Hardly a week seems to pass at Yale without some agitation group bringing up charges of grand malfeasance against the University. Exploiting the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a coalition of graduate and undergraduate students, along with local labor leaders, has accused the University of discriminatory practices in its tenure, hiring and graduate student application processes.
Two weeks ago, 80 protesters appeared in the Hillhouse Avenue office of Provost Andrew Hamilton demanding to meet with him that very instant. Angered that Hamilton did not stop everything he was doing and entertain this group of unannounced “guests” on the first day of classes, the activists left a letter with Hamilton’s secretary stating their demands, and then delivered a slew of denunciations to the media.
And they wonder why no one takes them seriously.
Rather than attack the real problems of racism and sexism at their source, the “diversity” activists are instead blaming Yale for the very existence of social inequality. That minorities often face economic disadvantages is both not Yale’s fault and impossible for Yale to fix. The answer to racism’s lasting effects on present-day society is for us to increase educational opportunities for minority children at the earliest stages of their lives. This might require considering school vouchers as the next revolution in public education and public school teachers’ unions as the biggest obstacles in the way of school reform. But does anyone honestly think that those now attacking Yale would ever consider any of these arguments? Of course not; it’s much easier to call President Levin a “pharaoh” and hold a sit-in.
Locals 34 and 35 have signed unprecedented eight-year contracts that commit them and the University to “best practices” that nominally bind both parties to abstain from publicly defaming one another. If only. Seeing that most 34 and 35 members could (rightly) care less about “grievances” raised by those leading the extracurricular activity that is graduate student organizing, leaders of the faux union have picked an issue in order to keep themselves in the headlines. They have heralded the cause likely to gain the most support from otherwise indifferent blue-collar workers and idealistic undergraduates, a campaign for “diversity” that portrays those stewarding the University as bigots. Meanwhile, it’s more than a little disingenuous for Bob Proto, a white man leading a union overwhelmingly comprised of people of color, to be lambasting Yale for not hiring enough minorities. If he had any notion of logical consistency, he would resign from his position and appoint a minority in his place.
The diversity movement reached its height last academic year when Yale declined to renew the contract of Dr. Connie Allen, then a lecturer in Yale’s chemistry department, due to budgetary constraints. Most important to this story is that Allen happens to be a black woman. Criticizing Yale’s racist patriarchy, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, GESO and Allen ignited a small controversy (featuring, of course, an unannounced visit to the provost’s office) that lasted a few weeks into the summer until Allen left for a job at Mount Holyoke.
Contrast these efforts with the reaction following the denial of tenure to Mary Habeck, a popular professor of American and European military history, in April 2004, just about the same time Allen made her case public. Not a peep of protest was heard from Locals 34 and 35, GESO, the UOC, Mayor DeStefano or anyone else claiming to be concerned about diversity, and this lack of outcry underscores the intellectual hollowness of these groups’ entire agenda. Why no outrage? Well, for one, Habeck’s skin pigmentation is not the proper hue. Equally considerable is the fact that she teaches the “wrong” sort of history, that is, the type dominated by dead white men and peppered with tropes of “elitism.” Had Habeck decided to instead specialize in the communal agricultural practices of transgendered Native Americans in pre-colonial America, there is little doubt that those currently barging into various administrators’ offices would have done the same for her last April. At the very least, Habeck would have secured a visiting professorship with the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies.
What is more troubling than any of the issues raised by activists is the fact that at an institution that claims to foster a diverse academic environment, 93 percent of Yale faculty political donations for the 2004 presidential race went to the Democratic candidate. Real “diversity” is intellectual diversity, and Yale should hire faculty and accept graduate students solely on the basis of their ideas and scholarship, not their skin color or genitalia. There is nothing wrong with aggressively recruiting minority candidates to study and teach at Yale, but the diversity cops are demanding a racial quota system in which physical traits trump all. Their agenda and the way that they are pushing it embodies the very sort of discrimination they claim to be fighting.
It was fitting that the “diversity” movement chose the 76th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday to hold a conference decrying Yale’s supposed racism because it demonstrated its utter hypocrisy. King, after all, said that individuals should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” If only his purported followers would listen to his words today.
James Kirchick is a junior in Pierson College. He is an occasional columnist.