Social-justice turbulence at Haverford, self-abasing administrators, and some lessons

December 5, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I see that Quillette is now being demonized by many Leftists as some sort of “alt-right” or conservative website. And although some of their articles are indeed too Right-wing for me, most of the articles seem to be doing what I do—calling out the excesses of the Left, the same excesses that, I suspect, held back the predicted Blue Wave in November’s election. Further, it’s not a good idea to denigrate an entire website as a way of avoiding—or urging others to avoid—reading anything published there. Regardless of what you see as Quillette‘s overall ideology, you will benefit from reading some of its pieces, if for no other reason than some of the follies of the Left, which threaten a liberal government, simply can’t be found in mainstream media.

Here is one piece that will repay reading, although it’s long (my printout, in 9-point type, occupies 14 pages). This should keep you occupied on a cold December Saturday:

In some ways it’s nothing really new: the piece describes a meltdown at Haverford College, a posh and expensive school near Philadelphia. What’s unusual about this is that the students went on strike for several weeks, refusing to go to classes or, indeed, do anything college-related. What’s not new is that they issued a set of demands to the administration: the usual mix of the ridiculous to the tame. And the administration, to placate the outraged students, accepted nearly every one of those demands.

To me it’s a scary harbinger of my own school which, despite holding the line on some aspects of free speech, is showing worrying signs of encroaching wokeness. I’m worried that the University of Chicago will go the way of Yale, Middlebury College, Harvard, and now Haverford. But more on that in weeks to come.

The author of the piece, Jonathan Kay, is the Canadian editor of Quillette, and has cobbled together a thorough and engrossing summary of Haverford’s meltdown.  I’ll try to be brief, as I want to discuss his views on the future of fulminating college wokeness.

Earlier this year, before the death of George Floyd on May 25, Haverford was pretty much a school of comity. While there was discussion about various issues, there was not much about race, and a college committee in 2019 noted that there was, as Kay says, “little indication of mass discontent or ideological conflict.” This contrasts markedly with the many statements in the next few months, including some by administrators admitting that Haverford had long been a bastion of systemic racism.

All that changed with the death of Floyd and then the police shooting in Philadelphia on October 26 of another black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., who was bipolar and carrying a knife.  Because it wasn’t clear that the cops had a good reason to fire on Wallace, this predictably led to rioting in Philadelphia. Earlier, the racial unrest of the summer had led the College’s President, Wendy Raymond, to issue a statement of support for the black protestors, and the students began protesting the alleged racism of Haverford and issuing lists of demands.

After Wallace’s death, President Raymond and Interim Dean Joyce Bylander (the latter a black woman) issued a joint letter of anti-racism, but made the mistake of saying that students shouldn’t go to Philadelphia to protest because they could get infected with Covid-19 or “play into the hands of those who might seek to sow division and conflict especially in vulnerable communities.” (It’s not clear whom they meant.)

This statement (like others, reproduced in the article), urging students not to put themselves in “harm’s way”, enraged those students, who saw in it a line drawn between the poor black residents of Philadelphia and the entitled bubble of Haverford students.  A Zoom call ensued on November 5 in which the President, the black Interim Dean, and the black Provost, Linda Strong-Lee, talked to many of Haverford’s 1350 students. The students proceeded to revile the administrators in the call, as usual, but did so anonymously.

And the administrators proceeded to abase themselves:

The President:

Raymond presented herself as solemnly apologetic for a litany of offenses. She also effusively praised and thanked the striking students for educating her about their pain, while “recognizing that I will never understand what it means to be a person of color or be black or indigenous in the United States. I am a white woman with considerable unearned privilege.”

Not only did Raymond announce that she would be acceding to many of the students’ previously listed demands, she also reacted positively to the new requests that students put forward during the call. “All of the recommendations you’ve made here sound spot on and are excellent,” she said. “We can do those—and go beyond them.”

The Provost:

“I’ll just share that I hear your pain, and I know that this is something that rings hollow for you, but I am a black woman who has lived in a black body for 56 years,” responded Strong-Leek, in carefully measured tones that, among all the responses from administrators, seemed closest to escalating into something approaching candor. “My husband is black. My children are black. Every day, I worry about them and myself. Every day, I confront racism. [I’m] Looking forward to working with you and looking forward to making Haverford a better place.” She seemed to be fighting back her own emotions, but ultimately kept her composure.

The Interim Dean:

“I continue to listen and learn, and try to understand the ways in which the college has failed you and how I have failed you,” Dean Bylander calmly responds, ticking off seemingly well-rehearsed talking points. “[I] continue to be committed to trying to work to change and improve the experience of BIPOC students at Haverford.” Her face is a mask of deadpan professionalism. Or maybe she’d simply gone numb.

Eventually, the College acceded to virtually all the students’ demands. But by then the students had gone on strike, refusing to attend classes or extracurricular activities, with the intent being to disrupt the college, make them see how valuable people of color were in running the College, and to spend their time doing teach-ins and reading anti-racist literature. The strike lasted three weeks.

It wasn’t enough that there was a strike, for the striking students tried to punish those “scab” professors who insisted on holding classes during the strike as well as those students who opposed the strike, the latter keeping quiet lest they be forever demonized. Alumni banded together threatening to withhold donations to Haverford unless the students’ demands were met (this is a particularly effective way to effect college change: smack them in the pocketbook).

Social-media statements like this circulated (“Peanuts” is President Raymond’s dog, for crying out loud, and the poor mutt was threatened multiple times with death):

They threatened the President’s dog, for chrissake!

All of a sudden, where comity had reigned, the students, administration, and alumni discovered that all along the school had been a bastion of racism and bigotry:

The students appeared on Zoom under pseudonyms plucked from a list of past Haverford presidents and benefactors. The idea, a strike organizer self-identifying as “Henry Drinker” is heard to say at the 12:20 mark, was to co-opt the names “of the old white men who have made Haverford the racist institution that it is today.”

. . . These details help contextualize the mass email that Dean Bylander and President Raymond sent to the school community on October 28th, a six-paragraph message that student strikers would cite in the days that followed as proof of the “long tradition of anti-Blackness and the erasure of marginalized voices that have come to characterize the experiences of students of color at Haverford.”

From an article in the college newspaper by a student named Soha Saghir:

This campus has failed its Black students (especially Black women and Black nonbinary people), its students of color, and its FGLI [first-generation low-income] students—the very people whose labor is the backbone of this campus. These emails [from the administration] were just one more way in which you and this institution neither feel nor understand how tired, angry, and ready for change we are… In this pandemic, that labor has intensified in unimaginable ways… We are no longer asking for inclusion or diversity since that gives more power to the institution. Instead, we will disrupt that order. We will be going on a strike from our classes, our jobs (which we need), and any extracurricular activities. This campus can’t run without BIPOC. This is not just a reminder that we are valuable to you on campus, but that our lives, minds, and bodies matter.

There’s more, but what’s clear is that all of a sudden students discovered that the school, once peaceful and inclusive, was really a hotbed of racism. Did the school change in such a short period of time, or did outraged students confect a “structural racism” that didn’t exist.

I opt for the latter, having long lived on a liberal campus where such recent accusations fly in the face of the facts.

What bothers me about Kay’s piece is what looks like a correct diagnosis of why the administration caved completely to the students, abasing themselves, losing their dignity, and admitting to an institutional bigotry which didn’t exist. It’s because the administration has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by standing up to the students. If true, that doesn’t give me much hope:

When campus meltdowns of this type occur, you often see conservative culture warriors demand that administrators take a hard line, demonstrate backbone, “grow a spine,” and so forth. But what is their incentive for doing so? It was once the case that a university president was able to balance different constituencies against one another as a means to achieve some kind of policy equilibrium—liberal students versus more conservative professors, administrators against alumni, this department versus that. But that doesn’t happen anymore: Thanks to the homogenizing effects of social media, all of these constituencies tend to be drinking the same bathwater from the same troughs, and so get caught up in the same social panics at the same time.

And Kay’s solution seems lame: “eventually the trend will reverse itself, and that will be prompted by the students themselves.”  Dream on, Mr. Kay: I don’t see this happening:

The process of sifting through these events at Haverford has convinced me that the ideological crisis on American campuses can’t be solved by administrators—not because they are beholden to critical race theory, intersectionality, gender ideology, postmodernism, or any of the other bugbears of conservative culture critics, but because they simply have no practical inducements for doing so. Ultimately, this is a crisis that is going to have to be addressed, if at all, by students themselves. And in this regard, I do see some green shoots of hope. Nick Lasinsky, a white undergraduate student at Haverford, wrote a beautiful and thoughtful piece called Why I’ve Chosen Not to Strike. And a black student named Khalil Walker wrote an amazing series of comments in which he demolishes the idea that Haverford is a hive of systematic racism. Our culture moves in cycles, and I predict that you will see more of these brave voices in months to come.

I predict otherwise. These woke and outraged students will, since they come from elite colleges, get positions of leadership in the media as well as in other colleges, for many of them will go on to become academics and administrators. And that will make colleges even more woke, and so on. There’s nothing on the horizon to break that cycle.

As I worry about this fate for my own university (our hard-line President, Bob Zimmer, will resign at the end of this academic year), I spend too much time—especially for an emeritus professor—fretting about the University of Chicago. For decades, we were the beacon of freedom of speech and academic freedom among American colleges. This uniqueness was in fact a selling point of the University, who advertised it to potential students and their parents. But it’s crumbling.

Now we stand on an equipoise that could easily turn us into Haverford, especially because many of our students are just as woke as theirs. While I still fight for freedom of speech here, it’s getting harder and harder, and the opposition gets louder and louder. What’s freedom of speech compared to the “harm” you cause by speaking your mind?

Before too long, we may see the time when the University of Chicago is no longer the model for colleges that want to encourage all sorts of discussion and discourage none. And I find that prospect discouraging.

The Kalven Report of 1967, supposedly ensuring the political neutrality of the University of Chicago

June 5, 2020 • 10:30 am

In 1967, President George Beadle of the University of Chicago (a Nobel-winning geneticist and also an avowed atheist) convened a committee whose charge was to “prepare a statement on the University’s role in social and political action.” This was the result of many people calling for the University to take positions on political issues like the Vietnam War, security hearings in the U.S Congress, and so on. The Committee was convened in February and produced its report, remarkably, by November. The report took its name from Harry Kalven Jr., the Committee chair, a famous legal scholar, and a professor of law at the University’s law school.

The document is only a bit more than two pages long, and you can get a pdf by clicking on the screenshot below. You should read it whether or not you think that universities should take official political positions.

The basic conclusion of the Kalven Report was that the University as a whole comprises scholars who are supposed to provide the opinions, but the University itself should not—with two exceptions (see below). This was a landmark document that the University has basically adhered to for over half a century—though I suspect those days are ending.

First, the meat of the document (bolding is mine):

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. And this neutrality as an institution has its complement in the fullest freedom for its faculty and students as individuals to participate in political action and social protest. It finds its complement, too, in the obligation of the university to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues.

I agree with that, though I can envision some circumstances that adherence to it would make me a tad uncomfortable (e.g., divesting from harmful causes). But as far as I know, the University has adhered to this pretty scrupulously over the years. And the statements I’ve put in bold show why; it’s hard to argue otherwise. “The University of not a lobby.” The Kalven Report ranks with the Principles of Free Expression of the University of Chicago (chaired by Geoff Stone, another law school professor) as the two pillars of academic freedom and freedom of speech that has made me proud to be associated with this university.

The report does cite two exceptions, which seem reasonable. The first are cases in “which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry.” In such instances, the University is justifiably obliged to combat the threats to its underlying principles.  The second is more mundane:

There is another context in which questions as to the appropriate role of the university may possibly arise, situations involving university ownership of property, its receipt of funds, its awarding of honors, its membership in other organizations. Here, of necessity, the university, however it acts, must act as an institution in its corporate capacity. In the exceptional instance, these corporate activities of the university may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.

Economist George Stigler, also on the committee (and also a Nobel Laureate some yearslater), took exception to this last bit and added his own coda:

Special Comment by Mr. Stigler:

I agree with the report as drafted, except for the statements in the fifth paragraph from the end as to the role of the university when it is acting in its corporate capacity. As to this matter, I would prefer the statement in the following form: The university when it acts in its corporate capacity as employer and property owner should, of course, conduct its affairs with honor. The university should not use these corporate activities to foster any moral or political values because such use of its facilities will impair its integrity as the home of intellectual freedom.

I think Stigler’s comment is an improvement.

Now, however, I worry that the Kalven Report is being forgotten, or deliberately ignored, as social pressures are applied to the University to make official statements about politics and ideology. Most of these I’ve agreed with in their content, for they are liberal and I am a liberal. I won’t mention the statements, perhaps because I’ve been treated well here, am proud of my school, and don’t want to single individuals out for criticism. Suffice it to say that the increasing wokeness of the University is seeping into its official statements, and this politicizes the University in a way that the Kalven report feared and prohibited.

Will the University of Chicago become, in terms of wokeness, a high-class version of The Evergreen State College or Middlebury College?  I hope not, but I’m worried. Wokeness seems to be a one-way ratchet, for if you oppose it you risk being tarred with all kinds of names and labels.

Well, I’m older and won’t be around forever, but I hope to Ceiling Cat that (as Harvard did do), the University of Chicago won’t start producing “social justice placemats” to put in its dining halls. We seem to be creeping in that direction.

Philosopher: Do not sign petitions

August 13, 2019 • 12:00 pm

Agnes Callard is one of my colleagues: an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago. She was recently asked to sign a petition opposing the deplatforming of philosophers who didn’t share ideologically acceptable views of sex and gender. Although I agree with that petition, Callard didn’t sign it—but not because she disagreed with the premise. In fact, she doesn’t sign petitions at all. In this longish New York Times piece, she explains why. I can understand her position, but I think she’s wrong.

Callard’s argument is simple, and I’m mystified why it takes so long—nearly 1400 words—to explain it. In short, she says that petitions are supposed to be persuasive not by the force of their arguments, but by the weight of the number of signatories. And that, she argues, is not how philosophy works: you are supposed to persuade solely by the quality of your argument. Having 100 prominent philosophers sign a petition, she thinks, doesn’t make it one iota more persuasive than if just one philosopher signed it. So what’s the point of accumulating signatories? Here’s what she says:

I refused to sign, because I believe that petitions, regardless of their content, compromise core values of intellectual inquiry. Here’s why.

Whether you call it a “petition,” an “open letter” or a “public statement,” this type of document is distinguished by the fact that after stating and arguing for a position, it lists the names of people who endorse the position. The petition aims to effect persuasion with respect to what appears in the first part not only by way of any argument contained therein but also by way of the number and respectability of the people who figure in the second part. Such a document tries to persuade you to believe (that it is right to do) something because many people, some of whom are authorities, believe it (is the right thing to do). It is not always wrong to believe things because many people believe them, but it is always intellectually uninquisitive to do so.

The problem here is not that what many believe can be false, though that is a problem. The problem is that even if it’s true, the fact that many believe it doesn’t shed any light on it why it’s true — and that is what the intellectually inquisitive person wants to know. Is this problem mitigated by the fact that the list is not about sheer numbers because authorities appear on it? I think intellectually inquisitive people do gravitate toward those with expertise, because they are in an especially good position to answer our questions. But this goes only for experts taken severally. One expert is a learning opportunity; being confronted with an arsenal of experts is about as conducive to conversation as a firing squad

There is something aggressive about the way in which voices gain strength and volume by being joined together. Numbers generate a pressure to believe that isn’t grounded in explanatory force, because having more and more adherents to a view doesn’t give rise to better and better accounts of why the view is correct. Philosophers ought to be especially sensitive to introducing this element of belief imposition into our culture. As a philosopher, I want my influence to be philosophical, which is to say, I want to bring people to believe only what they, by their own lights, can see to be justified; I don’t want them to believe something because (I am one of the) many people who think it.

That is 402 words, and the other thousand don’t add much more. She does note that she isn’t asking her colleagues to refrain from political activity, but that a group of philosophers signing a petition “is instead the politicization of philosophy itself.”  She is right about that, and all of us worry about a discipline adopting a uniform stand of ideological purity and demonizing dissenters. But signing petitions doesn’t really politicize philosophy so long as dissenters aren’t ostracized. It merely expresses a unanimity of views.

Here’s why I think Callard is somewhat mistaken.

1.) Often petitions do make arguments in the text. I haven’t seen the one she was asked to sign, but most petitions explain why the signatories are taking their stand. That is an argument that can be considered.

2.) Numbers and, especially, expertise, do matter. This is especially true for petitions which refer to actual data that has been scrutinized, such as ones in which climate scientists underline the danger of global warming. A call for reduced carbon emissions carries more intellectual weight when signed by, say, 100 recognized climatologists than when signed by just one. This is in line with “Coyne’s Fourth Law”, one of my many guides for life: “If someone criticizes something you do or say, examine the argument. If two or more people tell you the same thing, they’re probably right.”

Now philosophy is about how to think and not usually about assessing data, but philosophers can think about issues relevant to their discipline and come to a consensus. And the more well-known thinkers that sign on to that consensus, the more seriously we should take it, regardless of Callard’s claim that the argument is all that counts. Why? Because each philosopher has a slightly different take on the issue, and therefore has slightly different arguments and reasons. But if they all conclude the same thing, then we might think about it more seriously. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we should buy it tout court. 

Take an issue that I’ve written about and that has brought me a lot of grief from others. I think that infants born with an incurable disease or deformity that will certainly kill them after a prolonged period of suffering (e.g., anencephaly) should be allowed to be euthanized: with, of course, the parents’ consent, medical concurrence, and a proper way of painlessly ending its life. (Peter Singer has argued the same thing, leading to many people calling for him to be fired.) I can make that argument, and I have, and have been dismissed and sometimes vilified. But if a hundred ethical philosophers—who have expertise in thinking about such issues—agree with me, doesn’t that make you think more seriously about the issue? That is, it’s easy to dismiss one person as an outlier or even a crackpot, but it’s not so easy to dismiss the intellectual cream of an entire field.

To be sure, Callard makes a good point when she argues that philosophers don’t sign petitions about matters that are purely philosophical, just as I’d be unlikely to sign a petition that says, “We believe that evolution happened, and that all species have common ancestors.”


We’d never approach questions such as “Are possible worlds real?” or “Is knowledge justified true belief?” by petition, so why are we tempted to do so in the case of questions around sex, gender and hurtful speech? The answer is that the latter question involves real feelings and real people, and it is about something that is happening now — for all these reasons, it strikes us as being of grave importance. The petition writers are thinking to themselves, this time it really matters. I think it is a mistake for a philosopher to take the importance of a question as a reason to adopt an unphilosophical attitude toward it.

Well, is signing a petition really “adopting an unphilosophical attitude towards it”? Especially when the issue is a philosophical one that has practical consequences (assisted suicide, for example), is it really “unphilosophical” to band together to try to persuade society to do something specific? After all, you are using your expertise in a socially useful way.

I know petitions in general aren’t very effective—in fact, I can barely think of one that had any effec. But even if they don’t, I think that at least they can prompt people to think seriously about an issue. And if that’s the case, then it’s maladaptive to adopt Callard’s purist attitude that philosophers should persuade people simply by the force of their arguments. In principle that may be true, but it’s not the sole way to influence people in the real world.

Marxist prof demands an end to grading, a meritocratic ranking that props up a rotten capitalism

August 8, 2019 • 12:00 pm

At hand we have a passionate editorial in Truthout, a left-wing site, written by Richard D. Wolff, described by Wikipedia as ” an American Marxian economist, known for his work on economic methodology and class analysis. He is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York. Wolff has also taught economics at Yale University, City University of New York, University of Utah, University of Paris I (Sorbonne), and The Brecht Forum in New York City.”

Click on the screenshot to read his lucubrations.

Now four days ago I wrote about Bret Stephens’s thesis that a lot of the student unrest on American campuses comes as a revolt against the meritocracy, which, claims Stephens, is inimical to a “radical egalitarianism” that to many is the basis for social justice. In his piece, Wolff argues that grading is not only an unwanted part of a capitalistic meritocracy, and is inimical to education itself, but is also used to buttress capitalism, keeping people ordered and in their place.

I will let you read his argument for yourself. My own take on grading is that it’s imperfect, slotting students into one of five to a dozen categories, but it’s not useless. (In my grad courses, where I wasn’t required to give grades, everyone got a “pass”—a “P”—unless they required a grade, in which case I gave them a written assignment (my grad courses were all discussion and reading courses).  As I recall, some colleges (Reed College may be one of them) don’t give grades, but provide written evaluations for each student. That would be ideal, though it seems hard for grad schools or employers to use such evaluations since there’s nothing to compare.  And that brings up the issue of what grades are for.

Wolff sees grades as of no benefit to students, but only to employers or graduate schools. He’s largely right, I think, though grades are also a way of self-evaluation, letting you know that you’re not performing up to snuff. A lot of students in elite colleges haven’t ever had to compete with a huge number of equally talented students, and a low grade may be a sign that you’re not working hard enough.

Yes, grades are imperfect evaluations, but I see no alternative to some form of evaluation. But I reject the idea that they’re deliberately used to prop up capitalism, a system that, says Wolff, is rotten to the core, and almost would collapse without grades and the attendant meritocracy they foster. For example:

The capitalist economic system has major failures. It generates extreme, socially divisive inequalities of wealth and income. It consistently fails to achieve full employment. Many of its jobs are boring, dangerous and/or mind-numbing. Every four to seven years, it suffers a mysterious downdraft in which millions of people lose jobs and incomes, businesses collapse, falling tax revenues undermine public services, and so on. If these failures were widely perceived as the inherent failures of the capitalist system, the desirability and thus sustainability of capitalism itself might vanish.

How, then, has capitalism survived? Its persistence can best be explained in terms of ideology. The system produces and disseminates interpretations of its failures that blame these problems not on capitalism itself, but on other altogether different “causes.” Institutions have developed mechanisms to anchor such interpretations widely and deeply in the popular consciousness.

One key example is the concept of “meritocracy.” Schools are a key institution that teaches and practices meritocracy via the mechanism of grading.

Presumably Wolff wants a purely socialistic state, but those have always failed, largely because there’s a lack of incentive. Mixed systems, such as those in Scandinavia and, in fact, in much of Europe, are more successful. Even the U.S., with its Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits, is a bit socialistic. But Wolff doesn’t seem to favor that system.

Wolff also raises other problems with grades besides their use as a prop of a failing capitalism. They take excessive time for professors (but not as much time as written evaluations!); a low grade could be the fault of a poor teacher rather than a poor student; grading could measure memorization rather than learning; and students could have not a wrong understanding, but a different understanding. In fact, Wolff shades a bit into postmodernism when he says stuff like this:

Did the student understand the material differently from me in ways not reducible to matters of right and wrong? After all, every piece of verbal or written material is subject to perfectly reasonable multiple interpretations. Education is not well served by insisting on one answer as right and alternatives as wrong. Such insistence is more like indoctrination than education; it undermines creative, critical thinking.

Let a hundred truths blossom! Sometimes, at least in science, one answer is right, and so you can use multiple-choice questions. (I almost never used them; even in large classes I tried to give mostly short essay questions involving “thought.”

What bothers me most about Wolff’s article is that he seems completely opposed to even the idea of a meritocracy. He suggests that any ranking of people is inimical to the socialist society he wants. Yet how can you hire anybody, or achieve excellence, unless you have a way of ranking people? Granted, you can modify a pure meritocracy by adopting other goals (“diversity and inclusion” is the main one in universities), but no college will accept students without some way to rank them. What kind of society can we have if we can’t evaluate people’s skills relative to each other? Yet it seems that’s what Wolff wants:

Within the framework of meritocratic ideology, employers seek to hire the “best” employee and are willing to pay such individual workers more than they pay workers with “less” merit (ranked lower on some scale of productivity). In meritocratic logic, those offered no jobs can only blame themselves: They must assume they have too little merit. Workers learn in school to seek to accumulate merit and achieve higher rankings along the scales that count for employers. Coalitions of educators and employers have inserted the educational system into this merit system as an important place to acquire and accumulate merit that employers will recognize and reward. Better jobs and rising pay reward rising merit acquired through more education as well as “on-the-job” training.

. . . Meritocracy and the educational system’s key place within it are important because capitalism’s survival depends on them. The merit system organizes how individual employees interpret the unemployment they suffer, the job they hate, the wage or salary they find so insufficient, the creativity their job stifles, and so on. It starts as schools train individuals to accept the grades assigned to them as measures of individual academic merit. That prepares them to accept their jobs and incomes as, likewise, measures of their individual productive merit. Under this framework, unequal grades, jobs and income can all be seen as appropriate and fair: Rewards are supposedly proportional to one’s individual merit.

. . . Meritocracy redirects the blame for capitalism’s failures onto its victims. Schools teach meritocracy, and grading is the method.

But I ask the sweating professor: “What is the alternative?” Do we not rank people at all? And if you want that, what are the implications for society?

Here’s the man himself:

Richard D. Wolff

Who, exactly, are persons of color? (And a note on “victimhood culture”)

November 16, 2018 • 1:00 pm

A modest proposal: it’s time to ditch the phrase “persons of color” when used to refer to either oppressed people who are white or as a general cover-all term for minorities who consider themselves oppressed. That’s because many “persons of color” are really white, or at least white vis-à-vis skin pigmentation, while many people who do have some pigmentation aren’t oppressed or seen as oppressed.

Take (please!) Linda Sarsour, who referred to herself as a “white girl” until she put on the hijab, as the article below notes.  And indeed, she is white—whiter than I am. She’s the descendant of Palestinians, born in America, and is not a person of any color. Nor did she see herself as one:

The headline above is a bit misleading, for, as you can hear below, Sarsour said she wears a hijab not to be seen as a person of color, but to show that she’s a Muslim. The important thing, though, is that before she donned the headscarf she considered herself a “white girl.”

I would argue that she mainly wears the hijab not out of respect for Islam, but to flaunt her supposed victimhood, which otherwise wouldn’t be visible in a “victimhood culture“. In fact, if your skin is white, there’s no way people can tell you’re a victim unless you put on a hijab.


But we can see from this quote that now Sarsour does consider herself as a “person of color”, so clearly the hijab is equivalent to melanic pigmentation, and she says that more or less explicitly (my emphases):

In one profile, Sarsour said she wanted to become a high school teacher “inspiring young people of color like me.” The piece notes that The New York Times called her a “homegirl in a hijab” and that black nationalist Malcolm X’s autobiography “changed her life.” It adds, “For Sarsour, being identified as a person of color ‘is important in the political climate that we are in,’ she says, ‘because it allows for us to understand where we fit in in the larger political landscape. We fit in with marginalized groups, who oftentimes are other people of color.’”

Equally telling is the fact that Sarsour has taken part in openly segregated forums. At one point, she attended an event open to “all individuals (from ages 4 and up) who self-identify as women of color” from which white people were apparently barred.

But why can’t you fight for marginalized people without having to pretend you’re one of them? You know the answer: the fight is more than a fight for social justice, but also a way to display your own moral purity.

The article above also cites an admiring one at the Fader website:

After watching Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Dangerous Minds, Sarsour decided to become a high school teacher, “inspiring young people of color like me, to show them their potential.” She graduated a year early, gave birth to her eldest son, and enrolled in community college.

Then 9/11 happened — and suddenly, the oppression, violence, and discrimination she saw her black classmates experiencing felt much more personal. “People were like, ‘Linda, this apparatus, this racial profiling that you’re speaking of is impacting immigrant communities, black communities,’” she recalls. “I finally realized that my community was just an additional community that was being targeted.”

That was when Sarsour says she began to think about race more critically. In the U.S. Census, Middle-Easterners are categorized as “white,” but for Sarsour, being identified as a person of color “is important in the political climate that we are in,” she says, “because it allows for us to understand where we fit in in the larger political landscape. We fit in with marginalized groups, who oftentimes are other people of color.”

At end, author Atossa Abrahamian buys into Sarsour’s narrative that she’s a woman of color.

. . . .The dinner is the first time all day that Sarsour has seemed uncomfortable. She has little common ground on which to make small-talk, and she’s the only woman of color there. As she shares stories about the Women’s March and her experiences with post-Trump Islamophobia, I sense that she easily prefers being in the thick of the action to commenting on it from afar.

What Sarsour and Abrahamian mean by “color”, then, is “marginalization”. I would suggest, then, that “marginalized person”, or “member of a marginalized group” should be used instead of the pigmentation term. You can say “Palestinian,” or “African American” or “Asian”, or, if you refer to different ethnicities or genders, “Maginalized people”, all of which are more accurate than “people of color.”

And sometimes pigmentation is not an indication of marginalization. Several of my Middle Eastern friends who are light-skinned and not from Palestine are not considered people of color. Nor are Israelis, many of whom share both pigmentation and genes with their Middle Eastern neighbors. One could, I suppose, use pigmentation to see East Asians like Chinese and Japanese as “people of color”, but they’re not really marginalized in the U.S. Again, “color” isn’t equivalent to “oppression.”

Actually, it’s useless to try to get rid of the PoC term now, but we should at least clarify that it’s connected not with skin pigmentation, but with claimed marginalization. Yet that won’t even do, for it would be hard for a privileged Asian, say like Sarah Jeong, to say that she’s “marginalized”, because she isn’t. On the other hand, it’s easy for her and her defenders to say she’s a person of color, and therefore by proxy marginalized. This is why the whiter-than-white Linda Sarsour would much prefer to call herself a “person of color” than a “marginalized person”. The former will fly; the latter will not.

And on that note, I’ll recommend an article in Quillette by Bradley Campbell, who, with coauthor Jason Manning, wrote a book I like and wrote about (see also here): The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars. In that book, Campbell and Manning describe three types of “moral cultures”: dignity culture, honor culture, and victimhood culture, which is the current culture on campus and a hybrid of the first two. If you don’t want to plow through the whole book, the article below (click on screenshot). It’s a very good summary of Campbell and Manning’s thesis:

The article begins with a chilling but true story of the fate of Samuel Abrams, a professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College, who published an op-ed in the New York Times pointing out that American college administrators were far more liberal than the markedly liberal college professors in our country, who are already mostly liberal. According to Abraams, this caused a skewing of the ideologies seen by students. (I agree with that take, but am not so sure that we can keep academics from embracing the Left, nor should we.). But despite my mild disagreement with Abram’s thesis, what happened to him when the students got hold of his article shouldn’t happened to anyone.

Campbell goes on to describe the nature of victimhood culture, to disagree with Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff on its causes, and then to prognosticate about its fate (short take: we won’t be able to get rid of it easily).

It was only after I read that article that I realized that the hijab is a way to assume pigmentation, for once you put it on, you’re seen as a Muslim and therefore an oppressed victim. You become special, as did Sarsour. (Remember that the admiring profile of Sarsour in the New York Times was titled “Brooklyn homegirl in a hijab.“)

The hijab apparently gives you bonus points in fighting the oppressed, as Sarsour pretends to do, but the real import of the headscarf, for many who don it, is to give them visible credibility as victims. The sad thing is that it’s a double victimhood, for the hijab exists to hide the sexually alluring hair of Muslim women, helping them fend off the uncontrollable passions of men who would become raping animals at the sight of a wisp of hair. In other words, the hijab may be equivalent to the victimhood of pigmentation, but it’s is also a sign of the victimhood of Muslim women by Islam itself.

h/t: Orli

Harvard tries to reduce the number of Asian-American students by systematically downgrading the ratings of their personalities on applications

June 25, 2018 • 11:32 am

The U.S. Supreme court has ruled, and sustained, the use of race as an admissions criterion for colleges and universities as a tool for increasing ethnic diversity.  The stipulation, though, is that there cannot be racial quotas, and that there cannot be policies that “consciously aim at racial balancing.” This summary comes from today’s New York Times op-ed below (click on screenshot), and it confuses me.  There’s also a related article in last August’s New Yorker by Jeannie Suk Gersen, an Asian-American professor at Harvard’s Law School (click on screenshot). Both take up the issue of Harvard’s historical discrimination against Asian-American applicants, which of course is related to racial balancing.


I am in favor of affirmative action to rectify the historical discrimination against underrepresented and oppressed minorities, though the ultimate goal should be to eliminate affirmative action, accepting people solely on the basis of their achievements, interests, and other things that make for a good student body.  That, however, would require everyone to be given equal educational opportunity from the outset, so that nobody is disadvantaged by historical circumstances or poor life situations. And we’re ages away from that in America. And even then I’m not 100% sure that race or gender should be ignored, for even under equal opportunity there may be advantages of diversity that would outweigh a purely meritocratic approach.

What I don’t understand about the New York Times characterization of the law is that it seems to forbid “conscious aims at racial balancing”—yet that is exactly what colleges are doing. To try to keep student bodies diverse, Hispanic and African-American applicants are admitted with lower grade-point averages and test scores than are whites and Asians, with Asians facing the highest bar since they excel in qualifications on paper. Yang’s article gives the data:

The Asian-American population has more than doubled over the last 20 years, yet the Asian-American share in the student populations at Harvard has remained frozen. Harvard has maintained since the 1980s, when claims of anti-Asian discrimination in Ivy League admissions first surfaced, that there is no racial bias against Asian-Americans once you control the preferences offered to athletes and alumni.

The discovery process in this case has demonstrated that this claim is no longer supportable.

Mr. Arcidiacono found that an otherwise identical applicant bearing an Asian-American male identity with a 25 percent chance of admission would have a 32 percent chance of admission if he were white, a 77 percent chance of admission if he were Hispanic, and a 95 percent chance of admission if he were black. A report from Harvard’s own Office of Institutional Research found that even after alumni and athletic preferences were factored in, Asians would be accepted at a rate of 26 percent, versus the 19 percent at which they were actually accepted. That report, commissioned back in 2013, was summarily filed away, with no further investigation or action taken.

Were Asian-Americans admitted on the basis of academic achievement and extracurricular activities alone, regardless of ethnicity, Harvard would have a near-majority Asian student body (43%), something that Gersen says is undesirable. Rather, she says, “we should not want the composition of our elite universities to be wildly out of proportion to the racial composition of our country.” Readers can weigh in on that sentiment below, but in general I agree with it—diversity is a good thing. But not just diversity of race, but also diversity of thought, social class, ideology, and personality and interests.

But to keep the proportion of Asians down, since they are high achievers and also consciously engage in those crucial extracurricular activities that make one look “well rounded,” Harvard has engaged in an odious charade—one that they try to keep secret.

It can no longer be kept secret, though, since a lawsuit was filed against Harvard claiming that it discriminates against Americans of Asian descent. Harvard fought hard to avoid giving information on its admissions policies, but it finally had to as part of the discovery process. And what was revealed was a systematic downgrading of Asian’s personality scores compared to whites, blacks, and Hispanics. This of course plays into the stereotype of Asians as robotic grade-grinders who don’t have distinctive personalities. Yang says this:

. . . the Harvard admissions office consistently gave Asian-American applicants low personality ratings — the lowest assigned collectively to any racial group. She did not know that Harvard’s own Office of Institutional Research had found that if the university selected its students on academic criteria alone, the Asian share of the Harvard student body would leap from 19 percent to 43 percent. She did not know that though Asians were consistently the highest academically performing group among Harvard applicants, they earned admission at a rate lower than any other racial group between 2000 and 2019.

All she knew was what she had witnessed as an assistant principal and the single fact that she was shown by her deposers. But perhaps she intuited the rest.

Earlier this month, we learned that a review of more than 160,000 individual student files contained in six years of Harvard’s admissions data found that Asians outperformed all other racial groups on every measure of academic achievement: grades, SAT scores and the most AP exams passed. They had more extracurricular activities than their white counterparts. They were rated by interviewers who had met them as virtually on par with their white counterparts in their personal qualities. Yet Harvard admissions officers, many of whom had never met these applicants, scored them collectively as the worst of all groups in the one area — personality — that was subjective enough to be readily manipulable toThe report by the plaintiff’s expert witness, the Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono, revealed that Harvard evaluated applicants on the extent to which they possessed the following traits: likability, helpfulness, courage, kindness, positive personality, people like to be around them, the person is widely respected. Asian-Americans, who had the highest scores in both the academic and extracurricular ratings, lagged far behind all other racial groups in the degree to which they received high ratings on the personality score.

“Asian-American applicants receive a 2 or better on the personal score more than 20% of the time only in the top academic index decile. By contrast, white applicants receive a 2 or better on the personal score more than 20% of the time in the top six deciles,” wrote Mr. Arcidiacono. “Hispanics receive such personal scores more than 20% of the time in the top seven deciles, and African Americans receive such scores more than 20% of the time in the top eight deciles.”

This sounds like a conscious decision by Harvard as a way to keep the number of Asian-American students down. Note that some of the students didn’t even get to show their personalities, via a personal interview, with admissions officers. It’s no surprise, then, that Harvard fought tooth and nail to avoid disclosing it. In fact, as Yang notes, the exact same tactic was used in the past to keep the number of Jewish students down:

Harvard has been here before. “To prevent a dangerous increase in the proportion of Jews, I know at present only one way, which is at the same time straightforward and effective,” wrote A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president in the 1920s, “and that is a selection by a personal estimate of character on the part of the Admission authorities, based upon the probable value to the candidate, to the College and to the community of his admissions.” The opacity of its admissions procedure could veil what Lowell’s written correspondence would later disclose to be a fully intended policy of discrimination.

I’ll add one other thing: Harvard gives preferential admission to “legacies” (relatives of those who attended previously, and of donors) and to rich people, preferences that can outweigh test scores. This is done so Harvard can keep building up its multibillion-dollar endowment. I object to that vehemently, but that’s the way they roll.

This raises a number of questions—not just about Asians, but about racial balancing in general. As I said, I am in favor of affirmative action, but we should be more honest about it: not using “personality denigration” as a way to effect it.  But are quotas the answer? I don’t know many people who are comfortable with explicit quotas.

So here are the questions, and readers can weigh in:

1.)  Do you favor affirmative action by ethnicity so that college student bodies mirror to some extent the composition of the country as a whole? Or do you think admission should be genetics-blind, based on criteria like scores, grades, and other achievements and activities?

2.) If you favor affirmative action to increase diversity of gender or ethnicity, do you favor increasing diversity of other traits, like social class, ideology, politics, and so on?

3.) If you favor affirmative action, should the goals be in the form of quotas?

4.)  Do you agree with Dr. Gersen that we should strive to keep Asian students from dominating the composition of the student body?

5.) If your answer to #4 is “yes”, and Asians score the highest in all criteria save personality, is it ethical to downgrade Asians on personality scores to keep their numbers down? (I myself can’t see this as ethical at all, nor do I believe that Asians are uniform, robotic, and without distinctive personalities. That simply  hasn’t been my experience with Asian students here.) Do we then practice anti-affirmative action with Asians?

There are other questions as well, but I’ll stop here. All I know is that the situation is a mess, and difficult to tackle. The only way it would be easy is if you believe in a pure meritocracy—in fact, one in which ethnicity is not even specified in the application. Once you start bringing in diversity as a desirable situation, then you run into trouble, especially in view of the Supreme Court’s ambiguous stand. Those of us who think diversity of multiple traits is a good thing to have in college—after all, what good is a college where you don’t confront different people with different views?—will have to face up to this mess.

Applicants for faculty jobs at UC San Diego must specify their “diversity plan”

March 30, 2018 • 11:00 am

It came to my attention that anybody applying for a faculty job at the University of California at San Diego must submit with their application materials a rather detailed personal “diversity plan”. As the Center for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion stipulates,

Regardless of personal demographic characteristics, UC San Diego has a strong interest in ensuring that all candidates hired for faculty appointments share our commitment to excellence, access, and Principles of Community.

All candidates applying for faculty appointments at UC San Diego are required to submit a personal statement on their contributions to diversity. The purpose of the statement is to identify candidates who have the professional skills, experience, and/or willingness to engage in activities that will advance our campus diversity and equity goals.

And here are the guidelines that must be followed:

As I said, I’m in favor of diversity initiatives, as they constitute a form of academic “reparations” that we still need since genuine reparations, which I see as ensuring equal opportunities for all from the outset, are simply not in place. (That means, for instance, a lot of money to improve secondary schools).

But there are problems with this initiative. For one thing, it imposes an ideological rather than an academic requirement for hiring, something that, as Jon Haidt noted in a talk I highlighted yesterday, is at odds with the “search for truth”. In other words, this requirement can hold for “Social Justice University” but not for “Truth University”. Part A is especially invidious, as you’re expected to regurgitate intersectionalist dogma about institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc.  And if your “understanding of the barriers” doesn’t comport with the party line, does that make you less likely to be hired?

Likewise, if you haven’t done much for diversity as a graduate student, or in your previous job, you’re screwed.  Yet that’s hard because such activities are usually not the purview of individual faculty but of the University as a whole. If this were a requirement for a position at the University of Chicago, I wouldn’t have been hired, as my previous job at the University of Maryland included no diversity activities beyond making sure that job applicants and grad students were evaluated fairly.

Yes, UCSD is Social Justice University. By all means let the University put in place committees and guidelines for making sure that minorities are recruited and, if accepted, are afforded equal opportunities. But I don’t think it helps matters to make faculty applicants meet criteria of social justice as well as of academic excellence.

A prescient letter from 1969 about what would happen on campuses

November 27, 2017 • 12:15 pm

Over at Heterodox Academy, you should have a look at this post by Jonathan Haidt (click on screenshot):

Haidt’s thesis stems from his observation that many high profile American universities, like Yale, Brown, and Amherst, despite enacting strong policies “devoted to social justice and racial equality”, have been wracked with racial protests in the last few years. Haidt blames this on those affirmative action policies that incorporate quotas for admitting minorities students (he’s not opposed to some affirmative action): Here’s a quote that contains one of his earlier observations (the Wall Street Journal piece is behind a paywall):

A simple resolution of the puzzle is the hypothesis that the anti-racist policies these schools pursue give rise, indirectly, to experiences of marginalization for black students. Lee Jussim and I suggested this hypothesis in an essay last Saturday in the Wall Street Journal. We noted that we support affirmative action in general – taking vigorous steps to increase the recruitment, training, retention, and ultimate success of black students. But we raised concerns about the most controversial element of affirmative action: the use of racial preferences in admissions. Here is the key passage:

But as practiced in most of the top American universities, affirmative action also involves using different admissions standards for applicants of different races, which automatically creates differences in academic readiness and achievement. Although these gaps vary from college to college, studies have found that Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students. A similar pattern occurs for high-school grades. These differences are large, and they matter: High-school grades and SAT scores predict later success as measured by college grades and graduation rates.

As a result of these disparate admissions standards, many students spend four years in a social environment where race conveys useful information about the academic capacity of their peers. People notice useful social cues, and one of the strongest causes of stereotypes is exposure to real group differences. If a school commits to doubling the number of black students, it will have to reach deeper into its pool of black applicants, admitting those with weaker qualifications, particularly if most other schools are doing the same thing. This is likely to make racial gaps larger, which would strengthen the negative stereotypes that students of color find when they arrive on campus.

In support of this thesis, Haidt cites a letter written in 1969 by Macklin Flemin, a justice of the California Court of appeal, to Louis Pollack, the dean of Yale Law school. Responding to the school’s policy that there would henceforth be a quota of 10% black students admitted to Yale as a whole, Fleming essentially presages what Haidt predicted 47 years later, and what has indeed come to pass. Here’s a bit of Fleming’s letter:

No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands–the employment of faculty on the basis of race, a marking system based on race, the establishment of a black curriculum and a black law journal, an increase in black financial aid, and a rule against expulsion of black students who fail to satisfy minimum academic standards.

And indeed, all of this has happened. (Haidt gives examples.) One more quote from Flemin’s letter:

The American creed, one that Yale has proudly espoused, holds that an American should be judged as an individual and not as a member of a group. To me it seems axiomatic that a system which ignores this creed and introduces the factor of race in the selection of students for a professional school is inherently malignant, no matter how high-minded the purpose nor how benign the motives of those making the selection….

The present policy of admitting students on two bases and thereafter purporting to judge their performance on one basis is a highly explosive sociological experiment almost certain to achieve undesirable results.

As I said, Haidt is not against affirmative action, but against those forms that create preferential admissions for groups of students who, on average, have credentials not as impressive as those of other groups (yes, you’ll be thinking about Asians here, who, compared to whites, have to be more qualified to get into many schools).  Haidt doesn’t discuss the advantages of diversity, which those schools cite as reasons to use differential standards for group admissions.  And there’s some justification for this, for who wants a completely homogenous student body?

Haidt’s solution? First, the courts should step in (presumably to get rid of quotas, which they’ve already in fact done). But his main solution is this:

What’s the alternative? In our WSJ article, Jussim and I praised the US Army for the principled way that it addressed its severe racism problem in the 1970s by implementing affirmative action without racial preferences. (See this brief summary of Moskos & Butler, 1996, All That We Can Be: Racial Integration the Army Way.)

Let us hope that a few bold university presidents break from the pack, break the cycle, and try a different approach.

And here’s part of that brief summary, which in fact is a Kirkus review of the Moskos and Butler book:

 Moskos and Butler characterize the Army as a race-savvy, not race-blind, service that pragmatically subordinates trendy peripheral concerns (ethnic diversity, multiculturalism) to its primary goal of combat readiness. The authors go on to argue that “the Army does not patronize or infantilize blacks by implying that they need special standards in order to succeed.” Instead of lowering its standards, they point out, the Army elevates veterans as well as recruits with a wealth of instructional courses and programs. Among the lessons to be learned from the accomplishments of the Army and its black soldiers, they cite the need to focus on opportunity and to link affirmative-action efforts to supply- rather than demand-side exigencies or aspirations. In a concluding chapter, the authors call for a national service corps to offset the loss of opportunities caused by downsizing of the US military. An important, eye-opening study that delivers fresh, matter- of-fact perspectives on a divisive issue in need of more reason and less rhetoric.

Now I’m not sure how this system would work to maintain diversity, as the inequities that Haidt mentions start at a very young age: when children begin going to schools that have different standards; in other words, a lack of equal opportunity from the outset. And how are “remedial courses” for some students going to reduce their sense of inferiority?

Finally, why don’t white students feel that they have inferior status with respect to Asians, then, and ask for redress? Probably because they’ve historically dominated the student population. Why don’t Asians feel bad because they’re expected to meet higher standards than anybody else? Perhaps they do; I don’t know.

Haidt’s argument makes sense to me, especially because he does favor programs, however ineffectual they seem, to redress historical inequities. The only thing that doesn’t comport is the fact that women students, who have at least as high achievement as men, are also demanding redress in the same way as blacks, yet Haidt’s argument doesn’t explain why there is, to my mind, as much demand for equity based on sex as on race.

I don’t know the answer, but what I feel is that inequities have are best redressed not by meeting the “demands” of groups of students already in college, but by affording everyone, regardless of sex, race, or ethnicity, equal opportunity from the outset: from when children first start school. And that is a much harder thing to do, especially in the era of Trump.

A visit with the Boss

October 23, 2017 • 11:30 am

Yesterday afternoon, my friend Andrew Berry and I went to visit my Ph.D. advisor, Dick Lewontin, who, at 88, recently moved himself and his wife Mary Jane into Cadbury Commons, an independent + assisted living facility not far from Harvard. When I was in his lab, all of his students called him “the Boss”.

Dick is still in good nick, and we had a pleasant two hours chatting over old times. (We also learned some stuff, e.g., Bob Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books for 54 years, and who died this spring, would never allow any foreign phrases to appear in his articles, not even something like “post facto”. (Lewontin wrote frequently for the NYRB, and many of his articles are online free.) Silvers maintained that policy because he didn’t want the magazine to appear stuffy (even though it did!). Writers were allowed to use the phrase translated into English, and then put the foreign words at the bottom with an asterisk.

At any rate, here are three photos of our visit. The first shows a letter that Andrew brought to Dick on behalf of the Society for the Study of Evolution. It was from Sally Otto, president of the Society, asking Dick if she had his permission to confer a Society honor upon him in his name (I won’t disclose it since it hasn’t been announced).

That was a lovely gesture, and though Dick grumbled a bit, as he always does when honored, we forced him to say yes. But both Andrew and I suggested that the name on the honorific be changed from “Richard Lewontin” to “R. C. Lewontin”, since that was the name he always used on his books and papers.

Dick reading his Letter of Honor as Andrew looks on.

It was a beautiful and warm day and we sat on the porch and chatted, watching the kids play baseball in a park across the street.

Right before we left, I asked Andrew to take a Wayne-and-Garth style photo of me at Dick’s feet in an “I’m not worthy” pose. The foot on the back was Dick’s idea:

We asked Dick if his former students or postdocs ever came to visit him, and he said, “No, none.” That’s a big shame, as he had so many people who worked with him and admired him. If you were one of these, I’d urge you to swing by and visit the Boss if you’re in Cambridge. He and Mary Jane live very close to Harvard, and if you write me I can give you his email so you can contact him in advance.

A public university is preparing to throw a massive natural history collection away to make more room for the track team

March 31, 2017 • 12:25 pm

by Greg Mayer

In a Washington Post piece by Sarah Kaplan, I learned of the following disaster– read this tweet, by John Overholt of Harvard University, and weep.

And this gem of administrative reasoning is from the Post article:

ULM Vice President for Academic Affairs Eric Pani told a local paper, the News Star, that the university can no longer afford to keep the collection…  now that running facilities are being updated to meet national track and field standards, there’s nowhere else for the specimens to go, he said.

“Unfortunately, the fiscal situation facing the university over the years requires us to make choices like this,” Pani said.

As Jerry and I have argued before, in our defense of science at the Field Museum in Chicago, natural history museums are key parts of the scientific enterprise, and their collections are irreplaceable documents of, among other things, biodiversity across space and time, and an essential resource for the conservation of biodiversity. In the present case, it’s not that the role of science in the museum is to be diminished, as was the case at the Field Museum; rather, it is to destroy the collection altogether! The public exhibit part of the Museum of Natural Museum, is to be maintained, and I’m not sure if they will be firing the curators, but the collections are to go, and that’s the only part of a museum that is literally irreplaceable– not that scientific curatorship and education aren’t vital, but both can be reconstituted as long as the collection is ‘mothballed’.

It might be argued that since it’s ‘just’ a regionally focused collection, it’s not that important, but state and local museums are often repositories for the most comprehensive and useful collections, especially for conservation efforts (which in the U.S. often have a state focus). And there are millions of specimens in the collection!

The action of the ULM administration is a striking illustration of the deep currents of anti-intellectual philistinism coursing through American higher education, especially among university administrators, who increasingly are divorced from teaching and scholarship– a managerial class obtaining their degrees in ‘leadership’, and forced upon universities by boards and legislators who think higher education should be run more like a ‘business’. (I am wont to point out, when confronted by such arguments for business-like governance by people who usually have a high regard for the military, that the captain of an aircraft carrier is always a pilot who has come up through an air wing, and not someone trained only in management.)

A hashtag, #ULMcollections, has been created to further discussion and dissemination of knowledge about this unconscionable plan. I urge readers, especially those in Louisiana, to contact officials, their representatives, and the university, although you might want to be a bit more temperate than I’ve been here.

h/t N. Taft