Women, Minorities and Academia

I recall that someone—perhaps it was William F. Buckley—said that you can’t have both affirmative action and nuclear power.

His point, of course, is obvious: merit of the highest order is necessary to invent, build and maintain a highly complex system like America’s nuclear power industry. To the extent standards are bent or diluted in favor of political goals such as increasing the number of minorities and women—though they be less qualified—a cost will be paid in efficiency, reliability, and potentially safety.

Despite this truism, America and other Western nations have headed down the road to diversity despite these costs. Thus, we have seen robust efforts to change the demographic face of life-saving occupations such as firefighting, where highly qualified White males are often passed over in favor of politically favored groups such as Blacks, Hispanics or women. For example, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor famously ruled against White firefighter Frank Ricci (the pre-Sotomayor Supreme Court overturned the ruling, a rare instance of justice and safety winning out over political correctness).

Another instance where ability and inclination still prevail over politics is commercial aviation, which has remained solidly in the hands of White males. Among commercial airline pilots, for example, only about 2% are women, with blacks accounting for far less than that. The Organization of Black Airline Pilots reports around 700 African-Americans working for U.S. airlines, about fifteen of whom are women.

In many areas of life, however, stakes are far lower, so blatant affirmative action policies elicit far less concern or reaction. For instance, does it really matter if your freshman English teacher at a community college is male, female, Black, White or other? Probably not that much. Even at better schools it is not a matter of life and death, though cumulatively it could affect the culture in some way.

Thus, the humanities have been able to politically alter the make-up of university faculty across America. Where White males overwhelmingly filled professorial roles through the 1960s, today’s academy is the dream-come-true of the  minority activists of the 70’s (though not of today’s activist, where complete absence of straight White non-Jewish able-bodied males is taken for granted as the holy grail).

As you leave the humanities and move toward the more quantitative subjects, however, political gerrymandering gets a little harder. By the time you are in the highly objective fields such as mathematics, engineering and physics, ability and merit are harder to fudge. Then-president of Harvard Larry Summers ran smack into this uncomfortable fact when in 2005 he commented on why, in the previous year, 88 percent (28 of 32) of newly tenured faculty had been men. Despite having reliable evidence on his side, his conjecture that men and women could have differing abilities in some fields created an uproar. (See Steve Sailer’s take here.)

As is so depressingly common under our multicultural regime, Summers was forced to apologize repeatedly, “in the style of a Communist show trial,” in the words of one observer. Wikipedia gives us the follow-through:

Desperately trying to keep his job, Summers quickly appointed female historian Drew Gilpin Faust, head of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute For Advanced Study, to lead Harvard’s Task Forces on Women Faculty and on Women in Science and Engineering.

Heather Mac Donald noted in Harvard’s Faustian Bargain in City Journal:

“Faust runs one of the most powerful incubators of feminist complaint and nonsensical academic theory in the country.”

Eventually, Dr. Faust brought back a $50 million wish list of payoffs to feminist interests, which the beleaguered Summers immediately agreed to fund. Hey, the money wasn’t coming out of Larry’s pocket, so why not?

Such aggression on the part of Dr. Faust did no harm, as she now sits in the Harvard president’s office, where her website proudly displays endeavors such as this: Empowering girls all over the world.

This is all meant as background material for our current leading example of  “The Disappearing of the White Male Academic: Shirley Tilghman and Princeton.” As Kevin MacDonald reported in this blog space, “Once again . . . all of our elite institutions are essentially enemy-occupied territory. Princeton’s president, Shirley Tilghman, is the sort of White person that is absolutely poisonous to our cause…. She is also doing her best to absolutely eliminate White males from high-profile positions.” MacDonald noted something that stood out for me as well: “My favorite is making a woman dean of the School of Engineering even though she is not an engineer.” What could be more blatant than this?

And don’t think that Tilghman is alone as a female president of an Ivy League school. Currently half of the eight Ivy League universities have women presidents, with Ruth Simmons being the only African American. (I’m not sure if this is better or worse than the days when six or seven of the Ivy League presidents were Jews.)

This topic of White male displacement in academia has cropped up in other instances this week as well. For example, a friend who earned a graduate degree in the field of American Studies sent me information on gender representation in the discipline to justify his decision to abandon a career in the field. (This reminded me of Alex Kurtagic’s own justification “Memoirs of a Dissident Student in Postmodern Academia”.)

American Studies was once a White male preserve that sought academic diversity by combining the study of American literature and history in an interdisciplinary way. Since then it’s gone the way of most other humanities departments and hosts minority activist groups such as The Minority Scholars Committee, Ethnic Studies Committee and Women’s Committee.

The women’s committee, of course, looks after the interests of women. Fair enough.

What, then, are we to make of the fact that women in American Studies today by far outnumber males? And by the looks of it, this disparity will only increase in the future, for recent Ph.D.s become future faculty, and they too are overwhelmingly female.

Last year, for instance, freshly-minted female Ph.D.s outnumbers males 65% to 35%. In 2008 it was a whopping 75% to 25%. I told my friend he should inquire about why American Studies still needs a Women’s Committee. (Better yet, why not agitate to establish a men’s committee?  Yeah, right.)

Anyway, I can only thank my lucky stars for the fact that I was born with and continue to enjoy White male privilege.

Edmund Connelly (email him) is a freelance writer, academic, and expert on the cinema arts. He has previously written for The Occidental Quarterly.

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