In The Diversity Delusion, Heather Mac Donald describes, analyzes and critiques the race, gender and identity politics of colleges and society of the recent years. She puts forward the argument that claims of minority discrimination and oppression are baseless, and any inequality or disproportional representation of minorities can be explained by objective differences of individuals. She also critiques solutions that attempt to achieve equality of outcome by selectively lowering standards and by further discrimination, i.e affirmative action. Both would be not only unjust, but counter-productive to achieving said equality.
Overall an easy read with majority of the pages devoted to stories of diversity initiatives gone wrong in modern United States colleges. Her argument relies mostly on absurdity of the examples and is therefore unlikely to convince supporters of those initiatives. For that, I’d recommend Thomas Sowell’s Affirmative Action Around the World (2004). For an shorter introduction to the book and its stories, see Dave Rubin’s interview with Heather Mac Donald.
The past few years have seen strong erosion of classical Enlightenment values, of fairness, meritocracy, reason and due process. No longer are students viewing themselves as individuals, but as groups defined by race, sex and sexual preference, and based on these properties they claim to be discriminated against. Evidence for any actual discrimination is weak, to say the least, and any there is, is more based on ideology than reason. While the revolt started in progressive colleges, it has since moved on to affect businesses, governments and society under the category of “identity politics”.
Heather sets the stage by describing a few eerie incidents.
A notorious video of a black female student at Yale screaming and cursing at her college master in November 2015 is a chilling portrait of self-engrossed, bathos-filled entitlement that has never been corrected by truth, much less restrained by manners: “Be quiet!” she shrieks at the frozen administrator. “Why the fuck did you accept the [master] position, who the fuck hired you?!” she continues at full, self-righteous cry. “You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting!”
The master’s wife, child psychologist Erika Christakis, had recently suggested in an email that the Yale multiculturalism bureaucracy did not need to oversee Halloween costumes. […] A hundred or so mostly minority students then mobbed her husband, Nicholas Christakis, a renowned physician and sociologist, for an hours-long abuse session in the college quad that included the “Be quiet!” shriek, among equally horrifying displays of rudeness. “You are disgusting!” screamed another student. “I want your job to be taken from you.
Another, as covered by The New York Times in Understanding the Angry Mob at Middlebury That Gave Me a Concussion:
In March 2017, a mob of Middlebury College students assaulted a professor, giving her a concussion and whiplash, following their successful effort to prevent social scientist Charles Murray from speaking to a live audience by shouting, pounding on walls, and activating fire alarms. Murray just missed being knocked down and beaten himself. […] The professors blamed the Middlebury administration for the violence, since its decision to allow Murray to lecture constituted a “threat” to students.
Or the Evergreen State College controversy where only the white faculty and students were ordered to cancel their courses for the day and stay at home to show solidarity with the minority students’ struggles. Biology professor Bret Weinstein refused to obey the edict and was met with a mob of students:
In May 2017 students from Evergreen State College in Washington state stormed into a class taught by biology professor Bret Weinstein and began cursing and hurling racial epithets. “Fuck you, you piece of shit,” screamed one student. “Get the fuck out of here,” screamed another. […] Weinstein told the mob that he did not believe that science professors at Evergreen were “targeting” students of color, contrary to the premises of a newly announced equity initiative. “Fuck what you have to say,” a student responded. “This is not a discussion.” Evergreen’s president, after being subjected to a similar expletive-filled mob tirade, expressed his “gratitude for the [students’] passion and courage.”
For clips of the sort of cult-like brainwashing that may have led to the entire incident, see the video of Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying on the Evergreen Equity Council.
The author had experienced a similar response herself:
The Rose Institute for State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna had invited me to meet with students and to give a talk in April about my book The War on Cops. Several calls went out on Facebook to “shut down” this “notorious white supremacist fascist Heather Mac Donald.” […] The event organizers notified me a day before the speech that a protest was planned and that they were considering changing the venue from CMC’s Athenaeum to one with fewer glass windows and easier egress. When I arrived on campus, I was shuttled to what was, in effect, a safe house: a guest suite for campus visitors, with blinds drawn. I could hear the growing crowds chanting and drumming, but I could not see the auditorium that the protesters were surrounding. […] Shortly before 6 PM, I was fetched by an administrator and a few police officers to take an out-of-the-way elevator into the Athenaeum. The massive hall, where I was supposed to meet with students for dinner before my talk, was empty—the mob, by then numbering close to two hundred, had succeeded in preventing anyone from entering.
You can hear her talk about the experience in Dave Rubin’s interview with Heather Mac Donald or watch a video of the protesters chanting “shut it down” and later “fuck the police”. Heather notes the irony:
The only people bullying and intimidating others were the students themselves, but that fact does not penetrate the upside-down world of campus victimology.
University responses to the incidents above have unfortunately all been to succumb to the demands of the mobs, not standing up for reason, civil discourse, freedom of speech nor their unjustly accused professors.
We are cultivating students who lack all understanding of the principles of the American Founding. The mark of any civilization is its commitment to reason and discourse. The great accomplishment of the European Enlightenment was to require all forms of authority to justify themselves through rational argument, rather than through coercion or an unadorned appeal to tradition. The resort to brute force in the face of disagreement is particularly disturbing in a university, which should provide a model of civil discourse.
What caused the movement, is less clear. One explanation is the snowflake theory — helicopter parents of Generation Z have done a disservice to their children by overprotecting them and have now created adults ill-equipped to handle foreign ideas or interpersonal conflict. That’s a position Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt made in The Coddling of the American Mind. If the psychological harm claim were true, they propose cognitive behavioral therapy as a means to handle that. Heather Mac Donald, however, doesn’t agree with the snowflake theory on the basis that if child-rearing were the problem, it should show in equal proportion in heterosexual white males, who presuming too had the same risk-averse parents. Instead, there could be an ideological reason.
At its center is a worldview that sees Western culture as endemically racist and sexist. The overriding goal of the educational establishment is to teach young people within the ever-growing list of official victim classifications to view themselves as existentially oppressed. One outcome of that teaching is the forceful silencing of contrarian speech.
She continues to warn:
Many observers dismiss such ignorant tantrums as a phase that will end once the “snowflakes” encounter the real world. But the graduates of the academic victimology complex are remaking the world in their image.
Take the firing of Google software developer James Damore in 2017 for writing an internal document “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, for example. The document lists scientific literature in gender differences in response to why there might be fewer women in Google than elsewhere. Damore also highlights discriminatory hiring in favor of women and minorities at Google. Jordan Peterson in an interview with James Damore went through the memo line by line for those interested in the details.
Damore went to the National Labor Relations Board to appeal the termination. Unfortunately, however, the censoring of politically incorrect statements, regardless of truth, seem to be creeping beyond academia and business to government bureaucrats:
Damore’s statements about “purported biological differences between men and women” were “discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment,” declared NLRB counsel Jayme Sophir. Sophir sneers that Damore tried to cloak his comments with “‘scientific’ references and analysis.” She makes no effort to determine whether that science met traditional research standards, which it does. If it contradicts feminist ideology, it must be both wrong and suppressed. Sophir notes that some of Google’s employees had complained that Damore’s memo made them feel “unsafe at work.” Thus does bathos-filled academic victimology get bootstrapped into further assaults on rational inquiry outside the academy.
In 1996, California approved the California Civil Rights Initiative with the support of 5.26M citizens (forming the majority of 54.55%) to ban discrimination by race or gender in government positions and education. Upon its approval, while few politicians publicly denounced it, plenty expected it to be being reversed soon and thereby ignored it. It fell to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals a year later to uphold the law.
From then on, state and federal judges would show an admirable respect both for voter intent and for the plain meaning of the state’s new constitutional amendment. Not so for California’s bureaucrats and pols. Many chose passive resistance or tried to hide noncompliance under Orwellian name changes: San Jose’s affirmative action bureaucracy rechristened itself the “Office of Equality Assurance,” for instance.
Without the effort of a public interest law firm, though, some of the biggest governmental agencies would have continued their discriminatory actions. At one point in 2003 the state assembly even attempted to sidestep the ban by adopting the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, whose terms suggest positive discrimination. Fortunately the California courts saw through this a year later and overruled the interpretation.
Heather then brings up a claim from 2004 that, if true, shows how many noncompetitive firms relied on preferential treatment:
A propreference organization claimed in 2004 that transportation-construction contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses had dropped 50 percent since 1996 and that the percentage of women in the construction trades had declined by one third.
Who was winning from spending taxpayers money on corporations that would not be selected based on their competence or price is beyond me.
The fight for positive discrimination carried on in colleges, which were facing a crisis of lowering diversity.
After Prop. 209’s passage, UC Berkeley, like the rest of the UC system, “went through a depression figuring out what to do,” says Robert Laird, Berkeley’s propreferences admissions director from 1993 to 1999. The system’s despair was understandable. It had relied on wildly unequal double standards to achieve its smattering of “underrepresented minorities,” especially at Berkeley and UCLA, the most competitive campuses. The median SAT score of blacks and Hispanics in Berkeley’s liberal arts programs was 250 points lower (on a 1600-point scale) than that of whites and Asians. This test-score gap was hard to miss in the classroom. Renowned Berkeley philosophy professor John Searle, who judges affirmative action “a disaster,” recounted that “they admitted people who could barely read.”
Still, they couldn’t adopt the notion of treating people fairly and were doing anything they could to disobey.
Yet for the preference lobby, a failing diversity student is better than no diversity student at all—because the game is not about the students but about the self-image of the institution that so beneficently extends its largesse to them. Thus, when “underrepresented minorities” accepted at Berkeley dropped by half in 1998, the first year that Prop. 209 went into effect, and by nearly that much at UCLA, the university sprang into action. […] UCLA law professor Richard Sander was on a committee to discuss what could be done after 209. “The tone among many of the faculty and administrators present was not ‘How do we comply with the law in good faith?’ but ‘What is the likelihood of getting caught if we do not comply?’” he said.
While the number of admitted “underrepresented minorities” before adjustements were made, halved, graduation rates increased. That’s what you’d expect if only academically qualified students are accepted. But that wasn’t what universities wanted:
They flung themselves into their long experimentation with different admissions schemes, with one purpose: “To maintain a racially and ethnically diverse student body,” as former UC associate president Patrick Hayashi wrote in 2005. The first scheme that the university tried was to give an admissions preference to low-income students. This device backfired, however, when it yielded a wealth of Eastern European and Vietnamese admits—not the kind of “diversity” that the university had in mind. So the campuses cut their new socioeconomic preferences in half and went back to the drawing board.
A myriad of discriminatory admittance criteria adjustments followed. Some went as far as proposing objective measurements hold no scholarly predictive value at all. Berkley University even suggested once a student passes some minimal threshold, they’d be equally qualified as any another student. Professor Jack Citrin then proposed using lottery — that would be fair and likely admit more minorities, even if further lowering academic quality.
Citrin’s lottery proposal went nowhere, of course. Race-conscious schools are perfectly content to use objective tests of aptitude to judge Asians and whites, and even to rank black and Hispanic students within their own group. But if you suggest using objective standards to evaluate students on a common universal scale, those standards suddenly lose all their validity.
Others have justified their critique of objective measurements by arguing that minorities suffer psychological stress during standardized testing. If that were the case, however, you’d see them perform better than predicted in school. The reality is that black and Hispanic students perform worse than their SATs predict.
The affirmative action of today, also known as positive discrimination, is a belief that to right past wrongs and achieve equality in society, some groups need to be preferentially treated at the cost of other groups. In contexts of college admissions or business hiring, for example, it would require considering not only competence, but race or gender, if competence alone would result in a proportionally fewer minority members admitted than in society at large.
Back in 2004, in Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools, Richard H. Sander made a case how positive discrimination has counter-productive results:
Because of the “mismatch” between their academic preparedness and the academic sophistication of the school that has bootstrapped them in, the preference beneficiaries learn less of what they need to pass the bar than they would in a school that matched their capabilities. Far from increasing the supply of black lawyers, affirmative action actually decreases the diversity of the bar.
Duke University claimed their affirmative action program benefits blacks because by the senior year, the gap between whites and blacks at the time of admission (1 standard deviation) has been reduced by 50%. After further research, that improvement turned out to be illusory:
Blacks improve their GPAs because they switch disproportionately out of more demanding science and economics majors into the humanities and soft social sciences, which grade much more liberally and require less work. If black students stayed in the sciences at the same rate as whites, there would be no convergence in GPAs. And even after their exodus from the sciences, blacks don’t improve their class standing in their four years of college. […] The Arcidiacono paper suggests that admitting aspiring minority scientists to schools where they are less prepared than their peers is counterproductive.
Unsurprisingly, research into the empirical aspects of affirmative action at Duke resulted in ad hominem attacks on its authors and of crying hostility against black students. None seem to have addressed the contents of the study. The bureaucratic response was instead to further existing “diversity” initiatives within Duke: a black student center, a black student recruiting weekend, vice provost for faculty diversity and faculty development, associate vice provost for academic diversity and more.
But no college administration in recent history has ever said to whining students of any race or gender: “Are you joking? We’ve kowtowed to your demands long enough, now go study!” And why should the burgeoning student services bureaucracy indulge in such honesty? It depends on just such melodramatic displays of grievance for its very existence.
But what can you expect. John Gall’s remarked on the persistence of bureaucracy back in 1975:
The Newtonian Law of Systems Inertia — A system that performs a certain way will continue to operate in that way regardless of the need or of changed conditions.
Not only are we supposedly racist, we’re racist in ways we don’t even consciously perceive. That’s the theory of both microaggressions, implicit biases and implicit association tests (IAT). Microaggressions are subtle or unconscious verbal or non-verbal insults against marginalized groups. They can be as innocent as asking where someone is from, a question that “clearly” hints one assumes someone is foreign. Suitably, skepticism of someone’s recurrent discrimination, the thesis of this book, is also a form of microaggression. Implicit biases are similar to microaggressions, but could be both positive or negative attitudes or held stereotypes. The implicit-associtation test, derived from response-time and implicit-cognition tests of earlier days, measures the automatic association strength between two concepts. Ease with which you can associate positive and negative terms with faces of different color. Should it take you longer to associate positive terms with black faces, you’re a racist.
Validity of the implicit association test is under fire, though. It’s not clear that IAT measures both implicit bias and, by extension, discriminatory behavior. Skeptics of IAT found that in a 2009 meta-study of IAT by its original authors Greenwald and Banaji, both positive and negative results of IAT were counted towards validity:
If test subjects scored high on implicit bias via the IAT but demonstrated better behavior toward out-group members (such as blacks) than toward in-group members, that was a validation of the IAT on the theory that the subjects were overcompensating for their implicit bias. But studies that found a correlation between a high implicit-bias score and discriminatory behavior toward out-group members also validated the IAT. In other words: heads, I win; tails, I win.
IAT authors have since retracted their statements that it bears predictive value for individual biases, but still predicts discrimination in aggregate. A skeptic dismisses the argument:
If you don’t know what an instrument means on an individual level, you don’t know what it means in the aggregate, he told New York’s Singal. In fairness to Greenwald and Banaji, it is true that a cholesterol score, say, is more accurate at predicting heart attacks the larger the sample of subjects. But too much debate exists about what the IAT actually measures for much confidence about large-scale effects.
It’s a lonely job, working the phones at a college rape crisis center. Day after day, you wait for the casualties to show up from the campus rape epidemic—but few victims call. Could this mean that the crisis is overblown? No: It means, according to the campus sexual-assault industry, that the abuse of coeds is worse than anyone had ever imagined. It means that consultants and counselors need more funding to persuade student rape victims to break the silence of their suffering.
Akin to the neuroticism around race, on-campus radical feminists are claiming women are being harassed in numbers never before experienced.
If the one-in-five to one-in-four statistic is correct, campus rape represents a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. No crime, much less one as serious as rape, has a victimization rate remotely approaching 20 percent or 25 percent, even over many years. In 2016, the violent crime rate in Detroit, the most violent city in America, was 2,000 murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 inhabitants—a rate of 2 percent. The one-in-five to one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, hundreds of thousands of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience.
The truth seems to be both a heavy combination of fear-mongering around statistics, ideological stances of patriarchal oppression and substandard judicial process within campus, with strong victim-bias and lack of due process. The latter seemed to have resulted in retaliatory claims of rape from women either jealous or in other ways in competition with males they had had sexual relations with. The fact that colleges insisted on handling sexual assault cases on premises, without involving law enforcement, was both a signal they weren’t as serious as claimed and the lack of due-process. The ones that did result in police investigations had a tendency to fall apart.
Another peculiarity of the sexual assault problem was the desire to unequally distribute responsibility between the involved men and women:
Campus rape ideology holds that inebriation strips women of responsibility for their actions but preserves males’ responsibility not only for their own actions but for their partners’ as well. Thus do men again become the guardians of female well-being.
Plans to moderate the problem led to humorous red-tape around sex as described in the Campus Safety & Student Development:
“In fact,” explains our consultant, “sexual intent can only be determined by clear and unambiguous communication about what is desired.” So much for seduction and romance; bring in the MBAs and lawyers.
“If one partner puts a condom on the other, does that signify that they are consenting to intercourse?” asked Berkowitz. Short of guiding the thus-sheathed instrumentality to port, it’s hard to imagine a clearer signal of consent.
Why does a college want to regulate the sex-lives of grown-up people is puzzling.
Claremont’s sexual consent rules resemble nothing so much as a multi-lawyer-drafted contract for the sale and delivery of widgets, complete with definitions, the obligations of “all” (as opposed to “both”) parties, and the preconditions for default.
It’s as if the early feminists’ achievements of sexual liberation went too far in the view of modern campus feminists, and traditional social roles need to be restored. How would they reconcile that with the oppressive patriarchy narrative?
In fact, the policy goes even further into the realm of Victorian sex roles than simply a presumption of female modesty. Females are now considered so helpless and passive that they should not even be assumed to have the strength or capacity to say “no.” “Withdrawal of Consent can be an expressed ‘no’ or can be based on an outward demonstration that conveys that an individual is hesitant, confused, uncertain, or is no longer a mutual participant,” announce Claremont’s sexocrats.
Good luck litigating that clause in a campus sex tribunal. The female can allege that the male should have known that she was “confused” because of what she didn’t do. The male will respond that he didn’t notice any particular nonactivity on her part. Resolving this evidentiary dispute would not be helped by bedside cameras—the logical next step in campus rape hysteria. Pressure sensors would be needed as well to detect asymmetries in touch.
Equally hilarious is the handling of such conflicts in the campus kangaroo courts:
With or without cameras, adjudicating college sex in the neo-Victorian era requires a degree of prurience that should be repugnant to any self-respecting university. A campus sex investigator named Djuna Perkins described the enterprise to National Public Radio in 2014: “It will sometimes boil down to details like who turned who around, or [whether] she lifted up her body so [another student] could pull down her pants. There have been plenty of cases that I’ve done when the accused student says, ‘What do you mean? [The accuser] was moaning with pleasure. He was raising his body, clutching my back, exhibiting all signs that sounded like this was a pleasurable event.’”
What’s eerie is the view towards the current judicial process:
Occidental College professor Caroline Heldman, a leader in the campus rape movement, asserted during a debate that campus rape cases should not be taken to criminal trial because juries are steeped in rape culture—i.e., they cannot be trusted to convict. (I was her debate opponent.) Remarkably, Heldman also argued that the preponderance-of-evidence standard for rape findings was too high. Apparently requiring that the fact-finder have a negligible 50.5-percent certainty that a rape occurred does not guarantee enough convictions. So conservatives are right to call the rape hysterics’ bluff by arguing: If you believe that this is rape, treat it as such by seeking a criminal conviction.
History has shown that affirmative action and preferential treatment programs never manage to be bounded to their initial beneficiaries. As gender and identity politics gained momentum, its leaders demanded higher representation in areas they for whatever reason on average were less skillful in or, more likely, simply lacked collective interest.
One such a field with gender disparities is science, or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in general. Under the assumption that any gender difference is de facto proof of discrimination, it became the focus of diversity movements:
A UCLA scientist reports: “All across the country the big question now in STEM is: how can we promote more women and minorities by ‘changing’ (i.e., lowering) the requirements we had previously set for graduate level study?” Mathematical problem-solving is being deemphasized in favor of more qualitative group projects; the pace of undergraduate physics education is being slowed down so that no one gets left behind.
Entry requirements for graduate education are being revised. The American Astronomical Society has recommended that PhD programs in astronomy eliminate the requirement that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in physics, since it has a disparate impact on females and underrepresented minorities and allegedly does not predict future research output. Harvard and other departments have complied, even though an objective test like the GRE can spotlight talent from less prestigious schools. The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program has dropped all science GREs for applicants in all fields.
There’s willingness to go as far as rejecting the entire notion of truth and aim more for “scientific self-esteem” than measurable knowledge.
An introductory chemistry course at UC Berkeley exemplifies “culturally sensitive pedagogy.” Its creators described the course in a January 2018 webinar for STEM teachers, sponsored by the University of California’s STEM Faculty Learning Community. A primary goal of the course, according to teachers Erin Palmer and Sabriya Rosemund, is to disrupt the “racialized and gendered construct of scientific brilliance,” which defines “good science” as getting all the right answers.
I find the erosion of meritocracy in the medical field to be especially worrisome, as we’re no longer indulging mere narcissism or slowing down research, but affecting patients’ well-being directly.
Racial preferences in medical school programs are sometimes justified on the basis that minorities want doctors who “look like them.” Arguably, however, minority patients with serious illnesses want the same thing as anyone else: subject mastery.