Learning from the Real Question Among Reasonable Black Professors

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In his Saturday column, Ted Nesi links to a straight-shooting Facebook essay by Brown University economist Glenn Loury, who in addition to being on sabbatical at Stanford is black:

The notion that Brown needs a revolutionary reshaping in order to become hospitable to “students of color”, that idea that “anti-black pedagogy” at Brown needs to be countered with some mandatory indoctrination of faculty, the proposal that external student committees should review purportedly “racist” departmental appointment processes, the initiative of creating “specialty positions” in academic departments to ensure their openness to hiring “faculty of color” — these are all mischievous intrusions on the academic prerogatives of a distinguished faculty which no self-respecting scholar of any color should welcome. They are a step onto a slippery slope that slides down into intellectual mediocrity, and I will have nothing to do with them.

I’d recommend also setting aside an hour of audio time to listen to a bloggingheads.tv conversation between Professor Loury and John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, who also is black.  Both men are relatively conservative (hedged mainly for lack of thorough familiarity with their work), and their central disagreement appears to be in how to address the actual students who are being swept up in the identity-politics fascism currently sweeping American campuses (my terminology, not theirs).

McWhorter repeatedly insists that these kids don’t know any better, citing his own experience as an undergraduate, when he believed all Republicans must be evil because that’s what everybody around him told him to be the case.  Loury agrees, but takes a more I-don’t-have-patience-for-your-prolonged-adolescence-inanities approach.

It struck me, listening to them, that the disagreement is not unlike differences in parenting styles.  McWhorter wants to have a reasoned conversation with his kids, and Loury’s more like one of those fathers who laughs at his teenager’s silly proclamations and says (lovingly), “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”  As a blanket rule, neither is probably any better than the other, and when it comes to individual relationships or specific instances, parents ought to have both in their repertoire.

Both responses, though, are especially telling in light of their thoughts on college administrators and sympathy for the professional need to appease the mania, to some extent, in order to keep administrative jobs and maintain fundraising.  (Indeed, Nesi notes that Brown had just kicked off a fundraising campaign before campus racial activism become the trending activity of autumn.)

To be fair, obviously, professors’ role on campus is different from administrators’, but when it comes to handling inappropriate impulses on campus, we’d do well to look to those who respond to students more as family than as clients.

It’s quite a puzzle that’s now in pieces on the table in front of America’s institutions of higher education.  The general public, I’d say, should take the approach of parents, whichever method one chooses.  Unfortunately, the fact that so many parents failed to prepare their children to behave appropriately at Ivy League colleges suggests a larger cultural problem.



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