of the Thought Police—don’t even admit your opposition to affirmative action in German in an obscure German blog since this could be traced back to you and you’ll be forced to publicly humiliate yourself (and forget about your colleagues defending you). If you yearn for camaraderie and a decent social life, seek these pleasures outside the academy.
But of all the intellectual casualties in this diversification, the greatest loss is the honest give-and-take of intellectual life. These interchanges are among the great pleasures of the academy and diversity can kill this joy.
These are discussions that once occurred in faculty colloquiums, job interviews, graduate student dissertation presentations, informal “brown bag” lunches and anywhere professors assembled. Like playground pick-up basketball games, these exchanges can be bruising and participants typically show-off by conspicuously flaunting arcane knowledge or launching sarcastic killer asides. But, and this is critical, intellectual bravado ceases when the discussion ends and the unspoken norm is no enduring hard feelings. After all, today’s sharp-witted loudmouth is scheduled for next week’s weekly faculty seminar so he better not alienate colleagues. Moreover, as in the pick-up game, participants often socialize afterwards and all is immediately forgiven lest intellectual life deteriorates into vindictive cliques.
Not only is the give-and-take fun, but participants also realize that it is vital for top-flight scholarship. Better to suffer the discomfort among helpful coworkers than present the flawed paper at a professional meeting where one’s blunders can destroy a reputation.
Unfortunately, this affection for spirited intellectual back-and-forth is hardly universal. Among Chinese, Japanese and Arab societies, for example, one would never openly belittle a superior no matter how brainless their utterance. Elsewhere, e.g., Israel, even underlings can criticize their bosses without too much harm. However, at least in a university setting, this animated argumentative style is characteristic of white males, especially smart ones.
It has been my experience that adding women and African Americans to the mix more often than not eviscerates these free-wheeling exchanges. That is, in today’s hyper-sensitive university environment, better to keep mum than tell a black job candidate that his research is flawed or explain to a female colleague that her accusations regarding the pernicious impact of sexism is invalid scientifically since they cannot be falsified.
Biting one’s tongue makes perfect sense since what was once deemed a helpful (though unpleasant) intellectual critique has evolved into a politically charged, personal assault if not an attack on the colleague’s racial or gender identity. These prickly colleagues may even judge the criticism as micro-aggression or harassment and that this slicing and dicing is performed in front of others only exacerbates “disrespect.” Worse, even a friendly argument in private may result in the offended, angered high-value diversity hire taking jobs elsewhere and woe to those responsible for this institutional loss. It is no wonder, then, that much of the research emanating from today’s universities is deeply flawed—nobody dares to bell the cat and errors thus go uncorrected (but on the other side, this escape from close scrutiny benefits those intent on using “research” to advance an ideological agenda). .
All of the above makes cost/benefit sense since absolutely no career downside exists for embracing diversity über alles. In fact, the over-the-top admonitions for the orthodoxy now certifies the highest commitment to social justice. A University President who cynically called for (illegal) racial quotas in all faculty appointments would be celebrated even if everyone suspected he was lying. By contrast, a Dean who expressed honest doubts about quotas would be judged “a trouble-maker” and risks never being appointed Provost. Promoting diversity is lie-friendly.
In the final analysis, abandoning intellectual excellence is best explained by physical intimidation and what is most remarkable is the inconsequentiality of this threat. What interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson and others face is at most some fleeting verbal abuse, not fear for one’s life. We might commiserate with a terrified Dean of Admissions who approved the application of Mafia Boss Vito Corleone’s dumb nephew but to capitulate to a bunch of airhead adolescents to escape some ill-informed haranguing gives cowardice a bad name. The guardians of intellectual inquiry should be court-marshaled for desertion.