The University’s Pact with the Devil
Joseph Kay, American Renaissance, July 24, 2020
Current racial strife is at an all-time high and nothing on the horizon suggests improvement. How did this happen, especially when government has spent trillions to make things better? It is hard to find a better example of the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.
Today’s boiling rage among blacks, especially the college-educated, can be explained by what I would call a pact with the Devil that began in the late 1960s and continues despite its catastrophic impact. In a nutshell, colleges and universities, especially elite institutions, chose to boost the number of blacks on campus, not by enrolling them in traditional academic fields (where many would fail), but by pushing them into grievance-soaked fields such as Black Studies. To seal the deal with the Devil, universities hired black experts in identity politics by the score to then indoctrinate fresh admittees. Yes, the numbers of black academics increased impressively. Peace for Our Time was achieved, and traditional academic disciplines escaped the full damage of affirmative action. Alas, several decades have now passed, the bill has come due; the Devil must be paid.
Early academic affirmative action
Today’s campus affirmative action began in the late 1960s. Schools recruited under-qualified black students and hoped that intense academic bootcamps and other remedial measures would bring them up to speed. Keep in mind that this recruitment occurred when schools enjoyed considerable legal freedom, so even blatant racial discrimination was accepted as the price for progress. Unfortunately, with almost no exceptions, gaps remained intractable, while liberal professors papered over the chasms with undeserved gift grades and, if necessary, silence about cheating and plagiarizing.
Diversifying the faculty moved slowly. It was easier in the social sciences and humanities than in the hard sciences or engineering, but the obstacles were still immense, and universities issued countless hopeful but futile plans. Provosts told departments, “Hire them and we’ll pay.” Faculty noted for leftist views (or people of color) served as commissars to ensure that recruitment committees did not “inadvertently” ignore a minority applicant. Job descriptions were carefully drafted to attract blacks (and early on, women) with “are encouraged to apply” language that openly hinted at discrimination. Job advertisements said “conditional on funding availability,” which everybody knew meant “only if a black or woman could be found.” Desperate departments made lavish offers to the rare black stars in their disciplines, who probably got one such offer a month. To catch these prized recruits early in the pipeline, schools would make offers years before doctorates were completed, in effect mislabeling graduate students as “faculty” but with no teaching and an over-sized salary.
Nothing made much difference.
The rise of black studies
Something had to be done short of outright, Soviet-style quotas, and beginning in the late 1960s through the 1970s, the Great Breakthrough was achieved: the creation of departments of Black Studies (also variously called Afro-American Studies, Africana and Pan-African studies, or African Diaspora Studies). People who don’t know how universities work may not appreciate how important was the establishment of autonomous departments, but they were critical in transforming the university and, eventually, American society.
Traditional academic departments often have distinctive sub-specialties within them. For example, a Political Science Department might have a Center for the Study of Soviet Politics to create a critical mass of similarly specialized scholars, perhaps with outside funding and with courtesy appointments from other departments. In theory, a disciplinary concentration on black politics could have been established within existing Political Science or Sociology departments.
However, minority faculty would have had to overcome the usual hurdles for all academic hiring, and eventually be subject to well-defined departmental standards for promotion, tenure, salary increases, and sabbaticals. Key administrative career-related decisions — courses taught, getting graduate assistants and research funding — would be made by academic colleagues who might not be ideological sympathizers.
An autonomous department of Black Studies, by contrast, writes its own rules, provided there are no egregious violations of university policy. In granting tenure, for example, a traditional social science department might, at a minimum, require three or four articles in established refereed journals, a book accepted by a reputable publisher, and syllabi to include only “serious” readings. However, academic departments are akin to sovereign nations, with their own currency and laws. A Department of Black Studies could decide that such things as TV interviews or political activism counted toward tenure.
For examples of what real freedom in course offerings means, consider a sampling of courses in Ohio State University’s Department of African American and African Studies: Introduction to Black Popular Culture, Blackness and the Politics of Sports, Afropop: Popular Music and Culture in Contemporary Africa, Bebop to Doowop to Hip Hop: The Rhythm and Blues Tradition, and The Art and Politics of Hip-Hop. If Ohio State is typical, each course must get prior administrative approval, but it’s hard to imagine any administrator over-riding a course offered in a well-established department.
This embrace of Black Studies (and other grievance-based departments) occurred virtually overnight without any campus-wide intellectual debate, let alone resistance. Possible qualms about establishing new fields of study — What would be taught? What degrees must instructors hold? What are career prospects of graduates? How will this new field impact established departments? — were all pushed aside in the rush to boost diversity. This was, clearly, a political movement cheered on by nearly everyone, especially by violence-prone activists.
Departments of Black Studies are now everywhere, from Yale and Princeton to Nassau Community College and everywhere in between. Indeed, the field is now an industry with its own textbooks, journals and professional organizations. Equally important has been the rise of Ph.D. programs in Black Studies including at well-respected, research-oriented schools: Cornell, Harvard, Berkeley, Northwestern, and Ohio State University. Minting doctorates is crucial for staffing Black Studies. The days of frustrating searches for a credentialed black professor are over – just contact one of the Ph.D.-granting institutions and a job candidate certified by a prestige university will arrive.
Given today’s enrollment-driven campus marketplace of ideas, these courses are unlikely to be “killers,” whose purpose is to cull the intellectually weak from the strong. Why assign tough, statistics-heavy books on slavery such as Time on a Cross or require serious research papers when students happily accept opinionated screeds as authentic knowledge, especially if it means an easy grade? Why risk student outrage by challenging them with facts that contravene dogmas about oppression and discrimination? This allure is especially high for black students who would struggle in conventional courses even if taught by ideologically sympathetic instructors. This is a win-win gift from the gods: Black enrollments soar, retention rises, black professors are hired and get tenure in numbers once believed impossible.
Equally important, Black Studies has gained intellectual respectability, and nobody who values his career would dare question its legitimacy. There are celebrity black professors at top schools who get princely fees for lectures: Kwanne Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates, and Cornel West among many others. One compilation of black-oriented journals lists over three dozen titles such as Journal of Afro-American issues, Journal of Black Psychology, and Journal of Black Studies. They are good for answering critics who complain that research in this field is not “scholarly.”
As with legitimate academic endeavors, there are think-tanks that issue research reports and hold conferences — again, with all the paraphernalia of a legitimate department. For example, The University of Southern California Race and Equity Center has as its mission “ . . . to illuminate, disrupt, and dismantle racism in all its forms . . . .” and it is generously supported by a who’s who of philanthropies and corporations, and has a network of over 100 professors devoted to overcoming “racism.”
The ideological message
There is no telling what is actually taught in these courses, what papers are assigned, and what students actually absorb, but the purpose of Black Studies departments is clear: to advance a race-based ideology, not to produce serious scholarship about African-Americans. This open acknowledgment of ideological mission is not standard in universities. A center for the study of military history would not dedicate itself to promoting war.
Ohio State University’s African American and African Studies Department issued the following statement in response to the 2020 Covid pandemic:
The Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS) stands as an academic unit whose research, teaching, and community engagement provides students and the general public with historical, social, political, cultural, and economic contexts for the legacy of and continued existence of the structural inequalities and institutionalized racism that adversely affects African Americans, generally, and, specifically, in the context of health care accessibility and health disparities, as well as the racialized police violence plaguing our nation at this moment.
The Africana Studies Department at the University of California, Northridge is even more outspoken:
The Department of Africana Studies at California State University, Northridge, stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and demands that action be taken, so our community and city can work to dismantle the structures of racism that have threatened Black lives and wellbeing since this nation was first established. We condemn police brutality and the insidious murders of Black men and women. There are many police who operate as the enforcement wing of the system of white supremacy, a system that we must work to dismantle every day. We condemn racism and oppression in all its manifestations, including homophobia and transphobia. The terrorism of white supremacy and white privilege continues to compromise the health and safety of Black Americans and African people across the globe. The systematic assault on Black lives in America and in the world is an injustice that will not be tolerated and must be rooted out from the psyche and fabric of America.
Finally, look at the list of the 100 best books on African American Studies compiled by Goodreads. To be sure, there are some classics free of today’s victimology, such as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and some solid black history, such as John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, but the list is resolutely leftist (Angela Davis appears twice, but Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son is absent). Someone interested in black politics would never encounter awkward facts about, say, black crime, illegitimacy rates, the deterioration of black-run cities such as Newark or Detroit, or anything else that suggests blacks are anything other than victims. It is just about impossible to imagine books by Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams being assigned in a Black Studies courses. Diversity reigns supreme, but not intellectual diversity.
What do graduates do?
A liberal arts education is not vocational training, so it would be unreasonable to expect Black Studies graduates to find jobs that use their course training directly. Still, there should be some connection between the classroom and a future job. What does Black Studies prepare you to do? Predictably, schools are vague about the vocational benefit, despite today’s sky-high tuition and tight job market. At the University of Minnesota, for example, a website tells perspective majors that they will “. . . develop specific skills that are applicable to lots of different careers. These skills include an in-depth understanding of the cultural and historical experiences of African American or African peoples, knowledge of social and economic development issues, and a broad understanding of cross-cultural and diversity issues.” More specific possibilities include working for non-profits, positions in government, and “public service.” Students can also get ideas by contacting the National Council for Black Studies.
The California State Northridge website is just as vague. It explains that a Black Studies degree “equips [students] for a variety of transferable and broad professional abilities employers seek, such as: effective communicators, critical problem solvers, creative imagination, self directed and the ability to adapt to a culturally diverse environment.” (Yes, this terrible English comes straight from the website.)
The UCLA program in African American Studies likewise lists many career possibilities, such as playwright, elected official, assistant to an elected official, entertainment lawyer, independent business owner, human resource officer, music producer, political consultant, museum curator, social worker, teacher/professor and writer. A more focused internet search for Black Studies jobs is tilted towards academic-related positions.
Undergraduate job placement need not be a high priority. The university has finally reached its diversity goals and black faculty have great jobs. At the same time, diversity pressure in business and government almost guarantees work for blacks who major in anything. And, of course, some of these Black Studies graduates rise through the academic ranks and produce yet more race-based preferences. Michael Drake, the recently appointed president of the entire University of California system, is a perfect example. His Stanford undergraduate degree was in African and African American Studies, and he has a long history as an academic administrator promoting race preferences.
Resisting the Devil
In their quest for diversity, American universities made a pact with the Devil, and this one would surely stump Daniel Webster, who once saved Jabez Stone from such a pact. In exchange for campus peace and to escape government bean-counters, universities by the score funded race-themed programs whose unstated purpose was to indoctrinate students into a racial ideology that has undermined both academic intellectual tolerance and broader American values.
Endless cries of racism and victimhood, demands to dismantle capitalism and law-enforcement, insistence on strict ideological conformity and reparations for slavery, cancel-culture attacks on academics who reject identity politics — these are no longer at the fringes. Even science has become a form of white oppression. Anger is now a cultivated virtue, and concessions only encourage more outlandish demands.
It is hardly an accident that one of the favorite words in this crusade — “woke” — harkens back to America’s Great Awakening from 1730–40, when fanatic evangelicals demanded harsh punishments for sin. Today’s “woke” views have gone mainstream; just listens to the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC, and the mass media generally, and you can hear fragments of past classroom lectures. Race is a social construct whose only purpose is to justify white racism; disagreement is “hate;” all whites enjoy privilege; no non-white can be racist. Echoes of Critical Race Theory are everywhere, even though few TV-watchers recognize the academic pedigree of this nonsense.
There are no signs of these passions waning. This is not the French Revolution whose Reign of Terror ended when the available heads to decapitate ran short. The supply of imaginary white racism is limited only by the imagination.
No university can even consider ending programs that provide lucrative livelihoods to throngs of middle-class blacks. These programs cannot be dismantled even though there is now a trickle of blacks in traditional fields. The Devil has joined the political and economic mainstream. The US military, not to mention corporations (Kroger wants you to pick up a dose of white guilt along with your groceries) and philanthropies with billion-dollar endowments celebrate racial preferences and condemn supposed white malevolence, even in the face of popular opposition and contrary to federal law. Daniel Webster cannot beat the Devil. For the Devil, this is a wonderful time to be alive.