What's new, copycat?
A course correction for Harvard or a death nell?
The world of academia took up a big chunk of the news feed last week with the resignation of Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay. The whole mess kicked off after Gay’s testimony before Congress last month. The hearing was convened to question the heads of America’s most prestigious universities over anti-Jewish behavior on their campuses. Claudine Gay faced backlash for saying that calls for Jewish genocide did not necessarily violate Harvard’s harassment or free speech policies – it would depend “on the context”. While University of Pennsylvania’s President, Elizabeth McGill, was fired for saying the same thing, Harvard’s board was unmoved in its support of Gay.
The situation has generated much chatter and it has been a moment that helpfully highlights the rot in higher education. Scrutiny of Gay’s credentials revealed that she has only published 11 journal articles – relatively few for the president of a world-leading institution. The methodology known as “ecological inference” used by Gay for her work, has been discredited. Allegations that she plagiarized other scholars have been simmering since late last year. But all this was known by the Harvard Corporation before. Threats of legal action were launched to keep reports about the issue under wraps.
But her inability to condemn calls for genocide placed Gay squarely in the crosshairs of her critics and this time was one too many. Gay made a “I’m-sorry-that-you-feel that-way” type apology in an opinion piece on her way out the door, saying she was stepping down for the sake of Harvard and would not let “demagogues” attack its values. Yes, she had made some mistakes, but she was the victim of a campaign by those who have nothing better to do than harass a successful woman of color. (Gay will retain her professorship, reportedly worth $900k a year.)
Corporate media became very cagey – what is plagiarism, really? Maybe the 60 instances found in Gay’s work were just cases of “sloppy attribution”, or “inadequate citation”? Was there any “intention to deceive”? It’s a grey area and very hard to spot, you see. But what is easier to spot, according to corporate media and elite academia, is racism. By the logic of identity politics, most everything is racist. The Associated Press gravely assured its readers that if you’re a “person of color” in academia, “you always have to be twice, three times as good” to avoid being slurred as a “DEI hire.”
There’s the rub. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is the mantra of liberal institutions these days, but sorting people according to their skin color or sex or religion is the worst kind of discrimination. And scholarship really suffers. Prominent donor and former Harvard grad, Bill Ackman wrote that he witnessed firsthand how the College’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs discourage hard work, ingenuity and free thought:
“…according to DEI, capitalism is racist, Advanced Placement exams are racist, IQ tests are racist, corporations are racist—in other words, any merit-based program, system, or organization that has or generates outcomes for different races that are at variance with the proportion these different races represent in the population at large is by definition racist under DEI’s ideology.”
The rot at Harvard clearly did not start with Claudine Gay. The death of scholarship has been a long and tortured one. Learning requires humility, the admission that you don’t know everything and might be wrong – a virtue sorely lacking in much of higher education. The progressive’s “long march through the institutions”, the obsession with the “right side of history” and the idea that we, right now, are the only arbiters of truth, goodness and justice is a surefire recipe for atrophy. Rating everything according to how well it reinforces your priors ensures no new ideas are generated. Perhaps that’s why they copy each other? – they have no insight, nothing more to say. As one professor asked, ”Once you’ve identified a given work’s blind spots vis-à-vis gender, race, and colonialist supremacy, what else is there to talk about?” Supply-Side Economics in Shakespeare? Good grief!
Leaving the academy to its nonsense is tempting, but what starts in the universities doesn’t stay there as graduates fill courtrooms and classrooms and the State Department. Not to mention the looming competency crisis. So do we shut down all the fluffy disciplines? Mandate diversity of thought amongst the teachers? Start our own university? What to do about it all must fall to smarter folks than I. Students (and professors) are voting with their feet and this situation may prove to be a tipping point, a return to actual learning rather than indoctrination – time will tell.
MadPx Mondays is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support this work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.