Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
Seeming to give credence to Bertrand Russell’s observation that “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts,” yet another campus engulfed in race hysteria has set its sights on administrators and faculty who purportedly have not exhibited sufficient contrition for their racism according to the current moral arbitrators of race awareness.
In this case, black students and a particularly race-agitated faculty member at the University of Rhode Island (URI) created something they named The Diversity Think Tank, whose audacious role, it seems, is to “reject a worldview of white supremacy that has reigned unchallenged for 128 years at the University of Rhode Island and with ONE voice speak this Declaration of Diversity to embrace racial equity and to renounce the evils of racism and renounce the evils of white supremacy deeply embedded in our systemically racist university.”
As has happened on many campuses since the death last May of George Floyd under the knee of a white policeman, minority students and faculty at URI used the event to mobilize aggressive and bold anti-racist initiatives on their respective campuses, sensing that the time was ripe for publishing demands and extracting concessions from cowering administrators threatened by the prospect of being labeled racist themselves and insufficiently aware of the systemic, rampant racism that purportedly is engulfing campuses everywhere and causing great harm and “violence” to minority students.
Even though a university campus is the least likely place where students or faculty confront actual racism, from the moment they step foot on campus, minority students are tutored on how, even at some of the most elite educational institutions in the world, they are oppressed, intimidated by bigotry, hindered by systemic and structural racism, and even subject to unconscious, invisible, and latent racism. As if to confirm that universities remain petri dishes of racism, virtually every university, including URI, has set up evr-expanding bureaucracies of inclusion, diversity, and equity dedicated solely to ferreting out any incidence of racism, bigotry, or bias and helping minority students to see themselves as perpetual victims of both real and imagined racism.
But, apparently, URI’s own efforts to confront and eliminate racism has been insufficient according to ardent members of The Diversity Think Tank. In November, the think tank published a 21-page “Declaration of Diversity,” signed by six student “trustees” and the very vocal and critical Professor Louis Fosu in his role as the think tank’s Executive Director, in which they claimed, “that there is a deliberate and racist dehumanizing exclusion of highly qualified African-Americans/Blacks, Latinos/Hispanics and Native Americans from positions of senior leadership and other positions throughout the university, including: Administrative Staff, Deans, Department Chairs, Faculty, Functional Staff and Students.” Moreover, despite URI’s diligence in promoting diversity and inclusion, the results have been insufficient, since the “all-White leadership at the University of Rhode Island has not hired a single person descended from enslaved Africans, nor any other African-American or Indigenous person into a senior leadership position (President, Vice President, Provost, Vice Provost) since our university was founded in 1892 . . . .”
Far from being racist enclaves of white supremacy, places where minority candidates for students, faculty, and administrators are regularly excluded from the institution’s community, URI, like every major university, actively and aggressively seeks to recruit minorities to fill student and faculty slots, a campaign made evident by the enormous resources allocated for creating diversity offices which facilitate admissions for black students with loosened admission standards, coddle them once admitted, and try to create a campus climate in which black students are recognized, supported, and advanced in ways not shared by their white and Asian peers. Nevertheless, the race-obsessed Diversity Think Tank had not seen enough black faces on campus, and certainly not in the upper echelons of the university’s administration. The cause of this absence of black faces, according to these students? Not the paucity of qualified candidates, of course, but systemic and endemic racism in which white administrators have deliberately sought to exclude people of color from positions of authority.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the declaration reads, pompously echoing the Declaration of Independence, “that no university could possibly maintain an all-White senior leadership for 128 years without implicitly and deliberately colluding and conspiring to exclude African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans from senior leadership positions. Furthermore, we are witness to a near complete absence of Americans descended from enslaved Africans in any significant positions with decision making power.”
Not only was this situation vexatious to these race monitors; it was, they assert, tantamount to immoral, essentially criminal behavior. “We have copied the Attorney General of Rhode Island to help end this wretched crime of racism against our dignity,” the declaration ominously warned, because “this is the new Jim Crow, and we reject it.”
As other black students have demanded on their respective campuses, in their declaration the students called for diversity training for faculty, presumably so white professors will be compelled to confront their white supremacy and repent for being perpetrators of the systemic racism at URI. Accordingly, one of the students’ demands, very typical on campuses when racism is discussed, was to “Require every professor . . . and affiliated persons of the University of Rhode Island to undergo mandatory in-person anti-racism training,” individuals who “should also be evaluated and continuously re-evaluated by multicultural organizations and administration of color for racist behavior and unconscious racism.”
Of course, the manner in which unconscious racism will be identified and punished is never made clear, nor is the fact that professors cannot, except in very specific and rare cases, be unilaterally “removed” on the basis of what they say or write, so the demand that “[p]rofessors with repeated complaints of racist behavior from students should be removed or URI will be sued,” not only violates the University’s principle of academic free speech but could never be the basis for a lawsuit unless the racist expression was targeted, repetitive, and so aggressive that it manifested itself in illegal harassment and the creation of a hostile climate for the alleged targets and victims of this racism.
With all the finesse and justice of the Red Guard and the re-education of professors during the Cultural Revolution, the URI ideological thugs then alarmingly threatened to create a “White-List’ for the purpose of exposing and shaming white professors insufficiently loyal to the cult of racism. “We students will create a White-List of all those white professors who define and list themselves as diversity initiative conveners, race experts and researchers while they are silent and benefit from white supremacy and racism at URI, self-evident by the fact that no African-American with an ancestry to slavery and no Latino has been hired to a senior leadership position since 1892—and NOT ONE WHITE FACULTY member has expressed a problem with that fact . . . .”
By virtue of their very whiteness, these professors, the tendentious students warned, are unable to identify and purge racism from campus and, in fact, are both the cause of it and complicit in its propagation. “You white professors do not need research to find out about systemic racism at URI,” the students helpfully asserted, and “you are part and parcel of the creation and maintenance of systemic racism at URI through your self-serving policies, unapologetic excuses, discriminatory behavior and your hegemonic culture of impunity. You should be ashamed of yourselves and we will help end this metastasized disease of racism.”
Even white professors whose research and teaching are focused on racism and social justice are complicit in continuing racism at URI, according to the declaration. To “All White Faculty” the students had a clear message and warning: “You cannot be permitted to be conscious or unconscious racists, harm us with racism, support systemic racism with your silence, and then make money researching, discussing, recommending ambiguous ineffective solutions, and teaching us courses about your racist system of harm . . ,” they scolded.
“All white professors who are exploiting race and diversity in political science and other departments . . . while silently and implicitly benefiting from racism at URI, should immediately STOP your hypocrisy and exploitation. STOP teaching all those courses and discussions on race and diversity because you only privilege yourselves and never speak up with Truth about deplorable racism at URI. STOP exploiting our suffering because you DO NOT want to end racism!”
And there were further demands from these tendentious black students who apparently feel that if their own interaction in classrooms includes outbursts and disruptive anti-social behavior which causes conflict with white professors, it is the professors, not the students, who need to modify their attitudes and responses. In fact, they clearly believe, white professors need to be trained in cultural sensitivity in order to anticipate the special emotional needs of black students and sense how white implicit racism might trigger negative responses from minority students. The idea that college students themselves have to adjust to accepted norms of personal behavior in classrooms, of course, is not considered in this narcissistic identity politics, only that layers of racism and oppression subsume the lives of these hyper-sensitive students.
“Professors exhibit a blatant lack of cultural competence and sensitivity to the lived experience of being Black in the US and living under the glare and judgement of hate,” the declaration asserts. And since “Many of our professors do not have the cultural intelligence to speak to us with respect and we will not be insulted and treated with disrespect in class . . , [i]t is essential that URI initiate race and cultural sensitivity classes for professors—especially those who are in continuous altercations with us.”
No examples, of course, are provided of instances when white professors were so demonstrably racist in their classrooms that black students were compelled to react violently, but the declaration, nevertheless, includes the warning that “ignorant white professors” should expect forceful reactions to what their black students regard as racist expression. “Professors who make racist comments, thus provoking confrontations with students, will often subsequently label the provoked student ‘violent,’ the declaration reads. “We African-American/Black, Latino and Native American students work extremely hard to get into college—and we do not get admitted to a university to engage in degrading fights with our professors—but we will stand up for ourselves and we will not accept insults and disrespect by ignorant white professors who have no cultural intelligence.”
This is a remarkable, and troubling, pivot in the way university students see themselves and their relationship to faculty, one in which the long-standing balance of power has shifted from professors, who once controlled the classroom and content of instruction, to students, who now have become demanding and critical consumers of education sold to them as a product over which they have many choices and options for how it is to be consumed and used. On campuses where the specter of real and imagined racism seems to engulf minority students and permeates a large portion of the daily lives—whether or not it actually exists—the result has been the creation of a society of victims.
If students have not previously been aware of their victim status, then indoctrination about diversity, as Charles J. Sykes pointed out in his insightful book, A Nation of Victims, quickly helps them assume that identity and exploit it for social gain. “In the society of victims,” he wrote, “individuals compete not only for rights or economic advantage but also for points on the ‘sensitivity’ index, where ‘feelings’ rather than reason are what count. Once feelings are established as the barometer of acceptable behavior, speech (and, by extension, thought) becomes only as free as the most sensitive group will permit.”
How terrible it must be for the students to feel that nothing can be done to ameliorate the racism they perceive as pervading their university and their world. How frustrating it must be for them to be so emotionally and culturally aware that they must demand that white professors be trained and re-educated to teach them, and that the well-intentioned administration has failed completely to protect them from oppression and bigotry (and, in fact, is complicit in the perpetration of systemic racism). And how tedious it must be for them to be so aware that they can measure, critique, and condemn the feelings and biases of every white person on campus and have the temerity to judge them, censure them, and advise them on how to change their behavior and views to accommodate these college students—young adults who have not even entered the real world yet and already have the presence of mind, indeed, the audacity, to tell their wiser, far more experienced, elders how to feel and think.
“The greatest dangers to liberty,” observed the great jurist Louis D. Brandeis, “lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
There is enormous superficial zeal at URI, but, sadly, little apparent understanding.