At colleges and professional schools across the country, privileges are routinely granted to individuals officially designated as members of so-called “under-represented minorities” and withheld from others who belong to so-called “over-represented minorities.”
The result is that if you are an impoverished and discriminated against Asian student, universities will deny you financial aid available to wealthy African Americans and you will have to score much higher on your graduate achievement tests just to be able to apply to medical and law schools.
Forty-five years after the civil rights revolution, we have taken a giant step backwards in our efforts to create a society where the rules are color blind and individuals are rewarded on their merit.
Taking a personal view of these developments, I note that when we entered Columbia in 1955 we understood that there was a quota system for Jewish applicants. It was masked as a geographical diversity program, just as deceptive as the one I’ve just described, and rationalized as an attempt to create a student body drawn from all parts of the country. Its architects had figured out that that the pool of Jews in states such as Arkansas and Nebraska was likely to be small.
Still, the overall quota was rumored to be 48% of the entering class, which seemed generous to us then. The Nazis’ “Final Solution” had recently (but only recently) given anti-Semitism a bad name, and it seemed as though things were changing for the better for the Jews. I was privileged, for example, to have taken a class with Lionel Trilling, the first Jew ever to be hired by an Ivy League English Department. From this perspective, a 48% quota persuaded us we were making real progress.
Today, even though there are many Jews on the Columbia faculty and Jews even sit on the board of trustees, there are also overt and unapologetic anti-Semites lecturing in Columbia classrooms, which would have been unheard of in our day. There are now tenured bigots on the Columbia faculty whose classes are an assault on the only existing Jewish state—a tiny nation under continuous attack from an Arab world determined to extinguish it from the day of its creation more than 60 years ago.
More than six decades after Hitler’s demise, an Islamic death cult in the Arab world has made very clear – and in so many words – that it is determined to finish the job he started. A state leader of this cult whose government is about to become a nuclear power and who has declared his intention to wipe both Israel and America from the face of the earth was not too long ago invited to speak to Columbia students by its president.
It is true that President Bollinger was rude to the dictator when he came, and criticized him as a tyrant—an act of minimum decency (which notwithstanding elicited protest from Columbia’s radical faculty). But why was a genocidal maniac whose declared goal is to kill the Jews so honored in the first place?
When we arrived at Columbia fifty-four years ago, America was engaged in a world war with another totalitarian ideology seeking to put an end to the West. Today we are faced with yet another that seeks our extinction. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
What is this chose anyway, this thing that doesn’t change? It is the human desire to fill the emptiness that is our fate, which is unchanging and unchangeable: that we are born alone and we die alone and we are forgotten. Over this emptiness human beings drape their mythic causes and impossible dreams, their hopes for an earthly redemption—for a change that will fill the emptiness by creating a world that is holy or just. It is this hope that allows us to forget who we are. It is this vision that inspired the ideologues of communism; and it is this vision that drives the Islamic radicals, who believe they are making the world safe for Allah by purging it of infidels, and the unfaithful, and especially Jews.
In these visions we Americans are seen as the party of Satan, as the unbelievers who stand in their way with our pragmatism and tolerance, our devotion to enterprises and pleasures that are bourgeois and mundane; and our hope that is reserved for individual lives and not for grandiose social collectives and schemes.