Saturday, May 02, 2009

Affirmative Action for Ideas

Virginia Tech’s “Inclusive” Rodomontade
by Peter Wood

Yesterday, the president and the provost of Virginia Tech released an open letter to “the VT faculty, staff, and student community” enunciating their “commitment to inclusive diversity.”

The letter comes apparently as a public response to my article posted Sunday night, April 26, Virginia Tech, Round 2: Staging Diversity. The broader controversies are whether this public university should employ an ideological litmus test for promotion and tenure, and whether faculty members should be forced to adapt their syllabi, research, and all other university activities to advancing the goal of “diversity.” Broader still is the question of whether other colleges and universities across the United States will follow suit by adopting similar political tests for faculty members.

The Virginia Tech situation is emblematic of a national problem. At its root is the success of the progressive left in this country in imposing its political agenda on institutions of higher education. The politicization of higher education has been underway for several decades but has often usually proceeded incrementally and with a degree of caution. The mood has changed in the last six months. With the election President Obama and a Congress dominated by the progressive left, the campus left has felt empowered to move to a more openly radical stance.

Virginia Tech is one example of this. With the urging of some administrators who have very thin academic credentials but a very vocal commitment to “diversity”—Virginia Tech’s Dean Sue Ott Rowlands exemplifies the category—the university has begun to swap out academic accomplishment and intellectual standards in favor of conformity to its ideological shibboleths. The hard-core agenda is hidden to some degree behind a scrim of obfuscation. Do people outside academe, for example, know what is meant by the term “inclusive excellence?”

Don’t bother reaching for the dictionary. It isn’t there. You have to command to the lingo of the multiculturalists to decipher it. “Inclusive excellence” is based on the idea that different social and cultural groups have their own standards for excellence that cannot be shared or in most cases even translated across group boundaries. The excellence pursued by white Americans is one thing; that pursued by African-Americans another. The excellence pursued by women is one thing; that pursued by men is another. Under the doctrine of “inclusive excellence,” a university makes clear that it recognizes and values the distinctive excellences of each and every campus group.

Well, not really. In practice it means having separate (and lower) expectations for some groups than others. A simple translation of “inclusive excellence is that it is affirmative action for ideas. Ideas that are too weak, too flawed, too unsupported to withstand critical inspection get a sharply discounted admission ticket under the reign of “inclusive excellence.” The doctrine clearly owes something to several decades of post-modernism and various other attempts to diminish respect for reason and rational inquiry.

Read the whole article.

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