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The Victim Culture Produces No Winners: Heather Mac Donald’s Take

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“But instead, universities have been captured by a destructive ideology of victimhood that insists that to be a female or a minority on an American college campus is to be the target of endless, nonstop oppression.”

Author, attorney, journalist, and editor—political commentator Heather Mac Donald has had quite a prolific career, championing free speech and other causes. She was the subject of a Wall Street Journal op-ed “The Silencing of Heather Mac Donald,” which discussed the now-famous protest against her speech on policing at Claremont McKenna College. The author of books such as The War On Cops and The Diversity Delusion, she currently works as a contributing editor for New York’s City Journal. Ms. Mac Donald, a proponent of free speech and vocal critic of today’s “identity politics,” joined Merion West’s Erich Prince on May 28th to discuss the problems with fixation on diversity in academia and other aspects of American life.

Erich Prince: You have a piece in National Review coming out in the June 11th magazine issue, and it concerns an incident at our alma mater: a white graduate student calling the police on a fellow graduate student, who was black and napping in a common room. This is another incident in a long line of recent Yale events involving race. What’s going on at Yale, and what does this say about the situation of the leadership at various institutions in the Ivy League and beyond?

Heather Mac Donald: Well, what is not going on at Yale is a single-minded focus on scholarship and learning. This incident—a possibly emotionally troubled graduate student did call the police on a female who was sleeping in the common room at 1:40 AM who happened to be black—is a trivial incident. In any other context, if the caller were not white and the sleeper not black, this would pass without notice.

Instead, the Yale bureaucracy itself turned this into the very symbol of Yale. The president, Peter Salovey, sent out an email to the entire school berating Yale for its hatred, racism, and discrimination. He has promised many more layers of costly diversity bureaucracy, implicit bias training for all the staff at the graduate school, and it goes on and on.

This is preposterous. Yale is not a racist institution; no college is today. Yale offers all of its students extraordinary opportunities to learn. There’s no ‘whites only’ library and ‘blacks only’ library. The faculty are perhaps the most liberal human beings in history. What the university should have done is apologize that a student had to go through the disruption of being checked for an ID for fifteen minutes in the middle of the night and then said to its students, “Okay, now go and learn.”

But instead, universities have been captured by a destructive ideology of victimhood that insists that to be a female or a minority on an American college campus is to be the target of endless, nonstop oppression. That’s a fiction, and to tell students to think of themselves as victims does them no favor whatsoever.

Erich: To what degree is this particularly magnified in the Ivy League? We have Princeton, with the Woodrow Wilson renaming. I interviewed Amy Wax in February at Penn Law amid the entire controversy there in response to some remarks she had made. Is this happening at other colleges as well? Or is it particularly magnified at the Ivy League, and does the media like to harp on these elite universities?

Heather: It is everywhere. There is no distinction between the leftism of Ivy League and state schools, and increasingly, even community colleges have been colonized by identity politics. But I think probably, yes. The New York Times has a lot of Yale graduates on its staff. They write a lot about Yale, and they write about Harvard.

I’ve seen the argument out there that the student activism is in direct proportion to the amount of tuition that the students’ parents are laying out—I wish that were the case. But the state schools are just as much affected by leftism. In fact, a conference at Iowa University in the 1990s on gender theory really was the start of the entire gender-trans movement. So, there’s really no refuge from this madness.

Erich: So, in your first answer and also in your National Review piece, you alluded to this “fifty-million-dollar faculty initiative” to bring more minority faculty members to schools like Yale. Your piece in City Journal titled “How Identity Politics is Harming the Sciences” makes a similar point when it comes to “watering down requirements in order to attract more women and minorities.” Can you talk a little bit more about the effects of these policies on the students and on society at large, especially as students graduate or as professors come into schools under these initiatives?

Heather: Well, a school that is obsessed about diversity and is bludgeoning its faculty to hire by race and gender is shortchanging its students because race and gender are utterly irrelevant qualifications for teaching. It has no bearing on scholarship and to tell either females or so-called underrepresented minorities—of Asians don’t seem to have any problem learning science from whomever is most capable of teaching them—to tell females or blacks or Hispanics that they can only learn engineering if they see somebody in front of the class who mirrors their sexual identity and their race, again, does them a huge disservice. You should be able to have a role model of anybody who inspires you because of his command of a subject matter and because of the inherent beauty of that field.

Nevertheless, colleges are devoting vast sums of money to the attempt to diversify their faculty. What that means is bidding up the salaries of the very few graduates who are black or Hispanic with PhDs. The reason why there are not proportional numbers of black and Hispanics in fields other than ethnic studies and some very soft social sciences is that they are not graduating in the numbers that would make it reasonable to expect proportional representation.

So, the few that are out there are the targets of a nonstop bidding war on the part of universities who can afford it. That drives up students’ tuitions because you’re paying three times as much to try and get a black professor of Computer Engineering. There’s less than a dozen black PhDs who graduate every year with either Computer Engineering or Computer Science degrees, and yet schools beat their chests and accuse their own faculty of racism because the Computer Science and Physics departments do not have black faculty. It’s ridiculous.

This obsession with race and gender is by no means confined to the university. The students do carry this ideology with them.  You have the same obsession in Silicon Valley now, where firms like Google and the big Internet companies are also making gender their primary criterion for hiring and promotion, something that is also irrelevant to whether somebody can develop a groundbreaking technology in artificial intelligence or computing.

The fact is that males and females have different inclinations when it comes to hard science fields. At the very upper end of math capacity and the very lowest end of math idiocy, males and females are not equally represented. Males are overrepresented at the very top in math skills, and they are also overrepresented among the math klutzes. So, to expect that absent racism or sexism, you’re going to have a fifty-fifty representation of males and females is against nature. It’s against reality. But we are wasting huge amounts of time and huge amounts of taxpayer dollars, because the federal government is obsessed with this as well, in order to engineer race and gender proportionality.

Erich: I recall reading a study not too long ago by some economists at Duke University talking about the state of California with scaling back some of the affirmative action requirements. They saw higher graduation rates, with the extrapolation being that if we don’t have affirmative action, students can go to schools that more suit their abilities and aren’t in places that might be a little over their head. Is that an argument that you have some sympathy for?

Heather: It’s the most powerful critique of racial preferences that I know of, called mismatch theory. a law professor at UCLA, Richard Sander, first put it into rigorous empirical form. Sander is a very traditional, progressive liberal and is firmly committed to racial equality. He looked at the data, especially with regards to law schools, and he noticed the fact that black law students, almost without exception, end up clustered in the bottom quarter or bottom tenth of the law school class.

What he noticed is, those law schools are universally admitting black students with much, much lower academic qualifications, much lower scores on the LSAT, and grade point averages. And what happens when you put a student in an environment for which he is less qualified than his peers is that he doesn’t do as well, and he learns less.

If I had a 650 score on the math SAT out of an 800 point range, and MIT decided it needed more females in its class so it could feel good about itself for gender diversity and admitted me to the freshman class, and everybody else there had been admitted on merit [had scored an] 800, after the first year I would probably be failing. I would switch out of a science major and try to find some soft, fake liberal arts major that I could keep up with. So, it’s not a race issue; it’s just a question of the match between a student’s qualifications and those of his peers. This finding has been replicated, say, in schools in Ghana.

So, [racial preference] is a very, very destructive practice. It harms the alleged beneficiaries of preferences. The only reason for racial preferences is for the egos of college administrators who like to feel that by looking out over a diverse realm of faces, they are standing up to what they believe to be the racism of red state America.

Erich: So, as far as the composition of the faculty, there are statistics suggesting  96% of Harvard faculty donated to Democrats, and a similar statistic was recorded at Cornell. Who’s to blame for this situation? Is it hiring practices or self-selection? Are more conservative people saying, “I don’t have a future in academia,” given the prevailing sentiments and going elsewhere? What’s facilitating this self-selecting process of increasingly left-leaning faculty members at universities?

Heather: I think it probably has been the case for most of the twentieth century, but the trend line certainly shows it’s getting worse. At this point now, we have a self-reinforcing phenomenon, especially because the academic departments are already so left. This is even happening, most terrifyingly, in the hard sciences. They’re all obsessed with this idea of diversity and racial and gender preferences. Their content is all about the narcissism of identity politics.

If you’re a white male contemplating going forward in academia, you’re going to be very, very stigmatized. You’re going to have to be much, much better than anybody else to get hired because every faculty department is under enormous pressure, internally generated by the deans, provosts, and presidents, to hire females and blacks and Hispanics. So, unless you’re doing the most so-called cutting edge of “victomology” studies, and you’re developing some new “trans identity,” as a white male, you don’t stand a chance. It becomes a self-selection. Conservatives just know that they stand no chance of getting hired, and so they don’t even try.

How you break that, I don’t know. There’s been proposals to have affirmative action hiring for conservative professors. I oppose that. I oppose any type of extraneous criterion coming into a process that should be purely scholarly.

Erich: My second-to-last question is one I asked UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh last week, and I’ll ask it to you as well. A lot of the debate about freedom of speech seems to focus on college campuses. I’m wondering if there are other places, perhaps corporate America, where free speech is under as much threat as its proponents say it is?

Heather: Well, I assume that Professor Volokh mentioned Google, now he’s representing Google in the James Damore lawsuit. We’ve seen this ridiculous idea that non-orthodox speech is somehow hate speech and puts minorities and females at lethal risk of their lives. That’s a preposterous idea. Google, in August 2017, fired a young computer scientist who was a very good worker simply because he challenged the feminist ideology that the reason that females aren’t fifty-fifty at Google is bias. The language that the president of Google used to fire James Damore was a direct import from academia.

So, you’re going to see this more and more in corporations that have been taken over, as a Google employee said on a chat board, by the African American and Women Studies departments, where you’re not allowed to say anything that goes against the diversity line.

Erich: Your thoughts on the intersection of religion and the conservative ideology are well-known. I’m wondering what sort of changes you might like to see in the relationship between the belief in God and self-identifying as a conservative and voting that way?

Heather: Well, I am a nonbeliever, and I come to my philosophical and political positions through empirical evidence. I share many of the same views on the culture wars as a lot of believers. I think that the biological, two-parent family consisting of a mother and a father is hands down the best way to raise children and to conserve civilization. But I don’t base my views on belief in Holy Writ. I base them on observation and looking at what’s happening to society with the breakdown of the family.

So, I think that to the extent that conservatives ever invoke religious revelation to support their views, they are resting on flimsy territory. It requires a leap of faith to think that the text that they are invoking is in fact the word of God, and if you don’t share that view, to invoke the Bible is not particularly persuasive. Conservatives have to be willing to make their arguments based on empirical evidence and not alleged evidence from God.

Erich: Thank you for your time, Ms. Mac Donald, and for joining us.

Heather: Thank you, Mr. Prince.

Erich J. Prince is a Co-founder and contributor at Merion West. Erich has written for a variety of publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Hartford Courant, The News & Observer, and the Orlando Sentinel. His writing has been honored with two awards from the Columbia University School of Journalism. He studied political science at Yale University, completing his thesis on the history of polarization in the United States Congress. Contact Erich at erich@merionwest.com.