Heather Mac Donald discusses the decline of the university and the rise of campus intellectual intolerance, the subjects of her important new book, The Diversity Delusion How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. She spoke at a Manhattan Institute event in autumn 2018.
Toxic ideas that originated in academia have now spread beyond the university setting, widening America’s cultural divisions. Too many college students enter the working world believing that human beings are defined by their skin color, gender, and sexual preference, and that oppression based on these characteristics defines the American experience. In The Diversity Delusion, Mac Donald argues that the root of this problem is the belief in America’s endemic racism and sexism, a belief that has spawned a massive diversity bureaucracy, especially in higher education.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and a New York Times bestselling author.
Brian Anderson: Happy holidays everyone. Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is your host, Brian Anderson, editor of City Journal from the university to the workplace. Diversity is now the most important criteria in everything from hiring decisions, to reading assignments, to cafeteria food selection. Rejecting the diversity mantra constitutes an assault on the received wisdom of elite American culture, and there's no right or better suited to that task than City Journal’s own long-time contributing editor, Heather Mac Donald. If you haven't heard, Heather is the author of the new book, The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. Coming up on the podcast, you'll hear Heather Mac Donald speak about the diversity delusion. This was recorded at a Manhattan Institute event earlier this year. Heather's talk begins after this. We hope you enjoy.
Heather Mac Donald: Thank you so much Brian, for that extraordinarily generous introduction. It's been my great honor to write for City Journal under both you and Myron Magnet, and I could not have done what I've done without your insights and support and thank you for coming today.
This is a different experience. I've been speaking on college campuses recently, so you know what that means. I've received the walkout, the storm-the-stage strategy, and at Claremont Mckenna in southern California, the blockade that prevented anyone from actually attending my talk. So-called called students of color at nearby Pomona College, announced that I was a quote, “fascist white supremacist, war-hawk, transphobe, queer phobe, classist,” and “ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produced the lethal conditions under which oppressed people are forced to live.” End quote. So to actually have an audience still in its seats and apparently willing to listen is an unusual experience that may take me a while to get accustomed to.
We've been hearing a lot of late about the crisis of free speech on college campuses, but not much about its root cause. The narcissistic victimology that is rapidly spreading from academia to the rest of culture. In a word: The American University is in the grips of a mass hysteria. Students actually believe that they are victims of oppression, at risk of their lives from circumambient racism and sexism. The degree of howling and caterwauling is impossible to overstate.
At Brown students of color occupied the president's office and complained about having to meet such academic expectations as attending class, when they were so focused on quote, “staying alive at Brown.” At Yale, a mob of minority students surrounded a highly respected sociologist and cursed and screamed at him for three hours because his wife had sent an email suggesting that students could choose their own Halloween costumes, free from the ministrations of Yale's diversity bureaucracy. Among the shouts of “shut the F up,” and I'm censoring that, and “you are disgusting” that were directed at this mild-mannered left wing professor, was a cry of “we’re dying” from one of the ranchers referring to the allegedly endangered status of Yale's minority students. But my favorite moment in this parade of narcissism came from Princeton. In 2015, Princeton's black students chanted, “We're sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Now, this phrase was first used by Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist who was beaten in the 1950s for trying to vote. Fannie Lou Hamer had grounds a plenty for being sick and tired of being sick and tired, but any Princeton student, I don't care if he's green, purple or orange, who thinks of himself as oppressed, is in the grip of a terrible delusion that will encumber him for the rest of his life.
Well, perhaps you're thinking, at least the adults on campus are trying to give students a firmer grip on reality. To the contrary, the adults actively encouraged the hysteria. A massive diversity bureaucracy is devoted to cultivating and students ever evermore arcane species of self-involvement and evermore preposterous forums of self-pity. Do you want another reason for astronomical tuition? Look no further than this bureaucratic bloat. Students regularly act out little psychodramas of oppression before an appreciative audience of diversity deanlets, vice provosts of equity, diversity, and inclusion, who used the occasion to expand their dominion.
Many campuses have created bias response teams, modeled presumably on active shooter response teams on the assumption that discrimination is so rampant and lethal, that a rapid defense force is needed. Freshmen orientations and dorm sessions in variably feature seminars in toxic masculinity and white privilege. Students are taught that they are either the oppressed or the oppressors. If you are not female, black, Hispanic, gay, or any of the 116 and still metastasizing categories of gender, the only way that you can escape being an oppressor is by becoming a quote “ally.” Allies or something usually associated with war, and indeed the reigning thinking is that female students and students of color are literally in a war zone on college campuses and need allies from the opposing side to survive. Am I exaggerating? I am not. You see Berkeley's division of equity and inclusion hung banners throughout campus, reminding students of the university's paramount mission, assigning guilt and innocence in the ruthlessly competitive totem pole of victimhood.
One banner featured a female black student in a Hispanic male student allegedly pleading “allow people other than yourself to exist”--a message directed to Berkeley's white students and faculty. This is not hyperbole. They mean it literally. College presidents are the worst offenders in encouraging this delusional victimology. After the three hour expletive filled tirade against the Yale sociologist, Yale’s President Peter Salovey actually thanked the boarish thugs for making him proud of his student body. Yale subsequently conferred a racial justice prize on two of the most aggressive participants.
The Dean of the Harvard Medical School recently removed the portraits of its greatest physician scientists from the entrance hall to the school. You can guess the reason: they were all male and thus looking on them would make Harvard's wilting medical students feel uncomfortable and unsafe. We can only wish these budding doctors luck in the operating room.
Narcissistic identity politics has destroyed the serious pursuit of knowledge throughout the humanities and most of the social sciences. Students are being given a license for ignorance. All they need to be told about a book is the Melanin content and gonads of its author to know whether they can dismiss its contents as thoroughly repugnant and not worth reading. Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, Conte, and Locke, have all been variously defenestrated by students who have not the slightest clue about Periclean Athens, the renaissance, or the enlightenment. A Columbia undergraduate groused about Columbia's beleaguered core curriculum. Quote, “who is this Mozart, this Heiden, these superior white men?” The core, she said, quote, “upholds the premises of white supremacy and racism.” No professor has ever defended our intellectual patrimony against such shameful outbreaks of ecstatic no nothing-ism without adding some pooling qualification about respecting diversity. Academic identity politics are now rapidly spreading throughout the culture at large. Every nonacademic institution, no matter how previously meritocratic is now vulnerable, and that means above all, the stem fields.
Exhibit A: in our cultures’ descent into identity driven mediocrity and thought control is the firing of computer engineer James Demore from Google in August 2017. Demore had written a carefully reasoned, fact-based memo suggesting that the average career preferences of males and females may explain why there's not a 50-50 gender parody at Google and other tech firms. The language that Google CEO used in firing Mr. Demore was a direct import from academic victimology. Google's employees were “hurting,” he said because Demore had dared to challenge the reigning feminist orthodoxy. What followed Mr Demore’s firing was even scarier. A regional branch of the national labor relations board upheld Google's actions on the same bathos drenched victim grounds. Mr. Demore’s memo had made Google's employees feel “unsafe at work,” according to the NLRB, associate general counsel. The memo thus constituted quote “discrimination and sexual harassment.”
Consider for a moment what this NLRB ruling means for science. Any evolutionary biologist, psychologist, or economist who studies the different risk preferences and appetite for competition among males and females, is now at risk of his job. These branches of science could shut down completely, no matter that their findings are true.
The thinking that got Mr. Demore fired is now the dominant characteristic of our time. It holds that the absence of exact proportional representation of various racial, ethnic and sexual groups in any institution is by definition a result of discrimination. To suggest that different groups have different capacities, cultures, skills, and behaviors that explain the lack of proportional representation is not just taboo, it will get you fired. And so the mad rage for gender and racial proportionality in the workplace is accelerating, especially in the Me-too era. From here on out, everything you read, everything you watch in the mainstream media will have been calculated in conformity with the demands of diversity. If you are a white male, no matter how talented, you are going to have to meet a higher standard to get hired or promoted.
This summer, California Polytechnic University proudly announced that its crusade to lower the number of whites on campus was succeeding. Every college is in essence doing the same thing, if not as publicly. Newsrooms are under enormous pressure to find reporters, select sources, and originate stories that will improve their diversity profile. Book publishers are obsessively engineering their lists to prioritize quote “diverse authors and themes.” Thanks to media pressure and their own human resources departments, corporate boardrooms have made a fetish of gender proportionality.
Even before California mandated female board hires, I voted against every female who shows up on a proxy ballot because I assume that she is there because of her sex, not her business experience. Case in point, Drew Gilpin Faust, the outgoing president of Harvard, recently accepted a position on Goldman Sachs’ board. Who knew that left-wing American history professors were experts in investment banking? But university administrators and faculty may hate capitalism, but they love capitalist dollars.
Even classical music is being poisoned by identity politics. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross triggered outrage against the Chicago and Philadelphia symphony orchestras this spring by tweeting that they had programmed no females in their female composers in their upcoming season. Nevermind that at the very moment of Ross’s tweet, the Chicago symphony was performing Jennifer Higdon's concerto for low brass at Carnegie Hall. A work which Chicago and Philadelphia had commissioned no doubt at grotesquely inflated cost. It is absurd to expect gender parody in the concert hall. The reality is this, the greatest composers of all time, whether Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, or Brahms, were male. Get over it and be grateful for the beauty that they gave us unworthy mortals. But classical music boards are also under enormous pressure to hire by gender and race for conducting positions and everything else. A classical music agent told me, wistfully, “if only I had a trans conductor, I'd be rich.”
Now, it is an unalloyed pleasure that Hollywood is being forced to sacrifice its best box office judgment to meet the demands of the race and gender being counters, but it is in the sciences where the diversity imperative becomes actually dangerous. Every academic science department, whether physics, math, or chemistry, is in the victimology crosshairs. The federal government is demanding that science departments hire based on gender and race rather than scientific merit. Science education is being slowed down and watered down in the hope of graduating more females and underrepresented minorities. An oncologist at an Ivy League medical school was berated by his dean for an examined pharmacology that was quote too fact based. I didn't know about you, but if I'm going for cancer treatment, I would like my doctor to know the facts about drug interactions.
The National Science Foundation is spending billions of your taxpayer dollars on programs to boost diversity in science, arguing that only a diverse laboratory can achieve scientific breakthroughs. That's funny because somehow the 200 National Science Foundation grantees who won Nobel prizes, managed to discover dark matter, and the genetics of viruses, among other breakthroughs without conforming to today's diversity metrics.
And of course this mania for gender and race parody in science continues into the private sector. After James Demore was fired, a human resources manager at Youtube and Google, uh, sued Youtube for firing him because he had refused to go along with the mandate to interview only females, blacks and Hispanics for entry level engineering jobs. Potentially groundbreaking scientists are being passed over today because they are of the wrong race and gender.
Guess who does not care about diversity metrics? China. The best thing that Trump could do to level the playing field, would be to air lift a few cargo planes of gender theorists from American universities and dump them on Beijing University and China’s research labs. Until that happens, China will inexorably pull ahead in science because it cares only about one thing in its science labs: accomplishment.
Academic identity politics is tearing our society apart. It is teaching young people to hate, to hate the greatest thinkers and creators of the past and to hate their fellow Americans. The diversity delusion therefore must be nipped in the bud. The next time self-engrossed students occupy a campus building demanding more reparations. Here is what their college president should say: “Are you kidding me? You are the most privileged individuals in human history. You have at your fingertips the thing that Faust sold his soul for: knowledge. You're surrounded by libraries that would have driven the renaissance humanists mad with envy and desire. You can read any book that has ever been written. You have access to scientific laboratories that are the most advanced in the world. You can pursue languages, literature and history. Everything is available. Far from discriminating against minorities and females and hiring, every faculty search here is one long effort at finding remotely qualified underrepresented minority and female candidates who have not already been snapped up by better endowed schools. Far from discriminating against underrepresented minorities in admissions, we employ double standards in order to engineer so called diversity. I can assure you that my faculty are not bigots. They have nothing but goodwill for history’s oppressed groups and want all their students to succeed. At this very moment. Millions of Asian students are studying night and day for the privilege of experiencing this alleged Maelstrom of hatred. If you feel so oppressed, step aside and let them take your place.”
But a college president never says any of these things, of course. Instead, he is silent before these outbreaks of narcissistic delusion. Happy to sell out his faculty as alleged racists and penitently promising to make further amends for so mistreating the oppressed students.
It becomes imperative then for the rest of us to rebut the victimology narrative. It is not enough to call for free speech. That is if I may borrow a term, a relatively safe stance to take. Even some liberals will back you up. No. If we're going to restore sanity and civil harmony, we're going to have to take on the victimology narrative directly and assert that racism and oppression are not the predominant characteristics of American society today. For all our historical sins and they have been large, there has never been a more tolerant opportunity filled polity than our present one. The preservation of freedom requires knowledge of how unique has been the west development of the rule of law, the scientific method, and the concept of individual rights. Passing on that knowledge was once one of the university’s noblest callings. But a university's highest calling is to convey the full glory of Western inheritance, to inspire students to get down on their knees in gratitude instead of raising their fists in protest. To grasp the beauty, wit, and profundity of a vast and rich tradition, one to be discovered, if you will permit me a highly selective and somewhat personal list, in the work of Escalas, Rabelais, Tieplo, Twain, and despite the risk of student complaint, Mozart. Thank you for your attention.
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