This Week in the Mayonnaise Clinic: Can Colleges Be Changed?
Plus: Should I tell my friend that I'm offended by her statements about Israel?
There was a lot of reaction to what I wrote on Wednesday, and I wanted to answer a couple of questions that came in about the topic I addressed: how to counter the dominance on college campuses of a brain-dead form of identity politics, one that sees nothing but “systems of oppression” and that is quick to ascribe credit or blame in any situation based solely on the identities of the people involved in a conflict and their apparent rank in an oppression hierarchy.
As I wrote, while we’ve seen that identity-only politics manifesting in high-stakes ways (denial and justification about the large-scale Hamas terror attack in Israel last month) and in lower-stakes ways (strident identity-based defenses of a Latina professor at UC Berkeley who has been stalking a white, male colleague), the underlying cognitive errors leading college students to morally bizarre stances have been similar.
One reader wrote in because she is distressed by a friend’s social media statements about the situation in the Holy Land, including a dismissive comment about anti-Semitism in the US. The advice I had for her, which comes below, surprised me a little bit. But first, I’ll answer a letter that the came in from the belly of the beast: UC Berkeley.
I'm a UC Berkeley employee who read your column about the identitarian theatrics on our campus with a mixture of embarrassment and grim recognition. I appreciate that you closed with some sensible recommendations of how individual readers might push back on these excesses, but I'd love to hear you expand on your observation that "[i]t is perfectly reasonable for policymakers to look to rein in this insanity" as well. Those of us who lament how identity politics have transformed higher education are often at a loss for what sort of public policy changes to advocate for that might improve the situation, without descending into the type of reactionary, constitutionally questionable shenanigans that culture warriors like Chris Rufo have been pushing in places like Florida. Can you recommend some changes at the policy level that would rein in woke excesses at public universities like mine, while avoiding the illiberal downsides of anti-CRT legislation and the like?
So first, I’ll list a few things that I would not do in an effort to rein in the left-wing identity politics excesses on campus. I would not impose speech codes or try to punish students or faculty for expressing odious opinions. I wouldn’t set rules to prohibit the teaching of certain topics, like critical race theory. I wouldn’t require employees or contractors to sign pledges not to support BDS or any other political cause. And I wouldn’t fire faculty for having the wrong views.
What I would do is make administrative changes that seek to ensure that diverse ideological ideas are permitted on campus and that left-wing ideas are not given special, favorable institutional treatment. Here are my recommendations:
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