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American University president Ben Ladner may be in the news right now for his outrageous spending and his abuse of fiduciary privilege, and the Ladner story may be a reminder of similar abuses by other college and university presidents in the past. But it would be a mistake to think that behaving like a decadent aristocrat on the school's dime is the worst or most damning manner in which university presidents abuse their office. It is bad, and it is damning. Doing more harm, though, are the petty ideological concessions to campus diversitycrats many presidents make everyday as a condition of doing business.
Victor Davis Hanson tells it like it is in today's Opinion Journal, with a special focus on the recent woes of Harvard president Lawrence Summers, who is now doing expensive penance for offending campus feminists, and ex-University of Colorado president Elizabeth Hoffman, who was so totally cowed by the Ward Churchill scandal that she resigned. Hanson also trains his unforgiving eye on two University of California leaders: UC Santa Cruz chancellor Denice Denton, who has used the rhetoric of diversity to procure a cushy lifetime sinecure for her lover, and UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau, whose bad faith attempts to alter the racial makeup of the Berkeley student body reek of intellectual dishonesty and professional incompetence masquerading as activist awareness.
Hanson spells out the stakes of such administrative machinations in devastatingly blunt terms:
In the end, why should we care about a few high-flying administrators who feel that diversity is the engine that runs the university? Because the U.S. is struggling in an increasingly competitive world in which Europe, China, Japan and India vie for global talent and national advantage through merit-based higher education. They don't care about the racial make-up of the teams that create breakthrough gene therapies or software programs, but only whether such innovations are valuable and superior to the competition.
As our own industrial, agricultural and manufacturing sectors decline, and as we suffer from increasing national debt, trade deficits, energy dilemmas and weak currency, Americans have maintained relative parity largely through information-based technology and superior research--all predicated on a superb system of higher education. At some point, Mr. Summers, Ms. Denton, Ms. Hoffman and Mr. Birgeneau might have wondered what precisely was the system that produced their lavish salaries and great campuses--and what protocols of merit, transparency, intellectual honesty and scholarly rigor were necessary to maintain them.
More importantly, we have lost sight of what university presidents are supposed to be. Their first allegiance ought to be to honesty and truth, not campus orthodoxy masquerading as intellectual bravery amid a supposedly reactionary society. In a world of intellectual integrity, Robert Birgeneau would ask, "Why are Asians excelling, and what can Berkeley do to encourage emulation of their success by other ethnic groups?" Denice Denton might wonder whether open hiring, monitored by affirmative action officers, applies to university staff or only those who are not associates of the president. President Hoffman would decry Ward Churchill's crass behavior and order a complete review of affirmative action and the politicized nature of hiring, retention, and tenure practices at Colorado. And Larry Summers? In the old world of the campus, he would defend free inquiry and expression, and remind faculty that all questions are up for discussion at Harvard. And if self-appointed censors wished to fire him for that, then he would dare them to go ahead and try.
The signs of erosion on our campuses are undeniable, whether we examine declining test scores, spiraling costs, or college graduates' ignorance of basic facts and ideas. In response, our academic leadership is not talking about a more competitive curriculum, higher standards of academic accomplishment, or the critical need freely to debate important issues. Instead, it remains obsessed with a racial, ideological, and sexual spoils system called "diversity." Even as the airline industry was deregulated in the 1970s, and Wall Street now has come under long-overdue scrutiny, it is time for Americans, if we are to ensure our privileged future, to re-examine our era's politicized university.
The entire article is well worth a read. And, as Hanson proves, the multiculturalist rhetoric of academic leaders is well worth watching. It tells a story of administrators bowing to a campus orthodoxy that really ought not to affect them, and, in so doing, it reveals just how far higher education has strayed from its ostensible mission. As Hanson notes, Harvard's motto is Veritas, or "Truth." But these days it might more properly be changed to "Capitulation."
Thanks to Erich Schwarz for the link.
The Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler
The Atlantic, Joe Pinkser
Inside Higher Ed, Greg Toppo
Chronicle of Higher Education, Lindsay Ellis and Lily Jackson
Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan
Education Dive, James Paterson