Lit Crit

Delusion on Campus

September 26, 2018

Delusion on Campus

In her new book The Diversity Delusion, Heather Mac Donald takes on identity politics far more forthrightly than Francis Fukuyama dared to in his new book Identity, which I reviewed last week.

Just compare their subtitles: Mac Donald chose How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture, while Fukuyama went with The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, even though “dignity” is hardly the first word suggested by identity politics. As I foresaw:

Nor do I expect the upcoming Supreme Court nomination hearing/teen sex comedy to be a high point in the history of American dignity.

Interestingly, both Fukuyama and Mac Donald studied literary theory at Yale under deconstructionist Paul de Man, a remarkable con man who successfully sailed with whatever tide was flowing, whether the Nazi occupation in his native Belgium or French high theory in America. But eventually both Fukuyama and Mac Donald realized French postmodernism is pernicious nonsense.

Nonetheless, I think Michel Foucault was onto something with his constant harping on how power infiltrates language. Granted, Foucault’s obsession with power was an offshoot of his gay sadomasochism, which led to him dying of AIDS in 1984. Still, his notion that elites would naturally try to socially construct how people think in order to preserve their privileges is hardly implausible.

Yet that ought to lead to the question: Who, precisely, are “the powerful” in 2018?

We are constantly lectured about how the increasingly distant past has apparently permanently marginalized various identity groups, so they must be handed ever more power in the present. But aren’t those who are being paid to do this lecturing part of the powerful?

Mac Donald shines her spotlight on institutional power in the universities, especially California colleges such as UCLA.

“Are the most strident student activists and the most smug salaried bureaucrats more or less the same small number of individuals, just at different stages in their careers?”

UCLA is interesting for this purpose because it had a not-unimpressive record of black achievement going back to its founding the 1920s.

Many today might assume that inclusion is a recent development of just the past few slightly more enlightened years. Personally, though, I worked in summer jobs in 1981–82 for a black UCLA vice-chancellor. Through him I met the mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley (1973–93), who had been a UCLA student in the 1930s and was nearly elected governor of California in 1982. My boss’ office was in UCLA’s Bunche Hall, which was named after the African-American diplomat Ralph Bunche, valedictorian of his UCLA class in the 1920s, who won the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an armistice to halt the first Israeli-Arab war. Bunche Hall is not far from UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium, named after the UCLA four-sport letterman of 1939–41.

But none of this positive history seems to have helped UCLA in the present. When Heather spoke at UCLA in 2017, protesters screamed at her for ten minutes. But at least that wasn’t as bad as the next night at the Claremont Colleges, when she had to be rescued by the police from a goon squad from pricey Pomona College (tuition: $52,412).

Amusingly, Heather strikes back by quoting verbatim these affirmative-action students’ word salad:

We, few of the Black students here at Pomona College and the Claremont Colleges… Though this institution as well as many others including this entire country, have been founded upon the oppression and degradation of marginalized bodies, it has a liability to protect the students that it serves…. The notion of discourse, when it comes to discussions about experiences and identities, deters the ‘Columbusing’ of established realities and truths [coded as ‘intellectual inquiry’] that the institution promotes….

Indeed.

These anti-free-speech gangs aren’t lonely rebels; they are empowered by sizable campus bureaucracies. Indeed, many of these incidents can be seen as tryouts in which leftist students ritually denounce the “campus climate” to audition for jobs as diversicrats so that they won’t ever have to leave the campus. (A general rule: The more exquisite the physical climate, such as at the UC schools, the more activists and administrators obsess over whether microaggressions are menacing their “campus climate comfort.”)

For example, Berkeley budgets $20 million per year for 150 full-time staffers in its diversity nook, the Division of Equity and Inclusion. At UCLA, Jerry Kang, the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and a leading advocate of the pseudoscience of implicit bias, was paid $444,234 in 2016.

Mac Donald notes the career arc of the new president of San Diego State, Adela de la Torre, who had previously built a power base at UC Davis consisting of 28 nonacademic departments such as:

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Resource Center; the Center for African Diaspora Student Success; the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Student Success; the Native American Academic Studies Student Success Center; the Middle Eastern/South Asian Student Affairs Office; the Women’s Resources and Research Center; the Undocumented Student Center; Retention Initiative; the Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services; and the Center for First-Generation Student Scholars.

Are colleges paying for this efflorescence of bureaucracy because students are obsessed with identity politics? Or are students obsessed with identity politics because colleges are funding all these diversicrats? Perhaps they are symbiotically related?

Or are the most strident student activists and the most smug salaried bureaucrats more or less the same small number of individuals, just at different stages in their careers?

I started wondering about this in early 2017 when a Berkeley Latinx/Chicanx Studies major and protest leader named Pablo Gomez, who demands to be known by the pronoun “they,” ran amok and was arrested for the murder of a local schoolteacher. They was driven around on his rampage by a colleague and/or rival in the campus protest business. (Law enforcement has treated the driver as another victim of them rather than as their accomplice.)

As I looked into the cutthroat competition in the student demonstration business at Berkeley, I could grasp the despair and rage of a stabby loser like they as superbly groomed tiger daughters increasingly take over the social justice jihadi racket.

The most immediately relevant part of The Diversity Delusion this week is Mac Donald’s insights into the growth of “Neo-Victorianism” on campus.

If you were to believe the Obama administration’s hysteria over the “campus rape crisis,” you might imagine that young women would be fleeing college. Yet:

None of this crisis response occurs, of course. To the contrary, every year the stampede of girls trying to get into the most selective colleges grows more frenzied…. Girls now constitute a large majority of students on college campuses…. Yet, we are to believe that these ambitious mothers are deliberately packing off their daughters to a hellhole of sexual predation.

Mac Donald points out that in 2014 when colleges were first required to report the number of unfounded criminal charges involving their students:

The only unfounded crimes that Harvard reported were rapes—six of them. By contrast, none of the 492 property crimes reported to law enforcement in 2014 were found to be baseless. And those six unfounded rapes represented all of the rapes reported to the Harvard police in 2014—not one survived law-enforcement investigation….

Nonetheless, there is much evidence that the college experience itself often inflicts depression on freshmen. It’s almost a cliché that girls go off to a prestigious college, find the academics daunting, put on fifteen pounds eating cafeteria food, drink heavily to work up an excuse to lose their virginity, and then get heartbroken when the boy doesn’t call. (The late Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons walks through each step.)

Yet, our vast research universities never seemed to get around to researching this seemingly common pattern. Fortunately, UCLA recently started a study of freshman depression.

One possibility that we’re unlikely to hear about from prestigious universities is that our culture’s obsession with students automatically going away to college at 17 or 18 needs to be rethought. Here in Los Angeles, Armenians (who are more or less white people but without the naivete) prefer their daughters to stay at home to attend junior college, and then transfer to a UC college. They may have a point. Upper-middle-class parents don’t raise their children to grow up fast these days, so perhaps they should keep them at home a couple of years longer before they go off to a dorm.

Mac Donald suggests that colleges are slowly heading back to the doctrine of in loco parentis that they dumped during the 1960s sexual revolution. In a timely bit of The Diversity Delusion, she writes:

Sexual liberation is having a nervous breakdown on college campuses. Campus feminists are reimporting selective portions of a traditional sexual code that they have long scorned, in the name of ending the purported epidemic of campus rape. They are once again making males the guardians of female safety and are portraying females as fainting, helpless victims of the untrammeled male libido…. How long will it be before feminists demand the return of chaperones?

Even in the guise of feminist legalisms, she writes, Neo-Victorianism might not be such a bad thing:

Should college fornication become a rare event preceded by contract signing and notarization, maybe students would do some studying instead. At present, many students drink through the entire weekend without worrying about any academic repercussions.

Mac Donald ends The Diversity Delusion on a small note of hope: Despite the manifold failings of institutional academia in instructing the young, the Teaching Company’s Great Courses DVDs, such as Robert Greenberg’s lectures on classical music and Alan Kors’ on philosophy, can always provide a solid liberal-arts education to sober adults.

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