Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: Universities (And Law Schools) Are Failing At Inclusion

New York Times Op-Ed:  Universities Are Failing at Inclusion, by David Brooks:

The Idenity Trap 2Universities are supposed to be centers of inquiry and curiosity — places where people are tolerant of difference and learn about other points of view. Instead, too many have become brutalizing ideological war zones, so today the most hostile place to be an American Jew is not at some formerly restricted country club but on a college campus.

How on earth did this happen? I’ve been teaching on college campuses off and on for 25 years. It’s become increasingly evident to me that American adolescence and young adulthood — especially for those who wind up at elite schools — now happen within a specific kind of ideological atmosphere.

It centers on a hard-edged ideological framework that has been spreading in high school and college, on social media, in diversity training seminars and in popular culture. The framework doesn’t have a good name yet. It draws on the thinking of intellectuals ranging from the French philosopher Michel Foucault to the critical race theorist Derrick Bell. (For a good intellectual history, I recommend Yascha Mounk’s recent book, “The Identity Trap.”)

The common ideas associated with this ideology are by now pretty familiar:

  • We shouldn’t emphasize what unites all human beings; we should emphasize what divides us.
  • Human relations are power struggles between oppressors and oppressed groups.
  • Human communication is limited. A person in one group can never really understand the experience of someone in another group.
  • The goal of rising above bigotry is naïve. Bigotry and racism are permanent and indestructible components of American society.
  • Seemingly neutral tenets of society — like free speech, academic freedom, academic integrity and the meritocracy — are tools the powerful use to preserve their power.

There are many teachers and administrators who believe that they best serve society not by being open and curious and searching for the truth but by propagating this ideological framework. ...

[U]niversities have become battlefields. Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith America, which over the past 20 years has worked on about 1,200 campuses to narrow toxic divides and build bridges between people of all faiths or no faith. Over these decades, he has concluded that far from creating a healthier, more equitable campus, this ideology demonizes, demeans and divides students. It demeans white people by reducing them to a single category — oppressor. Meanwhile, it demeans, for example, Muslim people of color, like Patel, by reducing them to victims.

Patel doesn’t believe we should try to “end D.E.I.,” as some have proposed. That’s not going to happen anyway. Besides, in a liberal society we beat bad ideas with better ideas. Patel does argue that we’re at a paradigm-shifting moment when we can replace a destructive form of diversity, equity and inclusion with a better form — one that actually includes people, instead of excluding them.

The right intellectual framework for effective diversity work is pluralism. Pluralism starts with a celebration of the fact that we live in one of the most diverse societies in history. The job of the university is to help young people from different backgrounds learn to work and live together. ...

Over the past decades, the crude ideology that’s been marching across American society has taken advantage of the fact that some people like to see the world through Manichaean us/them categories. Now is the time for donors, faculty members, students, parents and everybody else involved in higher education to support the pluralistic counterweight, which actually practices inclusion, celebrates complexity, fosters cooperation and leads to social justice.

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