Diversity, Education, Top Stories

Shibboleths That Exclude in the Name of Inclusion

The Bible can be surprisingly relevant to academic politics. The Book of Judges tells of an internecine clash between the people of Gilead and their faithless brethren from the Ephraimite tribe, who had refused to aid Gilead against a foreign foe. Gilead retaliated mercilessly against the Ephraimites, first smashing their army and then setting a clever trap for Ephraimite survivors seeking to return home from the battlefield. Any man caught crossing the Jordan had to utter the word ‘shibboleth.’ In ordinary Hebrew, this referred to a part on a stalk of grain, but at those checkpoints it meant the difference between life and death. In the dialect of Gilead the first consonant was pronounced like the ‘sh’ in ‘shelter,’ whereas in the Ephraimite dialect it was pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘sinister.’ In this way, a linguistic subtlety became a tool to identify and kill 42,000 enemies.

The stakes aren’t as high when universities hire faculty, but rhetorical nuances increasingly do stand watch at the gates of the professorial ranks. Many institutions now require aspiring professors to include a ‘Diversity Statement’ in their job application, alongside their curriculum vitae, research plans, and reference letters. This Diversity Statement is usually an essay about the applicant’s experiences working with people from ‘diverse’ (read: under-represented) backgrounds. Some institutions also expect the applicant to assure the hiring committee that he or she understands the nature and origins of disadvantage in American society, and can discuss these hot-button topics within the confines of accepted discourse.

Read leniently, this can be almost a trivial requirement. Most highly regarded graduate programs (i.e. the programs that train most future professors) have students and faculty from around the world, so it is reasonably straightforward to write a congenial essay about working with people from varied backgrounds and learning to understand and value cultural differences.  Many professors, being tolerant people, accept such statements as sufficient. Reviewing several example statements that the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) offers as a guide for applicants seeking to navigate their job requirements, it’s clear that the Diversity Statement genre can leave room for non-ideological essays about personal experience. (Though I doubt that most nascent professors have the time and energy to make the same heroic efforts as the authors of the examples.)

Things get more treacherous if the would-be professor is expected to hold forth on systemic disadvantage in modern society. Here, knowledge of progressive shibboleths becomes important, as pronouncements on disadvantage and under-representation might garner approving nods when phrased properly, but staunch condemnation if tweaked only slightly.

For instance, in a recent advice column for job applicants, a sociology professor asked readers to consider the question “Do you use a wide range of learning activities in the classroom and adjust your teaching to the diverse set of needs of your students?” while preparing a diversity statement. Likewise, a document with advice for graduate students seeking faculty jobs lists “Incorporating a variety of teaching styles and activities” as a way of responding to diversity in the classroom. And the New York Times, the ultimate bellwether of respectable opinion, has given voice to those who argue that new, progressive strategies (in which students spend more time discussing with peers and less time listening to experts) are particularly useful for women and minorities.

Upon hearing that reformed teaching methods are proper responses to ethnic and gender diversity, the naïve listener might be shocked to discover that women and minorities learn differently to white males. However, when presented as part of a pitch for progressive education, these assertions are received without protest. It’s not that most academics believe in inherent cognitive differences between groups; to the extent that they will countenance theories of difference, the differences are presumed to be rooted in culture and circumstances, not biology.  More importantly, the differences asserted here are favorable (at least from a certain perspective) to women and minorities. These purportedly marginalized groups benefit from more communal classroom approaches (good!), while the white (and perhaps Asian) males are the ones benefit from more traditional methods (bad!).

The attribution of communal preferences to women and minorities is what makes assertions of group differences palatable in academic settings. Without that crucial element, academic audiences would recoil from any hint at group differences. However, this crucial distinction is not always obvious to people who haven’t sat through the ‘right’ workshops. I’m aware of a job applicant answering the Diversity Question by talking about the importance of recognizing differences in learning styles among students from diverse backgrounds. The interviewers tried to encourage the applicant to correct their pronunciation of ‘shibboleth,’ but to no avail. Even when offered gentle rhetorical assistance, the interviewee stumbled, failing to offer up the correct platitudes about diverse students faring better in progressive educational methods.

And so, a superb teacher and scholar failed to impress in a job interview. I won’t identify the participants in that episode, but I will say that the interviewee was from a very different background than the disappointed interviewers. It is one of the great ironies of Diversity and Inclusion that people from very different cultural roots must discuss contentious social issues in exactly the tones favored by a certain segment of educated elites. This line between mandatory and unacceptable discourse is paper-thin, and enforced with predictable consequences for outsiders.

Another increasingly common shibboleth is to decry ‘color-blindness‘ as an inadequate answer to racism. This notion may be confusing at first, since until recently most people learned that eschewing racism meant looking beyond skin color. That is certainly a valid point—race does shape people’s experiences in society, and hence seeing the totality of a person includes seeing the effects of background on life experience. However, all experiences (including racial experiences) are multi-faceted and highly variable, so a reasonable person should be reluctant to make race-based assumptions when first interacting with someone. The totality of a person is only discerned over time (if at all), so it is not something one can quickly evaluate and respond to when answering questions about homework.

Nevertheless, on multiple occasions I’ve seen professors interrogate job applicants about their strategies for working with minority and female students. Most of the applicants offered some egalitarian statement about treating people as individuals, and reminding students who experience doubt that they are wholly capable of success in their studies. Scandalized colleagues deemed these responses grossly inadequate, having expected to hear applicants discuss systemic barriers, and the ways in which they factor race and gender into their interactions with others.

Honestly, would anybody feel comfortable discussing the ways in which they deliberately (and progressively!) treat minority students differently to others? Even now, after years of working as a professor and hearing these shibboleths, and sitting in a comfortable chair with ample time to compose this essay, I’m not sure that I can offer a sentence that captures the appropriate sentiment. I cannot imagine expecting a new STEM PhD, who has spent years studying science rather than critical race theory, to offer an adequate answer off the top of their head in the high-stakes setting of a job interview. Fortunately, in each case a majority of my colleagues forgave the fumble, but the pressures to discuss diversity issues in job interviews have only increased rather than abated, and nobody has been able to dissuade certain people from asking similarly dangerous questions in subsequent interviews.

Perhaps the most important shibboleth is the one uttered, not by the interviewee, but by the interviewer. Hiring committees can say all day long that they work hard to seek and hire diverse faculty, and that once hired the diverse new professors will work alongside colleagues who will strive to ensure their success and retention. If, however, somebody were to say that they not only value diversity as a concept but actively give preferences in accordance with that value, the unfortunate speaker would face severe criticism (or worse).

It’s not just that such a statement might sound like an admission of a legally suspect hiring preference, it’s that the diverse faculty thus hired would carry the stigma of having faced different, lower standards. Acceptable rhetoric casts the hiring committees as virtuous, while unacceptable rhetoric casts the diverse people hired by said committees as beneficiaries of largesse. The naïve observer might ask, “But aren’t the hiring committees implying that they did indeed bestow such largesse?” To which any right-thinking academic would react like a soldier of Gilead hearing a captive mispronounce ‘shibboleth.’

There’s one other dimension to this particular shibboleth. It is common to assert that marginalized status confers unique insights not easily accessible to members of dominant groups. There is certainly some truth to that—fish take water for granted in ways that land animals never would. However, it is also true that Deans are under increasing pressure to hire candidates from marginalized groups. If there’s one important lesson to be drawn from intersectionality theory, it’s that experiences are highly contextual, and in the context of academia it’s hard to describe the Dean’s top recruitment target as ‘marginalized.’ However, if we were to concede that, the paradox of marginality would come full circle. Academic work is (ostensibly) about seeking and promulgating knowledge and understanding, so we should value those who offer deep insights. If insight comes from the margins, then we should cultivate the marginalized, which means they are now valued rather than marginalized, so the clarity of their insights declines.

To be sure, unwritten rules of speech and conduct are not confined to liberal academia. Conservative professions like banking and finance have their own workplace cultures. Managers may judge applicants on details like the style of their business suit, and other indications that the job seeker made a serious effort to learn the unofficial codes of the profession. Likewise, a devoutly religious manager who has built the company’s brand around wholesome marketing will no doubt have many written and unwritten criteria affecting suitability.

Moreover, in matters less volatile than diversity issues, academics routinely accept necessary limitations on inquiry and discussion. Taking an assignment to teach a class on bacteria means agreeing to not spend much time discussing, say, fish (unless discussing interactions between fish and bacteria). When a student signs up for a class on the history of medieval China, he or she is agreeing to devote time to reading about, writing about, and discussing the people and events of a specific time and place; aside from the occasional comparative analysis, that student probably won’t be spending much time discussing modern France.

So rules are the reality of even an academic workplace, but shibboleths are more subtle than plain rules, and come with two key problems. First, they are antithetical to diversity and inclusion. Reasonable people have always disagreed on how much tolerance to grant the intolerant, but we aren’t talking here about hiring clearly intolerant people to mentor impressionable youth. We’re talking about decent people who, while speaking outside of their home culture and language, cross the fine boundary between “I try to be sensitive to differences in learning style and their implications for diversity” and “I understand that poor and minority students may learn differently to others.”

The other problem with shibboleths is that one needs a very particular mindset to enthusiastically embrace one statement while vehemently rejecting a slight rhetorical deviation. STEM fields are sometimes portrayed (dismissed?) as redoubts for nerds with poor social and rhetorical skills. While such stereotypes are too crude to capture the entirety of a field, they are also not entirely inaccurate. On standardized tests, we do better on the quantitative sections than the verbal sections. Likewise, self-diagnosed autism may be an ill-informed fad among some tech workers, but there is evidence that people on the autism spectrum gravitate toward STEM fields. None of this changes the fact that, like any other group of people, most STEM professionals are decent human beings, but the shibboleths of Equity and Inclusion can trip them up even so. It takes a special appreciation of cues and interpersonal dynamics to understand that “We must treat students of all races equitably” is inoffensive, but that “I try not to see color when interacting with students” is a grave mistake.

To be sure, many STEM professionals do indeed appreciate nuances of language and rhetoric, but a certain sort of literalism is still more common in computer science than in literary studies.  More importantly, even the most nuanced thinkers in STEM learn to analyze extreme cases. In the midst of a detailed calculation, one might reasonably ask, “What if this quantity were very small?  Or very large?  Would the same patterns hold?” We try to make productive use of an interplay between fine analysis and extreme examples, to see how far we can push an idea before it breaks down.

We can’t spend a decade or more training people to push ideas to their limits and then expect them to accept without question that the smallest tweak can transform a statement from party line to heresy. Many thoughtful people will want to respond to these fine rhetorical distinctions with “But aren’t you really just saying [basic synopsis]?” and they will have little patience for “Oh, we’re not saying that, we’re just saying [something that sounds remarkably similar].” You can only expect them to thread so many needles when addressing these explosive topics in their Diversity Statements. (Interestingly, UCSD may be aware of this, since all of the samples that they offer to help applicants draft their own diversity statements are drawn from STEM fields.)

This situation is not limited to STEM. While philosophers are rightly renowned for exploring fine distinctions and hard questions, they are also famous for using extreme examples to make their points. An entire genre of philosophical thought experiments consider the ethical merits of tossing a fat person off a bridge to derail a trolley that would otherwise kill five people, as a way of examining issues of action vs. inaction and individual vs. group well-being. A field that thrives on debating extreme hypotheticals will probably include a fair number of people who prefer to playfully engage with shibboleths rather than solemnly repeat them. Interestingly, philosophy is also under fire for its diversity problems, so one can assume that philosophers’ Diversity Statements will face particular scrutiny. But one needn’t approve of all of the conduct ever exhibited by philosophers to wonder how easy it will be to get trained logicians to swallow the party line without question. They tried that on Socrates, and he chose to swallow poison instead.

(I should pause to note that surely there are people in other fields who dislike these shibboleths, but fields outside of STEM do seem to give greater emphasis to nuances of texts and rhetoric. They may not enjoy the doublethink any more than we do, but they’re probably at least better prepared for it. Also, STEM and philosophy seem to get particular attention for their lack of diversity, so the ways in which people in STEM mispronounce shibboleths are of particular urgency in academia right now.)

Of course, universities are not oblivious to the challenges that come with enforcing these unwritten speech codes. They know that other institutions are requiring the same Diversity Statements that they are, and they know that they’ll have more successful alumni if they can help them navigate these rhetorical minefields. So new product lines are springing up: Certificate programs in diversity and inclusion. Some are revenue-generating online programs for anyone with a checkbook. (Economic class is the one dimension along which universities can still discriminate without apology.) Others are free—but only for current students. The free programs are not so different from the Career Center staff who help students polish their resumes, prepare for interviews, and embark on careers that might net them some disposable income to donate back to alma mater.

I’ve interacted with a few graduates of these programs. In one memorable encounter, they piously derided the concept of meritocracy, assuming that I, having survived in academia, must naturally share the prominently voiced view that meritocracy is a dishonest concept in an unequal society. In truth, my opinion is more complicated, but I didn’t air my disagreement. I know better than to challenge assumptions held by someone who is au courant in the politically correct language surrounding diversity of perspectives and experiences. I did, however, get to hear a colleague extoll this person’s deep understanding of issues of diversity and disadvantage, apparently the product of their sojourn among fellow students in top universities.

The final irony is that the professors who most zealously enforce these shibboleths (and also the applicants who best pronounce them) often have affluent and/or highly educated parents, and some of the people who have most scandalized them hail from much more modest backgrounds. I know professors who worked full-time in blue collar jobs to pay their way through college, and they care far less for politically correct language than those born into high socioeconomic status.  For all the talk of hiring people who will interact compassionately and sensitively with students from many different backgrounds, the apparent means to that end is the Diversity Statement, a filter that selects people who have practiced since birth to cultivate and flatter a certain sort of elitist sentiment. This hypocritical insistence on rhetorical tests that favor the privileged, while preaching about inclusion and disadvantage, reminds one of another Bible passage:

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5-6)

We need to recognize the dangers of rewarding pleasing language, and focus on the tangibles.  Does the applicant have experience teaching students from a variety of backgrounds? Have they worked respectfully and effectively with those students? If so, they’re probably going to do just fine. We should care far more about that than whether or not they know how to thread rhetorical needles in the dialect of the dominant tribe.

 

The author is a tenured professor in a STEM discipline. ‘Sebastian Cesario’ is a pseudonym.

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46 Comments

  1. Philip Davies says

    I would like to ask Sebastian Cesario why he/she has to write under a pseudonym? What does this tell us about the academic world, and ‘diversity’ and fear? Well rather a lot actually.

    I can’t help but think that if fewer people hid away out of fear and more people spoke against cultural tyranny we might not be in this place and academia might become what it should be. An open forum for honestly and truth.

    • Paul Ellis says

      He has a job to keep, and probably wishes to keep it until retirement and pension. His points need making, but I can certainly understand his wish not to sacrifice his career and financial future in making them.

      This, actually, is nothing new.

      • Bill says

        That he regards this as a must says enough about the climate at his university.
        Really sad.

    • Sebastian Cesario says

      At a minimum, I would lose friends and productive research collaborators if my Quillette articles on bias in academia came to light under my real name. I’m thinking of people whom I genuinely like and respect, but who have a deep emotional investment in certain narratives around race and gender. The few times I’ve even scratched the surface of these issues with them the pushback has been intense, and if they knew just how deeply I question the narrative I’m not sure that our friendship would survive. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe they’d handle it better than I think, but why find out? Sometimes it’s better to just leave certain contentious topics to the side. We all have things that we don’t discuss with friends; this is one of those things for me and certain friends.

      Also, I’d almost certainly be removed from hiring committees if my Quillette articles came to light. In these articles I repeatedly question narratives about race and gender, particularly in the context of academic hiring. If I couldn’t serve on hiring committees I’d lose the ability to help shape the future of my department.

      Besides hiring committees, my peers might no longer want to elect me to certain committees of my institution and professional societies. We all grumble about committee work, but I have made some genuine contributions to my institution and my profession by working on those committees, and I don’t want to lose the ability to make those contributions.

      And then there’s the issue of disciplinary action. I doubt that this article would ever be listed as a cause of disciplinary action, but over a long career you come to realise that you’ve made a few mistakes. Normally those mistakes are forgivable, but what if you’re on the radar? Even conscientious people make occasional errors on reimbursement forms. Even well-meaning people might occasionally deviate from policy on use of email. Even decent people occasionally say a regrettably cross thing at work. Can you be certain that there aren’t mistakes that could be used against you? Maybe you wouldn’t ultimately lose your job, but you could certainly spend some money on attorneys.

      • Philip Davies says

        I understand your position very well. And my criticism is primarily directed towards academia and a system that is tyrannical towards those who differ. But a system only gets that way when we don’t stand up against it. It’s really all our faults in the end. And I include myself in that.
        Philip

  2. Designer says

    Allow me a remark off-topic. As an European atheist I am always appalled by references to ‘holy scripture’. To me it seems an expression of the theocratic culture of the USA. What do you intend by that? Are you begging for Brownie points from your grandmother or will it give your arguments more weight? When I read an introduction like that I am not interested anymore. Please keep the spiritual decorum to yourself.

    • From an agnostic says

      There’s plenty of wisdom in scriptures. It’s not necessary to believe in a deity to recognise this wisdom for what it is. There’s also plenty of nonsense too, of course.

      The author wanted to use the word ‘shibboleth’, a very loaded word, as a rhetorical device in this piece, and decided to begin by explaining how it was used as a filter. A good story which happens to be in the Bible. Richard Dawkins makes plenty of references to Biblical text in his work.

      That said, I agree with your remarks about the theocratic culture of the USA, which appals me, too. Ah! MeToo!

      • R O says

        Actually, we in the US are encountering what has become, more or less, a post-“Theocratic” culture (we usually refer to it as post-Christian). We are trying to get used to dealing with that fact, so you might as well shift to learning to enjoy your victory instead of complaining based on outdated stereotypes.

        BTW, I suspect this was another motivation for “Cesario’s” anonymity.

      • You might want to understand what a theocracy is before applying it to the United States. You might be confusing the United States with Iran.

    • Aosoth says

      Hi, Designer. Certainly, you can interpret the biblical reference in the way you did, take affront, and turn away. May I offer an alternate possibility? Perhaps the author (a) thought that the origin of the word Shibboleth was germane and would make the broader point he was about to illustrate more engaging for the reader without making any religious implication (that’s how I took it); or (b) given that the bible is a set of well known stories/myths, he simply thought it interesting to use as an example. So while you can certainly use his essay as an excuse to ruffle your feathers if you like to feel indignant, you may find that it’s more beneficial to engage in the world more openly and give others the benefit of the doubt before attributing to them – for you at least – the most emotionally stimulating way to interpret their words. Cheers.

      • peanut gallery says

        And I wonder if a similar quote from Greek mythology would have been just as appalling to him?! I mean, the story of Narcissus has nothing to teach us cool, modern humans.

    • Sebastian Cesario says

      One needn’t be a religious believer to see the Old Testament as a useful place to look for lessons on tribalism. Indeed, the shibboleth story might even be more relevant to the human condition if viewed through a secular lens. I mean, one needn’t believe in Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite to consider the Iliad an important source for understanding the human condition and the quest for immortality via glory.

      Likewise, the Gospel passages on showing off piety in public have at least as much salience from a secular point of view as from a religious one.

      Finally, nowhere in my article did I refer to the Bible as “holy scripture.” That is your characterization.

      • @ Sebastian Cesario

        “Finally, nowhere in my article did I refer to the Bible as “holy scripture.” That is your characterization.”

        Er… No. The Bible is already scripture – considered as sacred. Maybe, perhaps, somehow, you might not have been aware of the fact. So it isn’t Designer’s characterisation.

        “I mean, one needn’t believe in Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite to consider the Iliad an important source for understanding the human condition and the quest for immortality via glory.”

        There are virtually no active believers in the Ancient Greek religions. The question of “science” and “religion” has certain baggage. And as such are often at opposing ends. Maybe, perhaps, somehow, you might not have been aware of it.

        “Likewise, the Gospel passages on showing off piety in public have at least as much salience from a secular point of view as from a religious one.”

        So you were “appealing” to the religious conservatives who are more likely to agree with your views over the diversity agenda.

        • Sebastian Cesario says

          I’m aware that the Bible is considered scripture. I was not interested in that aspect of it for these purposes. I was interested in it as a literary work with (among other things) tales of tribal conflict, since I thought it an apt comparison for diversity politics.

          And, yes, I’m aware that science and Christianity butt heads, while ancient Greek mythology has not come up in any conflicts over modern science. Should I only make literary references to works without present-day religious adherents? Sounds more like an admonition against profanity than a secular stance.

          Finally, I don’t know that I was “appealing” to anyone with my religious references. Religious conservatives are, as you noted, likely to agree with me on diversity issues, so I don’t need to win them over. If anything, since many of the people with whom I disagree about diversity issues are likely to be secularists of some sort, I thought that maybe highlighting the religious aspects of their ideology might give them pause. And I’m hardly the first one to note similarities between diversity politics and religious belief systems. John McWhorter (a secularist, FWIW) has had a few good articles with such analogies.

        • peanut gallery says

          This just seems like a bad faith argument to me. Gotta grind that axe somewhere, eh?

    • Caligula says

      It is nearly impossible to understand U.S. history, especially prior to 1960 or so, without some familiarity with the King James Version.

      In the 19th century, the public culture of the USA was, essentially, Protestantism. And for much of U.S. history politicians from dog-catcher to president have quoted the KJV (usually without attribution, as they assumed their audiences would recognize the quotes) to support and explain their policies and politics.

      The KJV is obviously less central to the contemporary USA. Nonetheless, to understand where we are and who we are one must understand where we came from and who we were. And to do that familiarity with Scripture is a prerequisite.

      To understand history is not to endorse or approve of it and so, too, with Christian Scripture.

    • John McCormick says

      @Designer

      My first exposure to the word “shibboleth” was upon reading a book by Irene K. Fischer, the great geometric geodisist for the US Army Map Service. This is the word she used to characterize a question she was asked to answer during her hiring interview. The shibboleth was knowing that the Mercator Map is not a projection, but a construction, and why that was so.

      Please also remember that here in the US, we do not divide university education into separate “letters” and “numbers” tracks. While my academic concentrations were in computer science, geomatics, math, and physics, I was required to take classes in philosophy/ethics, world religions, world literature (2 semesters), art, music appreciation, western civilization (2 semesters), US history/government, public speaking, and two semesters of another language. If I were to continue in mathematics I would likely required to be able to at least read either German or French or Russian. Unfortunately, while those studying in the humanities here are required to learn extremely little of the quantitative world, a scientist or engineer who cannot discuss matters other than science or engineering is considered uncultivated.

  3. AC Harper says

    Would James Damore pass a Diversity Statement Test? Almost certainly not. We shall see how the court case concludes.

  4. Pizza Pete says

    This was nicely written and very funny.

    The author touches on an important and overlooked point, namely that cosmopolitanism and affluence can get you a pass on many of said shibboleths:

    “Most highly regarded graduate programs (i.e. the programs that train most future professors) have students and faculty from around the world, so it is reasonably straightforward to write a congenial essay about working with people from varied backgrounds and learning to understand and value cultural differences.”

    The status of someone who had the means to travel extensively or attend an international private school or live in a diverse metropolis is often taken to be synonymous with refined progressive moral virtue. The caricature of a Dalton eighth grader going to dig fresh water wells in Zambia during spring break actually maps pretty well onto the life experiences of these privileged few.

    A more ecumenical and egalitarian approach to supporting diversity would of course be to judge people based on their good intent and actions. The general inclination to treat people of all backgrounds respectfully is a better heuristic than reciting, or better, performing doublethink.

    And here is where I think the author, coming from a STEM field and likely doing work of intrinsic value, has a blind spot. In many areas of the social sciences, the “value” of the work and the power that stems from it, is based on the crafting of shibboleths. Aligning ideological pieties with the manners and outlooks of a refined, privileged economic elite further serves to give this academic work more cachet than it otherwise would have.

    So while it is evident to many that diversity policing is a paradoxically elitist undertaking, just what to do about this is unclear. While many diversity policers may be well intentioned with their personal investment stopping at their good intentions (and thus be persuadable), it is absolutely clear that shibboleth crafting and enforcement is the basis for the power, prestige, and academic legitimacy of not a few academics in the social sciences. What to do about this latter, dependent group is unclear.

    • “it is absolutely clear that shibboleth crafting and enforcement is the basis for the power, prestige, and academic legitimacy of not a few academics in the social sciences.”

      A solid summary of a pervasive problem discussed in a number of Quillette articles. For example, Rafael Avila de Espindola’s excellent, ‘Diversity and Discrimination in Open Source Diversity and Discrimination in Open Source’, describes how coding communities (e.g. open source projects) have been subjected to shibboleths written into codes of conduct. He brings some hair raising enforcement stories to light.

      Claire Lehmann, thank you for Quillette. In a relatively short period of time, this site has opened many eyes to pervasive leftist ideologies taking hold in Western societies.

  5. Jack B. Nimble says

    As someone who has been in STEM depts. in various roles [student, professor] for almost 50 years, I have seen the increasing bureaucratization of research universities at first hand. For example, HR and ‘finance’ now have power undreamed of when I was an assistant professor. And lots of the changes have been driven by state governments and federal agencies [NIH and NSF]. Here are some examples from my own Univ., off the top of my head:

    mandatory annual training in state ethics code
    mandatory annual training in sexual harassment policy
    mandatory annual training in laboratory safety for everyone, even undergrads
    mandatory annual training in vehicle safety for those driving state vehicles
    workshops for postdocs and their mentors on research ethics
    workshops on how to comply with state purchasing regulations
    ……. and so on

    Some of this red tape is probably peculiar to state-supported universities, but much is being driven by US Title IX and the changing priorities of federal granting agencies. See, e.g., http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/nsf-launches-long-awaited-diversity-initiative

    To me, the above list is a mixed bag, with valuable training mixed in with mindless boilerplate. IMO, academic science in the US has for too long had a problem with Principal Investigators running their labs like personal fiefdoms, so in some sense the P.I.’s brought this on themselves. And it is worth noting that problems with inclusion continue in STEM fields. For example, at a multi-society annual meeting that I used to attend regularly, there is now an official policy against harassment, bullying and violence of any kind [ https://www.evolutionmeetings.org/conference-policies.html ].That such a statement is needed in 2018 speaks volumes about the kinds of discrimination that still occur among presumably sophisticated academics.

    • Pizza Pete says

      “That such a statement is needed in 2018 speaks volumes about the kinds of discrimination that still occur among presumably sophisticated academics.”

      Begging the question? Do the safe spaces at Brown University speak volumes about how Brown University is a place where women and minorities are terrorized and need “safety”?

      My hypothesis on these conference policies is that they’re produced semi-thoughtlessly as a CYA bureaucratic response irregardless of complaints or there being a problem.

  6. Peter says

    Designer, the author is explaining how a new theocracy is being installed in US universities, based on the diversity religion. I guess you do not like his discussion and so you conveniently invented the nonsense about theocratic culture in US.

    The US constitution is clear on the separation of church and state. There are many competing religions in the US, so speaking about theocracy is really ridiculous. If the Americans are, on the average, more religious than Europeans, that is their decision and you have no right to ridicule them.

    • Paul Ellis says

      “If the Americans are, on the average, more religious than Europeans, that is their decision and you have no right to ridicule them.”

      Oh yes he does, and you have the right to ridicule him back. That’s the basis of free speech.

      Your remark on the new theocracy being installed in US universities, based on the diversity religion: spot on. I’m in the UK and my daughter is considering her university options. The USA was on the list; no longer. In the Spectator, Douglas Murray has recently explained why:

      https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/universities-are-finding-out-the-true-cost-of-the-stepford-students/

    • @ Peter

      “The US constitution is clear on the separation of church and state.”

      Yes. And it is odd how widely the Bible is quoted in US politics or how wide the hold of religion is. And this more or less alien in UK. Yet, the UK is technically not a secular state. The Queen is the head of the state and Church of England.

      “I guess you do not like his discussion and so you conveniently invented the nonsense about theocratic culture in US. ”

      He is right on the money.

      “and you have no right to ridicule them.”

      S/he has EVERY right. What are you on about?

  7. Bill Casey says

    Standing Order 101 of the UC Regents forbids: ‘…a political test being used for hiring or advancement…’ and came directly out of the odious Loyalty Oath Controversy of UC McCarthyism in 1951.

    Where is the legal challenge by our Academic Senates?

  8. MCA says

    While I’m less experienced than the author, I’d be curious about their precise field and university. I was only recently hired as a TT Bio facutly, and then was part of a search committee. I applied to about 80 positions, and I’d say maybe 15% required a diversity statement. Mine was pretty terrible, I’m sure, but I got proportionate numbers of phone and campus interviews from those which did and didn’t require a statement (my position did not require one, nor did we on the next search).

    Crucially, not a single person ever asked me anything about my diversity statement. Nothing, not once, neither faculty nor administration nor students. I generally got the impression they were a useless thing foisted on the search committee by HR which was promptly stuffed on the bottom of the pile in favor of counting publications.

    I don’t disagree per se with the author, just wondering if their use and prominence is highly heterogeneous among fields and states?

    • Sebastian Cesario says

      All I know is that my institution is pushing harder and harder on these, and people above us actually read the diversity statements. If they don’t like what they see, we hear about it. I think it’s less about my field than the culture of the state university system. But I understand that my state university system is not unique.

  9. Nick Ender says

    Why are there so many pussies in academia? Why does no one identify the people they are talking about? This guy doesn’t even identify himself. It’s really annoying that no one stands up and just says what they’re going to say.

    • Paul Ellis says

      “It’s really annoying that no one stands up and just says what they’re going to say.”

      I can do that, on this subject, because I have nothing to lose: I’m not in academia. I’m not going to become persona non grata, trash my career, and risk my pension by revealing my identity. ‘Sebastian Cesario’ most certainly is, which is why he’s used a pseudonym.

      This is all standard org and groupthink behaviour. No-one rewards a whistleblower; in large organisations, no good turn goes unpunished.

    • I’m in academia, and I agree…though you might note that I comment anonymously below. Sometimes it helps to speak up openly or sign your name to things. Sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t see how “Cesario”s points would be strengthened if he signed his name.

      The left is vicious. When you fight them, you have to marshal your resources. And this is particularly true in academia, where you usually can’t expect many allies to rally to your side. And the “diversity” cult is a particularly challenging case. You might get away with criticizing “safe spaces” or “bias response teams”…but “diversity, access and inclusion” are the holy Trinity. To question them is tantamount to declaring yourself a Klansman in the eyes of your institution. I recently heard, second-hand, I’ll admit, that a dean at my institution said “[you] can get on board with diversity, or [you] can find another job.” Sometimes guerrilla attacks are the better part of valor.

  10. As I’ve said in my own department several times: ‘diversity’ itself–the word–is a contemporary shibboleth (or ‘shibboleth’–the word.) ‘Diversity’ is repeated like a mantra, spoken in adulatory tones–diversity, diversity, diversity! Or: “diversity and inclusion!” At my own pretty pedestrian university, it’s become downright creepy and cultish. And no one in academia speaks words like ‘heterogeneity’ in breathy, awe-struck tones. No one says “giving preferential treatment on the basis of skin color is our strength.” It’s crucial that no one really say what they mean. And “diversity”–prayerful, protean, unspecific–does the trick. Sometimes even individuals are described as “diverse”. As in “we are committed to hiring a diverse candidate.” It makes no sense, of course. But academicians outside the sciences aren’t so much about making sense anymore. And who wants to have to say “we are committed to hiring a non-white, non-Jewish, and possibly non-Asian non-male”? My own view is: if you aren’t willing to say what it is that you’re actually doing, then you probably should be doing it.

    I’d rather have affirmative action quotas. They’re crude, but they’re straightforward and honest. “Diversity” has become a cult. It’s taken over academia and corrupted it intellectually and morally. I’d say about half the faculty are true believers and about half know it’s bullshit but either doublethink their way out of their cognitive dissonance or just keep their mouths shut out of fear. To avoid the crude, brutal honesty of quotas, we’ve corrupted the whole institution, turning everyone into either a kook who honestly believes in this weird religion or an intellectually dishonest coward. Though I guess you could say that that’s what both kinds of people really were all along, and this just brought it out in them.

    This is would all be bad enough in a normal institution…but universities are institutions at which the open and honest quest for truth is supposed to be the guiding idea. What I actually see around me is, in fact, dimwittedness (among those who actually believe in the teachings of the cult), cowardice (among those who know better, but won’t say so) or a combination of the two (among those who talk themselves into believing nonsense out of fear.) Oh and: a vicious zeal for persecuting the few unbelievers who dare to speak the truth.

    Props to “Cesario” for this essay–though IMO he’s too easy on this catastrophic mess. “Diversity statements” are basically political (bordering on religious…) tests. To be hired, you must profess your commitment to left-wing politics. This isn’t even a demand for assurance that job candidates are *fair.* They’re demands for assurance that candidates accept the specific left-wing orthodoxy of the moment–unquestioningly. (The Cesario gets exactly right.) This is an outrage, and it’s an outrage that everyone isn’t outraged. It’s one more piece of evidence that universities are becoming, first and foremost, institutions for advancing left-wing politics and the leftist worldview. Which worldview is not merely indifferent to truth and reason, but positively hostile to them.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @WS — IMO you are not helping your ‘side’ by labeling some academics as cowards, cultists, kooks, and so on.

      In the last 10 years or so before I retired, my STEM dept. began to label certain job candidates as ‘diversity hires,’ ‘impact hires,’ ‘spousal hires’ etc. It was understood that the Dean was willing to create additional tenure-track lines to accommodate candidates whose qualifications aligned with institutional priorities. The Chair was quite open about the whole process, and after all who can argue with additional tenure lines or with the Dean? Not me!

      Here’s a second point — my former U is located in the former Confederacy, and my dept. constantly faced ‘quality of life’ questions from potential hires AND their non-academic spouses. This issue often became a make-or-break matter, particularly when candidates were weighing competing job offers. Having a dept., college and univ. with explicit commitments to diversity and inclusion helped in a small way to offset the issues with Southern backwardness. You can think of these commitments as institutional virtue signalling — and this is a GOOD thing!

      • I may not be helping, but what I’m saying is true–which is more important. It might “help” to pretend that everything is fine, and everyone has excellent reasons for singing *Diversity Uber Alles* in three-part harmony, and no one is holding his nor her tongue out of fear… But none of that would be true.

        A “commitment to diversity” is not a “quality of life” question. For one thing, it involves denying jobs to more qualified candidates on the basis of race or sex. That kind of unfairness requires powerful justification. Improving someone else’s “quality of life” isn’t going to do the trick.

  11. Fran says

    You get into academia because you are passionate about something. To stay you keep out of fights. One thing I have learned is that change has to have support from the upper levels. If the Chair and the Dean don’t support something, then its a lost cause. In every shakeup, someone gets badly hurt.

    35 years in academia.

  12. Friederick Mackie Ahriman says

    What a disgusting, despicable collection of human filth. May they be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

  13. Brilliant Cesario! Here is my favorite line:

    “But one needn’t approve of all of the conduct ever exhibited by philosophers to wonder how easy it will be to get trained logicians to swallow the party line without question. They tried that on Socrates, and he chose to swallow poison instead.”

    The war that is being waged on merit and all forms of human excellence in the name of ‘diversity and inclusion’ is rotting America’s institutions from the inside out. As long as we have a thriving capitalist economy, the business sector will be self correcting — but academia? Not so much. Sadly, reform in academia will depend on sane people simply reacting to the continued overreach of the radical leftists, relying heavily on tenured status to protect personal interests.

    One thing we can start insisting on is that diversity policies are ‘inclusive’ of the kind of diversity that counts most in the academic setting: ideological diversity. So long as diversity is the game we are playing, it should be obvious even to the least reflective that there is value in having a balance of political orientations among faculty.

    Thanks for this article! More people need to speak out on this sad state of affairs in our academic institutions.

  14. TJR says

    The penultimate paragraph is the key one, this is mostly just the privileging of upper/middle class styles of speech over working class styles of speech.

    As in the recent post about cultural marxism, this is “a guise for a wholly arbitrary system of value which rewards the privileged for their familiarity with the ‘right’ cultural references”.

  15. Gregory T. Bogosian says

    “In truth, my opinion is more complicated, but I didn’t air my disagreement. I know better than to challenge assumptions held by someone who is au courant in the politically correct language surrounding diversity of perspectives and experiences.” You are a coward. Not because you wouldn’t voice your disagreement at the time. But because you won’t tell us your actual opinion now. You wimped out by saying “Its more complicated.”

  16. Pseudonym says

    Thank goodness for publications like Quillette, for articles like this, and for the fact that I left academia “for the real world” many many years ago, from a, indeed by today’s standards, blasphemous, philosophy department! (I.e., committed to integrity, honesty and a belief in objective, analytical, truths – except of course for Hermeneutics 😉 I had no idea that it had gotten so bad in academia!! But have seen many articles such as this one now. I am so very thankful that I chose a different [still traditionally male dominated] career since I never in my wildest dreams could have predicted that this is what would have happened to universities today, back then. I am disconcerted, to say the least, by the unquestioned implication that women in departments traditionally not ‘manned’ by them – such as mine was – would require some sort of ‘specified teaching format’ or ‘techniques’, let alone that the assumption itself should now form part of a bar for admission to academia! As a woman, I find the whole ‘trend’ (double speak/ethos/social ‘religion’ du jour) not only sickening but anathema to the very advancement that the old (first?) feminism brought me (i.e., the very ability to study and work in the first place. As I have done throughout my lifetime in the company of my, equal, counterparts and colleagues on the very same – yes – merits! – as they!). But alas, at almost retirement age, I would no longer be allowed to call myself “diverse” as my age (i.e., my form of feminism) has been usurped by the tribalism (writ large by petty bureaucrats!) today, and I can simply be denounced as a dinosaur; or perhaps, they would say, I have Stockholm syndrome from all those years of ‘thinking like a white male’. And yet, symbolic logic, like binary code, didn’t seem to lend itself to much ‘interpretation’ and I am not at all sure how any ‘diversity sensitive teaching technique’ could make it thus!

  17. I do not need to be an autist (and I am not one) to think that “we must treat students of all races equitably” and “I try not to see color when interacting with students” are essentially the same. I try not to see color when interacting with anybody. But sometimes I can’t help it. Go ahead, fire me.

  18. viewpoint neutral says

    Your paragraph regarding “marginalization” gets to a fundamental logical flaw of the use of that word in social justice. Marginalization is often used as an excuse to inhibit access or free speech from those who are not “marginalized”. The idea being that marginalized folks should have more freedom of speech than those “in power”. Of course, this falls apart on immediate scrutiny, since restricting freedoms is, by definition, marginalizing. If you claim special rights (i.e. the right to debate a certain subject) over me because you are marginalized, then I, as a result, become marginalized, and therefore reclaim that right to speak or debate, and round and round we go.
    This underscores the hypocrisy of the recent ACLU memo that was unearthed in the WSJ, which advised that legal representation in free speech cases will be reserved for marginalized communities. The contradiction here is, simply, that any community whose civil rights are being restricted by government or power are BY DEFINITION marginalized. There is no non-marginalized community whose speech is restricted by government. That is a contradictory premise that makes no sense.

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