Any sensible person can see something seriously wrong with many American universities.
For several decades many of our most prestigious seats of learning have become hostile to free speech and genuine inquiry. Speech codes have been introduced to prevent so-called “micro-aggressions.”
Speakers that do not subscribe to “woke” orthodoxies have been “de-platformed.” Those who do get invited on to campus risk being mobbed, as recently happened to a federal judge at Stanford and Riley Gaines at San Francisco State
Intellectual inquiry, too, has narrowed. Anyone presenting ideas outside the approved parameters risks having their career terminated. (See what happened to Harvard’s then President, Larry Summers, in 2006 when he suggested that genetics might help explain why there are more male than female scientists.)
Then on Oct. 7, Hamas slaughtered over a thousand Israelis, most of them civilians. Far from condemning the massacre, student groups at Harvard, Cornell and other universities rushed to issue statements attacking Israel.
Anti-Israel protesters on campus made statements and chanted slogans that went beyond being merely rude or unpleasant. Some seemed antisemitic. Others sounded like they were calling for a Jewish genocide.
How come those campus speech codes suddenly no longer applied? Having spent years policing what could be said to avoid “micro aggressions,” where were the university authorities when Jewish students faced actual aggression?
Giving evidence before a Congressional committee the other week, Claudine Gay of Harvard suggested that however unpalatable the protesters might be, it was all part of their right to freedom of speech. “Our university embraces a commitment to free expression” she said. Both she and Liz Magill of Penn failed to confirm that calls for genocide of Jews violated the university’s code of conduct.
Free speech appears to apply at these universities when you want to call for genocide but not if you want to talk about genetics.
Watching both Gay and Magill give evidence, they both appeared out of their depth. I may not have been the only person left wondering how they were appointed to their respective roles in the first place. (Some have unkindly suggested it may have something to do with ‘woke’ hiring practices.)
The problems at U.S. universities run deeper than just a handful of poor appointments.
Many U.S. universities, including some in Mississippi, have DEI, or Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, programs. This needs to stop. Now.
DEI can sound entirely harmless. Who could be against supporting different groups of individuals, including people of different races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations? Pretty soon, however, DEI proves to be something much more sinister.
In the name of diversity, some U.S. universities have been systematically discriminating against some Americans based on their race, limiting admissions to “overrepresented” groups. In the name of equity, US universities have set out to address structural inequalities — historic and current — that advantage some and disadvantage others. In the name of inclusion, those with the wrong views are excluded.
DEI is flawed because it demands we think in terms of groups of individuals rather than just individuals. Universities that apply DEI no longer treat everyone on campus equally but based on their immutable characteristics. DEI is a fundamentally unAmerican ideal.
DEI is also a formula almost guaranteed to produce institutional incompetence. Imagine, for a moment, that your favorite football or basketball team was to be run based on DEI. If they recruited players based on something other than their ability to play the game, they would lose. It makes no sense to run a public university that way.
What is to be done?
Last week, the Governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, showed the way. He issued an executive order banning DEI programs in public universities. Mississippi needs to do something similar.
An executive order in Mississippi could prohibit public universities from using state funds, property or resources for DEI initiatives.
To be sure, if the governor were to do this in Mississippi there would be howls of protests. Various pundits would whine. It is what pundits do. Some will scream “supremacist!” There is nothing supremacist about insisting every American is treated equally. Others will warn that unless we continue to pay DEI staff six-figure salaries Mississippi will somehow regress.
I suspect most Mississippi parents wanting the best for their children would breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the scenes we witnessed at some of those so-called “elite” institutions never happened here.
If we want to stop the “woke” takeover of our institutions, we need to act now.
Douglas Carswell is the President & CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.