A black doctor speaks up against implicit bias training (required for all California MDs, including her)

February 23, 2023 • 10:00 am

We all know that data show implicit bias training doesn’t work, and could even be counterproductive by making blacks and whites more suspicious of each other. And yet there’s been no move to ditch implicit bias training; in fact, it seems to be spreading. As physician Marilyn SIngleton, a black doctor in California, reports, it’s required in California as part of “continuing education” for doctors—50 hours of implicit bias training—mostly involving race, but also gender, age, and disability—every two years. That’s a lot of hours for a method that doesn’t work! Its continuance and spread serve only to show that the organizations that mandate the training are doing something. But because the training is useless, this is purely a show of virtue.

You can read Singleton’s Washington Post op-ed by clicking on the screenshot below, and I found it archived here for free. I recommend reading the whole thing because it’s very good. (And it’s in the WaPo!)

Singleton is identified this way:

Marilyn Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist and a visiting fellow at the medical advocacy organization Do No Harm.

She’s also pretty courageous, because I can imagine the social-media opprobrium, not to mention ostracism among her fellow doctors, for speaking the truth:

A few quotes, but really, I’d like to quote the whole thing:

When I graduated with a medical degree in 1973, a Black woman in a class of mostly White men, there was a real sense that the days of obsessing over skin color and making race-based assumptions about our fellow human beings was finally fading — and, hopefully, soon gone for good.

Apparently not. That racial obsession has come rushing back — in academia, politics, business and even in my beloved medical profession. But now it’s coming from the opposite direction. The malignant false assumption that Black people are inherently inferior intellectually has been traded in for the malignant false assumption that White people are inherently racist.

That is the basic message conveyed by “implicit bias training,” which is now mandatory for California physicians; it is a message that I believe is harmful both to physicians and patients. There is a sad irony in all this, because the misguided focus on racism is intended to improve the health and well-being of Black patients in particular.

. . . In California, where I’ve been licensed since 1974, every physician is required by law to participate in this racially regressive practice. Doctors must take implicit bias training not just once but as part of the curriculum of “continuing medical education,” for at least 50 hours every two years, required for their medical license renewal.

The training’s focus is on exactly what the name suggests: Deeply ingrained prejudice toward people of different races. There is no room for debate, for the law states baldly: “Implicit bias, meaning the attitudes or internalized stereotypes that affect our perceptions, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner, exists.”

And the law asserts as fact that implicit bias is responsible for “racial and ethnic disparities in health care,” particularly for Black women.

JAC note added later: It’s not clear exactly how many hours of the continuing education is devoted to implicit bias training, as one reader points out below. However, more than one hour is too much. I’ve been to a class on implicit bias at the U of C, and have also taken implicit bias tests (I was diagnosed as “not biased,” but I can see how easy it would be to game those tests.) I found the class patronizing and almost insulting when they asked us to tell stories about how we may have manifested implicit bias.

Here’s part of what that law says: flat assertions with no evidence to back them up (bolding is mine)

Section 1. 

The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

  • Implicit bias, meaning the attitudes or internalized stereotypes that affect our perceptions, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner, exists, and often contributes to unequal treatment of people based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, and other characteristics.
  • Implicit bias contributes to health disparities by affecting the behavior of physicians and surgeons, nurses, physician assistants, and other healing arts licensees.
  • Evidence of racial and ethnic disparities in health care is remarkably consistent across a range of illnesses and health care services. Racial and ethnic disparities remain even after adjusting for socioeconomic differences, insurance status, and other factors influencing access to health care.
  • African American women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes nationwide. African American patients often are prescribed less pain medication than white patients who present the same complaints, and African American patients with signs of heart problems are not referred for advanced cardiovascular procedures as often as white patients with the same symptoms.
  • Implicit gender bias also impacts treatment decisions and outcomes. Women are less likely to survive a heart attack when they are treated by a male physician and surgeon. LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming patients are less likely to seek timely medical care because they experience disrespect and discrimination from health care staff, with one out of five transgender patients nationwide reporting that they were outright denied medical care due to bias.

More from Dr. Singleton:

. . . I reject the unscientific accusation that people are defined by their race, not by their individual beliefs and choices. It is little consolation that studies are finding implicit bias training has no effect on its intended targets, and might even make matters worse.

Think about the message this mandate sends to Black physicians. It suggests that I should be wary of my White colleagues because, after all, they’re biased against people like me. Sure, they can undergo frequent training, but their bias is always going to be there, beneath the surface, threatening to rear its ugly, racist head. Collegiality and collaboration — two essential components of high-quality medical care — are targeted by this mandate. Call that an implicit bias.

Since I became a physician, I have seen exactly one instance of racism in health care — and it was from a patient, not a fellow physician. As for my colleagues, I have been consistently impressed with the conscientious, individualized care they have provided to patients of every race and culture. When we all took our oath to “first, do no harm,” we meant it, and we live it. I can’t imagine spending my entire career thinking my peers can’t uphold that oath without constant racial reeducation.

Now of course you can dismiss Singleton’s claims because they are her “lived experience”, but you could just as well dismiss the claims of all the medical schools and the proclamations by medical associations that the whole profession is rife with systemic racism. In fact, at least Singleton has some evidence or her claims, but med schools and medical associations have only the “evidence” that there are disproportionately few black doctors compared to their proportion in the general population. But as we know, inequity is not prima facie evidence for racism—systemic or otherwise.

Singleton notes that black patients get an even worse message, which is that white doctors could hurt their health. And that message is injurious to the health of black people.

She finishes her piece this way:

The whole point of implicit bias training is to create better health outcomes for Black patients and others who might be the target of discrimination, but the opposite seems more likely. It fosters a climate of distrust and resentment that threatens to undermine the medical and moral progress I’ve seen over the decades. When I graduated from medical school, we were moving past the era of racial obsession and anger. Why are we going back to the days when race defined so many lives and dimmed so many futures?

If you want to see evidence compiled by Lee Jussim that the concept of implicit bias is flawed and that training to eliminate it is useless, go here or see the video here.

Here are the three steps that are skipped when organizations mandate implicit bias training:

a.) Ascertaining that inequities are the result of racism

b.) Assuming that the racism is expressed unconsciously, via “implicit bias”

c.) Assuming that implicit bias training actually works in eliminating racist attitudes

All three assumptions have no evidence behind them, ergo implicit bias training is unscientific. As ever, I’m not denying that some white people in the medical establishment are racist. I’m raising doubts, as does Dr. Singleton, that the medical establishment itself has inbuilt racism, and it is that which not only leads to inequities among physicians, but also harms healthcare for minorities.


Singleton, from her Linked In page:

h/t: Tm

CNN article seemingly exists only to widen racial divisions in America

February 21, 2023 • 10:40 am

Reader Bill Boecklen sent me this CNN Business article with a headline and content that, it appears, exist only to stoke the flames of animus between black and white people in America. Or so Bill thought (I give his quote at the bottom), and I think he’s right. Read it for yourself by clicking on the headline:

The headline clearly implies some kind of racism or bias in the tax code that penalizes black people more than whites. In other words, income taxes are structurally racist. (The end of the article implies that as well.)

But in fact that’s not a scintilla of racism involved, structural or otherwise. The higher on-average taxes levied on married black couples than on married white couples result purely from their differences in work situations. Remember, race is not specified or requested on your income tax forms.

So what is causing the difference here? To use the condescending trope we see above: “Here’s what”:

First to reiterate absence of any racism (my bolding throughout):

Generally speaking, when US tax filers of any race get married, they can get hit with either a “marriage penalty” or a “marriage bonus,” meaning they pay more or less in taxes as a married couple than they would as two singles.

Penalties are more likely when both spouses in a couple work than among one-earner couples. And they are higher when two spouses each make about the same amount of money. Penalties are also more likely when a couple has children.

If the financial facts of a Black married couple were identical to those of a White married couple, there would be no difference in their tax burdens, said William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and a coauthor of its marriage study.

But here’s the “here’s why” (my bolding):

But the economic facts of Blacks and Whites on average are different.

For example, Black married couples are more likely to live in a two-earner household; each spouse is more likely to earn about the same amount as the other; and they are more likely to have dependents.

“We find that Black couples are more likely than White couples to experience an income tax penalty from marriage and to face higher penalties. We show that these patterns arise because, controlling for income, Black spouses have more equal earnings than white spouses … and because Black couples are more likely to have dependents,” the authors of the report write.

Researchers found that among couples hit with a marriage penalty, Black couples paid less in dollars ($1,804 versus $2,091) but more as a share of their income than White couples (1.8% versus 1.4%).

When researchers specifically focused on households with adjusted gross income between $50,000 and $100,000 under the tax law in effect for 2018, they found 59% of Black couples faced a marriage penalty versus 51% of White couples. Black couples paid about $150 more on average.

Only 33% of Black couples got a marriage bonus compared to 44% of Whites, and those bonuses were roughly $170 smaller on average.

Note first that there is no racism going on here; the government decided that there would be a marriage penalty and it would be higher with more equality of income among spouses. Note as well that the average tax difference is small—$150 in penalties or $170 in bonuses—a relative pittance and nothing to get worked up about.

Now I’m no tax expert, so I don’t know why the government decided to levy a higher penalty for married couples having more equal incomes (readers?). But what I do know is that this small difference in taxes paid has absolutely nothing to do with racism: it is purely the result of a decision the government made a while back to produce a tax code they saw as fair for everyone. It is ridiculous to think that the government knew about income differences in black and white married couples in advance, and then wrote the tax code to penalize African Americans!

Why, then, did CNN think this story was worth publishing? Because they wanted to sell it as an example of bias that disadvantages blacks. This becomes clear when you read the end of the article, which sees this disparity in tax penalties as a racial issue. For example:

It’s still early days when it comes to detailing how tax and other federal policies affect racial equity and how differences can be cured, said Gale. “We’re maybe in the second inning. There is so much work to be done.”

And so on. . .

It’s time for people to realize that finding scents of racism everywhere, even when it does not exist, only exacerbates divisions between blacks and whites. I believe that they’ve found that antiracist bias training in schools, for example, can actually exacerbate racial animus because, by concentrating on racial differences, it can produce resentment among white people who are told they’re racist and therefore guilty.

This article instantiates a related situation: the implication of racism when it does not exist—and in this case the nonexistence is clear. To me, dividing the data by race, and finding a difference that penalizes blacks, was deemed a “story” for the paper. Had the results shown a tax penalty for whites, it would not have been printed. And I bet you can find some tax data in other areas that would give that result.

This kind of article serves not to create equality among the races, but to gin up animus between them, and to give ammunition to those like Kendi who think that every aspect of every policy in the government is either racist or antiracist, with nearly all policies falling in the former class. If a policy disadvantages blacks, it’s racist. But only in the most ludicrous construal of “racism” (i.e. Kendi’s) can you decide that a demographic difference having nothing to do with bias is an example of racism.

Bill, who called this piece to my attention, certainly was upset about it, and he sent me the following along with the link (I have his permission to use his name and his words):

This is an unctuous example of race baiting geared to generate more clicks. As such, it must be view as a callous marketing strategy designed to take advantage of the country’s (or the MSM’s) obsession with race.

The article states, “If the financial facts of a Black married couple were identical to those of a White married couple, there would be no difference in their tax burdens, said William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and a coauthor of its marriage study.”

So, what’s the problem?

All this achieves is to increase the level of animus in the country.

Yep. It’s time to start reading the media taking account of this possibility. It’s not that they deliberately want to inflame racial divisions—I am sure that’s not true—but by finding racism everywhere, they get a good story and more clicks. Stories of racism are what sells. And the click-mania of the media leads to the kind of distortion generated by this article.

Are National Parks racist?

February 20, 2023 • 11:15 am

Of course they are! For that’s the implication of “inequities” in the proportion groups that visit parks—the explicit conclusion of ABC News in this long and misguided article about how the inequities, and the racism that’s supposed to cause them, are an “existential crisis” for America’s national parks. For those of you who think that the Biden administration isn’t using inequities as marker of ongoing racism, read below:

The data are these:

New government data, shared first with ABC News, shows the country’s premier outdoor spaces — the 419 national parks — remain overwhelmingly white. Just 23% of visitors to the parks were people of color, the National Park Service found in its most recent 10-year survey; 77% were white. Minorities make up 42% of the U.S. population.

There are more Hispanics than blacks visiting the park (only 6% of visitors are African-American), but still strong inequity.  The conclusion, of course, is that national parks, and the great outdoors itself, is racist. It’s not just that some people’s racism is said to keep minorities away from the parks in droves (an assertion that’s doubtful at the outset), but that the racism is systemic, somehow built into the National Park System, and these inequities must be erased through antiracist action. (The assumption here is that without racism, there would be perfect equity among park visitors.)

The repeated claim of systemic racism (all quotes from the piece are indented, bolding below is mine):

“The outdoors and public lands suffer from the same systemic racism that the rest of our society does,” said Joel Pannell, associate director of the Sierra Club, which is leading an effort to boost diversity in the wilderness and access to natural spaces.

. . . Advocates like Williams and Tariq say they hope the moment since George Floyd’s death in police custody brings attention to systemic racism in the outdoors as well as other parts of society and translates into a long-term change in attitudes and behavior.

. . . National parks and the conservation movement were created as a way for people to escape cities during the industrial revolution, which Pannell said is one example of systemic racism in the outdoors that hasn’t been confronted.

. . . Americans of all races in the new Park Service study said they value the nation’s iconic parks and landmarks as important to America’s national identity and think they should be protected. And advocates say they hope the current moment leads to future change and more attention to combating systemic racism in national parks and the outdoors industry and culture.”

Now the definition of systemic racism in the first link includes past laws and customs that might no longer apply but still exert an effect, but that’s not the tenor of the article, which assumes that the racism is an ongoing practice. It’s important to distinguish the two, because getting rid of current racism requires an entirely different agenda from dismantling the historical effects of racism. If they’re conflating the two, then the word “systemic” is no longer needed.

Why is this an “existential crisis”? One would think that if few minorities are going to the parks, and the parks are still doing big business (which they are), they’re in no danger of going out of existence. But the article says that more than half of America will be nonwhite by 2044, and that extra 8%, deterred from visiting by structural racism, poses a huge threat to the parks’ existence. I don’t buy it:

In national parks, the most prominent and famous natural spaces in the country, Black Americans are consistently the most underrepresented. In 2018, only 6% of visitors identified as Black, according to the new report, a slight decline from the previous year.

“We need to communicate that national parks, one, are part of your birthright,” Vela told ABC News Live in an exclusive interview.

This would be worrisome if we knew the cause was racism. Note that throughout this article, the assumption is that all groups have an equal desire to go to parks, but we don’t even know that. In fact, the data say the opposite:

Twice as many black and Hispanic Americans said they don’t know what to do in national parks than whites. When asked if they share the same interests as people who visit national parks, 34% of Black respondents and 27% of Hispanics said no, compared with only 11% of whites.

Well, if so many blacks and Hispanics don’t share the interests of people who do visit national parks, then the assumption of equal interests may be far off. On the other hand, I do love parks, and if the lack of interest comes from a lack of information, well, perhaps the government should advertise the parks more widely.

Now the sole evidence for racism in the article, besides the usual one or two “lived experience” anecdotes, is the inequity in proportions of ethnic groups visiting the park. But there are many possible explanations for this, and the last one I’d think of is racism. The first one I’d guess would be culture: that minorities have no tradition of hiking or camping, not because of racism encountered by doing that, but for other reasons. Living in cities is one: urban dwellers may be less likely to want to go to Parks. Or poverty (a residuum of historical racism) is another, and one that the article actually admits is a possible cause. But current, ongoing, systemic racism? I can’t imagine how that would keep minorities away from parks, but let’s see what evidence ABC adduces.

Ambreen Tariq, creator of the “Brown People Camping” social media campaign, says this:

Still, racial profiling and stereotyping remain a big concern for Tariq and many people of color in the outdoors.

“When I was a child, I felt like an outsider trying to gain entrance, except now I am American and this is my country,” she said.

However, when she camps or hikes as an adult, Tariq said she still faces assumptions that she doesn’t belong and a sense of “imposter syndrome” and fear — even facing questions from rangers about whether she has followed park rules when she doesn’t see white visitors asked the same questions.

. . .Combined with attitudes that people do outdoor activities to relieve stress has made it difficult to have tough conversations about race.

“When I’m walking to work with park rangers or with other campers and hikers who treat me in some sort of way that make me feel unwelcome, that make me feel unsafe, that is startling,” Tariq said. “And that goes unchecked because there’s, there’s just no channel for us to be able to challenge that in such remote places.”

“Unsafe” is a red flag here. In what sense does Tariq feel unsafe? Does she think the rangers will attack her? Exactly what form does the “unwelcome behavior” take? I’m not doubting it, but remember that this is a sample of one person.

Such behavior is of course possible, and if it happens often it must be based on racist assumptions of rangers. But where are the surveys? I’d also like a statement  about structural racism from the Park Service itself, but there’s just this:

“That tells me that we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said David Vela, acting director of the National Park Service.

What does he mean? Is he admitting structural racism? Or just saying that we have to have more equity in visitors? Remember, a lot of visitors to parks are Europeans (that’s all you see in Death Valley in summer, when the Germans come to scorch themselves red in 120-degree heat), and Europeans are mostly white.

But forgive me if I can’t take as dispositive evidence a statement about how one person like Tariq feels. Does she know that white visitors aren’t asked the same questions. Remember, “lived experience” is not evidence for a proposition like this one, though if it were repeated many times, we’d get more suspicious.

It’s true that many of the parks were created at a time of de facto segregation, and it’s barely conceivable that somehow that has led to a tradition of minorities not going to parks. But the claim is that the racism is systemic and ongoing, and that’s a different claim. Speaking of history, the article does claim this:

Lack of transportation to national parks and the cost of visiting were cited as the top reasons people — especially Black and Hispanic Americans — don’t visit them more often, according to the study.

So it’s not bias but money and access! That is not systemic racism under any construal, though it may be the historical result of racism, and doesn’t jibe with the claims of “racist treatment” of minority visitors. Which is it?

Another claim is that minorities don’t come to parks because some of the parks’ founders were bigots. But is it believable that that fact, known only to those with a deep knowledge of park history, would keep people from going to parks now?:

Carolyn Finney, a storyteller and cultural geographer whose book “Black Faces, White Spaces” focuses on African Americans’ relationship to the outdoors said the dominant narrative around national parks doesn’t include that they were considered primarily with white visitors in mind.

She said that despite the value of the ideas that conceptualized the National Park Service and laid the groundwork for the modern environmental movement in the early 1900s, figures like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt did not consider how those spaces would include people of color because they were actively segregated at the time. And some figures close to the conservation movement like Madison Grant, who founded organizations like the Bronx Zoo, espoused actively racist ideologies.

Well, Roosevelt’s and Muir’s racism is something that few Americans even know about, while what on earth does Madison Grant have to do with inequities in Park attendance? Before you claim that the history of the parks’ foundations are what’s causing inequities among visitors, find out why.  How many Hispanics say, “Well, I’d go to Yellowstone but that Muir was such a bigot”?  One would think that this would be the first thing to investigate. But it never is. The cause goes hand in hand with the observation of disproportionality, and that is the classical instance of begging the question.

Two more reasons are given for attendance inequity:

Many people of color say that history of the parks is another psychological barrier white Americans don’t have to face.

“Historically, in the South, in particular, many atrocious things that happened to Black people were in the woods,” said Frank Peterman, an outdoors enthusiast who began visiting the national parks with his wife Audrey 25 years ago.

Where are the surveys of “many people of color” showing that? The only one quoted is Peterman, and he’s surely not been put off: he’s been to many parks. To me, this sounds like a made-up reason. Where are the data? You can’t use phrases like “many people of color say that the history of the parks is a psychological barrier” unless you document it. “Many” has to be “more than one.”

And this:

Many advocates say public information about parks and outdoor activities are not tailored to communities of color. Posted signs, for example, are mostly in English rather than Spanish. Park ranger uniforms that resemble what is worn by law enforcement are intimidating to some immigrants and minorities in light of documented cases of profiling.

Given that America is becoming almost bilingual with Spanish, it would be nice to have signs in Spanish in parks, especially in the Southwest. But I’m not down with changing the ranger uniforms. They don’t look like military uniforms (look at the hats!), and they have to look somewhat official so that they have authority and people will recognize them easily.  When you’re looking for help in a park, as I’ve done many times in Death Valley, you have to be able to recognize the rangers. What do people want, for crying out loud: Hawaiian shirts and shorts and a ranger hat?

The lessons of this dire piece are ones we’ve learned before:

a.) With enough effort, you can find structural racism everywhere. If you can find it (and people have) in yoga, pumpkins, lattes, and glaciology, you can find it anywhere. I challenge someone to come up with an institution that can’t be accused of structural racism, except, perhaps, the NBA or other sports. But, I believe, even the NFL has been accused of structural racism despite the high percentage of black players (58%).

b.) Structural racism is always taken to be the prima facie cause of unequal representation of groups. For several reasons, including different preferences, different cultures, and an overrepresentation of marginalized groups in some areas, this cannot always be the case.

c.) If you’re going to make such accusations of ongoing, current racism, you need to document them, because. . . .

d.) . . . if you think that unequal representation needs to be made perfectly equitable (which it needn’t), you must find out the reasons for the inequities. It’s wrong to assume structural racism from the get-go, and that’s why this ABC article is so terribly off the mark.

A court case against DEI and discriminatory hiring

February 13, 2023 • 9:15 am

Although I’ve always said I’m in favor of some affirmative action in college admissions and hiring (but haven’t figured out exactly it should be implemented), I’ve never been in favor of mandatory DEI (“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”) statements as required parts applications for admission to colleges, graduate schools, or especially academic jobs.

It should not be part of a job application to show how you can engage in social engineering. Further, DEI statements constitute compelled speech, similar to the loyalty oaths that California academics used to take, and thus is unconstitutional.

These mandatory statements also change the purpose of a university—normally to teach, to learn, to learn to think, and to do research—into a form of social activism that must adhere to specific tenets of DEI. The statements are judged on how closely they adhere to a school’s construal of Critical Race Theory, and are often read and rated before one’s academic credentials are assessed. If you don’t meet the right “rubric” for your statement, your application can be trashed.  Woe unto the applicant who says they “will treat all students equally” or “will adhere to Dr. King’s view that people should be judged by the content of their character [in this case, their academic achievement] and not the color of their skin”. Such candidates are considered unenlightened, and accrue the lowest ratings.

And if you don’t have a philosophy of DEI, a history of past DEI efforts, and a plan about how you can implement DEI in your university, then you stand little chance of getting a job. (There are usually three aspects to a DEI statement.)

Now not all schools require such statements. The University of Chicago, for instance, explicitly forbids them as per our Shils Report (full document here), which mandates that the criteria for academic appointments and promotion must comprise only research, teaching and training (grad students), contributions to the intellectual community, and service (this includes service to the University and your academic field, like giving seminars, editing academic journals, and so on.) The U of C has mandated that DEI statements are not included in this, and it’s forbidden for academic departments to require them for hiring and promoting faculty. I know of no other school that has such a prohibition, although there may be some.

In contrast, many schools not only require DEI statements, which can be and are used in race-based hiring—an attempt to secure equity among faculty—but even designate certain jobs only for candidates of certain ethnicities. Like DEI statements, hiring on the basis of ethnicity is against the law. But as the article below notes, schools know about this illegality but flout it anyway, because nobody ever penalizes them for doing so.  Lawsuits against such discrimination are nonexistent for three reasons:

a.) They’re bloody expensive.

b.) You have to have “standing” to sue: to prove that discriminatory hiring based on race injured you.  It’s hard to prove that.

c.) As the article below notes, if you sue a school because you were not hired or not considered because, say, you were Asian or white, you become academically radioactive: no liberal school (i.e. nearly all schools) will want to hire such a notorious person.

This is not a conservative point of view but a liberal one, as it is anti-discrimination and anti-compelled speech. The push to get rid of DEI statements is supported by all academic freedom organizations I can think of, including the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). FIRE notes that while the Constitutional prohibition applies only at public schools and colleges, it should apply more widely than that. As they say:

The First Amendment prohibits public universities from compelling faculty to assent to specific ideological views or to embed those views in academic activities. While private universities are not bound by the First Amendment, they generally make commitments to free speech and academic freedom that similarly preclude enforcement of any political, moral, or ideological dogma. Such colleges and universities educate and employ the overwhelming majority of America’s students and faculty members, and this document is intended to address DEI policies at those institutions.

But one person—Richard Lowery, an associate professor of business and finance at the University of Texas—has filed such a lawsuit against Texas A&M University.  In his case, the “injury” consisted of the fact that (although he apparently has no interest in a job at Texas A&M, which isn’t as good as UT in his field), Lowery wouldn’t even be considered for a job because it was advertised as being open only to members of underrepresented minorities. Texas A&M is a public school, and thus violated the law by advertising a job open only to candidates of certain ethnic backgrounds.

Lowery’s gambit is a clever way to get standing, and apparently it’s worked so far (it also allowed other people to join in on a class action suit). Several law faculty at other schools are quoted as saying this is a pretty solid suit with a good chance of winning.

Click below to read:

Here’s the basis of the case as described above (remember, as a state school, Texas A&M must adhere to the First Amendment):

. . . the law may finally be coming for the overt employment discrimination practiced on most campuses today. The form of the destructor may be a test case filed on September 10: Lowery v. Texas A&M University System.

As described in the complaint:

8. The Texas A&M University System, along with nearly every university in the United States, discriminates on account of race and sex when hiring its faculty, by giving discriminatory preferences to female or non-Asian minorities at the expense of white and Asian men. This practice, popularly known as “affirmative action,” has led universities to hire and promote inferior faculty candidates over individuals with better scholarship, better credentials, and better teaching ability.

9. These race and sex preferences are patently illegal under Title VI and Title IX, which prohibit all forms of race and sex discrimination at universities that receive federal funds. But university administrators think they can flout these federal statutes with impunity because no one ever sues them over their discriminatory faculty-hiring practices and the Department of Education looks the other way.

10. These discriminatory, illegal, and anti-meritocratic practices have been egged on by woke ideologues who populate the so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion offices at public and private universities throughout the United States. The existence of these offices is subverting meritocracy and encouraging wholesale violations of civil-rights laws throughout our nation’s university system.

Specifically, the complaint avers that in July 2022, Texas A&M’s “office for diversity” announced a program for hiring professors that was limited to members of “underrepresented groups,” which it defined as “African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians.” In other words, like many DEI initiatives that pervade most university campuses today, white and Asian men need not apply for this program. Texas A&M justified the program with the goal of establishing a faculty whose racial composition attains “parity with that of the State of Texas”—despite the fact that even Grutter recognized that such racial balancing was “patently unconstitutional.”

Part of Texas A&M’s efforts to achieve such racial balancing has also been to establish faculty hiring lines open only to members of “underrepresented groups.” One such hiring line was in the Department of Finance, where the head of the recruiting committee confirmed in writing that the position was indeed “reserved” for non-white, non-Asian candidates.

Richard Lowery is a finance professor at the University of Texas and is a vocal critic of DEI programs. (Disclosure: I know Rich and have written about him in the past, but I am not involved in his case and did not know of it until after it was filed.) There should be no serious question that he would be qualified for a teaching position in the finance department at Texas A&M; indeed, his qualifications easily exceed those of many current Texas A&M finance professors. Yet despite being “able and ready” to apply for the position, Texas A&M’s “reserving” the position for non-white, non-Asian candidates means that he is ineligible for it.

Lowery’s lawsuit sues Texas A&M and various officials for violations of Title VI and Title IX, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting the university from discriminating on the basis of race and sex in hiring decisions. It also seeks redress for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a), which guarantees individuals the same right to make and enforce contracts without regard to race, and for violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The lawsuit also has another twist: it seeks certification as a class action, for the benefit of all white and Asian candidates who have been discriminated against by Texas A&M’s DEI employment initiatives.

Lowery is of course an opponent of DEI initiatives; why else would he put himself through the trouble of this lawsuit?

Given that the job was limited only to certain ethnic groups, it seems palpably unconstitutional, and I suspect Lowery’s suit will win—unless he is found not to have standing. But, to be sure, any Asian and white person who could have or would have applied for the job could in principle claim injury. Whether that’s upheld or dismissed solely on the grounds of standing, it’s only a matter of time before some brave soul brings a lawsuit on civil rights grounds and does have standing; and that person will win. That will bring the whole DEI-statement mishigas crashing down, and that’s to the good.

The article quotes three law professors who say Lowery’s case is strong. They may be conservatives (I don’t know), but they’re also at good schools: UC Berkeley, Cornell, and UC San Diego. I’ll give two of the statements, one from someone on the US Commission on Civil rights.

How does the case shape up legally? Asked for comment, University of California, Berkeley law professor John Yoo says:

This seems like a strong case. The Supreme Court’s diversity rationale for the use of race in university admissions for students is a limited exception to the general rule that the Constitution prohibits government from using skin color in its decisions and policies. Here, Texas A&M is flatly using race in considering the hiring and compensation of faculty. It is flatly unconstitutional and the university should lose in court.

. . . University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot, who is also a commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights, observes:

For a long time, faculty members and aspiring faculty members who have been discriminated against have been reluctant to sue—mainly out of fear that they will be ostracized. As a result, college and universities have gotten bolder and bolder in the ways they flout the law. But the tide appears to be turning. There will likely be more lawsuits of this type in the near future.”

I’m sure there will be. It’s only a matter of time.

A thread about universty DEI statements

January 24, 2023 • 9:45 am

Since August of last year, John Sailer, who works for the National Association of Scholars (NAS), has been putting put together a long thread about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements (DEI) that are now required for many applicants for academic jobs. Indeed, in many cases they are weighed more heavily in the hiring process than are academic achievements and qualifications themselves. DEI statements can even completely override academic and scholarly merit! For academic jobs in the Life Sciences at UC Berkeley, for instance, your DEI statement is ranked on three criteria: your knowledge of DEI, your track record of DEI work, and your plans to implement DEI initiatives if hired). This is done using a point system (15 points total). If your statement doesn’t accrue enough points, your application is put in the dumpster and is not considered again. Too bad if you look like a future Nobel laureate; there is no job for you at UC Berkeley unless you have a long track record and well-considered philosophy of diversity. (We are of course talking about racial diversity, not viewpoint diversity or socioeconomic diversity.)

I’ve objected to these statements because they constitute “compelled speech”: a prospective faculty member has to adhere to certain specified ideological principles to be hired, principles having to do with social engineering rather than teaching, learning, and research. While I agree with many of the sentiments behind these initiatives, I do not favor making them compulsory, as it foists a political homogeneity on universities and stifles free discussion. How could it not? You simply can’t be hired unless you’re of the right political bent.

The NAS is an education-centered political advocacy group with a conservative bent. But I make no apologies for mentioning right-wing sources; what matters here are the assertions, which you can check for yourself. Every claim I know of below is accurate, but of course I didn’t check all of them.  Also this is Sailer’s own Twitter feed, so this isn’t an official presentation by the NAS—yet.  But one thing is for sure: you’re never going to see a “progressive” individual or organization collect examples of DEI-statement requirements. Progressive favor such statements, but flaunting them in public is not a good thing to do. Why? Figure it out for yourself.

Sailer begins his thread by noting that the governors of the University of North Carolina (UNC) have ended diversity statements, which would be a good thing to do. UNC at Chapel Hill was also the first university in the U.S. to follow the University of Chicago by mandating both the Chicago Principles of Free Expression and the Kalven Principles of institutional neutrality. That’s all pretty amazing for a school in the South!)

I can’t find anything on the web about the ending of DEI statements at UNC, so I’ll take Sailer’s word for it for the time being. I did find an NAS article he wrote in August of last year called “Mandatory DEI statements undermine academic freedom at UNC-Chapel Hill,” which lists all the jobs at UNC-CH that required diversity statements. But it doesn’t mention ending DEI statements, except as a desideratum.

At any rate, here’s Sailer long list of DEI-related requirements for schools, how they are assessed, and then at the end a bit about the burgeoning DEI bureaucracy. There are 18 further tweets that I didn’t have space to include, so look at the thread for yourself. Just regard this as data that you can check if you wish. If it’s all true, and I don’t think Sailer would make this stuff up, you should be very afraid for the future of universities, of free speech, and of academic freedom.

Cluster hires are hiring of a several faculty at once who are committed to advancing DEI initiatives. I wasn’t aware that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which uses taxpayer money, has grants for this purpose.

The first tweet is Berkeley’s infamous Life Sciences DEI initiative. If you said in your UCB DEI statement that you were committed to treating all students equally and with empathy and respect, regardless of ethnicity, your application was as good as dead. The second tweet below that, at Emory, biology puts as much weight on DEI initiatives as it does on research and teaching, presumably for both hiring and promotion.

The Oregon DEI statement is not just an add-on to a promotion package that can be ignored. Rather, it has “clear consequences and influences” on your chances of promotion. Professors: start reading your Kendi!

As noted below, the California Community Colleges system is indeed the largest such system in America, and their DEI evaluation criteria for all employees (does this include everyone employed by the system?) are very strict. Further, the school system has to develop a “pedagogy/curriculum that promotes a race-conscious and intersection lens [sic]” and an “anti-racist and inclusive environment.” This is the total racialization of the educational system, treating students as if they were members of different but individually homogeneous groups.  These initiatives comprise efforts at social engineering on a massive scale rather than as a vehicle to get students to learn, to learn to think, and to promote teaching. The “teaching and learning” here is political propaganda, and I know of no similar large-scale endeavor in American educational history.

Here’s the infamous Berkeley rubric which explicitly rejects Dr. King’s criterion for how to treat people. I’ve put it below, and it’s being copied by other schools explicitly (e.g. “see UC Berekeley’s rubric”).  Below are Cornell’s DEI criteria for hiring taken from the second tweet.  There is no stopping this juggernaut:

Finally—but remember there are 18 other tweets—we have the University of Michigan’s DEI bureaucracy: 56 employees and a salary budget alone of $10.6 million. That does not include the budget for activities. It is a huge investment in DEI, and, once in place, it will not go away.

Have a look at the other 18 tweets and see if you’re not chagrined at the change of course of universities.

In a few months, the Supreme Court will overturn affirmative action, and most likely also prohibit race-based searches for candidates along with race-based hiring. What will that do to these initiatives? It will likely constrict their activities, but—make no mistake—schools will have their DEI one way or another.  With such a bureaucracy, they will somehow have to keep banging the drum that DEI is necessary to overcome the seemingly-permanent “structural racism” of universities, and workarounds will be found. (I already know of a few.)  The social engineering will not stop, nor the deflecting of universities from their real purpose down the path of “progressive ideology”. From now on, all professors, to get hired, must profess fealty to a specified ideology, and that is compelled speech.

A rediscovered Martin Luther King, Jr. speech

January 16, 2023 • 12:15 pm

Greg Mayer spotted this talk on my colleague Brian Leiter’s website, and I’m stealing it. Listening to it is a good way to remember King on this day, and to see the clarity and focus of his mission. It’s also  chance to appreciate his powerful rhetoric.

The 26-minute speech, rediscovered about eight years ago, was given in 1962, and is about two documents, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence—and how they failed to bring clarity or resolution to America’s “race question.” King recounts how the Founding Fathers were well aware of their failure to bring equality to all Americans.

Here’s the story from NPR:

Last fall, curators and interns at the New York State Museum were digging through their audio archives in an effort to digitize their collection. It was tedious work; the museum houses over 15 million objects. But on this particular day in November, they unearthed a treasure.

As they sifted through box after box, museum director Mark Schaming remembers: “They pull up a little reel-to-reel tape and a piece of masking tape on it is labeled ‘Martin Luther King, Jr., Emancipation Proclamation Speech 1962.’ ”

It’s audio no one knew existed.

That year — 1962 — fell in the midst of the Civil War centennial. At one commemorative event, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller proposed a focus on the Emancipation Proclamation and invited King to speak. No one had heard his speech since. When Schaming listened to the audio, he found it still relevant. “It’s 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation is released, and this promise is still unfulfilled, very much as it is still today in many ways,” the museum director says.

At the end of the speech, King quotes a slave preacher who he says “didn’t quite have his grammar right but uttered words of great symbolic profundity.”

“Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

The passage, Schaming says, is so powerful it must be heard to be appreciated. You can hear the speech at the New York State Museum‘s online exhibit.

The ending is eerily similar to that of the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech—his final oration before he was murdered.

As you listen to King’s words, you can see the original typed speech go by—complete with King’s emendations, which markedly improve the text. Remember, this is two years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

It’s natural to wonder what King would say, were he still with us, about the racial divisions in America today, the hegemony of identity politics, and the rejection of his dream to have people judged not by their race, but by the content of their character.  Of course, it’s clear that King was expounding identity politics here and throughout his life, but in a way far more salubrious and less divisive than they’re used today.

There’s a loss of sound about 15 minutes in, but the talk quickly resumes.

MIT tells prospective faculty how to write a successful diversity statement

November 26, 2022 • 11:45 am

It was inevitable that when universities began requiring diversity statements for prospective faculty, postdocs, and grad students, sites would pop up telling you how to write a good statement.  (Some places will even charge to help you!) This site, from the MIT Communication Lab (click on screenshot below) is fairly extensive, covering not only the format of your 1-2 page statement, but also the content.

Although I was a political activist in college (I’m not going to go through that again), it turns out that there’s no way I could write a statement the way MIT suggests. This means that had this been a critical criterion when I was applying for jobs, I’d be flipping burgers now. Several of my colleagues who have read these requirements have said the same. People would have more burgers, but who would have written a book on speciation?

These DEI statements are often critical. Although the MIT site says this:

A diversity statement alone is unlikely to get you an interview or a job offer, but a well-written diversity statement may enable you to stand out among a large pool of qualified candidates.

. . . in reality, in some places like Berkeley, if your diversity statement isn’t up to muster you have no chance of getting a job, no matter how good your academic qualifications are (see here and here). And since you have to talk about efforts you have made in the past to increase diversity, as well as your philosophy of diversity, you have to start doing social-justice work well before you intend to apply for jobs. Woe to those students who have immersed themselves wholly in quantum mechanics or classical literature out of the love of the field and of knowledge. Without a track record in promoting diversity, as well as a philosophy of diversity, those people are doomed.

I don’t of course object to universities encouraging diversity efforts as a way to “broaden” a candidate, but there are many ways to be broad besides fighting for equity of races and genders. These include doing general outreach to high schools, writing popular books and articles on your field, doing an internship at a newspaper or other organization,, and so on. But those don’t count nearly as much as showing your history of fighting for equity.  And is this attempt to turn universities from places of learning into instruments of specific types of social justice that bothers me. As Stanley Fish said (it’s a book title): “Save the world on your own time.”

And, in the end, DEI statements may be illegal. As my colleague Brian Leiter (a law school prof) pointed out, such required statements, if used to cull candidates, may constitute illegal “viewpoint discrimination”. As he notes:

I recommend that those applying for jobs in the University of California system say only this in the diversity statement:  “I decline to supply this statement which constitutes illegal viewpoint discrimination in violation of my constitutional rights.”   There are already lawyers gearing up to bring legal challenges; I hope they act soon.   If you have been rejected from a University of California search, and suspect it was on grounds of insufficient ideological purity about “diversity,” please get in touch with me.  I can connect you with one public interest legal organization looking for plaintiffs.

But back to the MIT recommendations from this site:


Here’s the recommended breakdown of how you should divide your diversity activities and knowledge:

This means you have to have studied DEI extensively, and have a good track record of “advancing DEI”. I’m surprised they don’t recommend a reading list.

Here’s what you need to do (all quotes are indented):

Identify your purpose:

A faculty application diversity statement is NOT a document explaining how you as a candidate are diverse. While it is fine to include personal stories if they have informed how you think about diversity, this should not be the main focus of the statement. Rather, a diversity statement is an opportunity to show that you care about the inclusion of many forms of identity in academia and in your field, including but not limited to gender, race/ethnicity, age, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and ability status.

Note: you have to show how much you care, not about the field itself, but about mentoring and gathering in people diverse not in viewpoint but in disability status, race, gender, age, and so on.

And you better know your onions:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community.

Oy! Where’s the reading list?

Demonstrate knowledge of DEI:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community. . .

Demonstrate experience with DEI:

It is not sufficient to demonstrate knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion; your statement should also show experience with them. While this need not be a separate section, your statement should make it clear that you have not only thought about DEI in the abstract but have applied that knowledge and are prepared to continue doing so in the future.

There’s other stuff like “be concrete in your future plans” (you’ll have to do more than say you’ll treat all students with equal effort and respect: that’s a statement that will get your application binned). Rather, you have to be absolutely specific in what you will do to promote equity and inclusivity. This is where MIT is more or less writing the application for you:

Note that specific actions are required; you can’t just say “I’ll treat my students equally, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, age, and so on.” You have to go to orientation and recruitment events, and act somewhat as a psychologist to your students. Nor do I don’t understand the difference between having a lab that’s “inclusive of women” and “striving for gender parity,” but that’s how it works, so you’d better be on board.

Now the advice to be specific in what you’ll do is not so bad, it’s just that they’re prescribing what you should say. This—along with the site’s other advice—is the compelled speech (and belief) that Leiter thinks may be illegal.  Some day we shall see, but to test the legality of DEI statements you need someone to sue who didn’t get a position (presumably because of a faulty statement). And finding someone with that “standing” may be hard. But come it will, and we shall see.

By the way, you can even see a successful example of a diversity statement published on MIT Communications’ web page, with the useful parts highlighted.  It was submitted by an MIT postdoc who got a faculty position at Brown.  Here’s part of it with the good bits coded in different colors: Pink indicates the recommended subheadings.

h/t: Luana

A conversation between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bari Weiss on the relationship between blacks and Jews

November 22, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Bari Weiss doesn’t seem to write much on her own Substack site lately, probably because she’s doing podcasts and enlisting a lot of writers to form her own media mini-empire. She does get some good writers, but I do miss her own pieces.

Here’s one conversation she’s recently posted with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—now a writer, activist, and film-maker.  I haven’t seen his films, but I have read his essays, and they’re good.

The topic of their conversation is something I’ve brought up before: the eroding relationship between African Americans and Jews. As Abdul-Jabbar and Weiss both note, Jews and blacks used to be partners in the civil rights struggle (with blacks taking the lead, of course). Jews, also a disliked minority, found natural affinity with black protestors. Remember that both of the whites killed in the Mississippi murders of Goodman, Cheney, and Schwerner—killed by the Klan for registering blacks to vote—were Jewish.  That is not a random sample of whites.

But lately the relationship is eroding, aided by the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan (and Kanye West!) and a seemingly growing number of attacks on Jews by blacks. Somehow the relationship needs to be repaired from both sides, but I, for one, don’t know how. Here Abdul-Jabbar espouses the comity that used to exist and urges both sides to fight for equality.

Click to read (it’s free, but subscribe if you read often).

I’ll give just three quotes. In the first exchange, Weiss (“BW”) gives a fact that surprised me, one she got from Abdul-Jabbar (“KAJ”):

BW: I want to end by focusing on the relationship more broadly between blacks and Jews in America. In July of 2020, you published a powerful condemnation of antisemitism titled “Where Is the Outrage Over Anti-Semitism in Sports and Hollywood?” Here’s a passage that struck me:

One of the most powerful songs in the struggle against racism is Billie Holiday’s melancholic “Strange Fruit,” which was first recorded in 1939. The song met strong resistance from radio stations afraid of its graphic lyrics about lynching:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Despite those who wanted to suppress the song, it went on to sell a million copies that year and became Holiday’s best-selling record ever. The song was written by a white, Jewish high school teacher, Abel Meeropol, who performed it with his wife around New York before it was given to Holiday.

The American Jewish community I grew up in was one that prided itself on its history of joining black Americans in their fight for civil rights. We knew the names Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two Jewish civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi in in 1964 alongside James Chaney. We studied the picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Has that relationship unraveled?

KAJ: I don’t think it has unraveled. The only difference is that those Jews and blacks who never understood how our fates are intertwined now have an instant platform to express their irrational thinking. The majority of Jews have been steadfast in their support of civil rights when other groups have wavered. They have done it on the ground by joining marches, and they have done it in the arts by writing books and movies promoting civil rights. African Americans need to recognize that commitment and do the same for them.

BW: What does healing the bond between our communities look like?

KAJ: The bond doesn’t need healing, because it’s already there. People like Kyrie Irving and Kanye West give the impression that it’s not, but only because we are all surprised by someone from one marginalized group using the same bad, racist arguments against another marginalized group. Even wrong perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies if we don’t address them every time they appear.

We don’t have to heal the bond, we have to strengthen it even more by joining together to condemn every act of prejudice against every marginalized group. We must do it swiftly and emphatically.

A discussion of the odious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam:

BW: I want to focus on Farrakhan’s influence. He believes that Jews are parasitic, that Jews are behind a plot to exploit black Americans, and that blacks are the real Jews from the Bible. We’re hearing these ideas come out of the mouths of musicians like Kanye West (“Jewish people have owned the black voice”) and athletes like Kyrie Irving (“I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from”). For many Jews, hearing this kind of rhetoric is shocking, but many black Americans have noted that these views are more commonplace than we’d like to admit. So what I think a lot of people are afraid to ask is: How mainstream are these beliefs among black Americans? Are Kanye and Kyrie unique? Or has the influence of people like Farrakhan made this strain of antisemitism somehow more normal than many want to believe?

KAJ: Certain black leaders do exactly what certain white leaders do who want to gather followers, money, and power: They find a scapegoat they can blame. They can’t blame others who are marginalized because of the color of their skin, like Latinx or Asian-Americans, so they go for the default villain of fascists and racists: Jews.

What astounds me is not just the irrationality of it, but how self-destructive it is. Black people have to know that when they mouth antisemitism, they are using the exact same kind of reasoning that white supremacists use against blacks. They are enabling racism. Now they’ve aligned themselves with the very people who would choke out black people, drag them behind a truck, keep them from voting, and maintain systemic racism for another hundred years. They are literally making not only their lives worse, but their children’s lives. The fact that they can’t see that means the racists have won.

Those who condemn Weiss as an alt-righter, racist, and “dark web” adherent should ask themselves, “Would such a person be able to secure an interview with Abdul-Jabbar, much less have a civil and respectful discussion?”

Finally, Abdul-Jabbar’s conclusion:

BW: If you were putting out a statement, what would you say to Jews? To Black Americans?

KAJ: In the words of Marvin Gaye in What’s Going On: “You know we’ve got to find a way/To bring some understanding here today.”

Wouldn’t it be great if a great quote were enough? Marvin may inspire me, but in practical terms I’d say that we have to be mindful of our common goal to live in a country that values us and in which our children will never be called names, humiliated, can walk without fear, can pursue love with anyone they choose, have a fair shot at any profession they choose. That doesn’t just happen. We have to work together to achieve that. And anyone who doesn’t share that goal must be shoved aside.

As Jake tells Bret in the last line of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

It’s a long interview but well worth reading. An as your reward, here are the two songs mentioned in the piece.

Strange Fruit” sung by BIllie Holiday (1959):

Marvin Gaye live, singing “What’s Going On” (he wrote the song) in 1972:

Our College Dean responds to threats and calls for cancellation of a class on the “Problem of Whiteness”

November 22, 2022 • 10:45 am

On November 9 I described a proposed University of Chicago course, “The Problem of Whiteness”, to be taught under the aegis of CRES (“Critical Race and Ethnic Studies”). The course was brought to national attention—publicized, as usual, by right-wing venues like this one—via the tweets of one of our undergraduates:

As I described, the course was postponed for one quarter after, according to WBEZ, the instructor received death threats and other disturbing email. According to WBEZ, the postponement gave time for the course to develop a “safety plan”, which it may well need!

Rebecca Journey, a teaching fellow who earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from UChicago, said her class analyzes whiteness as a social construct and dismissed “disingenuous” claims that it stokes “anti-white hatred.” She’s pushing the course to the spring quarter to give university officials time to develop a safety plan for her and her students.

Journey’s response in the article is good with one caveat: she called Schmidt a “cyberterrorist”, which is inflammatory and sets faculty against student. Not that I am a fan of Schmidt’s, though!  For as I described at the time, and still believe, while the course troubles me as a harbinger of “theory” affecting Universities throughout the U.S., as well as a potential chilling of speech here, in the end this is a matter of academic freedom.  Faculty members can teach what they want so long as it’s approved by the curriculum committee. I wrote this:

Although I don’t like the tenor of this course, which seems both anti-white and divisive, I cannot demand that it be canceled. What an instructor decides to teach is a matter of academic freedom, and if her department approves the course, it’s their call, not mine.  I of course worry that the University of Chicago will become as woke as some of its peers, which regularly teach courses like this, but while I can criticize the effect and content of such courses as socially inimical, I cannot and will not call or lobby for the course’s elimination or demand that the instructor be criticized—much less threatened—for teaching it.

Our University responded in a way that makes me proud—and in the usual manner—by defending the instructor’s desire to teach the course because to do otherwise would be to suppress our principles of free speech and academic freedom. And, as in its refusal to punish geophysical science professor Dorian Abbot for posting videos criticizing DEI efforts, the University doesn’t name the faculty member. (Abbot was the subject of a petition, signed by many faculty, students, and alumni, basically calling for his head on a plate.)

On November 15, John Boyer, Dean of the College, presented the statement below to the College Council, a group of elected faculty that meets regularly and deals with University affairs. The doings and sayings of the College Council are confidential, but I went to the administration asking permission to reproduce Dean Boyer’s statement, which they granted. I quote it below. The bolding is mine.

I wish to address the troubling phenomenon of cyber-bullying and classroom intimidation.  Recently an incident occurred on our campus involving cyber-bullying where the clear purpose was to change or limit the content of a course or the expression of ideas by students or instructors by means of the mobilization of anonymous threats and public harassment.

Strong engagement from students and colleagues about fundamental academic issues is one of the defining virtues of the University of Chicago.  This encompasses the right to debate the intellectual content of courses and the way we choose to teach courses, and is not only expected but welcomed as part of the extraordinary vitality of our educational practices and traditions.

Yet our traditions of the freedom of expression presume that this engagement takes place in the open realm of ideas and robust deliberation, with the purpose of articulating the best ideas and persuading others of their logic and substance.  Coercion of any kind must play no role in such debates.   Mass social media is an especially complex area of deliberation, in that it can enable outsiders who do not share these ideals to seek to influence the design and process of instruction, and often in ways that do not respect the safety, security, and autonomy of our campus community.  

In today’s climate we must reaffirm that our faculty have complete discretion over what they choose to teach and how they present material.   Similarly, our students have the freedom to select courses that best support their academic development and preferences.  

We will permit neither outsiders nor insiders to claim control of any part of our curriculum or to intimidate any member of our community in practicing their rights to free expression.   Intimidation, whether overt or covert, anonymous or named, is destructive to the core values of this University.

John W. Boyer

Boyer is referring here not to normal criticism or pushback, but to “intimidation”, i.e., threats to or harassment of the instructor. Note that Schmidt will not of course not be punished for what he tweeted, nor, I think, will anybody else, though threats of harm and death should surely be investigated.

And so we beat on, boats against the current of authoritarianism and the wokeness of the Online Mob.

Law prof Jeannie Suk Gersen on the Supreme Court’s affirmative action hearing, and how Harvard and other schools will evade its ruling

November 20, 2022 • 9:30 am

Jeannie Suk Gersen is the John H. Watson, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, teaching constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, family law, and the law of art, fashion, and the performing arts. In the free New Yorker article below (click to read), Gersen attended the one-day Supreme Court hearing in which Students for Fair Admission (SFFA) challenged Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s race-based admission practices, which, SFFA argued, discriminated against Asian-American applicants. Gersen’s been writing for the New Yorker for some time, and attended the hearings as a representative of the press.

As you may recall, the way Harvard kept down the number of Asian-American students (thereby giving minorities and whites preferential admission) was by application-readers in the admissions department giving Asians low “personality scores”, which reduced their chance of admission under the “holisitic” system. (Asian Americans also had lower athletic scores manifested as “extracurricular activities, but that wasn’t a bone of contention.)

Curiously, alums who (as part of the admissions process) actually interviewed Asian-American applicants did NOT give them lower “personality scores”, implying that there was some manipulation of scores by the admissions office itself. I believe this is the case, but two lower courts ruled that this did not constitute egregious race-based admission because any discrimination—and yes, the statistics show there was some—was based on “implicit biases. . . that could not be eliminated in a process that must rely on judgments about individuals”. In other words, evidence of anti-Asian American bias was evidence of race-based discrimination, but not evidence of intentional discrimination. (Didn’t the administrators receive “implicit bias” training?)

SFFA appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, and it’s almost certain that the Court will rule for the plaintiffs, overturning the 1978 Bakke decision and affirmative action itself.

What’s interesting about Gersen’s report are two things: the lack of preparation for the defense on the “personality scores” issue, for which they had no good explanation, and Gersen’s take about how schools like Harvard will circumvent the Court’s likely decision to keep the minority enrollment from decreasing. Gersen, by the way, says she’s a supporter of affirmative action.

The cluelessness of the defense.  Indented bits are quotes from Gersen’s piece. Bolding is mine

The strongest aspect of the discrimination claim against Harvard involves something called the personal rating. As early as 1969, the Crimson reported that the personal rating, assigned by admissions officers based on interviews, high-school officials’ reports, and essays, “has become by far the most important factor in Harvard’s admissions process,” because the increased academic strength of the applicant pool was making it harder to select students based on grades and test scores. It reported that, for the class of 1968, “there is just about no correlation between admission to Harvard and such factors as SAT scores, rank-in-class, and predicted rank list,” but “the correlation between admissions and the personal factor is better than 90 per cent.” The article quoted the dean of admissions saying, “We are justified and obligated to trust a hunch.”

When the Harvard case first went to trial, in 2018, S.F.F.A. alleged that Harvard uses the personal rating, in which admissions officers score applicants on qualities such as “integrity, helpfulness, courage, kindness,” even “effervescence,” to discriminate against Asian American applicants. Admissions records showed that, despite alumni interviewers, who met with applicants, having given Asian students scores that were as high or higher than those of white students, admissions officers, who normally did not meet with applicants, gave Asians the lowest personal ratings of any racial group. The trial, which I attended, focussed on these disconcerting questions: Did Asian students, who had higher academic and extracurricular ratings than white applicants, actually have worse personalities than all others? Or was the personal rating concealing an impermissible racial quota?

At Monday’s arguments, Justice Samuel Alito grilled Harvard about Asians’ low personal ratings. “It has to be one of two things. It has to be that they really do lack integrity, courage, kindness, and empathy to the same degree as students of other races, or there has to be something wrong with this personal score,” he said. “Why are they given a lower score than any other group?” The question was one that Harvard’s lawyer must have been preparing to answer for at least four years. And yet the seasoned Supreme Court advocate Seth Waxman, a former U.S. Solicitor General, seemed cornered and stuck. During several uncomfortable minutes, he at first tried to deflect the question; then, somewhere in the midst of multiple attempts by Alito to get him to answer, an assist from the Chief Justice, and Waxman’s telling assurance, “I’m not trying to filibuster you,” he managed to say that the personal ratings reflect “what teachers said, what guidance counselors said, what these students wrote” in essays. (Those inputs would have to be quite poor to offset the alumni interviewers’ high scores.) In other words, Asian applicants deserved the low personal ratings—or, perhaps, if there was any discrimination, it was by high-school officials, not Harvard.

Surely Waxman, who in general argued well, could have prepared better for Alito’s excellent question. But how could he have? The scores were significantly lower than those for other groups, but were lower only from Harvard officials who never met the applicants, not from those who personally interviewed the applicants. Ergo, blame it on the letters of recommendation. But that’s not a credible answer, nor is the claim that one’s “personality score” could be at all discerned from essays. All the evidence is that Harvard discriminated, supposedly out of “implicit bias.”

How colleges will circumvent the likely ruling.

But the “implicit bias” trope may, says Gersen, be the way that American universities get around the upcoming ruling. While they can’t use racial classification as a criterion for entry, they could use indications of it—not from “personality scores,” but aspects of a more “holistic admissions analysis” that would show racial minorities had compensating virtues, like overcoming difficulties.

It is conceivable that the Court could hold that the district court erred in finding that Harvard did not discriminate against Asians in assigning personal ratings, but such a ruling would not necessarily overrule cases allowing affirmative action; rather, it would mean that Harvard defied the Court’s precedents. It’s more likely that the Court will use this case to end or severely limit affirmative action, without disturbing the district court’s factual conclusion that Asians didn’t suffer intentional discrimination here. Such a decision would not make personal ratings go away, given that Harvard says they are supposed to be assigned without considering race. If the Court prohibits the use of race, so that race-neutral methods become the only permissible means to achieve diversity, schools will likely play with formulas to produce a diverse class in which Asian admissions don’t get unacceptably out of proportion. 

It’s odd that Gersen, an Asian American herself, uses the words “unacceptably out of proportion”, which is invidious and implies a quota for Asians. What proportion of Asians, for example, is the upper bound on “acceptable”?

But what about test scores? Asian-Americans score higher than any other group. Here, from a 2018 story in the Harvard Crimson, is an 18-year series of SAT scores for admitted Harvard students. Asians are way up on top, followed by whites, and with non-Asian minorities together at the lower rank.

A Crimson analysis of the previously confidential dataset — which spans admissions cycles starting with the Class of 2000 and ends with the cycle for the Class of 2017 — revealed that Asian-Americans admitted to Harvard earned an average SAT score of 767 across all sections. Every section of the SAT has a maximum score of 800.

By comparison, white admits earned an average score of 745 across all sections, Hispanic-American admits earned an average of 718, Native-American and Native-Hawaiian admits an average of 712, and African-American admits an average of 704.

And here are Harvard’s own data on the ethnicity of students admitted in the class of 2026.  Without the “personality score” adjustment, the proportion of Asian Americans would be substantially higher and that of everyone else lower (see below):

But the way around this is simply to devalue test scores (and grades), and raise the value of less tangible scores in a way that would benefit minorities. It’s a way to discern “other” characters that aren’t given a metric, like the notorious personality scores.

Gerson explains:

[Harvard] may reduce reliance on race-neutral factors in which Asians have done well, such as standardized tests, and increase reliance on race-neutral factors in which Asians have not done as well. The personal rating and similar mushy factors could become far more determinative, because they are places where admissions officers will continue to have great discretion to bump applicants up or down based on subjective assessments so long as they are not consciously using race. Prohibiting the explicit reliance on race may even push universities to fall back on the cover of implicit bias, which is not unlawful discrimination. This could leave Asian applicants worse off than they are now. If anything, the personal-ratings morass may suggest that what’s needed to check unconscious biases are more transparently and forthrightly race-conscious efforts, not less.

Even the SFFA suggested how this might work:

In the U.N.C. case, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson worried that if “a university can take into account and value all of the other background and personal characteristics of other applicants, but they can’t value race,” that policy could actively disadvantage minorities who wish to convey the importance of race in their lives. But S.F.F.A. suggested that eliminating affirmative action does not mean disallowing applicants from writing about their racial backgrounds, or blinding admissions officers from knowing the race of an applicant. S.F.F.A.’s lawyer against U.N.C., Patrick Strawbridge, said that, though admissions officers could not credit an applicant’s race, they could credit an applicant’s cultural experience as an African immigrant. Kagan observed, “The race is part of the culture and the culture is part of the race, isn’t it? I mean, that’s slicing the baloney awfully thin.” Cameron Norris, S.F.F.A.’s lawyer against Harvard, said, “Culture, tradition, heritage are all not off-limits for students to talk about and for universities to consider.” He continued, “They can’t read that and say, ‘Oh, this person is Hispanic or Black or Asian, and, therefore, I’m going to credit that.’ They need to credit something unique and individual in what they actually wrote, not race itself.”

It seems that what S.F.F.A. is insisting on is a formal conceptual distinction—between crediting “race itself” and crediting individuals’ stories about their racial backgrounds—that makes little practical difference. If the Court issues a ruling that tracks with this idea, then, after affirmative action is gone, schools will not give any applicant a plus for “race itself,” but they will still consider race in the context of an applicant’s story.

. . . Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the point most plainly, saying that relying on race-neutral alternatives, including socioeconomic status, are really “all subterfuges to reaching some sort of diversity in race.” She echoed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in Gratz v. Bollinger, the 2003 case in which the Court held that a school could not automatically award extra points to underrepresented racial minorities. Ginsburg anticipated that what universities cannot do “in full candor,” they “may resort to camouflage” to accomplish: “For example, schools may encourage applicants to write of their cultural traditions in the essays they submit, or to indicate whether English is their second language. Seeking to improve their chances for admission, applicants may highlight the minority group associations to which they belong, or the Hispanic surnames of their mothers or grandparents.

As Gersen says, this is a distinction without a difference. And I’m not sure how colleges can evaluate intangible factors without giving them a ranking, but the Supreme Court may, in its ruling, even forestall this possibility by prohibiting “implicit bias” if there’s a statistical way to judge it (i.e., ratings of some sort).  If those ratings happen to be correlated with race—as were the personality scores—then again we have unacceptable evidence for race-based admissions.

I’m still struggling with the issue of affirmative action, which I have favored, and Gersen’s essay didn’t help. One thing I know, though, is that the concept of an “unacceptably high” proportion of Asians (or of any race) is revolting. It’s a return to the old quota system, but with the quotas remaining implicit. One thing we know, though is that 43% of the student body being Asian is “unacceptably high”. On the other hand, schools lacking minorities don’t speak well of America. (Some like John McWhorter say that this is okay: those who required affirmative action for admission could simply go to colleges with less strict criteria for admission.)

This is from the Guardian (link above):

The lawsuit claims that, in 2013, Harvard killed an internal report about its admissions policies which acknowledged that it discriminates against prospective Asian American students.

The report found that Asian Americans would comprise 43% of admissions if only academic qualifications were considered and 26% when extracurricular activities and personal ratings were considered. Yet at the time the research was conducted, Asian Americans made up 19% of the share of admitted students. [JAC: see data above: the figure is now 27.9%.]

I have been favoring socioeconomic factors as things to consider during admissions. This would raise the proportion of minority students, I think. Sotomayor says this is just a “subterfuge”—a “back door” way of boosting minority attendance. But I think you can justify socioeconomic factors as being worthy of consideration on their own: as a way to raise the diversity not of ethnicity, but of social class and wealth. It’s a way of achieving class rather than racial equity, but they’re correlated.

Two things are certain. The court will rule, probably 6-3, for the plaintiffs, thereby killing affirmative action. But also certain is that affirmative action will rise from the dead as colleges figure out ways around the Court’s ruling so to achieve what they consider “acceptable” balance. After all, much of the administration of American colleges is involved in DEI efforts, and a reduction in the number of minorities could cost people their jobs. Given the elaborate DEI structure in many schools, downsizing it will be unacceptable.