Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ivory Cower

is the title of a good piece by Victor Davis Hanson in OpinionJournal today. He laments the 'intellectual cowardice' of academia today typified by a generation of university presidents who are concerned with everything BUT real learning and the search for knowledge. Compared with giants like Wilson of Princeton and Conant of Harvard,

Hypocrisy, faddishness, arrogance and intellectual cowardice are among the ailments of the American university today, and it is hard to say whether even a great president could save higher education from its now institutionalized vices. Amid the variety of scandals afflicting the campuses, the one constant is how the rhetoric of "diversity" trumps almost all other considerations--and how race and gender can be manipulated by either the college president or the faculty in ways that have nothing to do with educating America's youth, but everything to do with personal aggrandizement in an increasingly archaic and unexamined enclave.

Hanson singles out Larry Summers at Harvard, Dernice Denton at UC Santa Cruz, Elizabeth Hoffman at the University of Colorado and Robert Birgenau at UC Berkeley. Our readers should recognize these names but Hanson's article reminds us of the cowardice of Summers, the hypocrisy of Denton who installed her partner in a $200,000 sinecure and Hoffman who hired and promoted Ward Churchill. Robert Birgenau is the Canadian import who wants to overturn the wishes of the people of California and made race a criteria in hiring once again.

Why is this important?

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.
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."

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