|Cornel West, emblematic of everything|
wrong in American Universities
This new type of black “scholar” is a relatively new phenomenon. They did not exist decades ago, and their numbers are growing. Let me try to explain how these oddities have come into existence.
Non-academics are only dimly aware of the pressure on universities to hire blacks, and administrators who refuse to do so can endanger their careers. And few departments can resist funds for “underrepresented minorities” that are not counted against the department’s own budget (this makes the money “free” in academic parlance). Nor are academic specialties relevant; blackness is the only must-have qualification. One professor friend described his department this way: John does international relations, Fred teaches Congress, and Bill is black.
What is important, however, is that the black generally appear superficially “middle class” and respectable. This means some familiarity with academic jargon (such as “structural inequality”) and not being too ghetto: no visible tattoos, no drooping pants and, critically, no obscenity-filled speech. The purpose of hiring blacks is to impress outsiders with a university’s commitment to racial justice but the academy’s standards exclude hiring a gang banger who might call whites “candy-assed mother f***ers crackers.” The life of the mind does have standards.
There are very few blacks who fit the bill for reputable universities, so woe to any department that makes a black candidate uncomfortable. Departments typically pride themselves on grilling job applicants, and there is often competition among faculty to score killer points, but such jousting is verboten when interviewing blacks. All questions and comments are of the softball variety lest the job candidate feel “dissed” and reject the job offer. Meanwhile, white professors explain to the applicant why accepting the assumed-to-be-forthcoming offer will be a great career move: ample research funds to explore the role of racism in bank lending, colleagues happy to offer advice on micro-aggression, and so on. In other words, the department is trying to impress the candidate, not the other way around. Interviewers who give the candidate a tough time, particularly correcting factual errors, may soon be in the job market themselves (see here for an extreme example).
The courting hardly ends with the hiring process. A black professor need not worry about getting courses approved even if they overlap with existing offerings, or are filled with ideologically driven advocacy. Who is to say that a syllabus of Black Panther manifestos and field trips to racial justice rallies are not “educational”? A similar hands-off policy applies to presentations at research seminars or the supervision of doctorates. The professor’s publications must also be indulged, so a flawed four or five page research note that is little more than a speech in an obscure non-scholarly outlet will be treated as if it were a serious research article for salary increases or promotion and tenure. In other words, once hired, the black professor enjoys carte blanche and intellectual-diplomatic immunity.
Actually, such coddling probably began when these future professors were undergraduates, and it continued in graduate school. In today’s ever-so-racially-sensitive environment, disputing anything said by a black, no matter how outrageous, risks charges of racism, hostility or micro-aggression. Honest give-and-take is impossible; only passive agreement is safe. I recall one black undergraduate insisting that black neighborhoods were bad because whites gave them those blighted areas. I said nothing.
Classes can be intellectual cocoons. With courses often filled with fellow racial believers, it is unlikely that whites will dispute a black professor’s utterances no matter how bizarre. They just sit quietly while the professor condemns The Man.
Such professors are shocked at the public reaction when, for example, a student tapes them spewing nonsense about anti-black genocide and posts it on the Internet. Naïve students don’t realize that their university is desperate to keep black academics from fleeing to even more diversity-obsessed schools. That is why administrators pooh-pooh student outrage by defending free speech or the need for varied points of view. Their reaction would be different if the professor assigned The Bell Curve and spoke about racial differences in IQ.
This pattern reveals an unspeakable truth about today’s academy: White academics secretly hold blacks in contempt. There really is a bigotry of low expectations. Deep down, whites realize that Cornel West and his fellow fools are doing the best they can, and that pushing them to do real scholarship only hinders faculty diversity. Recall when Harvard President Larry Summers told Professor West to end his hip-hop career and do serious research. Prof. West left Harvard in a huff and went to more open-minded Princeton.
The problem is incurable so long as schools are pushed to meet diversity quotas. There is also a powerful economic incentive to hire blacks and award them intellectual-diplomatic immunity: It keeps the government gravy train going. Today’s top universities depend on government funding in the hard sciences and engineering, and spending a few hundred thousand on some black imposter is a cost-effective investment to defend against government meddling.
Let me conclude on an upbeat note. These faux professors are educating youngsters, though not in the ways they (or administrators) intend. Save for the most gullible, it does not take much to see through the façade. Today’s students may know little about philosophy but they do know that Socrates was not black and that their African-American classmates do not fail calculus because of white micro-aggression. That nearly all of today’s students have learned the code of silence on such matters should not be taken as proof of indoctrination. Diversity at the university level, like forced racial integration in K though 12, has become its own worst enemy.