A reader writes, about Princeton classics associate professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s argument that white heterosexual males should not be allowed to publish in the field’s professional journals, as a matter of social justice:
I’ve been meaning to respond to your posts on the situation in Classics and the contretemps concerning Prof. Peralta. I am not directly affiliated with the field of Classics, but I did my doctorate in a Classics-friendly political science department (where I studied Classics as well) and generally spent close to 10 years ensconced in the academic world, so I have some perspective here. I think almost every discussion about the present condition of the humanities, and of academia more generally, has to begin with the situation of material scarcity. Depressingly, nearly all of the bad arguments that now circulate widely are nothing new. Strident identitarian claims were a hallmark of the culture wars of the 1980s (along with tokenism in hiring, claims about the oppressiveness of Eurocentric curricula, etc.).
The real difference today, I think, is how narrow our margins have become. There is far less money, relatively-speaking, and far fewer positions available, even as the number of PhDs produced each year has mushroomed (you do the math). So when someone like Prof. Peralta makes this kind of statement, he’s not just expressing a regrettable position on the value of our scholastic heritage, he’s staking a claim about who is entitled to the vanishingly rare positions remaining in his and similar fields. The ideological disputes of the 1980s were plenty vicious, but they played out within a more generous professional space, because departments could still notionally make room for scholars with different views about the purpose of academia. And where they didn’t, other, friendlier departments were around to take on those who got frozen out.
That situation is really no longer the case. And the professional scarcity and uncertainty in turns means that the majority of scholars, who mostly want to keep their heads down and do their work regardless of their political leanings, are really in no position to challenge views like Peralta’s, especially when issued by academics or administrators at powerful institutions like Princeton. This dynamic is not necessarily unique to the left (cf. the Salaita case), but given the existing leftward tendencies of academia as a whole, that’s how it tends to cash out in both hiring and training practices.
Unfortunately, I see little way to improve on this situation given how systemic it is. Schools could and should shift their funding priorities to opening up more academic positions, but this only goes so far. As it is we probably have too many schools and too many undergraduates for the actual needs of our political economy, but that’s a discussion for another day.
It’s a power struggle that is being moralized and (therefore) weaponized within academia. Look at what Kenyon College’s faculty has done. Excerpt:
While many institutions of higher learning discuss the importance of diversity and encourage efforts at inclusion and equity, Kenyon College faculty have taken the unusual next step of writing the concepts into their tenure and promotion guidelines.
The revisions, adopted in an overwhelmingly favorable faculty vote in October, are tantamount to a change in employment terms and take on added significance because they will allow teachers engaged in diversity initiatives to see their efforts benefit them as employees in a way they did not before.
“All we did was put down in writing what all of us wanted to do, anyway. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t controversial. It was really a wonderful thing to experience,” says Dr. Tom Giblin, who helped draft the guideline changes and is an associate professor of physics and chair of the department.
“You don’t get the opportunity to rethink these things a lot. What are our values now and where do we want our classrooms and scholarship to be?”
The changes to evaluation criteria, the first amendments since March 1999, take effect July 1, 2019. Among the explicit ways diversity has been interwoven in the three-page document:
• Affirms teaching excellence as “the sine qua non” for retention and advancement, plus achievement in collegiate citizenship and scholarly or artistic engagement as strong complements: “Woven into each of these criteria is a commitment to fostering an open, respectful, supportive, accessible, and inclusive community of learners.”
• In teaching excellence, cites among seven essential areas “promotion of an inclusive classroom environment that values diversity, takes into consideration students from a broad variety of backgrounds and learning styles, and challenges students to their best efforts.”
• In evaluation of collegiate citizenship, cites “contribution to programs that strengthen inclusivity, diversity or access to liberal education.”
Beneath the moralistic therapeutic diversity cant is this hard reality: if you want to advance in your career as a faculty member of Kenyon College, you had better sign on to identity politics ideology, and prove that you have done so. To put a sharp point on it: you had better formally and demonstrably disfavor those who do not share sacred victim status — most of all, white heterosexual males.
Are you a first-rate scholar and teacher, but don’t share identity-politics ideology? Too bad. You cannot get ahead unless you affirm the academic ruling class’s cultural politics. This is designed to push out dissenters in the short term, and disfavored racial and gender demographics in the long term — all in the name of social justice.
This is happening even as the humanities are in steep decline, and the university bubble is coming close to bursting. Kenyon’s applications are down. And now its faculty, whether they admit it or not — and they certainly will not admit it — are discouraging whites, males, and all who dissent from left-wing cultural politics, from applying. Students should know that their professors will now be under a professional mandate to “strengthen inclusivity [and] diversity” — which, as we know, is moralistic coded language for discrimination.
It costs $68,500 to attend Kenyon College for a year. Surely many will wonder what the point of going into debt is for an education at a liberal arts college that affirmatively discriminates in the classroom against disfavored racial and sexual demographics. You cannot argue with these ideologues. I have worked in a place where “diversity” ideology dictated the kind of work we did. It made a clear difference in lowering the quality of the work we did, but this was dismissed by the managerial class on the grounds that diversity was an aspect of quality. They really do convince themselves of this, the managerial classes, and think themselves morally superior for adhering to this dogma.
You will not see white Kenyon College professors taking their logic to its natural conclusion, and resigning their positions to make way for scholars of color, or sexual minorities. Diversity is something that the little people have to live with. In this way, the Kenyon College professors hope that the identity politics bear won’t eat them. Dr. Padilla Peralta’s openly racist call for suppressing white male scholarship (which, given the mandate to publish for career advancement, means ending the careers of white men) shows what’s coming, for those with eyes to see.
UPDATE: Forgot to say that any white person objecting to the systematic discrimination instituted at Diverse And Inclusive™ institutions will be dismissed and derided for their “white fragility.”