Political correctness and identity politics are corrupting colleges and universities around the country, public and private, even in states usually regarded as Republican bastions. It may surprise some readers, but in the home state of stalwart conservative Senator Ted Cruz, where the GOP controls both houses of the legislature and holds all statewide elected offices, leftist zealots at the University of Texas are in control and doing their best to mimic—or perhaps outdo—UC Berkeley.
Under the leadership of university president Greg Fenves, UT is being molded into a burnt-orange knock-off of Evergreen State—a showcase for left-wing academic fads. Fenves, a Berkeley alumnus who also taught there, has overseen the removal of “offensive” historical statuary (including one commemorating a former Texas governor, James Stephen Hogg); an expensive legal battle to defend the school’s use of racial preferences in admissions; the expansion of a highly paid diversity bureaucracy (with a staff approaching 100); the denial of due process in UT’s handling of sexual-misconduct claims; the implementation of campus speech codes and the creation of “bias response teams”; and, in 2016, UT’s first international black studies conference, featuring the notorious Communist activist Angela Davis (a former member of the FBI’s most wanted list) as a keynote speaker.
Many UT alumni place greater importance on the success of the school’s sports teams than they do on academic politics, paying scant attention to Fenves’s transformation of their alma mater into a social-justice academy. Despite his aggressive activist agenda, the only significant pushback Fenves has faced thus far was over the university’s “MasculinUT” program, a widely ridiculed campaign designed to combat “toxic masculinity” on campus. The risible initiative suggested that men suffer when they are told to “act like a man” or are encouraged to be the “breadwinner.” The $330,000-per-year Dean of Students, Soncia Reagins-Lilly, was forced to put the program on hold when national media and radio talk show hosts mocked it.
The MasculinUT miscue aside, Fenves has been remarkably successful in his “diversification” efforts. Under his leadership, the founding head of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, Ted Gordon, was recently promoted to become UT’s vice provost of diversity, where his “primary responsibility will be to promote diversity among the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin.” Gordon, whose academic interests include critical race theory, argued that UT’s iconic fight song, “The Eyes of Texas,” has racist origins and is offensive to African-American students. As a board member of the Austin Independent School District, he called meritocratic admissions “colorblind racism” and suggested that racial disparities are evidence of “institutionalized racism.” These are the sentiments of an ideological extremist, and Fenves’s selection of him to lead the diversity crusade is ominous.
UT’s provost, Maurie McInnis—handpicked by Fenves in 2016 and earning $450,000 a year—recently announced UT’s faculty-diversity initiatives in an email to faculty. McInnis explained that “faculty diversity and inclusion . . . is incredibly important to me and imperative to our future as the public flagship research university for the state of Texas.” McInnis claims that “greater diversity among faculty—as well as the campus community overall—benefits our students and also strengthens our excellence in research, scholarship, and creativity. Breakthroughs are generated by diverse perspectives, and we accomplish this by tapping into the full breadth and depth of talent and experiences of our faculty.”
The claim that “diverse perspectives” lead to academic breakthroughs is a fundamental myth of identity politics. Academic progress—curing diseases, scientific and engineering breakthroughs, the invention of new technologies, and all other advances—is the result of excellence, not “diversity.” Marie Curie did not discover radioactivity because she was a woman but because she was a first-rate scientist. To the extent that quota-driven university administrators undermine the meritocracy that produces excellence in the interest of gender or racial politics, they will invariably impede breakthroughs.
The desire of university administrators to impose leftist orthodoxy is nearly universal and unremarkable. What is surprising, though, is that Fenves’s radical mission to remake UT has gone unchallenged by Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, his appointees to the powerful Board of Regents that oversees UT, and the GOP-controlled legislature that funds Fenves’s ideological sandbox.
Beginning with the Alamo, Texans have historically stood up to defend their beliefs and institutions. Are the nearly half-million UT alumni content to let Fenves “California-ize” (using a term Governor Abbott coined in another context) their beloved Forty Acres? If not, they’d better wake up and demand that their elected officials stop the transformation of UT before it’s too late. The Lone Star State’s flagship university is rapidly being subverted from within.
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