How Our Illiberal Universities Betray Liberal Democracy

Commentary, Education, Philip Carl Salzman

The quest for knowledge at our universities has ended because knowledge is “settled”: science, philosophy, sociology, ethics, and politics are all settled. The time for questions is over; now is the time for action, for activism, for transforming society and culture. As John M. Ellis puts it in The Breakdown of Higher Education, “academia now holds its primary purpose to be the promotion of a radical political ideology, to which it gives the sunny but deceptive label ‘social justice’.” Anyone not with the program must be canceled. The good news must be carried by university-indoctrinated “woke” missionaries beyond campus, to the schools, to business, to the professions, to the legislatures.

This universal university ideology, according to Bari Weiss on Substack, “a stew of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality,” leads to the rejection of all academic and liberal values:

… science is at the mercy of politics, identity trumps ideas, and obvious truths are dangerous to say out loud. Silence is violence, they say, but violence, when directed at the right people, is justified. Racism is the gravest of sins, but racism, when directed at the right targets, is the price of justice. Bullying in theory is wrong, the bullying of the right people is not just okay, it is a virtue. In the name of anti-racism it imposes racist policies. In the name of culture, it erases art. In the name of progress, it rewrites — even deletes — our history.

Weiss, who famously resigned from the New York Times editorial board because she was viciously harassed by woke junior staff for being Jewish, insufficiently woke, and too outspoken in her views, tells us that “I think of it as a great unraveling — the unraveling of the post-war, liberal order and the rotting out of the very institutions charged with upholding it.” She continues,

That order, held up by Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, insisted that all people were created in the image of God and therefore were entitled to equality under the law; it prized the sacredness of the individual over the group; it insisted on judging a person based on their deed and not based on their lineage; it upheld due process and the presumption of innocence; it rejected mob justice; it held that true fairness demanded equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. It said that the truth was the truth and a lie was a lie.

All of that is gone now, thanks in large part to our universities, which have betrayed their mission.

At the heart of “social justice” ideology is the Marxist goal of an absolutely equal society. This utopian ideal is implemented at the expense of other values which are in conflict with it: freedom, excellence, autonomy, democracy, security, efficiency, prosperity, creativity, and many others, which must be suppressed. Absolute equality as a practical goal runs into trouble due to the multiple differences among people and among category-defined populations. Thus absolute equality must be imposed by coercion, and other conflicting values suppressed by coercion.

One conception of absolute equality is “equity,” which is now part of the infamous trinity “diversity, equity, and inclusion”—the official policy of all universities, academic and professional associations, and the national governments of the U.S. and Canada. The imposition of “equity” is directed not at individuals, but at collective census categories defined by gender, race, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, religion, and economic class. Its goal is to ensure that all preferred categories of minorities are represented in all institutions, organizations, and benefits as defined by their percentage of the population. Preferred minorities must never be “underrepresented,” but may be overrepresented without recrimination. “Equity” then means imposed “equality of outcomes.”

The imposition of equity is intended to ensure that preferred race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality categories all receive equal outcomes of income, jobs, benefits, honors, etc. This is allegedly necessary because all measures of existing collective category benefits show unequal outcomes, with Asians doing best, whites next, then Hispanics, and last African Americans, while in Canada Indigenous natives, sometimes called First Nations, rank last. According to advocates of equity, these differences of outcome are due to racism and discrimination. Differences of performance, achievement, and potential are not considered relevant causes. Areas in which different outcomes arise, such as standardized tests, must be canceled so that the different outcomes do not arise. If members of preferred categories do badly in competitions, the competitions must be canceled.

Case in point: Many American and Canadian universities have stopped requiring (or even allowing) standardized test scores so that the relative performances of different groups will no longer be evident. Harvard and the University of California, two world-class elite universities, will no longer consider SAT or ACT scores for admissions. (Harvard claims that its suspension of the requirement is due to the pandemic, but this is likely a pretext used to pursue already-extant “equity” goals.) Many American graduate schools do not require the GRE for admission. In the McGill Department of Anthropology, we stopped requiring Canadian applicants for admission to our graduate program to submit GRE results. Today, in all North American universities, students are no longer admitted according to their academic achievements and potential, but according to their race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, and, above all, wokeness.

All North American universities have committed to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). In Canada, this has been mandated by the national government, but has also been taken up enthusiastically by academic and professional associations, and by public granting agencies, such as Canada Council, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. If you are applying for grants to study x-rays, or distant galaxies, or the use of aluminum in construction, you must first prove to the satisfaction of the reviewers that your project will advance “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” If the reviewers are not convinced of the applicant’s commitment to DEI, they will not even look at the substance of the application.

Let us be clear about what DEI means. “Diversity” means that people will look different from one another due to different skin color or disability or visual presentation meant to convey an atypical sexuality. What “diversity” does not mean is diversity of opinion, a range of different viewpoints, and freedom of expression; this kind of diversity is, in fact, forbidden. Vast sums of university money are spent every year on political commissars, called “diversity officers,” whose mandate is to police thought and expression, and to suppress diversity of opinion and freedom of expression. So what has been traditionally considered the heart of the intellectual process—a range of viewpoints, discussion, and debate—no longer exists in universities. DEI is a critical and determining part of the intellectual monoculture that blights our so-called universities.

“Inclusion” means the contrived inclusion of preferred categories of people, which always entails the exclusion of unpreferred categories. Both in student admissions and in the hiring of professors, staff, and administration, there are firm preferences for females, people of color, LGBTQ++, the disabled, Muslims, and, occasionally, the poor. In consequence, those who are excluded are males, whites and Asians, heterosexuals, the abled, the middle class, and Jews. As a result, members of unpreferred categories are underrepresented either absolutely in terms of percentage of the population, or in terms of demonstrated academic merit. Among the results of this are that males, who make up 50% of the population, are a 40% minority among students and graduates in both the U.S. and Canada, and that whites, who make up a 75% majority of the population in the U.S. and 78% in Canada, are underrepresented. For example, at the University of British Columbia, both whites and males are highly underrepresented. In American Ivy League universities, highly qualified Asian Americans are passed over in favor of poorly qualified members of preferred ethnic groups.

What led to this corruption of our universities, to their betrayal of their purpose and mandate? Who imagined that universities would institute racist and sexist policies, and would suppress diversity of opinion and expression? Who can we thank for the corruption of universities into propaganda machines for extremist, far-left ideology? First and foremost, we can thank feminists. It was feminists who first borrowed the unpopular orthodox Marxist class conflict model, substituting the Marxist bourgeois capitalist exploiters vs. the exploited proletariat with identity group class conflict, popularizing the idea that “the patriarchy” oppressed innocent female “victims.” This neo-Marxist, identity class conflict model emphasizes oppression and victimhood as essential features of society. This venture into identity politics is a contradiction to the classical liberal model of society as myriad individuals and groups acting independently or in concert, in cooperation and competition. But feminists insisted on advancing their partisan interests, even at the expense of society as a whole, and the Marxist model served their purpose.

Postmodernist and critical theory epistemology also served feminist purposes well. What was important to feminists was how they felt, not what the facts were. That is why feminists claim that they have “their own truths.” For example, take the strongly held feminist belief in an imaginary “rape culture,” a belief that serves female solidarity by identifying an external enemy: males. The priority of female feelings is seen in the feminist claim that any sexual engagement regretted, whether due to a bad choice, intoxication, or guilt, can be considered “rape.” Here, “regret” trumps the actual facts of the interaction. Science is not respected by feminists, because it deals with facts and does not recognize the primacy of female feelings.

The original feminist claim that feminism sought “gender equality” quickly went out the window as feminists turned to demanding female supremacy, justified as reparations, they claimed, for historical disadvantage. The goal of feminists today is not to erase sexism, but to flip the sex hierarchy so that they are in charge. That is why feminists are constantly telling men to “step aside” and leave power in the hands of females. The future is not equal; “the future is female.” The feminist takeover of universities is seen in the current 60% female majority of students and graduates, which is trending toward a two-thirds majority. The female principal of McGill University bragged that, under her reign, the majority of deans were female. The goal for feminists is female supremacy.

This is why university departments of feminist and gender studies were corrupting influences. They were dedicated not to the search for truth but to the imposition of feminist “truths” that they had already proclaimed. Their commitment was not to the search for knowledge, but to changing the university and society for the benefit of females at the expense of males. Activism, overt and covert, was the object. Feminists infiltrated all departments in the social sciences, humanities, education, and social work, with law and medicine to follow. My female colleagues demanded that my department hire only females. But being female was not sufficient; female applicants were closely vetted to ensure that they were sufficiently militant feminists.

The neo-Marxist identity class conflict model was widely adopted by various populations who then claimed the right to special preferences and benefits because of their identities. These identity groups were granted their own academic departments and programs. Universities became filled with grievance subjects: in addition to feminist studies, we now have black studies, Chicano studies, queer studies, native studies, ethnic studies, and trans studies, to name a few. Each grievance study is directed toward celebrating the superiority of its chosen group, except for whiteness studies, which was invented to vilify whites and contribute to their downfall, all in the name of “social justice.” Along with the social sciences and humanities succumbing to neo-Marxist victim propaganda, Islamic studies, once a serious field, became a grievance program.

With the ground fertilized by identity politics grievance studies, orthodox Marxist theory was resurrected in academia. So-called postcolonial theory was widely embraced in the social sciences and humanities. Adopted from Lenin’s theory of imperialism that claimed the transfer of class conflict from capitalist countries to first world–third world relations, postcolonial theory claimed that all of the world’s problems have arisen from Western imperialism and colonialism, because before the evil West invaded, everyone got along beautifully and fairly, happily sharing and protecting the earth. Apparently, the advocates of postcolonial theory believe that imperialism, colonialism, and slavery never existed before 1500 AD. Champions of intersectionality have borrowed from Trotsky’s vision of world revolution, claiming that all “oppressed peoples” across the world, however at odds in actual history, must ally and unite in the face of their Western oppressors.

The results of all this include the following: Students, professors, staff, and administrators are chosen for their sex, race, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability status, not for their achievements, competence, and potential. Preferred categories of students are told that they are innocent victims of bigotry and discrimination, while unpreferred categories of students—those allowed to attend college, that is—are told that they are evil and toxic oppressors. They are personae non gratae. Members of preferred categories are provided with segregated facilities and ceremonies so that they can feel “safe”; members of unpreferred categories are excluded. The feminist jihad against males continues with unsubstantiated declarations of rape crises and the persecution of male students by feminist Title IX tribunals, the injustices of which are corrected only when court cases rebuke universities for breaching due process and civil rights. The Middle Eastern jihad against Jews is transferred to campuses by Muslim and pro-Arab groups.

Another major consequence of the woke university is the rejection of Western Civilization. As 99% of Western art, science, architecture, philosophy, statecraft, and literature was produced by white men, the woke insist that Western Civilization must be rejected because it is offensive to females and non-whites that Western achievements be recognized. No more credit to “dead white men,” as the feminists like to say. In universities, the great works of Western Civilization are no longer assigned to students, lest they be offended. They must all be replaced by products of lesbians of color. Whole fields of study are being canceled. Classics is now verboten because the Greeks and Romans were callously white, and that is unforgivable. Classical studies no longer has value. The ingratitude of the woke, who have benefited every day from the richness of Western civilization, is stunning and demonstrates a deep unwillingness to recognize historical realities.

Students, convinced of woke truths, forbid any question or contrary opinion as making them feel “unsafe,” as a “hate crime,” and as “violence.” The results of the 2021 free speech survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) show that two-thirds of students say it is acceptable to shout down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus, while almost one in four say it is acceptable to use violence to stop a campus speech. Professors who do not toe the woke line on all matters, and who ask challenging questions or state contrary opinions, are often the targets of campaigns by students and other professors to punish them or cancel them entirely by hounding them into retirement or getting them fired. University administrators, for the most part, implement punishments for professors insufficiently woke. FIRE reports that 74% of professors targeted for unpopular speech or research end up punished by administrators.

Any research that does not replicate the woke verities is attacked and is usually effectively canceled. Empirical research on genetic differences between men and women and on differential interests and capabilities in mathematics, for example, has been attacked and suppressed, including journals being forced to withdraw articles. Research showing that evidence does not conform to the trans-narrative, such as that demonstrating the prevalence of socially induced rapid onset gender dysphoria, has also been attacked and suppressed. Doubts about whether men can menstruate and get pregnant can cost a professor his job. Any statement that does not endorse the unique villainy of the West or America’s invention of slavery is sufficient for a person’s cancellation. The only “facts” that are allowed are those that conform to the woke narrative.

Unfortunately, what happens in universities does not stay in universities. As the song says, children are our future. Ideologically corrupted university students graduate and carry their woke poison throughout the country and all of its institutions. Like Hamas training its toddlers with guns and suicide vests, American and Canadian graduates of education faculties, often the most radical of all university faculty, carry neo-Marxist identity politics into the classrooms of K-12 schools. Despite feeble attempts to deny that they are teaching racial hate and division, teachers unions proclaim that advancing critical race theory is their official policy, and that they are ready to provide defense funds to teachers who violate prohibitions on critical race theory. According to The Epoch Times, “Despite the passage of laws in some states banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) from being taught in schools, some educators are teaching other educators how to ‘back-door it’ into the classrooms.” With young children indoctrinated into Marxist ideology, it is only a matter of time before liberal democracy, so far as we still have it, will be replaced by a Marxist regime.

The public media, including newspapers, radio and TV news channels, and big tech social media platforms, no longer serve the purpose of diffusing a wide range of information, of seeking the truth about current and past events, and bringing scrutiny to possible breaches of the public trust. Woke graduates have taken over the media, and have explicitly and emphatically rejected the idea of balance in their reports. They reject the presentation of truth as the goal of reporting and no longer hold the powerful to account. Instead, they are committed to diffusing one-sided, woke propaganda, to supporting left-wing political parties such as the Democrats in the U.S. and the Liberals and New Democratic Party in Canada, and other radical groups, such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, and to attacking classical liberals, moderates, and conservatives as racists, sexists, transphobes, Islamophobes, white supremacists, and “internal terrorists and insurrectionists.”

The result of this woke journalism is a constant flow of lies, disinformation, and fake news. Let me illustrate this; how much time do you have? Just in the last few years, we have the Democrat-funded conspiracy to tar Donald Trump as a Russian agent, which was endorsed by the media for three full years, before it was shown to be a politically driven lie. Very popular and widely repeated was the BLM lie that police are systemically racist and that every person of color in America was at risk of being murdered by police. In fact, each year only a few blacks die in police encounters, usually as a result of resisting arrest and attacking police. Almost all blacks who are murdered are murdered by black criminals, but the media dares not discuss this. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was subjected to multiple accusations of sex crimes by politically motivated parties who could provide no evidence to support their claims. But the media ran with unfounded accusations as if they were proven.

What a contrast with Hunter Biden, who has influence peddled on his father’s name in foreign lands and made a fortune. The treasure trove of evidence about Hunter’s dealings, which also implicated his father Joe Biden, was dismissed by the media as “Russian disinformation,” although everyone knew it was true. Not satisfied with disseminating lies, the big tech social media platforms censored published documentation by the New York Post and punished the paper by blocking it for telling the truth. No truth was allowed to stand in the way of the election of Democrat Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party and the woke media responded to the unruly demonstration by Trump supporters at the Capitol on January 6 by claiming it was an insurrection worse than the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and the 9/11 attacks, and that all Trump supporters are “internal terrorists and insurrectionists.” The truth is that, unlike the BLM riots of 2020 that destroyed many American cities and which were characterized by the media as “mostly peaceful,” the January 6 demonstration at the Capitol was in fact mostly peaceful, with people walking through the halls taking pictures, as we can see now that a court has forced the Biden administration to release the surveillance footage from the Capitol. Legislation in states meant to guarantee honest elections, that require voters to show picture IDs, are denounced as suppression of voters of color. And, finally, the latest lie is “whipgate,” accusing Federal Border Agents on horseback of maltreating poor people of color attempting to enter the country, although their real offense was doing their job to block foreign nationals from illegally crossing the border into the country.

Woke verities have spread into the business community, unions, the civil service in the U.S. and public service in Canada, and the military in both countries. Such truths that are recognized and that must be repeated are, 1) any disparity in status or benefit among racial, sex, sexuality, or ethnicity census categories must always be due to bigotry and discrimination, but never to performance, achievement, or preference; 2) the 0.001% of African Americans killed in encounters with police is sufficient evidence of systemic racism in America, whereas the 99.999% of African Americans murdered by criminals, 90% of them black, are unimportant and not to be mentioned; 3) any person, even a child, can become a different sex by just saying so, and everyone else must accept such claims as unchallengeable truth; 4) the southern border of the U.S. is closed, and, anyway, illegal aliens are more American than actual U.S. citizens are, and deserve more benefits than citizens; and 5) America has always been about slavery and nothing else, and Canada has always been about colonialist genocide of indigenous natives and nothing else. All of the institutions in Canada and the U.S. have accepted these woke verities, and actively work to silence and cancel those who dare to express different views. Anyone who dissents from these truths must be canceled or, preferably, incarcerated.

Despite the continued trappings of liberal democracy, America and Canada have become monocultural oligarchies with entrenched racist and sexist institutions. The alliance of colluding government, education, industry, unions, and military is the very definition of fascism. We have not yet experienced the full force of despotic fascism, but woke extremism and COVID-19 “public health” measures suggest that we are moving in that direction. As Heinrich Heine said with great foresight, “Wherever they burn books, in the end they will also burn human beings.”

 

Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

Republished from mindingthecampus.org.


Image: Vlad Tchompalov, Public Domain