With each new academic year come new racial incidents on campuses, watched closely by university administrators seeking to master the rules of response in order to cling to their jobs.
The fall 2015 unrest at the University of Missouri, which led to the resignation of the system president and one campus’s chancellor, and at Yale University, where protestors chastised an instructor about her comments on Halloween costumes, probably assisted Donald Trump’s improbable rise as a champion of the politically incorrect. Many Americans find it odd that privileged students express outrage at risqué Halloween costumes, not at terrorist attacks on their nation by notably intolerant jihadists.
No doubt some of the grassroots support for Trump reflects the alienation of rural white voters who, as J. D. Vance explains in Hillbilly Elegy, feel pitied and patronized by their nation’s political elites. Ironically, a similar alienation may explain why privileged college students of color at places like Yale seize any opportunity to express outrage. They feel patronized by their universities -- and for good reason. While institutions like the U.S. Army seem effective at bringing diverse young Americans together, higher education seems to spin them apart. So how did America’s most progressive institutions get race relations so very wrong?
I write as a right-leaning white man, but one with African-American friends and collaborators met while growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood and then spending 40-odd years in academe, teaching at a range of small and large, public and private institutions. In that time, I’ve read much and seen even more, including sensitive matters that few academics of any color address with clarity for fear of attacks.
Underlying the controversies at Yale, Missouri and, in a quieter way, at most of the 10 institutions of higher learning where I have taught, are real issues of privilege and alienation. When African-Americans complain that they are not taken seriously at colleges and universities, my fellow conservatives need to acknowledge the key reason why: African-Americans are not taken seriously at colleges and universities. Meanwhile, for their part, liberals need to acknowledge that diversity policies -- at least as actually practiced at most colleges and universities rather than in theory or public proclamation -- have walled off minorities from the centers of university life, making racial hierarchies all the steeper and inherently challenging situations still more challenging.
Way back in 1972, in Black Education: Myths and Tragedies, African-American economist Thomas Sowell wrote about the challenges facing African-American professors, who must teach and publish like everyone else but who also are drafted to serve as recruiters of and gurus to black students, as preventers of open racial conflict, as the authentic “black voices” on innumerable committees (a pretty awesome responsibility when you think about it), and in pervasive public relations roles as living proof that institutions of higher learning are diverse. As Stephen L. Carter pondered in Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, the omnipresent racial consciousness in academe makes minority professors and students continually unsure of whether white-dominated institutions value their skills or their skin color. That insecurity results from white privilege in the purest sense, making HBCUs all the more appealing.
In the University but Not of It
My first knowledge of this came some 30 years back, while studying in a high-octane Ph.D. program. I was the only openly Republican student in the program, my best friend for a time was the only African-American student, and our basically decent colleagues never quite knew how to react to either of us. I was young and insecure (now middle-aged and crotchety), but then, so were my peers. Possibly, the prospect of my tattling to conservative state legislators, or worse still, my friend accusing someone of racism (the latter a real career killer), put some on their guard. Such insecurities are immeasurably more pronounced in today’s time of conservative bloggers, libertarian think tanks, politically correct trigger warnings and Orwellian microaggressions.
Of course, unlike my friend, I was never called out of class to have my picture taken for a university brochure or asked to represent “the black point of view.” My friend could not just be a doctoral student in a top 10 program -- which is hard enough. He was supposed to be the minority student, a token, not a person, someone to be handled with care. He ended up leaving academe.
I, too, experienced the feeling of being in the university but not of it. On the verge of flunking out, I was exiled off the 12th floor of the social sciences tower to the second floor to share an office with the graduate students in Africana studies, a department that apparently had extra space or insufficient clout to protest. The Africana students were bright but bitter, lamenting our status of occupying the only office in the building that did not even have a phone -- that was how much the university trusted us! Everyone knew no one from there would make dean any time soon. We were the ghetto of the university, although for me it was only temporary.
Unfortunately, some 30 years later, remarkably few presidents of colleges and universities are African-American -- only about 6 percent, according to the American Council on Education, even counting community colleges and HBCUs. I know fine scholars and teachers who might receive serious consideration for serious leadership posts at Research 1 universities -- were they white. As African-Americans, they get stuck on the black track Sowell lamented back in 1972.
Fast-forward a few decades, and I heard a chancellor casually suggesting that to support ethnic diversity, the university needed to enlarge majors like education, sociology and African-American studies -- not engineering, linguistics or Arabic. Nor did this chancellor (or any I university leader I have known) talk seriously about how to push K-12 schools to reduce the racial achievement gaps that hinder the efforts of higher education (and society generally) to desegregate.
Rather, his meaning was clear: you can’t expect those black folks to have the brains to handle regular majors, so to make the diversity numbers we would create refuges (ghettos?) within the university. This particular chancellor was a decent human being and a member of the left in good standing, someone who probably never voted Republican. (Republican chancellors may well be rarer than African-American chancellors.) Yet his views of the capabilities of minorities were indistinguishable from those of the most noxious segments of the Trump movement. Those views were on public display, but far more common are quiet references in hiring committees to the effect that you just can’t expect minorities, or rather certain minorities, to cut it in academic settings.
So while I am not a person of color, from lived experience in the academy I got it when, in the Schuette case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor opined that “race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’”
But here is what Justice Sotomayor and many others on the left do not get. True integration in any workplace, but particularly in hypercompetitive academe, only works when people have roughly equivalent skills. Most faculty members know this, and some make largely unsupported attempts to do something about the skills gaps across groups.
But, unfortunately, that is simply not how many administrators view the issue. They practice affirmative action by admitting African-American and occasionally Hispanic students with academic skills well below those of their white and (especially) Asian peers and then exiling those students (and sometimes faculty members) to the margins of the university -- to “special” majors, programs and even dorms. In other words, they set up expectations of white and Asian privilege, and African-American disadvantage, in ways that guarantee alienation and division, however much we deny or avoid it.
What Should be Done?
As Benjamin Ginsberg argues in The Fall of the Faculty, some of our collective failure to manage diversity (and a host of other issues) reflects the fact that administrators, not professors, now dominate our universities. Higher education administrators often view diversity issues through the prisms of politics and public relations. Even though each group leans well to the left politically, approaches to diversity can divide college administrators and faculty members. In The Still Divided Academy, Stanley Rothman, April Kelly-Woessner, and Matthew Woessner offer extensive survey data showing that while college and university administrators see no downside to affirmative action, their faculty members, who actually work with students and value academics, perceive trade-offs between diversity and student success.
This is a divide between those working directly with students and those focused on “the big picture,” for whom individual students are abstractions. For most faculty members, whatever their ideology, issues of diversity offer educational challenges: How do we serve all our students, including minorities, and use diversity to enhance rather than constrict intellectual exchange? In contrast, college and university administrators by and large care little if black students (or any students) learn. For the administrators who run colleges and universities, diversity offers political challenges: How do we keep minorities quiet and have sufficient numbers of them to look good to external funders? This means that minority activists at places like Yale, the University of Missouri and wherever the next racial incident occurs in a deep sense have it right: university leaders do not care about them save as public relations objects. That’s a recipe for alienation, and rebellion.
Perhaps universities don’t have to be this way. Some of the better work on managing diversity comes out of the military, such as Charles Moskos and John Sibley Butler’s 1996 classic All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way. This nuanced sociology suggests integration works best when those of different identities have roughly equal skills, face common challenges, get to know each other as individuals rather than as group representatives and cannot retreat to separate “safe spaces.” Grown-ups could structure the academic and social challenges of college in such ways. Putting more focus on academics would be a good start, unifying students around the common demands of course work. Going a step farther might mean de-emphasizing institutions of progressive privilege, like diversity programs, and even more powerful institutions of traditional privilege, like fraternities and sororities.
Unfortunately, however, the prospects for such bold, individual student foci on the part of large, bureaucratic institutions are not good. Perhaps those running colleges and universities deserve what they are getting.
Robert Maranto is the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.
Following similar scandals involving sexist, racist and homophobic online communication among some male athletes at Harvard and Columbia Universities and Amherst College, Princeton University on Thursday announced that it was suspending its men's swimming and diving team. "The decision to suspend the season was made after a complaint earlier this week alerted the university to several materials, including content on the university-sponsored men’s swimming and diving team Listserv, that was vulgar and offensive, as well as misogynistic and racist in nature," said a statement from the university.
I read with great concern the Nov. 30, 2016, article on the opinion page of The New York Times by George Yancy about his being placed on something called the Professor Watchlist. I rushed to the website for the list, which was created by a group called Turning Point USA for the purpose of identifying college professors who oppose “the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.”
My concern turned to shock as I discovered that only one professor from my large, public, Northeastern research university was on the list. So I immediately filled out the form on the website in order to report that my name should be added to it.
I figured that I should be the one to turn myself in for CRT -- counterreactionary thought. While I’m not sure what I teach can be called “leftist propaganda,” I must certainly be guilty of harboring such ideas, having worked not just in academe but also in government -- and for many of those years overseas.
To help other educators to bring themselves into line with the new political reality that has descended on the land, here are some suggestions:
Use all administrative gatherings, such as department meetings and Faculty Senate committees, to publicly confess your own inclinations toward CRT. These occasions can also be used to denounce others whom you suspect have committed CRT.
Form a committee to be on the watch for such utterances wherever they may occur.
Form another committee to read all emails and monitor all phone calls for CRT.
Form a third committee to criticize the failure of the first two committees to find enough names to add to the list.
At the institutional level, your university should rebrand itself as a charter school. Under the new U.S. Department of Re-education, no federal funds will be forthcoming unless you do. You should also eliminate all courses that are not part of the STEM disciplines. The purpose of a higher education is, after all, only to grease the wheels of capitalism. Social sciences, humanities and the arts are therefore unnecessary and can only lead to deviant ideas.
Debates on the campus should be limited to exchanges of phrases from the soon-to-be-issued little orange book that all will be required to carry. It will be full of sage advice and sayings like “no profit too big, no government too small.”
And lastly, go to the Turning Point USA website and turn yourself in. If you are in academe, you are guilty of thought and therefore have committed CRT.
Dennis Jett, a former career diplomat, is a professor of international affairs at a large public research university in the Northeast.
Advocates for women in science in New Zealand are criticizing Chris Kelly, chancellor of Massey University -- and some are demanding his ouster -- over comments he made about female veterinarians, The New Zealand Herald reported. Kelly made the comments in an interview with Rural News in which he described how veterinary enrollments are now dominated by women. Here's what he said: "The problem is one woman graduate is equivalent to two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet throughout her life because she gets married and has a family, which is normal." Kelly has since apologized, but many say that the attitude reflected in his quote is one that works against women in many science fields.
Amherst College announced that it has suspended the activities of the men's cross-country team after the discovery that the team had a tradition of exchanging racist, sexist and homophobic email messages and social media posts. The college confirmed that this has been a tradition for several years and is part of how new members are taught team culture. "The messages are appalling. They are not only vulgar, they are cruel and hateful. No attempt to rationalize them will change that. My reaction is one of profound sadness, disappointment and anger," said a statement from Biddy Martin, president of the college.
I am a professor of sociology who did not vote for Donald Trump, and I do not know of a single academic colleague who did. (And if they did, they are certainly not disclosing this in academic circles.)
I remember sitting with colleagues before the primaries when Trump was gaining ground. They laughed him off. They did not know anyone who would vote for him.
The pollsters got it wrong, too, and they all seemed to get it wrong in the same direction: in favor of established liberal Hillary Clinton. They are already writing about the statistical reasons this may have happened. I am going to set those aside for now to address a sociological, qualitative reason.
Sociologists have long studied the tendency of people to bond with others like them. Case in point: I love my academic colleagues because they are a lot like me. We are a group of passionate people who care deeply about the poor. And we are similar in other ways, too. We like to read dry academic articles and make arguments that contain the word “nuanced.”
And politically, many of us lean to the left (or even the far left). When I am with other sociologists, I tend to de-emphasize the things that are different about us and emphasize the things that are similar: I talk a lot about how my husband is an equal partner in care for our daughter, how I come from a biracial family and how I am raising my daughter in, as much as possible, a gender-neutral fashion.
That is starkly different from the way I was brought up.
I was literally raised on Podunk Road, where trailers and beat-up cars dotted the landscape. Our family was probably among the richest of a group of poor white people. Among those I went to school with, I am one of the only ones who attended an Ivy League school, Cornell University. I was likely let in under affirmative action because of a land grant that required the university to take in a proportion of local farm kids. I fit this description.
When I am with my colleagues, I talk less about how most of my family were church-going, card-carrying members of the National Rifle Association or how I still go to church every week.
The truth is, academics at elite institutions tend to be more liberal, less religious and more in favor of big government than the rest of the American population. Most of us would be hard-pressed to give a well-reasoned, conservative argument in response to any social issue. And more than one academic colleague has told me that if their neighbor had a Republican sign on his lawn, they probably would not make any effort to get to know the neighbor.
I join my colleagues in the fight against social inequality in all its insidious forms. But many academics like me have not spent much time trying to understand the groups of people who likely voted for Trump, nor have we spent much time trying to translate our academic work to these groups. And given the demographics of the United States, we forget that, for Trump to win, he needed to have some of the people whose interests I think his views work against actually vote for him -- including poor people, immigrants, women and Latinos.
For most academics, our candidate did not win the presidential election. We now face a crossroads. Will we lock ourselves in our ivory towers and face the outside world with cynicism? Or will we concede that our best social scientists got the prediction wrong?
Now is the time to move forward in pursuing a form of radical dialogue that we do not hear very often on university campuses. I would advocate that we move forward as leaders in listening to and learning from the entire world outside the academy. We need to live up to the best vision of the university, where everyone is welcomed to hear and be challenged by views different than their own.
Here are some concrete suggestions:
Challenge yourself to find the best voice on the other side. Academics are human, and it’s tempting when dealing with controversial issues to choose an unattractive opponent. I study religion, and I have heard many debates between erudite, attractive academics and inarticulate faith leaders. We must find the most attractive, well-spoken person on the “other side.”
Claim the best vision of the university as a protected space for dialogue. Each month, through the Religion and Public Life Program that I direct at Rice University, I host a discussion or reception for 20 to 30 religious and civic leaders at my home. In the midst of polarized faith communities and tensions between faith and secular communities, the leaders who come say that this is one of the few places in their lives where they have the opportunity to meet with someone who is different. I have seen conservative and liberal faith leaders, people who would never meet under another circumstance, come together around common social justice issues.
Claim a nonutilitarian vision of the university. Universities have fallen prey to business principles. Some of this is unavoidable as funding streams narrow. In its best form this utilitarianism is born from a desire to do work that really counts. But universities can be the soul of society. Sometimes we academics -- who are busy with committee work, raising funding for projects and getting out the last possible publication for the academic audience -- forget what a privilege it is (especially for those of us who have stable academic jobs and even stable academic jobs with tenure) to work in a university context where we get paid to do work that we love.
In its worst form, the academy is often rightly criticized as being in an ivory tower with no central importance to helping solve societal problems. But in their best form, universities can provide society spaces to stop and reflect. That is why, in particular, the modern university needs the humanities. In my university classes, I learned practical skills for a job, but the best classes I took were my history and philosophy and writing classes -- those that prepared me to think, reflect and appreciate beauty.
I write this from a sabbatical in France. I grew up among the rural poor, but I do not know many of them anymore. In the next few months, I will return to America, to reality and, I hope, to trying to understand this new reality and sharing that knowledge with my colleagues, students and the rest of the world.
The election has changed me. When I return I want to be a better teacher and do a better job incorporating views and traditions different than my own in my classes. I might spend more time trying to translate my work to a broader public that can benefit from it and from whom I can learn. When colleagues say things that cut off dialogue or say that certain views are not welcome, I might feel freer to gently challenge. I might spend more time in my community translating my work, and I might take my students with me. I might try harder to bring that community to campus. In the best case, the election provides a chance for the academy to reflect on itself and achieve a new vision of service to the broader society.
A few years ago, James H. Tatum and his colleague at Dartmouth College William Cook published a book that was a real eye=opener. African American Writers and Classical Tradition, published by the University of Chicago Press, took an in-depth look at the work of Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, Rita Dove and others to show that “African-American literature did not develop apart from canonical Western literary traditions but instead grew out of those literatures,” while at the same time adapting and transforming African cultural traditions.
Since many of the works that had the greatest influence on those writers had their roots in Greece and Rome, the book was a wake-up call for us classicists. But while it was warmly received and won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, it has not yet led to a strong effort to answer such questions as “What about the next generation of African-American writers, thinkers, leaders? As college students, will they have in-depth access to the literature that proved so empowering to their predecessors?”
Access to serious study of the literature and experience of ancient Greece and Rome, long the core of a liberal education, is now severely limited for all students in the United States -- whatever their ethnicity, socioeconomic status or color. No more than one college student in seven attends an institution with a department or program in the ancient Greek and Latin classics. For an African-American student the opportunities are likely to be even more restricted.
That is in part because of the limited curricular offerings at the 83 historically black colleges and universities offering bachelor’s degrees. Those institutions, Wikipedia reports, accounted for 13 percent of black higher education enrollment in 2001. Of these institutions, I know of only one, Howard University, that has had a department of classics. A similar limitation of opportunity is evident if we ask which institutions, HBCU or not, enroll the largest number of non-Hispanic African-American undergraduate students. According to Collegexpress, the following nonprofit four-year institutions enroll the largest number of African-Americans:
Georgia State University
Florida A&M University
University of Maryland University College at Adelphi
University of Memphis
More than 40,000 African-American students are enrolled at these five institutions, but only a few of the five provide a coherent program for the study of ancient Greece and Rome.
Some African-American students, to be sure, attend institutions with strong programs in the ancient world. These are often highly selective, well-endowed colleges and universities, often with aggressive minority recruitment programs. Yet even there, the percentage of African-American students in the student body is less than one might hope.
This situation needs to change, and in classics, there are signs that it can change. Many departments of classics can point to African-American students who have flourished through their study of the classics. The challenge, then, is to find ways to make such success more widespread.
That will take action both at the campus level and nationally. Fortunately, models of proven effectiveness can be adapted, such as the Teagle Foundation’s College-Community Connections, which introduces low-income students from New York City public high schools to the liberal arts. Cheryl Ching, a former staff member directly involved in the program, recently looked back on one example of its success, writing in an email, “I think about the freedom and citizenship seminar that Andrew Delbanco and his colleagues at Columbia University developed for the Double Discovery students, where there was a conscious effort to relate Plato, Aristotle and all the great writers of Western civilization to lives of the mostly students of color in the program.”
No doubt other promising models and good ideas can be shaped, tried out and rigorously evaluated to help the next generation of students experience in depth what proved so important in the past. In higher education these days we talk a lot about access, but we rarely include in the discussion access for all students to a rich and genuinely diverse curriculum. Making that kind of access available to all students is the real test of leadership at every level, from the individual department to the national organizations that shape educational policy.
Black learning matters.
W. Robert Connor has served as director of the National Humanities Center and president of the Teagle Foundation. He blogs at www.wrobertconnor.com.
Pima Community College has settled out of court with a former professor of chemistry who accused it of firing him with no due process, Tucson.com reported. David A. Katz will receive $100,000 in compensatory damages and about $50,000 in lost pay related to his 2014 termination. Katz will not be reappointed, despite his desire to resume work on campus. All parties are subject to a gag order, but public records show that the college, Chancellor Lee Lambert and two former subordinates implicated in Katz’s lawsuit denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement, according to Tucson.com.
A federal judge ruled in a pretrial hearing in July that the college violated Katz’s constitutional right to due process in suspending and later terminating him without giving him the right to defend himself. The judge did not rule out the possibility that Lambert could personally be held liable for damages if the case went to trial. The court rejected other claims by Katz, however, including that his free speech rights were violated when he was disciplined after complaining about laboratory conditions. The college argued that Katz was prone to angry outbursts, but some instructors disputed that characterization. All parties will bear their own court costs.