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March 08, 2004

KEVIN DRUM RESPONDS to criticisms of Duke over a lack of intellectual diversity (see here and here) with this:

Duke and other institutions devote resources to the first two because America has a long and often ugly history of discrimination against ethnic minorities and women. America decidedly does not have a long and ugly history of discrimination against conservatives.

Really, is that so hard to undersand?

No. It's just not what's going on. If a university announced that "In order to remedy America's long and ugly history of discrimination against ethnic minorities and women, we're going to discriminate in favor of them now, just because we think it's the right thing to do," it would be violating the law, as a mere desire to redress America's history of societal discrimination isn't enough to justify race discrimination in the present. (This is true for state universities, and I believe it's the case for private schools like Duke, too.) It would also be deeply impolitic, since such behavior is highly unpopular, and rather hard to square with the color-blind language favored by the civil rights movement in its glory days.

As a result, universities have chosen to lie about what they're doing. It's not about skin color, or reparations, we're told, it's about diversity. They're using skin color as a proxy for different thinking.

Only it's not. As the lovely Lily Malcolm observes in her usual trenchant fashion:

Of course, ideology enters the racial diversity debate when minority professors aren't sufficiently liberal. Then they're told they don't count because they're not "authentic."

The people Kevin complains about have the temerity to hold the universities to their public justifications, when they're supposed to be too polite to mention that those justifications are bald-faced lies. What's most striking about the affirmative action / diversity debate is how unwilling its defenders are to tell the truth about what they're doing, and why they're doing it. If they took Kevin's posture, they'd at least be honest, though they'd also be spending a lot of money on lawyers.

UPDATE: Drum emails (that was fast!):

Campaigning for more conservatives in universities is fine. I think you're barking up the wrong tree, but fine.

But when you start comparing it to racism and sexism, it's like the folks who compare every offense in society to the Holocaust. It trivializes a genuinely important issue and, eventually, becomes sort of offensive. If you started complaining about discrimination against short people, which is undoubtedly real but trivial, and put it in the same sentence as complaints about racism and sexism, it would be the same thing.

If you think universities need more conservatives, that's OK -- although I think you ought to spend more time seriously thinking about why there aren't more. It's very unlikely to be due to either overt or unconscious discrimination. But really, you shouldn't pretend it's an issue on the same level as things like racism and sexism.

But I'm not the one who's trivializing things here. Rather, it's the universities who lack the courage to push Kevin's approach, and retreat into mealy-mouthed lies about diversity. If you want to justify affirmative action based on remedying historic injustices, fine -- but that's not what's happening. The reason that it's not happening is that such an approach would be massively unpopular and almost certainly illegal, and universities don't want to undertake the effort of changing either public opinion or the law. Instead they talk about salads and quilts and different experiences yielding different viewpoints. So who's trivializing things here?

And, for the record, as somebody who's been involved in academic hiring for quite a while, I do think that there's discrimination on the basis of viewpoint. A lot of it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tom Smith: "Let me be the first to say that when I joined the chorus of people complaining about discrimination against conservatives in academia, I had no idea that it would go on so long that Kevin Drum would get tired of it."

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: John Rosenberg has more thoughts on trivialization: "One can add, and so I will here, that the real trivializers of racial discrimination are those who defend racial preferences by arguing that discrimination on the basis of race is no different from discriminating on the basis of athletic ability, musical talent, place of birth, or legacy status."

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