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Race, the Leftist Academy, and the Misuse of History on Behalf of Their Agenda

The latest shame of the academy is a vote by the Rutgers University New Brunswick Faculty Council calling on the administration to rescind its invitation to Condoleezza Rice as the speaker at the university’s graduation ceremonies. Rice is scheduled to give the commencement address this coming May. The professors explained their position in these words:

Condoleezza Rice ... played a prominent role in (the Bush) administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. [She] at the very least condoned the Bush administration’s policy of "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding. A Commencement speaker ... should embody moral authority and exemplary citizenship. An honorary Doctor of Laws degree should not honor someone who participated in a political effort to circumvent the law.

No one called out the lack of tolerance for any view different than their own other than columnist Juan Williams. The African-American liberal journalist, himself a veteran of the civil rights movement and author of the classic Eyes on the Prize, was simply enraged at the faculty council’s statement and vote. Williams wrote:

Rice holds a Ph.D. in political science. She has taught college for decades. She was Provost of Stanford University. She worked her way up from a working-class family in the segregated South to the highest echelon of world power and politics.

But according to the Rutgers faculty council, all of that is negated by her service in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Williams disagreed with many of the positions Rice took as national security advisor and secretary of State under George W. Bush. Nevertheless, Williams says that she deserves the honor, and that her life and career should be an inspiration to all students, as her life “personifies the American dream.” The decision, he added, is simply one that stems from a “disgraceful double standard” by liberals, who have nothing but “hatred for black conservatives.”

Indeed, he writes: “Black Americans must be obedient liberals on all things or risk being called a race traitor or an Uncle Tom.”

Williams asks a rhetorical question: Is the faculty afraid to hear her views because they might not be equipped to refute them? The answer is "of course." They believe that only leftist views -- i.e., the truth as they see it -- should be heard by those they teach. Why confuse inquiring minds with ways to see the world that are different than those of the Left?

Those opposing her, he writes, are nothing but “pompous jackass professors.”

For more evidence that many professors -- in this case, historians -- are exactly what Williams calls them, note the second farce to appear in recent days: an amicus curiae brief in a case before the Supreme Court, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. John Rosenberg has written a first-rate contribution dissecting the fallacies of those who support affirmative action -- you can read his long version here, and a shorter one at Minding the CampusHere is the gist of his answer about what affirmative action results in on a campus, and why it is a completely wrong-headed policy:

Under affirmative action preferred minorities are, of course, given preferential treatment because of their race or ethnicity, but the rationale for the preference is not to benefit the minorities but the whites and Asians who are exposed to them. "White students interacting with African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans sometimes come with stereotypes about these minorities," Lee Bollinger, former president of the University of Michigan, told the Michigan Daily (quoted here). "That kind of breaking down of expectations is the essence of what a liberal education is all about." Bollinger did not address the evidence that admitting less qualified minorities who proceed to cluster at the bottom of their classes actually reinforces stereotypes of underperforming minorities.

Rushing to defend affirmative action, the brief by 75 historians was written to help the policy’s advocates in an effort to convince the justices of the Supreme Court why affirmative action should be upheld. Among the 75 are leading lights of the left-wing academy, including the red-diaper baby at Columbia Eric Foner Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard, Glenda Gilmore of Yale, Ira Berlin of the Univ. of Maryland, and many other scholars of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.

The list is made up, one might say, of the big guns in the history profession. Basing their case on the 14th Amendment, they argue:

The history surrounding the Fourteenth Amendment demonstrates that the Amendment’s Framers intended to eliminate special burdens on racial minorities’ ability to seek legislative change such as the enactment of race-conscious affirmative action. 
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, newly freed slaves found themselves unable to influence the legislatures of the former Confederate states. On one side, freedmen were bounded by Northerners, some of whom were not yet interested in granting blacks the franchise. 
On the other side, freedmen who sought to persuade their neighbors and countrymen to support their reform initiatives and policy goals faced systematic exclusion, as well as outright violence, from Southern Democrats and former Confederates hostile to the notion of black freedom -- let alone self- determination. Northern blacks, most Northern white Republicans, and the small number of white Republicans and Unionists who lived in the South supported the freedmen’s efforts.

They are claiming, in other words, that the 14th Amendment is violated by a state when the legislature passes a law prohibiting preferential treatment based on race. But the historians in their brief are addressing history to try to prove affirmative action is necessary. In particular, they refer to what took place after the end of the Civil War. Schools in the Reconstruction states were created for the “freedmen,” which they argue proves that “race-conscious” actions were not intended to be prohibited by the 14th Amendment.

Actually, the policies enacted then were meant to prohibit discrimination based on “previous condition of servitude,” i.e., slavery -- and race was not used as a criterion for the schools of the time. Yes, the slaves were black -- but those who opposed it opposed slavery per se, not just slavery when imposed on blacks. The language used in particular avoided racial categorization.

The historians argue: “[T]he Amendment precludes a state from imposing special burdens on a minority group’s ability to access the political process.” So, the real question rests on whether or not a university can demand standards for admission that all students must meet before being admitted, or whether such standards can be lowered for those who happen to be in a racial group other than white -- and who would not be admitted if the standards for most high school graduates were imposed on them.

Is being subject to the same standards as whites or Asians really a "special burden," since it would demand equal treatment by all, not special treatment for those of one racial group?