A still unanswered question about the culture of guilt convulsing today’s colleges and universities: Are college presidents and staffs playing along with farcical student complaints to prevent campus ignition, or are they themselves diversity’s votaries who have fully internalized institutional meta-guilt?
The right answer seems to be the latter.
Admissions committees actually do want to admit social-justice warriors, an original young writer on higher education issues assures me. Colleges and universities want to educate the people who will enable postmodern faith and who worship the same martyrs and relics as their instructors and mentors. Institutional guilt is now ubiquitous and self-perpetuating, and propagation of the catechism demands a steady supply of new votaries.
STEM obviously seeks out the hard-knowledge types, and the benefits from admitting them will be evident. Serious thinkers about higher education, from columnist George Will to Harvard University Professor of Computer Science Harry Lewis, have made this point. The STEM side of campus is rational, merit-based, and functional. In the humanities and social sciences ‘social justice’ is today’s hard knowledge. Facts are something you look up on Wikipedia or Google. I’m feeling lucky today.
What constitutes good academic work is ultimately subjective, and institutions have made pseudo-academics real. The gold stars and top grades today often go to adherents of curricular novelties. Honors theses from his Middlebury College Religion Department, this young writer suggests, point to the shift in favored knowledge:
• Hermeneutics in the Conservative and Progressive Muslim Responses to HIV/AIDS
• Crossfire and Cross Talk: New Ecumenism in the Same-Sex Marriage Culture War
• Climbing the World Tree: Final Reflection Paper
Then, for comparison, three others from earlier decades:
• Dante’s Use of Scripture in the Inferno
• Felix Adler and Rabbi Israel Salanter: Two Attempts to Make Ethics Work
• An Analysis of the Ambivalent Character of the Goddess, Devi, in Three Myths
This fellow is not alone in seeing a disturbing change in content. Duke students calling themselves the Open Campus Coalition wrote an open letter on Jan. 20 to supreme votary and university president Richard Brodhead — a man who defines the self-promotional, essentially nihilistic academic mandarin — saying they oppose inter alia:
• demands to enforce “mandatory learning on institutional racism and anti-oppression practices for both students and faculty,” and the administration’s recent announcements suggesting that Implicit Bias Training and a required diversity course may soon be institutionalized. We are concerned that this curriculum requirement, even if adjoined to a new Writing 101 course, will amount to mandatory reeducation classes.…
• mandating minimum or maximum thresholds on employment or student enrollment on the basis of skin color or gender reduces people to immutable characteristics of their identity. While we embrace diversity, especially diversity of opinion, we strongly denounce the idea that our interactions with one another should be defined by demographic traits like race and gender.
Some liberals are rightly uncomfortable with coercive diversity and thought control. In a recent interview with John Leo, New York University professor Jonathan Haidt openly puzzles over the “monocultural” ideological makeovers of several venerable fields of study. At what point did a critical mass of academics embrace all-encompassing guilt for events and conditions they had nothing to do with and had worked hard to rectify? How long will the meta-guilt continue? And can it even be contained?
Guilt artists on campus, disdainful of facts, are suffocating fresh thought. But the potential for pushback is stronger than you might imagine. Many hardworking students find the campus antics to be embarrassing. More than a few professors worry about serious damage to the brand. Administrators are privately terrified. To have students protest the very issues that universities have diligently and consistently attended to for the past fifty years means the academy has failed, and failed big.