On the Radicals’ Takeover of Higher Education

On the Radicals’ Takeover of Higher Education December 12, 2023

When the presidents of three Ivy League universities were asked whether calls for genocide of the Jews would violate each university’s code of conduct, they couldn’t bring themselves to say that it would.

Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, said, “We embrace a commitment to free expression, even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful.”   Which is grimly hilarious, given that Harvard is ranked last in the College Free Speech Rankings, as determined by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

In the academic world, if a professor or student or campus speaker criticizes transgenderism, the LGBTQ agenda, abortion, critical race theory, or any other facet of woke ideology, he or she must be fired, cancelled, or otherwise punished because the remark could be “triggering,” making someone in the group being criticized feel unsafe.

Apparently, it didn’t occur to the presidents that chants of “gas the Jews” might be triggering to Jews.

The open support of Islamic terrorism and the rebirth of old-school anti-semitism–which goes beyond opposition to “Zionism” to assaults on Jewish students–is at least waking up the public to how bad things have gotten on university campuses.

John M. Ellis, a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Cruz, has been a long-time leader in the National Association of Scholars and other initiatives to oppose the radicalization of academia.  He is the author of  The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done (2020).

He has published a compelling op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall) entitled Higher Ed Has Become a Threat to America, with the deck “Our corrupt, radical universities feed every scourge from censorship and crime to antisemitism.”  Here is how it begins:

America faces a formidable range of calamities: crime out of control, borders in chaos by design, children poorly educated while sexualized and politicized against parental opposition, unconstitutional censorship, a press that does government PR rather than oversight, our institutions and corporations debased in the name of “diversity, equity and inclusion”—and more. To these has been added an outbreak of virulent antisemitism.

Every one of these degradations can be traced wholly or in large part to a single source: the corruption of higher education by radical political activists.

Universities, Ellis points out, have a monopoly on training and credentialing for all of the professions.  As a result, campus radicalism is manifesting itself in the fields of education, journalism, law, medicine, social work, and–I would add–public policy, the arts, and business.  This has consequences in the dysfunctions we are struggling with today:

Children’s test scores have plummeted because college education departments train teachers to prioritize “social justice” over education. Censorship started with one-party campuses shutting down conservative voices. The coddling of criminals originated with academia’s devotion to Michel Foucault’s idea that criminals are victims, not victimizers. The drive to separate children from their parents begins in longstanding campus contempt for the suburban home and nuclear family. Radicalized college journalism departments promote far-left advocacy. Open borders reflect pro-globalism and anti-nation state sentiment among radical professors. DEI started as a campus ruse to justify racial quotas. Campus antisemitism grew out of ideologies like “anticolonialism,” “anticapitalism” and “intersectionality.”

Let me give you a couple of other examples of what is happening in academia.

What’s happened to the field of sociology

Wayne State sociologist Jukka Savolainen has written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal entitled Florida’s Shunning of Sociology Should Be a Wake-Up Call, with the deck, “The field has morphed from scientific study into academic advocacy for left-wing causes.” In the course of his discussion of Florida’s DeSantis-inspired proposal to remove Intro to Sociology as a course that counts for the state universities’ general education requirement, he laments what has happened to his profession.

“Through the decades,” he writes, “I have watched my discipline morph from a scientific study of social reality into academic advocacy for left-wing causes.”  Other colleagues in the field, he says, agree with him.  He cites Notre Dame sociologist of religion Christian Smith, who has written a book, The Sacred Project of American Sociology (2014), on how seemingly secularist social scientists have turned their discipline into a religion:

Mr. Smith is disappointed that undergraduate sociology textbooks, rather than disseminate scientific findings, “function as recruiting tools and re-socialization manuals” to turn students into radical activists. He is equally disappointed with the discipline’s failure to come clean about its obvious political commitments. Publicly, the American Sociological Association describes sociology as a “scientific study of social life” interested in the “causes and consequences of human behavior.” Internally, ASA embraces and promotes social-change activism.

Each year, the association’s president chooses a theme for its annual meeting. Next year’s theme is brazenly political: “Intersectional Solidarities: Building Communities of Hope, Justice, and Joy.” The ASA sums it up as follows: “The 2024 theme emphasizes sociology as a form of liberatory praxis: an effort to not only understand structural inequities, but to intervene in socio-political struggles.”

Race-based Hiring

Anita Kinney and Anthony Pericolo of the City Journal have uncovered how the University of Washington has been evading civil rights laws in its hiring practices.  In their article No White Faculty Allowed, they cite a hiring manual used by the Psychology Department, which has only hired “BIPOC” (black, indigenous, people of color) candidates for their last six positions and which vetoed the hiring committee’s most recent choice because he was white.

The manual shows how institutions are evading the laws against racial discrimination, not only against whites but also against other disfavored racial groups, namely, Asians and Middle Easterners:

First, the handbook advises recruiters to “prepare for success” by developing a strategy for how to hire based on race. To guarantee nonwhite candidates, recruiters should reach out directly to underrepresented minority (URM) candidates. The department’s search committee “sent over 100 personal emails, primarily to URM researchers.” The handbook carefully ranks favored minority groups, specifically “Black/African American, Latinx/Hispanic, or American Indian/Indigenous,” above less preferred ones, specifically “Asian American or Middle Eastern American.”

Next, the handbook recommends drafting job descriptions that match the resumes of specific minority candidates. That way, the applications will perfectly suit the job posting. It directs institutions to “[v]isualize your ideal candidates and work backwards from there to word your advertisement. . . .

A hiring committee should also refrain from evaluating candidate competence. Committees should “[d]econstruct how evaluating candidates” on their productivity, verbal communication skills, or leadership “may advantage privileged groups over underrepresented groups.”

The handbook offers another clue as to how the department had so much success in hiring minority candidates: if a URM candidate was rejected, the department simply reversed the rejection. Any “dropped URM candidates were automatically given a second look before moving on.”

To guarantee that minority status receives appropriate weight, the manual also suggests “placing contributions to diversity high on the list” or even making that “a criterion candidates must pass to make it to the second round”—for example, by “contributing to diversity” or “serving as a role model for URM students.” Since white candidates cannot “contribute to diversity” or “serve as role models” for students of different races, this guarantees that representatives of the correct races will get hired.

If, somehow, a committee still managed to hire white people or the wrong minorities, the manual suggests developing an audit process to identify criteria where “white candidates, male candidates . . . receive higher scores,” so that those criteria can be removed. Particularly, rigorous scientific practices like “publicly posting data, hypotheses and materials to guard against accusations of selectively reporting results or falsifying data” tends to “produce biased results”—namely, the hiring of white men. This was easily solved by “subsequently dropp[ing]” scientific rigor from “evaluation criterion” of candidate searches.

My Thoughts

I myself am an academic, recently retired from a long career in higher education.  I taught mostly, though not exclusively, in Christian colleges, which gave me something of a haven from all of this (though Christian colleges are not immune from the professional peer pressure and require an intentional push back against it).  I am dismayed about what has been happening to my profession and my discipline, the field of English Literature, which has become a hotbed of leftwing “critical theory.”

I can say, though, that there are lots of genuine scholars, legitimate researchers, and good teachers at most colleges and universities today, who are likewise appalled at the anti-intellectualism and the politicization of today’s higher education.  Just as there were dissidents in the Soviet universities which were required to teach according to the tenets of Marxist-Leninism, there are dissidents in American universities, the difference being that Stalin’s police state enforced ideological conformity in Russia, whereas American universities are enforcing ideological conformity on themselves.

Many of those dissidents today on college faculties, though, are keeping their heads down and their office doors closed, being careful not to Tweet anything and to watch what they say, while continuing to do good work in their specialized fields.  There are others, though–like John Ellis, Jukka Savolainen, Christian Smith, the scholars I quote here–who are speaking up.

The growing reaction of donors, state governments, parents, students, and employers to these realizations should add to their number and  might eventually put higher education back together again.


Photo:  Harvard University Widener Library by Joseph Williams, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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