As we know, the term “diversity” is the buzzword of the century. Few public policy debates in the realms of business or education in this country are conducted without it. The use of racial/ethnic admissions preferences at public universities, for example, is often defended by grossly exaggerating the types of diversity they promote.
I watched the Oscars this year, as I do most years. My wife likes to watch them, and I kind of like to keep up with some popular culture. This year the focus was on how none of the nominees, for the second year in a row, were black. The irrebutable presumption was that black actors had deserved nominations. I have no idea whether that was true. The Oscars reacted to the charge of racism the way all liberal institutions, including the universities, do. They engaged in a parade of self criticism, promised to do better, and then moved on. There was…
When I was inducted into the academic honor society at the Phillips Exeter Academy, we heard from an outside speaker, an academy graduate and a professor who happened to be an African American. Among various inflammatory remarks, he said he was surprised to hear an Irish name on the list. I shrugged off his comments, and my father, only a generation removed from the old country, still treasures this anecdote more than any other from my education.
At Phillips Exeter today, there is less tolerance for certain kinds of provocations—or even pre-provocations—than others. Last month an academy graduate and former Congressman was prevented from teaching a guest seminar because he was alleged to be an Islamophobe based on his connection with a Washington think tank. although his proposed seminar had nothing to do with Islam. (I would link to discussion of the matters in the student newspaper, but references appear to have been deleted recently—itself perhaps a sign of censorship and cover-up). On the other hand, one of Exeter’s own teachers penned an essay attacking “white privilege.” Thus, I guess it is not entirely clear how the comment at my ceremony would be treated today.
That’s one of the problems with political correctness: its high double standards informed by Left identity politics. And PC seems to be becoming a much greater problem at our high schools.
There are no doubt many causes of the renewed rise of political correctness on campus, but one of the most important is the increasing power and size of universities’ diversity bureaucracy. The recent events at Yale began with an e-mail from a collection of no fewer than thirteen university bureaucrats (e.g, officials of LGBTQ Resources, Gender and Campus Culture, Native American Culture, La Casa Culture, to name just a few) who advised students how to dress for Halloween. Similarly, at Harvard the Office of Diversity, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion created politically correct place mats for “social justice” to help students confront benighted family members on the issues of the day.
Cornell University distributed guidelines on the public display of holiday symbols (short version: avoid religious symbols but mistletoe too). That ukase issued from the Department of Environment Health and Safety, since it also included fire safety tips. But there can be little doubt that advice on how to be inclusive came from diversity bureaucrats. The rules have the Orwellian touch we have come to know from these officials: promote diversity by preventing people from offering in public evidence of their diverse religious sentiments. As in 1984 War was Peace, in 2015 Diversity is Uniformity.
Diversity bureaucracies are proliferating for three reasons.
Donald Trump and the new campus political correctness movement have a lot in common. Both want to create safe spaces where people fear no challenge from the exercise of others’ liberties. In the case of the campus PC movement, their disdain for freedom is obvious. They want to stop others from saying things that may offend them or undermine their world view. But the modern university grows out the enlightenment, which of course gave much offense to aristocrats, priests, and various other purveyors of received wisdom. Illiberal political correctness is thus at war with the classical liberal ideas on which our universities are founded.
Donald Trump also wants to create safe spaces for people who do not want to be challenged by the liberty of others. This self-proclaimed master of the art of the deal is no friend of making markets more open. He opposes free trade agreements that would let our citizens and those of other nations make more mutually beneficial deals. He also promises literally to build a fence around America. To be sure, there is a national security threat to the United States from radical Islamic terrorism. But Trump’s proposals to ban Muslim immigration is at once excessive and ineffective. Why couldn’t jihadis simply pretend to be Middle Eastern Christians? Trump’s proposal is better understood as an attempt to insulate America from religious ideas that many disdain. His illiberal program is at war with America’s freedom.
The safe spaces offered by Trump and the PC movement lure people inside for similar reasons.
Marco Rubio demonstrated keen political instincts during one of the primary debates when he used his opening remarks to argue for an end to the stigmatization of vocational training, handily linking the stigmatization to the minimum wage and America’s flagging economy.
Conservative critics regularly assail the University of California for its cartoonish devotion to diversity and the latest fads in political correctness. Mocking UC is practically Heather Mac Donald’s beat at City Journal and UC President Janet Napolitano’s recent campaign against “microaggressions”—including the allegedly offensive statement “America is the land of opportunity”—was roundly condemned by commentators across the spectrum, even the left-leaning Los Angeles Times. We expect as much from California, led by Governor Moonbeam, but what are we to make of the University of Texas at Austin’s increasingly desperate attempt to follow in UC Berkeley’s footsteps?
Is the American Mind--the collective intelligence of what it means to live as independent citizens and individuals in America--increasingly being lost? That is the subject Mark Bauerlein discusses with Richard Reinsch in this Liberty Law Talk. Some have argued that we are Becoming Europe in fiscal and welfare state policies. Others have noted the rise of political correctness as a smothering force in our society. Many have long observed that our education system not only inadequately prepares young Americans in primary schools and colleges and universities for the competitive private sector, but that it is nearly oblivious to the American Founding…
Academic-speak these days is quite easy to imitate. Here is a representative specimen that might well be found in your email in-box if you happen to work in American higher education: “As a community we must all rededicate ourselves to dialogue about inclusion, diversity, and social justice, and to rejecting the hegemonic discourse of oppression that dominates the white/heteronormative culture.” Lots of abstract jargon strung together to warn opponents and reassure friends—nothing in the way of real thought or even mere description.
Graduation season is well underway. With all the excitement and regalia of the annual event, it might be easy to overlook the commencement address, an American tradition as old as the graduation ceremony itself. These addresses—and, in particular, the speakers invited by high schools and colleges to deliver them—have at this point become a regular source of controversy, protest, and even, on occasion, borderline violence.