Thursday, September 29, 2005

Diversity, universities and America's future

Victor Davis Hanson:

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. At some point, Mr. Summers, Ms. Denton, Ms. Hoffman and Mr. Birgeneau might have wondered what precisely was the system that produced their lavish salaries and great campuses--and what protocols of merit, transparency, intellectual honesty and scholarly rigor were necessary to maintain them.

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." Even as the airline industry was deregulated in the 1970s, and Wall Street now has come under long-overdue scrutiny, it is time for Americans, if we are to ensure our privileged future, to re-examine our era's politicized university.

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