at the start of the 21st century is often the stuff Saturday
Night Live skits are made of. Moreover, the more prestigious
the university, the higher the comedy.
spat broke out late last year at Harvard University between the
schoolís new president, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers,
and the schoolís Affirma I mean, Afro-American Studies Department,
over the antics of one of the latterís star members, Professor Cornel
West, an academic celebrity who writes book-length screeds on how
terrible blacks are treated in this racist society and earns six-figures
annually, recently made a new and notable contribution to Western
scholarship (are you sitting down?): a hip-hop CD. West has also
gone to work on an exploratory presidential campaign (now I hope
youíre really sitting down) for Al Sharpton excuse me, the
Rev. Al Sharpton.
had called West onto the carpet during a meeting between the two
of them last October. He stated in so many words that Westís, uh,
extracurricular activities, were embarrassing to someone of his
stature as a Harvard professor. Summers also criticized grade inflation
in Westís classes, especially his "Intro to Afro-American Studies"
class. Of course, it is far easier just to give student Aís than
actually read their essays assuming, of course, that Harvard students
are still required to write essays. (By Harvardís own admission,
almost half of all grades issued there are Aís.) Summers recommended,
again in so many words, that West should write serious books instead
of radical leftist screeds about race.
upshot was that West should attend to the responsibilities appropriate
to someone with a professorship at Harvard.
The very idea that a minority professor at one of the countryís
great A.A. Studies departments should actually have to return occasionally
from the Mt. Olympus of academic / political celebrityhood and deliver
in the classroom. Or be a serious scholar.
West, like most academic radicals of whatever stripe faced with
this kind of situation (minorities, feminists, homosexuals, etc.),
was livid. For this crowd, criticism is often literally a new experience,
and they donít handle it very well. Instead of cleaning up his act,
West sought legal representation. He found it in Harvardís equally
radical law professor, Charles J. Ogletree (who is also involved
with a possible reparations lawsuit). "It is a matter of respect,"
Professor West said in a National Public Radio interview this past
week. It has never occurred to him that respect is supposed to be
earned, not given away because of oneís minority status.
with the legal fireworks having begun, in December Jesse Jackson
excuse me again, the Rev. Jesse Jackson got
involved. He showed up in Cambridge amidst the usual brigade of
TV cameras and reporters to demand a meeting with Summers. His aim:
to extract from Summers a confessional indicating sincere membership
in the academic church of diversity a statement of "clarity
and commitment," Jackson called it, to affirmative action at
Harvard. Jackson invoked the standard cliché on behalf of
Westís antics: "academic freedom." The Rev. Al
Sharpton also got in his two cents worth, threatening Summers with
a lawsuit for having instructed Professor West to cease working
on his behalf. As columnist Armstrong Williams recently
observed, apparently it hadnít occurred to Sharpton that Professor
West has a full time job at Harvard. On the other hand, this may
be indicative of how full-time positions held by academic celebrities
are viewed from outside. Perhaps Sharpton inadvertently served up
his first genuine insight ever!
this as it may, Professor West abruptly went on leave, apparently
for an unrelated medical problem. He demanded an apology from Summers
and threatened to go to Princeton University next fall. He held
a position there before, jumping to Harvard in 1993. The A.A. Studies
Departmentís other vocal members, literary "superstar"
Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Philosophy Dept. crossover Anthony Appiah,
have threatened to go with him.
threats are interesting in their own right. If you are a celebrity
minority academic, there is a very good chance that you can go where
you please. Professor Gatesís academic wanderings (which include
Cornell and Duke prior to his ending up at Harvard) are the stuff
of legend. Universities covet blacks for affirmative action purposes,
and opportunists play this for what it is worth. It probably doesnít
hurt the salaries of these put-upon and discriminated-against folks
pause with me for just a moment. Imagine a white male professor
with conservative leanings if there are any left involving himself
with, say, Patrick J. Buchananís presidential organization two years
ago. I well imagine every radical leftist within miles would have
screamed for his head on a pole. His "academic freedom"
wouldnít have meant a thing.
there has been nobody on the scene to point this out. (In Cambridge,
Massachusetts, some will say. You gotta be kidding!)
True to form for university presidents today, Summers caved in,
displaying the abject cowardice that whites given authority always
display in the face of racial shakedowns. He gave Professor West
the apology the celebrity-professor had demanded. He also apologized
to the other celebrities of the A.A. Studies Dept., Professors Gates,
Appiah and sociologist William Julius Wilson. Summers recommitted
his life to the diversity faith, as Jackson and Sharpton had demanded.
His confessional praised "Harvardís longstanding commitment
to diversity" and promised "an ever more open and inclusive
environment." He pleaded publicly with Professor West and the
rest to "stay at Harvard."
caving in, President Summers degraded himself. Was there once a
time when faculty members who made in-your-face demands of presidents
of private universities were simply told not to slam the door to
your former office on your way out? I donít know; I canít remember
that far back. Perhaps that was before the affirmative action power
grab turned even prestigious universities into political battlegrounds
and transformed pseudo-intellectual lightweights into "superstars."
episode also degrades Harvard, a once great institution that at
one time deserved its reputation and did not simply hand out 50
percent Aís to its diverse student body. These people Professors
Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Anthony Appiah, etc.
are the academic equivalent of spoiled brats. Spoiled brats can
get hired at Harvard and be paid salaries well above those of far
more serious scholars and professors at institutions of lesser stature.
And then, as if to prove to the world how juvenile they really are,
one of the brats goes off and makes a hip-hop CD and works for a
political campaign that ought to make his colleagues redden with
embarrassment. But instead, the other brats rush to his defense.
When he gets his knuckles lightly rapped, they all threaten to pick
up their toys and leave.
having bowed down before the secular god of diversity still may
not be enough. Princeton has expressed tentative interest. The New
Jersey Ivyís president referred to Professor West as "eminent."
Well, surprise, surprise! Summersí mindset, after all, is not that
different from that of any other cowed and frightened university
figurehead. No doubt there are other Ivy presidents who would salivate
at the thought of hiring the "dream team" (Gatesí less-than-original
term) of Professors West, Gates, Appiah, etc. This is because regarding
university presidents, as another cliché goes, "When
youíve seen one, youíve seen Ďem all." A prospective university
president must take a loyalty oath regarding diversity before he
can even be considered for the job. Anyone who doesnít believe this
need only consult any recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher
Education and look at the job descriptions for university presidents,
where you will find the mandatory "support for diversity"
or the even more obvious "support for affirmative action."
Had Summers not taken the oath to the satisfaction of the hiring
committee, he would never have become President of Harvard University.
What he apparently didnít realize is that his oath included refraining
from criticizing anything one of the spoiled brats in his charge
said or did, or suggesting that the personís primary focus ought
to be on his students or barring that, on real scholarship.
had observed Professor Westís antics and recognized, perhaps instinctively,
that something was wrong. But in the complete moral and intellectual
vacuum that characterizes higher education culture today, he had
no hope. Guys like him, it should be clear, are part of this vacuum,
and a product of it. The moral and intellectual foundation needed
to give a person the fortitude to stand against allegations of racism,
sexism, homophobia, ageism, lookism, etc., ad nauseam, that
have turned many campuses into Stalinist re-education camps no longer
exists in any major university I am aware of. It is going to have
to come from outside todayís pathetic academic mainstream.
A white guy who has not sworn the required oath to the church of
diversity will not be allowed to advance beyond library clerk. Assuming
he can get hired for that.
means the brats can do as they please, go where they please, and
continue to be brats, at least for now. All the while whining about
how horrible theyíve been treated. The most they will have to contend
with is having their knuckles rapped by the occasional Lawrence
H. Summers who will then get down on his knees and beg for mercy.
It would be funny the stuff of late-night comedy if it werenít so
Yates [send him mail]
has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994). He is a professional writer at work on a number of projects
including a work of political philosophy, The Paradox of Liberty.
He also writes for the Edgefield
Journal, and is available for lectures. He has set up a small
freelance writing business, Millennium 3 Communications. Currently
living in Columbia, South Carolina, he will join the Mises Institute
in March as a Rowley Fellow.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com