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Spring 2002
City Journal Spring 2002.
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  S oundings

The Awful Truth
Roger Kimball
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A SUNY trustee’s sensible criticism of black studies sets off a storm of protest.

Black studies programs, fixtures at most universities since the radical wave of the late 1960s, have been from the beginning ghettos of academic mediocrity and political grievance-mongering. Instead of nurturing genuine academic achievement, they encourage black students to study not history, but black history, not literature, but black literature—promoting a segregated vision of the world that betrays the original ideals of the civil rights movement. In a recent survey, political scientists John H. Bunzel and Anita Susan Grossman found that such programs tend to espouse a “separatist ideology,” foster “an adversarial stance toward American life,” and subscribe “to various conspiracy theories concerning Western history,” such as the claim that “the Greeks ‘stole’ the achievements of black Egypt.” Typical of the pseudo-discipline is a “Black Psychology” class at San Francisco State University that teaches students that “white” psychology is inherently racist, sexist, and elitist, and “supports a white supremacist ideology.”

Asked by Newsday in February what she thought of courses and programs of this kind, State University of New York trustee Candace de Russy dared to call them an educational disaster. Black studies were usually “therapeutic in nature,” she said, aimed at “consciousness raising as opposed to conveying solid scholarship.” “[B]lack studies and other area studies,” de Russy continued, “should not be so biased as to ignore or negate the very vast positive cultural legacy of the U.S. and the West.” She singled out “Africana” studies at SUNY Stony Brook as falling prey to these tendencies, though she didn’t go into detail. A quick survey of the department’s politicized course offerings, however—everything from “The Politics of Race,” unpacking “overt, covert, and reactive racism” to “Legal Processes in Social Structure,” a “critical and historical study of the role of the American legal order in constructing and deconstructing social dominion and subordination in the United States”—is enough to lend credibility to de Russy’s charges.

The response at SUNY to her remarks was as predictable as it was brutal. Even the pretense of debate immediately went out the window. The 27,000-member faculty-staff union at the university passed a resolution demanding de Russy’s dismissal from the board. And William McAdoo, chairman of Stony Brook’s Africana department, chimed in with a mindless smear: “Her statements are racist. To say that most black studies programs are un-American smacks of McCarthyism, smacks of the whole fascist kinds of repression that took place in the 1950s in the U.S.” You have to admire McAdoo’s economy: racism, McCarthyism, fascism—not to mention bad grammar and a large dollop of left-wing hysteria about the 1950s—all in two short sentences.

SUNY’s board of trustees faces an important choice. It can either capitulate to the faculty-staff union and activists like McAdoo and fire de Russy for speaking the truth, or it can treat its black faculty and students like full-fledged citizens by holding them to the same standards of accomplishment and deportment to which it holds other students and faculty. Let’s hope it has the courage to do the right thing.

 

 


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