Following up on my previous posts (links below): Wall Street Journal op-ed: The University of Denial: Aggressive Suppression of the Truth is a Central Feature of American Higher Education, by Amy Wax (Pennsylvania):
Somewhere deep in a file drawer, or on a computer server humming away in a basement, are thousands upon thousands of numbers, with names and identities attached. They’re called grades. They represent an objective reality, which exists independent of what people want reality to be. They sit silently, completely indifferent to indignation, angry petitions, irritable gestures, teachers’ removal from classrooms—all the furor and clamor of institutional politics.
Those numbers are now solely within the control of the individual students who earn them and the educational institutions that generate them—powerful entities ruled by bureaucracies that serve as gatekeepers to privileged positions in our society. They are jealously guarded, protected by cloaks of confidentiality and secrecy. But they are what they are. Hiding facts is not the same as changing them. ...
The problem is that students, including law students, go out into the real world. They are hired, paid and expected to perform, and their actions have real consequences for others. Whether we like it or not, grades help predict future performance. Some social actors acknowledge this, implicitly or overtly. As a law professor, I observe, for example, that federal judges unapologetically select clerks based on academic record and rank, and that elite law firms are also highly grade-conscious.
The mindset that values openness understands that the truth can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, doesn’t always respect our wishes, and sometimes hurts. Good feelings and reality don’t always mix. But there is a price to be paid for putting the quest for psychological comfort over openness on matters central to how our society is organized. While some people benefit from the favored view, others lose out. People accused of bigotry and discrimination—claims that are more pervasive than ever—are understandably unhappy about being deprived of the ability to defend themselves by pointing to alternative reasons for group differences. Hoarding and hiding information relevant to such differences, which amounts to predetermining a verdict of “guilty as charged,” violates basic principles of fair play and gives rise to justified resentment.
Universities, like other institutions, scheme relentlessly to keep such facts from view. Yet although the culture war is now tilted against those accused of discrimination, politics persists, and frustration tells at the ballot box. The deeper price is that people come to believe that truth yields to power, and that political pressure should be brought to bear to avoid inconvenient realities.
Some in this camp claim benign motives. They seek to safeguard the feelings of those who might be distressed by public knowledge. One can argue about when, how and in what form the disclosure will best balance personal privacy and our society’s need to know. But when facts are concealed, they do not change. They have consequences whether or not we are prepared to face them.
That belief that political force determines objective reality has characterized totalitarian regimes world-wide and throughout history—regimes that are responsible for untold amounts of human misery. That mindset is dangerously inconsistent with the kind of free society Americans have painstakingly built and defended over many centuries, at the cost of blood and treasure. Perhaps we no longer want such a society. But we relinquish it at our peril.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- Wax & Alexander: Paying The Price For Breakdown Of The Country's Bourgeois Culture (Aug. 13, 2017)
- Reaction To Law Profs' Op-Ed On The Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' (Aug. 25, 2017)
- Penn Law Students Try To Ban Amy Wax From Teaching Civil Procedure Due To Her Breakdown Of The Bourgeois Culture Op-Ed (Sept. 10, 2017)
- Controversy Over Law Profs' Op-Ed On The Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' Shifts From Penn To San Diego (Sept. 21, 2017)
- More Law Prof Reactions To The Wax & Alexander Op-Ed On The Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' (Sept. 22, 2017)
- Reynolds: It Is Time Academics Preach the Virtues They Practice (Sept. 26, 2017)
- Penn Alumni Speak Out Against Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' Op-Ed (Sept. 26, 2017)
- Wax: The Closing Of The Academic Mind (Feb. 19, 2018)
- Penn Dean Denies Amy Wax's Claim That He Asked Her To Take Leave Due To Controversial Op-Ed (Feb. 21, 2018)
- Gelbach: On Amy Wax’s Credibility And Conduct (Feb. 24, 2018)
- After 'Disparaging' Comments About Black Students, Amy Wax Barred From Teaching 1L Course At Penn (Mar. 14, 2018)