Is There Any Hope For Our Civilization?

I am an inveterate optimist, but the more I learn about what goes on in our universities, the more I conclude that our civilization has a death wish. Heather Mac Donald’s article in City Journal on “micro-aggression” at UCLA prompted this particular bout of despondency. What goes on in our universities is scarcely believable. Mac Donald’s article is lengthy and should be read in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts with my comments.

In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.”

Scholars of Color? Sadly, this is not a parody. And these are graduate students–i.e., presumably adults.

[UCLA], which trumpets its “social-justice” mission at every opportunity, is a cauldron of simmering racial tensions. Students specializing in “critical race theory”—an intellectually vacuous import from law schools—play the race card incessantly against their fellow students and their professors, leading to an atmosphere of nervous self-censorship. Foreign students are particularly shell-shocked by the school’s climate. “The Asians are just terrified,” says a recent graduate. “They walk into this hyper-racialized environment and have no idea what’s going on. Their attitude in class is: ‘I don’t want to talk. Please don’t make me talk!’”

They were silly enough to think that one goes to school to get an education.

Val Rust’s dissertation-prep class had devolved into a highly charged arena of competing victim ideologies, impenetrable to anyone outside academia. For example: Were white feminists who use “standpoint theory”—a feminist critique of allegedly male-centered epistemology—illegitimately appropriating the “testimonial” genre used by Chicana feminists to narrate their stories of oppression?

Um. Sure. Again, this is not a parody.

Other debates centered on the political implications of punctuation. Rust had changed a student’s capitalization of the word “indigenous” in her dissertation proposal to the lowercase, thus allegedly showing disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view. Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments.

Punctuation, I was always good at. Like spelling. On the other hand, when it came to calculus, I really wish that I could have claimed that my answers “better reflected my political commitments.” Dumb as those commitments may have been at the time.

After each of these debates, the self-professed “students of color” exchanged e-mails about their treatment by the class’s “whites.” (Asians are not considered “persons of color” on college campuses, presumably because they are academically successful.) Finally, on November 14, 2013, the class’s five “students of color,” accompanied by “students of color” from elsewhere at UCLA, as well as by reporters and photographers from the campus newspaper, made their surprise entrance into Rust’s class as a “collective statement of Resistance by Graduate Students of Color.” The protesters formed a circle around Rust and the remaining five students (one American, two Europeans, and two Asian nationals) and read aloud their “Day of Action Statement.” That statement suggests that Rust’s modest efforts to help students with their writing faced obstacles too great to overcome.

The professor was trying to teach students–graduate students!–to write properly, and they took it as an affront to their racial identity. As though there were some correlation between skin color and literacy. That is a view that used to be called “racist,” but is now apparently de rigueur among liberals.

It turns out that the professor was correct: the protesters can’t write.

The Day of Action Statement contains hardly a sentence without some awkwardness of grammar or usage. “The silence on the repeated assailment of our work by white female colleagues, our professor’s failure to acknowledge and assuage the escalating hostility directed at the only Male of Color in this cohort, as well as his own repeated questioning of this male’s intellectual and professional decisions all support a complacency in this hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color,” the manifesto asserts. The Day of Action Statement denounces the class’s “racial microaggressions,” which it claims have been “directed at our epistemologies, our intellectual rigor and to a misconstruction of the methodological genealogies that we have shared with the class.” (Though it has only caught on in recent years, the “microaggression” concept was first coined in the 1970s by a black psychiatrist.) Reaching its peroration, the statement unleashes a few more linguistic head-scratchers: “It is, at its most benign, disingenuous to the next generations of Scholars of Color to not seek material and systematic changes in this department. It is a toxic, unsafe and intellectually stifling environment at its current worse.”

Understand that the morons who wrote this incoherent drivel, which wouldn’t have passed muster at my public high school in South Dakota, are PhD candidates. They are going to become teachers who will do their best to transmit their venomous ignorance to the next generation.

How did UCLA respond? The administration appointed a Race and Ethnic Relations Committee, and they cut loose the professor who tried to teach his students to write. In American universities, as best I can tell, idiocy reigns supreme.

Does this mean that our civilization is doomed? It may. Our best hope seems to be that everyone realizes that academia is hopeless, and should just be ignored.