Affirmative Action and Radical Politics
When I read Thomas Sowell’s column (March 13, 2012) about an African American graduate student in mathematics at a prestigious university who had his dissertation written for him, I was shocked. Not because after spending more than three decades in academia I didn’t know such things existed. I just didn’t know they existed in mathematics and, perhaps, the real sciences. I thought that kind of intellectual corruption was confined to the social sciences and humanities.
So familiar am I with the process of writing dissertations for black students that I believe I can claim to know the professor who thinks he invented it. In fact, he alleges to have devised the euphemism to cover it up, which he “brilliantly” called “heavy editing.” Were he to come forth and accept recognition for this achievement, it would be the singular and most palpable accomplishment of his academic career.
To be a black graduate student and be constantly reminded that your race results in the special privilege of having a dissertation written for you does nothing for your self-esteem. To survive in this kind of intellectually abusive environment, one must turn against it. One must deny its legitimacy. If one weren’t radicalized before, one most certainly is radicalized afterward.
This explains Derek Bell’s critical race theory. Bell knew that he was not qualified to teach at Harvard. He proposed a theoretical standard by which Harvard was not qualified to judge him. Barack Obama’s admission to Columbia University remains a mystery. He became the president of the Harvard Law Review without ever having written an article for it. Obama knew that he was where he was because of his race. He too embraced a cultural explanation of a different reality and a political radicalization that affirmed that reality.
The ego must defend itself. We are not about to be objective about our limitations. We are going to rationalize our experiences. If we are found wanting, we are going to denounce the standards that make it so.
A colleague once returned a graduate examination in statistical methods. The single black student in class stood up from his chair, pounded on the seminar table, and screamed, “This examination is racist!”
My shocked colleague asked, “How could it be racist? It’s all statistics. There’s no substantive content here.”
To which the student responded, “It’s racist because I’m the only black student in the class, and I obviously got the lowest grade.”
Thomas Sowell views the white professor writing a dissertation for a black student as engaging in a misguided act of sympathy. At some level, I wish that as deplorable as the act is, it was out of compassion. My own observations revealed anything but compassion.
Universities operate under quotas masquerading as goals and government audits of racial outcomes known as cultural audits. Consequently, university administrators have numbers to produce because the government wants to see numbers. The reality is that the faculty that push black students through aren’t compassionate at all. They’re part of a bureaucracy that needs a certain statistical outcome. The black student is a means to an end. That end is a check in a box.
The professor who devised heavy editing was not concerned about the students he pushed through. He was concerned about the administrative tallies. He wanted to be able to say to the administration, look what we’ve done for our black graduate students. Look how many of them have received doctorates.
Perhaps if he hadn't been so quick to push them through, to write what they should have been writing, they would have written their own dissertations. After all, social science is not rocket science. Writing a dissertation in the social sciences is more about perspiration than inspiration.
The real racists are not the professors who quit such committees or voice objections to them, but those who create a normative structure that begins with the assumption that black students can’t do their own work
In this kind of corrupt environment, everyone assumes that even the black student who is writing his own dissertation is somehow getting a leg up from the faculty. Corrupting some of the process destroys the integrity of all of the process.
Once word gets out that black students are having their dissertations written, other students turn in lower quality work. In a confrontation with committee members, one doctoral candidate who was turning in dissertation chapters way below her ability finally said, “Can you guarantee that my degree will be worth more than his (a reference to a student whose dissertation was being heavily edited)?”
Once the standards are lowered for some, they are indirectly lowered for all. Is it fair to ask some to work to the limits of their abilities and others to work to a level that is deemed acceptable for the color of their skin?
Who benefits from this process? Certainly not the black students. The good ones are tarred with the brush of favoritism. The bad ones are set on a course that almost guarantees failure in the profession. The people who benefit are the faculty and administrators who got their boxes checked off, and the people from Washington who got paid to fly out to assess the progress universities were making toward their cultural audits.
Ask yourself this: if you could imagine yourself black for one minute and lived through this process, would it not radicalize you? Would you not seek to embrace a different cultural reality, one that did not define you as incompetent?
The Supreme Court is going to hear, this term, the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. Ms. Fisher, a white student, alleges she was discriminated against in the admissions process because of her race. Previously, the court had ruled that race could be considered as part of the admissions process because diversity contributes positively to the educational experience. If Ms. Fisher wins her lawsuit, affirmative action might be once and for all struck down.
Anyone who has taught a class or just sat in on one knows that racial diversity is not intellectual diversity, and that pushing unqualified minorities through the educational process demeans the educational experience for everyone, especially minorities who do not need special consideration.
Ending affirmative action would be a start toward the implementation of real standards for all students and putting an end to faculty having to compromise their limited integrity and more limited courage. Ending affirmative action would be a positive step toward an environment where minority achievements would be valued as such and not looked upon as something they received because of the color of their skin. But most of all, ending affirmative action would provide a common view of everyone’s achievement and end the need for minorities to create a different cultural reality.