University of Pittsburgh Hits Rock Bottom

“Liberal education,” Leo Strauss reminds us in Liberalism Ancient and Modern, “is not the opposite of conservative education, but of illiberal education.” Illiberal education is that which imposes and enforces an orthodoxy, whereas genuine liberal education necessarily involves an openness to and consideration of a wide spectrum of different and often conflicting points of view.

Liberal education in this sense has been dying at universities for decades now, but nowhere is the idea of liberal education more dead than the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt has announced a new required course for all new students: “Anti-Black Racism: History, Ideology, and Resistance.” The online syllabus is quite long and takes a while to get through. Here is the complete course overview (with my bolded highlights):

In the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and many others in recent months, activists and scholars in the United States have taken to the streets, the workplace, and classrooms to decry anti-Black racism and call attention to the ongoing devaluation of Black lives in the U.S. and globally. The wave of uprisings that have swept the nation and globe represent part of a long struggle of anti-racist organizing—one that can be traced back hundreds of years. This multidisciplinary course seeks to provide a broad overview of this rich and dynamic history. Built around the expertise of Pitt faculty and Pittsburgh area activists, this course will introduce students to the established tradition of scholarship focused on the Black experience and Black cultural expression. It also seeks to examine the development, spread, and articulations of anti-Black racism in the United States and around the world. The course will grapple with three key areas of inquiry: the roots, ideology, and resistance to anti-Black racism. Each unit will be focused through readings, lectures and discussions. First, we will explore the roots of anti-Black racism in the United States, drawing connections to African history, the history of slavery, and the Transatlantic Slave trade. Second, the course will grapple with the ideology of anti-Black racism—the ideas that undergird the creation of racial hierarchies, often shaped by pseudo-science and eugenics. Third, the course will highlight the theme of resistance, paying close attention to the range of political strategies and tactics Black activists and their allies have employed in their effort to obtain a more just and equal society here and internationally. Significantly, the course employs an intersectional analysis—taking into account how race is interwoven into other categories including ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality and nationality. We will use a variety of scholarly disciplines spanning the Humanities, Social Sciences, the Arts, Science and Public Health to explore these themes to help students understand how anti-Black racism functions in U.S. society.

Several observations:

As you go through the week-by-week subjects and required readings, you notice right away that the reading material starts from the very far left and goes off the edge from there. The 1619 Project shows up for duty, of course, and the course culminates with the supposed anti-racist agenda of Ibram X. Kendi. If you really want to grasp how radical the course reading list is, consider this omission: Ta Nahesi Coates isn’t on the reading list. Let that sink in for a moment. When Coates isn’t radical enough for you, you know you’ve really fallen off the edge of a flat-earth worldview.

Needless to say, there is no inclusion, even in the optional recommended readings, of black intellectuals or authors who offer serious critiques of the current orthodoxy on racism, such as Thomas Sowell, John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Shelby Steele, Wilfred Reilly, Jason Riley, Carol Swain, William B. Allen, Deroy Murdock, George Yancey, Danielle Allen, Randall Kennedy, Stephen Carter, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Coleman Hughes, or Roland Fryer. (Many of these writers are not conservatives, but will be scorned anyway.) So much for “diversity and inclusion.” There’s nothing “multidisciplinary” about this course.

Also missing from the reading list are classic black authors such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and Richard Wright. Perhaps the most shocking omission of all: Martin Luther King, Jr. Forget about the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Among significant modern black historians missing from the syllabus is John Hope Franklin. It’s apparent that no author who wrote before Black Lives Matter was founded is worthy of inclusion.

There is something odd about how the ferment of the current moment is focused exclusively on the black experience. Never mind the talk of “intersectionality.” That’s just academobabble. What about hispanics? Native Americans? Or the people we used to call “white ethnics” (i.e., Irish, Jews, slavs, Asians, etc)? All these groups suffered from racism and discrimination in American history. Will there be any study of the Chinese exclusion acts? The “No Irish Here” signs in the northeast? Discrimination against Jews in college admissions? They are mostly a sideshow in our current “anti-racist” moment.  Again, so much for “diversity and inclusion.”

Remember the old saying that liberal ideas are so good they need to be mandatory? Here’s the kicker, from the FAQ page:

I’ve been auto-enrolled in PITT 0210. Can I drop the course?

For all full-time, first-year students in the fall 2020 semester on the Pittsburgh and Bradford campuses, the course is mandatory. You cannot drop it.

It gets better. This is a one-credit course. One credit. I doubt many first-year students will bother with all the reading and class sessions (fully online of course because of COVID) for one measly credit. This course is a disgrace.

Here’s a better idea. Students should boycott the course. It is one more sign of the unseriousness of this course that it is ungraded: it is a S (for “Satisfactory”)/No Credit grade. Let the faculty give you NC. If enough students record an NC for a measly 1-credit course, the administration will get the message that this blatant coercion into ideological indoctrination is unacceptable to its “customers.” (Pitt, a public university, charges about $20,000 a year just for tuition for in-state students. The website doesn’t include room and board costs.)

Where are the trustees? Turns out there are 78 trustees, which indicates it is not a serious oversight body, but one many people join simply for the honor of it. (One of Pitt’s trustees is former Republican governor Richard Thornburgh. He should resign forthwith.) The chair of the Pitt board of trustees is Thomas E. Richards, the retired CEO of CDW corporation. No contact information or emails are available for any of the trustees, but parents of Pitt students, or prospective Pitt students, ought to make their views known.

Especially the view that they are crossing Pitt off their list of universities they’ll consider attending.

Chaser—a worthy article just out from Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic: “Anti-Racist Argument Are Tearing People Apart.”

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