Race-obsessed mania could signal the final demise of the American university. It has, however, been a long time dying, and many would say that it has been a long time coming. Those who saw the Academy’s abandonment of the rational foundations on which it was built knew that its collapse was inevitable.
“This is the way the world ends,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “not with a bang but a whimper.” Whether or not the world might end in the way that Eliot prophesied, we can more safely prophesy the impending demise of the American University. Indeed, in this very summer of destructive discontent, we are witnessing before our very eyes its simpering and whimpering suicide.
This apocalyptic view was proclaimed in the headline of an article by Bob Zeidman, titled “The Death of the Liberal American University Occurred This Month,” published on July 15 in The Epoch Times. The reason for Mr. Zeidman’s apocalyptic proclamation was a decision by Cornell University, his alma mater, to begin the practice of systemic racial discrimination. Mr. Zeidman was outraged that Cornell had announced a scholarship for students that is predicated on one criterion—the person’s skin colour. These new scholarships are available for black students only. “The first question I have is, who is black?” writes Mr. Zeidman. “Is it someone descended from a slave in America? Is it someone with at least one parent, one grandparent, or one great grandparent who has identifiably dark skin in a photograph? Does it include students from Africa or only African Americans? Does it include people from India? From Jamaica? Will the administrators of the scholarship perform DNA tests?”
Coming from a working-class Jewish family and writing of the anti-Semitic discrimination he suffered as a young man, Mr. Zeidman nonetheless succeeded as an entrepreneur in the high-tech environment of Silicon Valley. “I believed in Cornell’s motto that even a Jewish student from a working-class family like me could attend and excel,” he writes. “I cherished the environment at Cornell where I sat and befriended people of every ethnic, religious, and class background, where we conversed, debated, and partied on equal footing, without questioning how any of us got admitted or whether any of us belonged there. For me, now, that feeling of pride is gone.”
He then laments that “opinions like mine in this article are rarely tolerated these days, especially by ‘institutes of higher learning,’” citing the recent example of the boycott and protests against the Cornell Law School professor, William A. Jacobson, for his criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mr. Zeidman, a longtime donor to Cornell, has informed the university administration that he will no longer be supporting his alma mater financially. He is also contacting other donors hoping to persuade them to withdraw their support. “Perhaps financial pressure will return Cornell to its roots of race-blind, religion-blind, and sex-blind policies, and where true freedom and equality will once again be a core value as intended by its founders.”
Although it’s easy to sympathize with Mr. Zeidman’s perspective, it should be noted that the form of positive discrimination or affirmative action, which he finds objectionable, has been around for a long time. It is a matter for debate whether racial discrimination in favour of disadvantaged groups is justifiable. What is not justifiable is the suggestion that it is not a matter for debate. What is equally unjustifiable is the intolerance which justifies boycotts and threats against those who wish to discuss these issues. What is also unjustifiable is the cowardice of those who do nothing in the face of the intolerance that refuses to debate the issues and which persecutes those who seek to do so.
In truth, and Mr. Zeidman’s spleen-venting aside, the scholarships for “black students only” at Cornell University is relatively trivial compared to the really radical lunacy at other universities around the country, a lunacy that is becoming compulsory.
Take the situation at Vanderbilt University, for instance.
A petition being circulated this summer accuses the school of racism for not having had enough black students and faculty over the past decades. This implies that black students had actually applied and were denied admission due to their race, whereas, in fact, black students and faculty have been highly sought after, as part of the policy of affirmative action which Vanderbilt, like most institutions, actively pursues. In spite of the university’s best proactive efforts to attract black students and faculty, relatively few have been forthcoming. The few who did apply were accepted over more qualified students and were often given full-ride scholarships. The petition seems to demand that Vanderbilt waves a magic wand to change the demographics, not understanding that you can only accept people who have actually applied and that you can’t accept those who haven’t.
Further signs of this race-obsessed mania can be seen in demands that Vanderbilt’s music department practice “equality” by ensuring that all faculty and student recitals and large ensemble concerts be required to program 50% of their music by black and women composers. Perhaps we should sacrifice quality for equality, limiting the performance of Bach or Beethoven to make way for unknown pieces by unknown composers, purely on the grounds of their sex or skin colour, but the bottom line is that there are simply not enough compositions by black composers to make this possible, even were it desirable. There is no music written by black composers for certain instruments and there are not enough living black classical composers to write new music quickly enough to provide the requisite quota of compositions for those instruments. The fact is that these agenda-driven fanatics expect the square peg of their ideological dogmatism to fit into the round hole of actual reality.
This sort of post-rational madness could indeed signal the final demise of the American university. It has, however, been a long time dying, and many would say that it has been a long time coming. Those who saw the Academy’s abandonment of the rational foundations on which it was built knew that its collapse was inevitable. In losing its reason, it has lost its reason to exist. In affirming that all is ultimately meaningless, it confessed that it is itself ultimately meaningless. In condemning the corpus of Western civilization, it was condemning itself. In betraying the corpus, it becomes the corpse. After the “woke” comes the wake; and after the wake, the whimper.
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The featured image is an image of Cornell University, uploaded by LBM1948, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. It appears here, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.