The Right Coast
February 15, 2005
The Affirmative Action Scandal
By Maimon Schwarzschild
Paul Campos, law professor at the University of Colorado, is eloquent about the Ward Churchill scandal at Colorado, and about the academic cult of affirmative action that makes Ward Churchill and his like inevitable:
Academics claim to despise censorship, but the truth is we do a remarkably good job of censoring ourselves. This is especially true in regard to affirmative action. Who among us can claim to have spoken up every time a job candidate almost as preposterous as Churchill was submitted for our consideration? Things like the Churchill fiasco are made possible by a web of lies kept intact by a conspiracy of silence.Read the whole thing. And a quiet "banzai" to Paul Campos. His moral honesty ought to be the norm in the academy. If it were, the American academy would be a very different, and a very much better, place.
UPDATE: On one point, Campos may even understate the problem on a lot of campuses. "The University of Colorado hired Churchill onto its faculty because he claimed to be an American Indian", writes Campos. Well, yes. But being an American Indian -- or in Churchill's case, falsely claiming to be one -- wouldn't in itself have been sufficient. There was also Churchill's paranoid leftist extremism, "which was his merit", as Dean Swift devastatingly wrote about a corrupt eighteenth century appointment; or as we might say a little geekily, Churchill's political lunacy wasn't a bug, it was a feature.
It is all too common at faculty hiring meetings for the fervent advocates of affirmative action to turn round and denounce -- and to vote down -- women or minority candidates who diverge in any way from leftist orthodoxy. The usual formula is "She isn't a real woman" or "he isn't a real minority". Affirmative action comes to mean favouritism, or in truth a complete suspension of all reasonable standards, not for "women and minorities" but for people with the extremist rhetorical stance that is de rigeur.
It is another, and bigger topic, how a similar sort of rhetorical extremism may now be "cascading" beyond the academy into other American institutions with cultural or demographic affinities to the academy, including mainstream journalism (cf. the likes of Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Frank Rich and others on the New York Times op-ed pages; Bill Moyers; and their many epigones), and including important elements of the national Democratic Party (exhibit A is the recent "reception history" of Michael Moore, but there are many more exhibits down the alphabet). If the Democratic Party is growing to resemble the American academy in its taste for leftist sectarianism, it may be good electoral news for Republicans. It is not good news otherwise.